There are two new rules for professionals with responsibilities in the generation and production of content for knowledge acquisition. Rule One: You are no longer in the business of learning content development and delivery. Rule Two: You are in the business of bringing dexterity to your content.

I am pretty satisfied that most of you are already aware of the convergence between “learning content” and all other “content” in your organization. Some of you may be wrestling with what the move means to your organization, while others of you may be undertaking innovations or changes in your learning technology to accommodate the change. And, for those of you who are new to this viewpoint, or who want to argue it, humor me and just read along anyway.

The urge to converge

Here’s what is happening behind this notion about convergence. As learning professionals we fostered the belief that content prepared for learning environments stands apart from other content. In fact, we’ve been so convinced of it that there is a multi-billion dollar business built around it, consisting of technology and services to reinforce the position that training and development resources are something unique. And, we managed to get away with this concept about the significance of learning content because adult education bestowed a particular credence on the content’s worth for having the label of “course,” or similar tagged reference.

However, our conventional thinking about content for learning purposes was just hijacked; and, we are partially culprits. It came about as we increased our reliance on the technology of search, and expanded our uses of technology to produce content from elemental sources. These sources range from things like Word and PowerPoint documents to more intricate authoring and editing tools that let us work with audio and video or other digital media assets. All of a sudden, everyone is a content author and publisher.

There are innumerable books and reference materials about uses of the tools and instructional design concepts to apply to the outputs. The learning industry opened up an ability to be a content developer for anyone who could pay the modest purchase price of the software. And, now we can do it real-time from just about any digital device. Don’t believe me? Look at what folks are doing for learning experiences with YouTube, Vimeo, UpStream, and now my favorite Aurasma, in the video-on-demand world.

Next, our new generation of workers, the millennials, are intensifying the speed of this change, because to them content really is just content. When it comes to how they learn, the newest online experiences find them deciding what they want and how they want it, along with where they want it. Now hold onto this concept, because the story gets better.

It’s not enough that we have this convergence of content, but there’s another situation worsening the scenario. It’s “big data.” The world is producing too much of it; and, much of this content is unlike our well-formed content in neatly packaged courses with nicely structured curriculum. This unstructured content does not even benefit from any special orchestration to make it easily accessible.

And, if you are in a “knowledge-intensive enterprise,” the chances are that your organization is slam up against these digital data mega-challenges:

  • A confluence of new technologies and business models, e.g. social media;

  • Exponential increases in the consumption and delivery of information;

  • Boundless proliferation and generation of content; and

  • An inundation of smart devices and an explosion in apps for them.

So, for you all this change provokes a must contend scenario, in which you should have shifted gears to wrestle with a myriad of issues around understanding and managing content complexity. The hyper-complex content transformation and transmission landscape requires that we rethink our content and learning strategies and respond with an arsenal of capabilities, including the ability to create new models for providing access to, and uses of, content. The response to these challenges has everything to do with you and your work with technology to improve all aspect of the content, and especially the user experience.

Suffice it to say that you are to be a different kind of person doing very different things to support your organization’s ability to meet its business goals and to align the business with the demands of everyone in its value chain. I have two directions to take you. Are you ready?

Intelligent content engineering

First, the organization has to get a real serious grasp of its content. There are important “best practices” with which to render content manageable, to enhance its searchability, and to produce it in formats that collectively create remarkable new value for the content.

I call this “intelligent content engineering,” a concept defined by and belonging to Joe Gollner (among a select few). In his blog in January this year, Joe explains intelligent content this way: “It is content that has been consciously designed to be manageable and reusable such that automation can be efficiently applied to the discovery and delivery of the content in an unlimited range of contexts and in formats that satisfy the intended purposes of the content consumers.” (See the references at the end of the article.)

If you can produce content for your organization as Joe defines it, you just satisfied a big outcry from our millennials, when they petition you to give them what they want. You might note that nowhere in the definition is there a word about courses, curriculum, or learning management. Joe does underscore two concepts – search (discovery) and distribution (delivery), while also promoting contextualizing content.

I’m not about to advocate abandoning what we formally do to produce, manage, track, and report on content use and users. Mostly, the value has as much to do with the analytics, as with the impact on what the learner took away from the learning event. It’s important to know that we prompt and persuade our folks to encourage their learning, and that we have indicators about the use and results of use of learning experiences.

Yet, the reality is that the investment and efforts for formal education and training represent only 10% of learning and development, as espoused by Robert Eichinger and Michael Lomdardo of The Center for Creative Leadership. They further point out that 20% of learning occurs through other people informally, or formally through coaching and mentoring; and, 70% takes place from real life and on-the-job experiences, tasks, and problem-solving. So, let me jump back to Joe. Before we expend resources of whatever magnitude to produce any content, we must give regard to what it is, where it is going, and what it is to do for the organization and its consumer.

Build a strategy

For content to be intelligent, you begin by building a content strategy. While there’s no room in this article to dig into that topic, make note of two points. One, you have to know what your audiences are looking for from your organization; and, two, you have to make sure content supports key objectives of the organization.

These points might seem like a no brainer. We often conduct requirements analysis in our professional practices. So, here’s some numbers to consider. Above 70% of enterprise organizations have a LMS and use various learning technology methods for 40% of learning hours, including mobile, but less than 20% of them can produce a formal learning strategy document, with only 6.5% having defined a content strategy within it. (See Gerry Kranz’s article in the References.)

In times of dramatic change, like now, the shift occurring from the digital disruption introduced by mobile technology demands nothing short of a transformative strategy in what we are doing with content. Regular news stories on mobile and broadband topics confirm it.

Produce intelligent content for mobile learning

Therefore, a strategy to produce intelligent content must represent the means to build skill and agility at exploring, exposing, extracting, and exploiting content value – especially if the output is about gaining new understanding, insights, or skills. You have to know how to move content into, through, and out to your consumers in forms that engage and ignite use in the ways that your consumers need and want. Successfully undertaking intelligent content engineering will keep the organization on top of its game and in front of its competitors in these times of incredibly accelerated content expansion.

What does intelligent content look like? The actual manifestation goes back to the Gollner definition. The content has “… an unlimited range of contexts and in formats that satisfy the intended purposes of the content consumers.” With that in mind, I’m going to narrow the response particularly to mobile learning.

A big part of what your content strategy for mobile will do is commit you to what Dr. Gary Woodill describes as: “relevant activity from which the learner is able to gain new insights and knowledge.” The quote is from Chapter 3 (page 66) in The Mobile Learning Edge where he goes through seven principles associated with producing “relevance” for mobile learning and advances the argument that context matters.

Mobile technology is a tool for augmenting the learner experience. The value of the technology goes up when the device supports what is already going on in the learner’s experience. The content can have situational and possibly locational context. The relevance in this case can be job specific, project or task specific, or work-collaboration specific. And, what the learner is able to retrieve from the smart appliance is in a particular format suited to the situation. But how does that happen?

A case in point

Remember Rule Two! Bring dexterity to your content. Here’s a business case to explain.

A global enterprise manages a huge portfolio of properties – many are world-class office buildings and office parks with some unique office campuses. The corporation’s business is predominantly three channels – brokerage (leasing space), real estate sales (selling the buildings or complexes), and property management (caring for and maintaining facilities).

A particular population with critical content requirements is the operating engineers, who supervise and oversee the property maintenance from landscaping to waste management and from HVAC to elevators. Any one engineer may have responsibility for five or more properties. The professionals have a dependency on facility maps, diagrams, equipment and system manuals or schematics, details on electrical and plumbing, and also layouts of the physical facilities and floor plans. In addition, there are regulatory and compliance management requirements to satisfy: fire and public safety, traffic management, and government building codes.

The leading obstacle historically was Internet access through a computer to information sources in the corporation. Too often engineers experienced firewall blockage and poor connectivity. With mobile technology – smartphones and tablets – the corporation undertook a process of content transformation. The effort took seven months to complete.

Today, these engineers carry out their jobs without barriers to connectivity and are using content based on geo-location and situation. Two selections from their device produce all appropriate and available content – physical property coordinates and purpose at the location. Users turn on the GPS and select the action for being at the location. In addition, the regulatory and compliance system, supported by the corporate LMS, provides access to that information, manages updates and alerts, and orchestrates managing the engineer’s compliance certification. An investment of $1.9 million annually improves job performance by a measurable 30%, which translates into almost $4 million in recurring savings. This is bottom line net new dollars for the business.

This is a classic example of the promise for the just in time, anytime, and anywhere use of mobile technology. It’s not training and development, although it can be; but, it is about knowledge acquisition when you need it.

There are professionals adept at the approach to creating a system for intelligent content. There are a number of resources for exploring more about the topic. Here are the benefits that I recognize. The engineering …

  • Provides effective content management automation and processing sophistication;

  • Increases content value rapidly, as it improves throughput efficiency;

  • Creates a product far easier to use, support, and maintain;

  • Incorporates meta-tagging for search and discovery;

  • Optimizes content structuring for multi-modality use, reuse, and repurposing;

  • Permits single-source publishing for multi-channel distribution;

  • Creates content with device-specific sensitivity; and

  • Produces content with contextual awareness.

Know your content consumer

The second direction is an exploration of the content consumer. These folks are the “learners,” among other consumer roles. To start us on this exploration I’ll begin with a quotation from New Social Learning, by Tony Bingham and Marcia Conner: “Learning is what makes us more vibrant participants in a world seeking fresh perspectives, novel insights, and first-hand experiences. When shared, what we have learned mixes with what others have learned, then ripples out, transforming organizations…”

The point is that learning happens, and we need to do nothing. Remember Rule One: you are no longer in the business of learning content development and delivery. So, what are you?

Digital disruption is not solely about cultural, business, or social impact. It gets very personal. In the case of content development, and most specifically instructional design, the disruption is introducing changes that require realignment of how you consider your job. Processes remain important, but processing is now about content ingestion, aggregation, cataloging, indexing, orchestration, curation, transformation, and transmission.

Content is coming from sources inside and outside the organization. Often the content is outside your control and is the product of processes that are very different from the well-formed and structured methods of the ISD world. Your importance to the organization could be how well you contend with the exponential expansion of content. Are you going to rule content? Or, is content going to ruin you?

Your role is going to require the production of content with delivery through the formal and informal channels of interaction that have the greatest appeal to the organization’s consumer world – lifestyle and workstyle, not the methods of formalized learning technology. Success will require an ability to facilitate an organizational-specific model with variable options for content access and use, including end-user abilities for authoring, publishing, and distributing content. You are going to need provision for managing the content generation from virtual communities, social networks, and exchanges outside organizational control (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, industry blogs, and ad hoc media sources).

You are going to continue formal learning with added features for social learning and personalization of learner use. Your world has to offer convenience and efficiency in a secure environment where you can develop sharing with content consumers, along with levels of governance and control to protect the integrity of your organization and its content.

What’s it all mean for our work?

This last sentence introduces my final say about the content consumer. Self-expression is the new online entertainment. People don’t want to just be consumers of content. They want to be participants in creating content.

It’s an impulse that means your biggest new role and responsibility is harnessing and cultivating the content inputs and their uses. You become the “content curator,” choosing how content sources make inputs, how the inputs of content mix and move into some cohesive collection of knowledge assets.

And consider this: by 2015, we can expect that 90% of content production posted on the Internet will be some video format. And, blogs are going to produce more audio conversation than text. What will be your methodology for monitoring, capturing, curating, and cataloging these rich content media? How do you know that those new assets don’t just pile up like so much of the content stored by our organizations? Most content is not recyclable. It is collecting in digital dumps of stuff that we cannot find, access, or use.

I had a conversation today with an innovative thinker about the future of learning. We were kicking around how to reasonably manage unstructured content. He pointed out that my intention is to turn it into some structured form with catalog structures, indexes, and tags. He is thinking that we’ll evolve new algorithms that sniff out the value and believes it is human uses that decide what is worthwhile showing up in a search in some usable form or not. While he and I wrestle with the future, I leave you with the following.

Better content is better business. And, if the content has the expressed purpose of advancing knowledge acquisition, it should be intelligent content in order to produce the greatest learning value. It’s now your job to take care of it.


Bingham, T. and Conner, M. (2010) New Social Learning – A Guide to Transforming Organizations through Social Media. American Society for Training and Development. p. 20.

Gollner, Joe. “The Business of Intelligent Content,” January 31, 2011, Fractal Enterprise .

Lombardo, M. and Eichinger R. (2001) The Career Architect Planner, 3rd Edition, Princeton University Press.

Kranz, Garry. “eLearning Hits its Stride, ”Workforce Magazine Online, February, 2011.

Woodill, Gary. The Mobile Learning Edge (2011) The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. p. 66.