The internet has become an integral part of our daily lives and has fundamentally shifted the way we interact with the world, leading to the creation of overwhelming amount of content and data. According to the IDC: Expect 175 zettabytes of data worldwide by 2025—a zettabyte equals a trillion gigabytes. So, how do we get the right content at the moment of need? Marketing uses a powerful approach to developing content known content marketing and a process called content mapping to ensure just that. This approach has proved to be very successful for marketing, begging the question—why shouldn’t it work for learning?

Let’s take a look at a few definitions.

Content mapping is “a process of delivering the right content, to the right people, at the right time”—Hubspot

Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”—Content Marketing Institute

Now, let’s reframe this for learning.

“Learning or instructional strategy is an approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to meet the specific needs of a clearly defined audienceand, ultimately, to drive personal performance.”

If all of this sounds completely relevant to learning—it’s because it is. I am going to share information on how you can use the content mapping process to effectively develop and deliver the right learning content at the right time.

Key benefits of the process

The landscape of learning and how content is viewed and consumed in organizations are changing. This is due to two key reasons:

1. An understanding that learning is happening everywhere, both formally and informally, and a need for organizations to connect those experiences

2. Organizations are beginning to view content as a true business asset with real value through advancements in data measurement and analytics

We need to look at content, systems, and channels in a more holistic way. And, think about how we can deliver more personalized, relevant, and engaging learning experiences at the moment of need.

To effectively address this, we need to change our approach.

As buyers and learners, we are on a journey to satisfy specific needs. As content designers, it’s important that we understand our audience and their needs at each stage of their journey. The content mapping process provides us with a means to do this.

The key benefits are:

  • Clarity of learners needs at each stage of their journey
  • An inventory of content currently available to address specific needs
  • Focus and clarity of specific and relevant content to meet learners needs
  • A map and plan for delivering the right content at the right time

Stages of the learner journey

Delivering the right content at the time of need is both an art and a science. It requires getting to know your learners (customers) intimately—anticipating their needs at various stages of their journey.

Like the buyer’s journey in the marketing world, we can similarly break down the learner journey into three main stages.

1. Awareness—learners become aware they have an issue, problem, or opportunity

2. Consideration—learners identify an issue or problem and examine possible solutions to address their needs

3. Decision—learners decide on a solution category to address their specific need and is ready to choose a solution

Once a decision has been made, the next step is conversion—this is when an action takes place. This means that the user—learner in this case—actually does what you wanted them to do. For example, view a video, download a pdf, or complete a course. We (as buyers) go through this process every time we purchase an item from our favorite shopping site on the web.

Key point: The journey is a process where learners begin by seeking answers to questions or pain points they have, narrowing down their search by comparing and evaluating the options available, and finally deciding on a solution category and making a decision to consume specific content to address their specific needs.

Eight step process

We begin as we typically do in the instructional design process by properly defining the problem and ensuring alignment with business goals, and by creating a prioritized list of behaviors that people need to do to reach defined goals. Now, for the content mapping process:

1. Create personas (generalized representations of learners and skill levels)—define concerns, drivers, roles, etc. Personas helps you to better understand the needs of your learners. What are their specific needs relating to the behaviors you are trying to shape and goals you are trying to achieve? More accurate personas are based on actual insights and feedback from your target audience.

2. Key questions—these are questions personas ask at each stage of the learner journey. Capture actual questions that your audience is asking to understand their specific challenges.

3. Answers—answers to questions your personas ask. These are solutions to the challenges that each persona faces.

4. Audit—take a look at existing content and determine if it would satisfy the needs that were uncovered.

5. Map—the existing good content as appropriate solutions/answers to the questions that were asked. The goal here is to provide just the right amount of content needed to solve the problem—starting with the informal and moving towards the formal.

6. Gaps—identify any gaps that you might have uncovered.

7. Create—create any new content need to fill those gaps.

8. Measure—identify how you will measure success and content conversion, or action taken on the content.

Remember to monitor and manage the impact and performance of content and make adjustments as needed.

Tip: One size does not fit all. Through your personas, identify the specific needs and challenges of each role and skill level and how that relates to business goals. You may find that you need different solutions to meet specific needs.

Wrapping things up

We’re all consuming content on a regular basis through various devices, methods, and channels. Whether through a website, publication, or conversation—we’re looking to find personal meaning and value in the content we consume. And we’re looking for experiences that provide answers to questions we have in our personal and professional lives. Think about how you can take a page from content marketing to create personalized learning experiences that provides the right content at the right time.