Friday, February 13, 2009

Has Single-Source Publishing FINALLY Come of Age?

I remember attending my first session on “Reusable Learning Objects” back in the early 1990’s. A dear colleague and friend of mine Wayne Hodgins, the individual whom many credit with starting the learning object movement, was attempting to help us grasp the concept. To oversimplify, we were talking about a world where an Instructional Designer authored a single chunk of content, for example a set of steps to complete a task, and then reused that object, or a version of it, in multiple outputs or learning solutions. The idea was stunning, but came with many complex issues at the time. Strange terms and acronyms began to immerge such as SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model), XML (Extensible Markup Language), and Schemas. Standards boards and industry groups such as CEDMA (Computer Education Managers Association) and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) did their best to begin wrestling with the management of this emerging world and help us integrate the potential into our daily work. For some it was the beginning of an incredible journey, for others it was the beginning of years of frustration and failed projects. I don’t blame the premise or the pioneers. The complexity of the tools, design methodologies, and even the concept was what often got in the way. In the real world the skill set, resources, and bandwidth needed to be successful just wasn’t there.

Well, those days are gone! Single-Source (SS) publishing, as we call it today, has finally come of age. The new tools available today, combined with the design models and standards which have emerged, has made the dream of “authoring once, publishing too many” a reality for any learning professional. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. With the economic challenges we face today there’s never been a stronger business case for reusing the limited resources we have, in the most efficient way possible, while delivering learning in as many formats as needed. If you’ve been hesitant to migrate to this type of approach and tool, there are three fairly compelling benefits which may help to convince you otherwise:

  • If you can author in Microsoft Word™ you can author in XML: This was always one of the most mystifying part of this discipline for me. Frankly, I struggled with the early XML editors and related tools. Classifying, tagging, reusing, and relating one object to another was just too complicated. The recent SS authoring tools have incorporated editing environments which require little more than a word processing background. They also take advantage of many of the standard features used across today’s desktop applications such as embedding a graphic, applying a style sheet, and hyper linking to a website or related resource. Toolbars, wizards, and common content manipulation procedures such as “drag and drop” are now incorporated to make creating and reusing learning objects easy and efficient. All this is accomplished while the XML coding and tagging goes on in the background. The designer RARELY has to deal with this layer of complexity. The systems manage all that for them.
  • Your existing content created in other authoring tools can still be incorporated: The last thing some learning organizations need is another tool. Although SS authoring tools will let you author content from scratch, they also allow you to incorporate existing content types into your new learning publications. The following are just a sample of some of the formats which can now either be hosted by or linked to an object: AVI, WMV, SWF, PDF, HTML, Microsoft Office documents, and even lessons or topics within an e-Learning library. SS authoring should not be seen as yet another tool to be added to an already overloaded and complex set of tools, but rather it can be used to actually decrease the tools needed. This also solves the problem of giving the learner access to the right learning asset at the right time. Even though we have been publishing to the formats listed above, many of our users simply can’t find them or utilize them at the right moment of need. With SS authoring you can output one publication which can host all objects in an instructionally sound and consistent way.
  • TRUE blended learning is finally a reality! In my travels, two of my favorite questions to ask learning professionals are:

    1. How many of you have attempted to create a blended learning offering?
    2. How many of those have been successful?

    Typically I get a resounding yes to the first question and an equally resounding no to the second. The difficulty in effectively creating a blended learning solution has typically been a combination of the design and the learning assets available. Until SS came along most learning solutions created to be stand alone learning assets built in disparate tools (Captivate, Lectora, PowerPoint, MS Word, Flash, Toolbook…). The developers may have created one outline for one type of content and a different one for the next. Sometimes we purchased learning assets which wouldn’t have considered our outlines in the first place. SS authoring tools allows you reuse your learning objects across multiple outlines and outputs. This lets you tailor and format the object for the appropriate output while still maintaining a high degree of consistency across that content. It allows you to decide how much content appears in which output. This way you can create a classroom manual, a desktop electronic performance support platform, and a mobile learning tool all from the same content while only using the elements which best fit that environment. This allows you to guide a learner through a consistent blended experience based on the moment of need, not on the sometime disconnected tools which are available.

Single-source publishing has always held enormous promise, not only for performance support, but across the learning journey. But until recently, it was an option which was only available to a select few. Today that is no longer the case and it is clearly something we all need to consider as we attempt to offer cost effective, efficient, and highly impactful learning solutions for the organizations and learners we serve.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting reading. So where can one find out more about "The new tools available today" and the "design models and standards which have emerged" so I, too can realize "the dream of “authoring once, publishing too many”" . . .? I'm sold!