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A recent LinkedIn research study found that across organizations, the biggest obstacles to learning are finding time for it and having content ready at the time of need. To tackle these challenges, Josh Bersin and other researchers argue for learner-centric, technology-enabled learning programs that deliver materials that employees actually need when they need them—on the go, via mobile, etc. But there's also a core element that can't be overlooked as organizations rethink their learning strategies—learning content development.

Let's draw an analogy to another development process: the development of software. Much like learning content development, traditional software development has typically been fairly linear—complete a needs analysis, develop code, test the code and launch the product. But today, processes like DevOps combine multiple development tools with cross-functional collaboration to produce and update systems more efficiently, catch and fix glitches faster and continuously improve the code.

I like DevOps' concept of incorporating cross-functional collaboration as a foundation for improvement. Their premise: get everyone who has a stake in the outcome involved throughout the build, giving feedback from their unique perspective, embracing failure and adjusting as the project moves forward. So what does DevOps have to do with learning content development? I believe applying an intentional, formal cross-functional collaboration process to creating learning programs can make them better-suited for learners needs. With more ongoing feedback and iteration throughout the content development process, learning materials will be more targeted, easier to consume and more likely to have a lasting impact.

Here are three ways to apply the DevOps mindset to learning content development:

1) Identify Stakeholders and Formalize the Process

An oft-forgotten stakeholder in building learning is the learner. To kick off a learning development launch, ask not just what they need to know, but also when and how they'd like to learn it. Balance that with what leaders and other key stakeholders see as critical content.

During my tenure as CLO at two organizations, we made a formal process of documenting the learning needs and asking for approval by key stakeholders before beginning work. We began each program with a launch meeting, involved all stakeholders and documented the purpose, expected outcomes and learner needs. We met regularly throughout the development process to track progress and adjust, if necessary. Don't be afraid to schedule additional conversations if need be—there's no limit on communication.

2) Chunk It Down

Outline and prioritize content into bite-size pieces. Identify the immediate need and work on that first. As an example, new managers don't need to know everything about their managerial role on day one. Issues of FMLA, FLSA and other compliance requirements will come soon enough. What they do need to know immediately is that they are required to treat their employees fairly.

In three to five minutes, create an introduction to the manager's role and test it with new managers to see if it's clear, helpful and resonates. Use it a couple of times, but be sure to tweak it based on feedback. Then, put it into your LMS or other knowledge database for managers to return to as needed.

Continue to build new chunks until you've covered all crucial elements and evolve the learning content through a continuous process of review, adapt and re-launch.

3) Embrace Failure

In systems development, failure means learning, and learning is good. It can be the same for developing content. If during a review process you find that a piece of content was not nearly as effective as you thought it'd be, don't be disappointed. This is valuable information for your next round of development.

Recognizing the limitations of the content and seeing its effectiveness—or lack thereof—from different users' perspectives will strengthen your learning program in the long run.

The more we learn, the more we know what we don't know. Someone made that comment once, and it stuck with me. By approaching learning content in small chunks, we begin to see what else is important. Creating a full curriculum or even course in today's complex world takes too long. By the time it's complete, things change.

Using a “try and learn" process creates forward momentum.

Photo: Creative Commons