The Single Source Method for Designing with Unstable Content
As instructional designers, we consider a variety of factors before selecting delivery methods for training: business needs, learning audience characteristics and locations, available technology, learning objectives, development budget, and deadlines to name a few. Another factor to consider is how likely it is that the content is going to change during development or after launch. Certain content types are more prone to changes than others, including:
- Training on just about anything that is still under development or review
The Single Source MethodIf your goal is to keep course maintenance easy on your time and budget, and you know the content is likely to change, you should:
- Avoid delivery options that require high production times and costs (e.g., high-end video, simulations).
- Create single-source material in a format that is easily updated (e.g., PDF, website) to house all unstable content, and design materials that reference—but do not quote—it. (For instance, the facilitator guide might say “Turn to page [xx] in the [source document] and review the [xx] section. Then, answer the questions in your participant guide on page [xx].”)
- Support your training with facilitators and/or subject-matter experts who can offer guidance, coaching and feedback that reflects content changes.
- Develop low-production assessments (e.g., exams) to support learning objectives, regardless of content stability.
Recommended Delivery OptionsThis method works best when facilitators are available to provide coaching and feedback that reflects and reinforces the latest changes. As a result, the following four delivery options top my list for unstable content:
- Instructor-Led Training
- Virtual Instructor-Led Training / Webinars
- Coaching Programs
- Learning Portal with Subject-Matter Expert Support
Case Study: Regulation Training at a Financial Services CompanyDue to new regulations that hadn’t yet been fully defined by government, a financial services company was tasked with updating a large library of policies and procedures, as well as a new-hire curriculum for its financial services consultants. Knowing the content was going to change, the company housed all policies and procedures in an easy-to-edit website that consisted of simple text and graphics. Then, they hired a team of instructional designers to create instructor-led training materials that referenced—but never quoted—specific sections on the policies and procedures website. The course materials included nearly 100 deliverables, including facilitator guides, participant guides, and assessments. The design team used the following strategies to mitigate the impact of content changes across the deliverables:
- Facilitator guides: Quote stable content (e.g., “Excess contributions include the following …”), but reference the source document when teaching unstable content (e.g., “Turn to page [xx] of the [source material] and list the excess contributions in your participant guide.”).
- Participant guides: Quote stable content only. For unstable content, insert references to the source material, activities where learners reference the source material to answer questions or complete a task, and lines for learners to take notes.
- Assessments: Develop assessment questions to support the learning objectives, selecting stable content over unstable content as much as possible.
A Caveat for Smaller Segments of Unstable ContentNot all training that includes unstable content requires The Single Source Method. For instance, if only a small segment of your training content is unstable, consider presenting just that piece using formats that are easy to develop, such as:
- Job aids
- Quick reference guides
- Websites with basic text and graphics
- Low-production video