Content strategy can mean different things to different people even within the same organization, but the reasons for a strategy rarely vary: to produce good learning content and to maximize ROI from the content-creation effort. Great content is simply what the learner needs, at the time they need it, and in exactly the right form that helps them achieve their immediate goal.

According to a recent Brandon Hall study, as many as 76 percent of organizations do a moderately effective job of aligning their learning goals with their performance objectives, while nearly 44 percent do this at a high or very high level. As we move to an environment that sustains and encourages ongoing learning to drive performance, our content is getting smaller but there is more of it, making it a challenge to manage. Some might say it is bordering on “out of control” as we manage content for multiple audiences, forms, moments of need, and target devices. Content strategy and management go hand-in-hand, and some common-sense principles will help you keep your content under control while executing a sustainable content strategy that will carry you for many years.

The elements of a content strategy

Content strategists ask and answer these questions by writing simple user stories for each audience (Figure 1):

Figure 1: The three elements of a content strategy

  1. Audience (User): Who will consume the content (customers, prospects, partners, employees)? Why do they need it (what goal will it help them achieve)?
  2. Content: What do they need to know?
  3. Context: When and Where do they need to know it (in a class, at their desk, on the road, in a factory?)

How do they think of the content? How will they search for it? What mental models are used to organize it—like a competency matrix, career path, or a physical or virtual machine? How does this content relate to other existing or future content?

Content as a strategy

“Content as a Strategy,” or single-sourcing your learning content, is a winning approach in many organizations today as they shift to performance-driven learning. The benefits include bite-sized learning content available to multiple audiences in many formats, better alignment to the business, higher productivity, faster time-to-market, and best of all—highly effective content. The reason these organizations know that their content is working is that they can measure it at the granular level, unlike traditional eLearning or monolithic training courses.

What do we mean by Content as a Strategy? By treating each individual piece of content as a reusable object, every piece of content you create has purpose, can stand alone or be integrated with other content, can be presented in different ways on any device, can be maintained, and can be measured for effectiveness. This is achieved because the actual content is separated from the presentation.

A simple content model

When producing content in this way, it helps to follow a simple content model. The components of the model typically include:

Educational Objective: What will be accomplished by experiencing this content? By stating the educational objective for each piece of content, you can match it to learners in a given context more easily and dynamically.

Substance: This is the actual content itself in the form of text, images, figures, lists, videos, simulations, activities, etc.

Knowledge Assessment: This is the set of questions or actions the learner can take to prove that they have obtained the knowledge and met the educational objective.

Structure: This is the additional information about the content that answers the questions about audience, categorization, playability, searchability, reuse, and context.

Content granularity

So what is a learning object (or “nugget,” as some like to call it)? It is bigger than a paragraph but smaller than a course. Experts in single-source authoring, like Bryan Chapman of the Chapman Alliance, suggest that if you are used to structuring courses in a course/lesson/topic hierarchy, the typical topic content would represent the lowest level in your object architecture. Media objects, such as images, videos, and figures are shareable objects that you can apply inside a topic, but they are always linked to a single instance of that object in a given language for ease of maintenance and maximum reuse.

Content management considerations

Workflow and governance, accomplished through a collaborative authoring environment, make it possible to manage your content as a strategy (Figure 2). Desktop-authoring environments with shared file spaces do not offer content strategists, subject matter experts, and authors the tools required for planning, writing, building, assembling, translating, delivering, and iterating content in an Agile process. Nor do they guarantee that upon delivery, the learner is experiencing the most current version of the content from any system or device.

Figure 2: Workflow and governance make it possible to manage content as a strategy

A content management system, designed specifically for learning, provides role-based permissions, workflow, and notifications to move content through author, publish, deliver, and measure phases. In addition, it can produce standards-compliant content (HTML5, SCORM, AICC, and EPUB) for interoperability with other systems like your LMS, web portal, mobile apps, etc. Content users receive the content in the appropriate context and experience the full impact as intended by the content strategist. Feedback is provided to the content developers at the granular level, letting them maintain and improve content at the speed that the business demands.


Grebow, David. The State of Learning and Development 2014: Coming of Age. Brandon Hall Group.

(See Xyleme in Booth 509 at DevLearn for more information about content as a strategy and content management.)