Training and Information Development: A collaboration worth doing

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April 2011

From the Director

CIDMIconNewsletterJoAnn Hackos

Training and Information Development: A collaboration worth doing

Are you an information-development manager with little or no contact with your training organization? Are you a training manager with little information about the work done by the technical writers? Or, are you the lucky manager who has responsibility for both?

With the DITA 1.2 specification, we officially released the Learning and Training specialization of the DITA information model. An OASIS DITA subcommittee headed by John Hunt of IBM developed the Learning and Training specialization. The subcommittee incorporated advice and input from many well-known instructional design leaders, including Ruth Colvin Clark and Wayne Hodgins. Ruth Clark’s work supports the concept of information types, dividing information in tasks, concepts, and reference topics. Information typing is a core organizing principle of the DITA standard. Clark explains that technical content can be separated into facts, concepts, processes, procedures, and principles. In the latest edition of her book, Developing Technical Training (Pfeiffer, 2007), helps instructional designers develop a systematic approach to training.

The Learning and Training specialization builds on the core technical communication information types, supporting the opportunity for instructional designers and information developers to collaborate on designing and producing content. The concepts taught in training should be closely related to the concepts in the technical manuals. Procedures provide step-by-step instruction in e-learning tutorials and classroom training. They also support an action-oriented approach to technical content in user information.

Reference information is perhaps best reserved to information accessed through search in HTML and online help or within PDF versions of print manuals. Reference information in training material is generally restricted to facts that are required to complete tutorials.

If both instructional designers and information developers develop tasks, concepts, and reference that can be used in either training courses or manuals, they will win all around:

  • Reusable topics in multiple e-learning and instructor-led courses and in multiple user guides, admin guides, help systems, or information websites
  • One source of core content for technical review and translation
  • One source of information coming from subject-matter experts, including product developers, application engineers, service and support, and more

The potential for time and cost savings is significant—as long as both teams agree to share the design and development process.

The DITA Learning and Training specialization contains, however, far more than the core technical communication information types. It includes information types that support the planning and development of courseware. For example, in the specialization, you will find DITA XML templates for

  • Learning and training plans
  • Learning objectives organized in a learning overview
  • Learning summaries to reinforce for the participants what has been learned
  • Learning assessments to help participants test their knowledge

All of this content, including the core information developed in concept, task, and reference topics or other learning-specific information types, can be organized in a learning and training map. In fact, learning content can also be included in any DITA map.

One of the richest areas of the Learning and Training specialization are the learning assessment, which include many different test types:

  • True/false
  • Single select
  • Multiple select
  • Sequencing
  • Matching
  • Open-ended questions
  • Hotspot interactions

You can also add Instructor Notes. Adding conditional publishing attributes and using the full range of learning metadata makes it possible to develop instructor and student versions of the training materials.

As you can see, the Learning and Training specialization provides a full set of functionality for instructional designers to develop instructor-led and e-learning courseware at the same time that information developers use DITA to develop topic-centric assistance for customers.

The key, of course, to successful integrated content development is collaboration. In the most successful implementations, information developers and instructional designers work together to plan and design content and user interactions. With an integrated and collaborative team, everyone ensures that the DITA topics are useful and usable in both applications.

Remember that leadership may come from either team. Collaborative information and training development saves time for all the developers, including the product developers and other partners who provide input and review. Collaborative development saves costs throughout the information-development life cycle and reduces the cost of localization and translation of the content.

By working together information developers and instructional designers inevitably create information and user assistance that provides greater value for the customers and the corporation. CIDMIconNewsletter