My daughter recently completed her first school project. Images, text, animation & video, all referenced on-line and compiled into a slide-show, and handed to the teacher on a USB key. Compared to my recollection of doing school projects, which involved a large piece of card, a stack of felt tipped pens, rulers, glue, scissors, and an awful lot of mess. My resources came from two sources, a set of Encyclopedia Britannica, and a significant stockpile of National Geographic where you could find a picture of pretty much anything given enough time. If things really got tough, I may have even ventured into the local library (this rarely happened!). Of course, today, armed with an internet connection and a browser, the world is literally at your fingertips.
So how do we sift this mass of information, and create structure around the areas which we find relevant? Folders on in-boxes, favorites on browsers, distribution lists, cookies, VIP lists, news-feeds, sharing, linking, and liking. Our online environment is filled with ways to filter this vast amount of information, and align content with relevance. We create these environments not just based on our own personal interests, but those around us, colleagues, peers and friends. Our trusted social network, as well as popularity shape these online worlds, from sharing you-tube clips to Amazon-esque "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought.."
Structured training content should work in the same way. Since when do we use a single resource to find information? A group of students attending a course have different skill sets, experiences, knowledge, interests, expectations and working environments. How effective is a single set of static documentation, or slide deck, where the assumption must be made that everybody will get the same level of benefit?
Lets accept the fact that the point of training is to transmit some fundamental knowledge, facts and product experience. Lets call that the primer, or 'trunk' of information. Content that is fundamental to all, irrespective of the individual. But what about all the contextual information? The branches from the trunk will be different based on personal preference. The storage guys branches are different to the network engineer, which are different from the admin who needs to control security for his infrastructure. They all have different trusted resources, which can be other individuals or groups, vendors, concepts, with varying degrees of relevance.
Training content needs to expand in capability to take advantage of this contextual information if we really want to enhance the learning experience, and the value of training. Content that can be built on as the student learns, but based on personal preferences. Case-studies, white papers, faq's, articles, even games, that in themselves build on the 'trunk', and dynamically create a custom training manual for the learner. Imagine we could continuously build on that structure, updating, editing and adding. So rather than a bound static manual that starts to lose its value as soon as the student leaves the training room, provide an electronic, customized database of information that can be referenced, shared, updated and expanded, as students attend new courses, read articles, or gather on the job experience.
It's disruptive technology. It changes the way developers develop, trainers train and learners learn. Our current conversion to E-Books is just the first step. Its time to plug in and connect our content and make it adaptable, applicable and interactive, to create a truly valuable resource that continues to educate well beyond the classroom.
"Outside of a dog, a book is a mans best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx