Content Collaboration in a Learning Environment
Present economic conditions are a catalyst for the constant change that we experience in organizations. Change forces us to think and act differently to align with goals and keep ourselves motivated. Collaboration, communication, and continuous learning are imperative for positive change. All of these elements came together through our content-convergent team and our unique Content Fair.
Before driving an enterprise learning initiative for Cadence Design Systems, Inc., my cross-functional team concluded that we needed to drive two tracks to create a sound and seamless learning environment. The two tracks were content and transactions. The content track was a project focused on the creation, management, and delivery of a learning environment. The transaction track was a project focused on the delivery, tracking, and business systems of the learning environment. Delivery was the common element where the two tracks would converge. Managing these two very intense projects was critical to meet the company’s short- and long-term goals of improving productivity. It required ongoing collaboration, communication, and learning.
We lacked a coordinated environment for creating, managing, delivering, and tracking content across the enterprise. We knew that to have more control and provide the best information to employees and customers, we needed to understand and take inventory of available content. We also noted and cataloged other initiatives and projects going on in the company that would have a ripple effect on establishing a sound and seamless learning environment. Reuse and repurposing content was imperative to closing the gaps identified.
The first step in organizing our content world was to establish a content-convergent team. The team represented all the stakeholders, including individual contributors, and their respective managers. The vision or goal was to “reuse and repurpose content.” How would the content-convergent team pursue its vision?
- establish standards for authoring tools, naming conventions, metatags, XML, and so forth
- share and exchange best practices
The content-convergent team was to act as a steering committee for the rest of the company. The role quickly evolved to include the following tasks:
- be aware of content-related changes affecting stakeholders
- update content-related projects and programs
- recommend standards and tools
- communicate by promoting collaboration and providing quarterly updates to a wider audience
- drive content into a new learning environment
- help capture repeatable processes
- capture measurements of success
The transaction team led the initiative for the delivery, tracking, and business systems of the learning environment. Their role evolved to leading and setting the future strategy for Cadence in the following areas:
- create a learning management system (LMS)
- create a learning content management system (LCMS).
- support integration to backend systems and new technology
- integrate internal departments to use the LMS and LCMS
- identify new opportunities to use the LMS for customers
- help capture repeatable processes
- capture measurements of success
Figure 1 illustrates how all the elements in a learning environment come together to optimize reuse and repurpose of content. The first stage in this process is to establish standard authoring tools (also includes naming conventions, metatags, XML of the content) that enable users to create and identify content. The next stage is to create a seamless environment of content repositories where content is easily gathered, managed, and published. Creating these repositories enables users to easily find content and to deliver it in their own style and in the medium appropriate to their needs. Most important, feedback is collected and fed back into any stage for process improvements.
Although not explicitly visual in the illustration, feedback is manually collected throughout the process through interviews, surveys, or observation. There is also feedback automatically collected from the LMS. All data supports continuous improvements in the learning environment.
I went to a Web collaboration meeting one day, only to discover that much of the information the company employees were seeking was right in front of us. Members of the content-convergent and learning transaction teams had already compiled the information. We just needed to share it all so that duplication of effort would be minimized.
Communicating content-related, cross-functional activities in a changing environment presented a challenge. The next step in organizing our content world was to create an event that would allow us to promote tools, techniques, processes, and standards, as well as future projects incorporating all of them. We were looking for something that would quickly give the employees the tools they needed to be more productive and creative. Thus, last May, the Content Fair was born. Content creators from the customer care, field support, R&D, marketing, usability, and IT departments joined with various vendors to bring their latest content efforts to all interested employees.
Efficiency and Productivity
The purpose of the Content Fair was to enable employees to:
- find Cadence internal information from their desktop
- leverage tools to create content (for example, application notes, specifications, demos, and so forth)
- learn to build training modules and access existing training material
- discover new tools and technologies to make communications global
- contribute their knowledge to Cadence’s central knowledge bases
A high-energy and truly cross-functional effort, the Content Fair provided a forum for employees that led to greater efficiency and productivity, as well as increased employee and customer satisfaction.
The Content Fair was based on a travel theme, “Passport to Productivity.” Each attendee’s content journey at the fair consisted of traveling four roads. Along each road were travel spots where attendees found new techniques, tools, and best practices, and saw how some project deliverables had incorporated all of these innovations. Attendees had fun collecting travel stickers and gifts along the way. The four roads were:
- Main Street. Attendees viewed a presentation by each of our sponsors, using the new learning management system’s capabilities with PowerPoint and video. The presentation provided an overview of the Content Fair, why employees might be in attendance, and, most important, the vision that gave rise to the fair.
- Technology Road. Attendees experienced first hand, from vendors and other employees, the latest on search capabilities, XML, and naming convention standards. Attendees also learned about templates, processes, writing aids, multi-media creation and delivery, and how key usability factors are integrated to ensure accessibility to all users.
- Information Highway. Attendees took the opportunity to view how current intranet sites, product documentation, and a content collaboration project used various tools, techniques, processes, and standards. There was also a training booth providing information on available training to author, publish, manage, and deliver content.
- Road of Dreams. Attendees got a first-hand view of the following three initiatives, illustrating the progress and evolution of tools, techniques, processes, standards, and technologies.
- The New Learning Environment initiative, consisting of a learning management system, learning content management system, and integration with Placeware Web collaboration, provided a blended learning environment of training and a personal portal. These components linked employee, partner, and customer knowledge to business results and understanding customer trends.
- The Learning Knowledge Management initiative enabled the engineers to rapidly absorb and apply knowledge through a customized knowledge portal. The intranet site incorporated portlets such as the new learning environment, an automated course development process, schedules, tasks, and projects. Everything an engineer needed for his or her job was now available through a central access point.
- The CDSDoc initiative, which was a new version of the company online help system, enabled customers to create their own virtual libraries.
It was the most amazing experience to see and feel the excitement from so many employees wanting to share their knowledge. More than 250 employees attended the two-hour Content Fair. Attendees came to the fair because the experience satisfied multiple objectives related to knowledge management and learning, they were interested or curious, or their jobs required them to perform one or more of the following tasks:
- improve efficiency (more with less)
- increase effective use of resources
- manage content
- consolidate systems (cost savings)
- find content
- track content (on various repositories)
- deliver content
- reuse and repurpose content
The executive management was very supportive in allowing us to be creative in context and delivery. Our three sponsors and the CEO provided collaboration assistance, encouragement, and cooperation by walking around the fair to meet attendees and interface with those of us behind the scenes.
It was our goal to build an infrastructure, both systems and process, enabling users to find relevant content, follow standards, and use best practices and tools. We tried to keep tabs on content-related activities, deliverables, and projects in order to stream everyone down a common path. The Content Fair was our collaboration and teaming effort to share what we had learned and applied. The content-convergence and learning teams did an incredible and highly professional job. The event was a huge morale booster for all, and we were ecstatic with the positive feedback received.
Through the efforts of the convergent and learning transaction teams and as a result of the Content Fair, Cadence employees have experienced enhanced efficiency, improved productivity, system consolidation, increased access to information, and enhanced employee and customer satisfaction.
No one argues that content is a core element of a learning environment. To implement a sound and seamless learning environment required an in-depth view of the organization’s content activities. It was also critical to the success of the overall initiative that we engage as many of the employees as possible from the beginning to the end of the process. The content-convergent team orchestrated the collaboration, communication, and continuous learning that is still taking place today. The Content Fair was the catalyst event to promote the objectives of how to find information, leverage tools, learn about best practices, discover new techniques and tools for global communications, and contribute knowledge to the central knowledge base.
About the Author
Cindy Schott is a Principal Consultant for LearnSpire, a learning consultant company. Cindy previously worked at Cadence Design Systems, Inc., where she led several initiatives from reengineering the customer support environment to implementing a new learning environment, the Content Fair, and a blended learning Instructional Design workshop. She has over 20 years of technical-education experience, including 15 years in management at three different global companies.