The Age of Aquarius is more than just a song popularized by the musical Hair. It’s an astrological term denoting either the current or forthcoming astrological age, depending on the method of calculation. Current characteristics of the Aquarian age have been described as follows:
“Aquarius is visionary and creative, but rebellious, too. Aquarius’ job is to challenge authority, tear down existing structures, and replace the outdated with something better. Thus, Aquarius can be capable of great extremes.”
Lest I sound like a “new ager”, it seems like the technology industry is living through its own Age of Aquarius, replete with tearing down structures and replacing the outdated with something better. One just needs to look at the proliferation of XaaS, the “anything-as-a-service” moniker, in the marketplace. It is the advent of XaaS business models in conjunction with micro-content that has created a new age of content development.
The Content Development Horoscope
It doesn’t take an astrologer to provide a horoscope for the future of content development. It can pretty much be summed up in the statement, “Do more with less.” Content development organizations have learned to be scrappy, often operating on a shoestring budget. Comparing Education Services Benchmark Survey data from March 2014 to March 2019, the percentage of Education Services budget spent on content development was 13% in 2014 and is 18% in 2019, as shown below. Any increase in funding, has been minimal, at best.
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While the spend on content development for customer training has increased slightly over the past five years, the same cannot be said for headcount. Using the same time parameters of March 2014 to March 2019, Education Services Benchmark Survey data shows there has been no increase in the content development headcount percentage, which has remained flat at 28%. Clearly, a scanty 5% increase in funding has been insufficient to cover cost of living increases over the years, let alone fund additional headcount.
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A lack of resources is a major pain point, as voiced by education content development managers who recently participated in TSIA’s Education Services Content Development Summit. At this one-day meeting, 12 TSIA Education Services member companies came together for a deep-dive discussion on a specific topic, which was the impact of micro-content and XaaS on content development. One of the questions we asked attendees was:
How would you rate the staffing level of the content development function?
- I have more than enough staff to keep up with demand
- I have just enough staff to keep up with demand
- I do not have enough staff to keep up with demand
Not surprisingly, 90% of summit participants said that they do not have enough staff to keep up with demand. However, demand for new educational content continues to increase, as companies move to the Cloud and learners move toward consuming micro-content. What is it about XaaS and micro-content that increases demand for content development functions, and what is a content development function to do when there’s not enough funding and/or resources to meet that demand?
To get the answers to these questions and more about content development, be sure to attend my power hour session, “Content Development in the Age of SaaS: Are You Prepared?” at TSIA’s upcoming Technology & Services World (TSW) conference, May 6-8, in San Diego.
But, between now and the conference, here’s a hint: think rapid content development.
The Need for Rapid Content Development
As mentioned, two factors necessitating rapid content development tools/structures are XaaS business models and micro-content as described below:
XaaS (Cloud or “Anything-as-a-Service”)
In a cloud environment, software changes are immediate. It is no longer up to customers when they will download the latest release or upgrade to a new version, as is the case with on-premise software. XaaS software users leave work at the end of the day and can arrive in the morning to “new” software. This means that training content must be available when a new version of the software is released.
The additional challenge created in a cloud environment is that software releases are much more frequent. On-premise software has typically had a four to six-month release cycle. In the XaaS environment, it is not uncommon for releases to occur in eight to 10-week cycles, maybe less. So, the frequency of software revisions creates an endless content maintenance loop for content development functions.
As learner interest moves toward a performance support model (e.g. “Give me the learning that I need, when I need it”), content proliferates. This type of learning is best suited to discrete tasks and topics that are very granular in nature, hence the name micro-content. Micro-content sharply increases the units of training that must be created and maintained. Add this to the increased frequency of product releases cited above, and the demands on a content development organization become untenable.
Rapid content development can mean a lot of things, but for the purposes of this discussion, it’s single source authoring. Single source authoring is a content management method which allows the same source content to be used across different forms of media and more than one time. The diagram below, from a past TSW presentation by PTC, “Authoring Topic-Based Content”, illustrates the premise. While this presentation was delivered a few years ago, and this diagram has likely changed since the presentation, it is still an accurate depiction of how single source authoring works and thus provides a visual example.
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A simplified definition that can be used for single source authoring is, “Create once and use many times.” Some education organizations might ascribe to the formal approach depicted above, while others may approach it more informally and just create e-learning content that is repurposed for instructor-led training, or vice versa. The point is that whether a formal or informal approach is used, there is one development effort and the content developed for one form of delivery is repurposed for another form of delivery.
The graph below illustrates the effectiveness of using rapid development tools and shows the interaction of two pieces of TSIA Education Services Benchmark Survey data, a practice and a metric.
Practice Question: Does education services use any type of rapid content development tool or platform?
Metric Question: On average, for one hour of content, how many hours of development time are needed for net new content development?
Education Services Benchmark Survey participants who answered “Yes” to using rapid development tools/platforms produce one hour of instructor-led content in 29.7 hours versus 37 hours, as cited by those who use no rapid development tools/platforms. While this example is for instructor-led training, developing e-learning content with rapid development tools similarly results in a reduction of content development time.
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Learn More About Rapid Content Development for Customer Training
Rapid content development is one way that customer training organizations are tackling the content development challenge. While the exact date of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius may be up for discussion, "the tearing down of existing structures and replacing the outdated with something better," as the Age of Aquarius portends, certainly is not. Clearly, customer training organizations must adapt and replace current content development practices, which likely have been in place for years, with a constellation of new practices. Contact TSIA today to learn more about how your education organization can flourish in this new age.