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:
If your training includes any of these content types, spend a little extra time at the start of your project to determine how likely it is that the content will change and how those changes could impact your design and development. If you feel the risk of content changes is high, consider using The Single Source Method to mitigate those risks.
If your goal is to keep course maintenance easy on your time and budget, and you know the content is likely to change, you should:
This is The Single Source Method, and if you use it you should only need to update the source material and assessments when content changes arise. All course instruction and activities—whether online, virtual or in a classroom—should remain unchanged because they do not quote any unstable content.
This 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:
As content changes arise, schedule train-the-trainer sessions to keep facilitators and/or subject-matter experts informed about what content changed and how it impacts their guidance, coaching and feedback during the course.
Due 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:
Not 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:
The next time you are asked to select a delivery option for a course, don’t forget to determine how likely it is that the content will change. If you deem the content unstable, consider using The Single Source Method and avoid expensive delivery options, create single source material that is referenced in the deliverables (but not quoted), and support the training with facilitators and/or subject-matter experts who can provide up-to-date guidance, coaching and feedback.