Before Sir Tim Berners-Lee did us all a big favour some twenty years ago by inventing the World Wide Web, the distribution of content was a very physical process. Regardless of the format – book, CD, DVD or whatever – some form of ‘master’ would be produced and this would be used as a basis for the manufacture of the finished goods. These would then be boxed up and physically distributed to wholesalers, retailers and eventually end customers. The books and CDs would end their journey neatly lined up on shelves or in racks, ready for consumption. How quaint this process is beginning to look come 2012.
While there is still a market for ‘offline media’ (the sort you can use without an internet connection), it is fast dwindling. Sales of printed media, CDs and DVDs are dropping rapidly as the price of computer memory drops and bandwidth increases. Why would anyone clutter up their valuable living space with piles of dusty books and CDs when they can store as many as they could possibly consume in a lifetime on a Kindle, on an iPod or somewhere in the cloud? Why indeed? No-one under thirty would even consider it.
Learning content obeys the same rules. Why burden employees with huge ring binders full of hand-outs and reference manuals to sit unopened on their shelves when the same information can be made available online at the click of a mouse? Information that can be easily maintained, indexed, searched and cross-referenced; and which costs nothing to replicate or distribute.
In the old world, learning content was a bit of an after-thought. The course stood central to all learning activity. Your course manual was not much more than a trophy; something to display in your office to show everyone how much you had supposedly learned.
With the shift from ‘courses’ to ‘resources,’ content becomes critical. No-one expects anymore to have to struggle to absorb large volumes of information during a course. Yes, they want insights into important new concepts and principles. But the rest they want to be able to access quickly and easily if and when they need it. How you distribute learning content is now central to the potential success of any intervention.
Coming in part 2: Choosing a format for your content
First published in Inside Learning Technologies, December 2011