Permanent = Expired

Aug 13, 2018

When we make learning assets, training resources, and support documentation, we typically do so under the belief that they will be permanent. But this is a false belief in all cases. And this is a belief that does us — and our precious learners — harm.

Yes, facts do indeed change over time. For historians and auditors, nothing should be thrown away, we need the records of what once was true. But for we who make resources for workplace learning, it does mean throwing the old things away so no one will be confused about what is now true. When we design learning around permanent facts, we’re doing it wrong. We’re assuming those facts will stay put. There is 100% chance that they will not. The only question is how long it will take before they change.

Don’t believe me? Okay, then tell me something simple, like how many planets there are in our solar system. Although it’s true that there are no more or less objects in the heavens above, the correct answer depends entirely upon what date you give it, not when you learned it. In 2018, there are 8 planets in our solar system. A dozen years ago, it was 9. Based on mathematical models, it is likely to be 9 again soon. A hundred years ago, it was 8. For over 50 years before that, as books in this library can attest, the right answer was actually 7.

For a more down to Earth example, how do you convert a contact to a lead to a customer in the sales system where you work? Tell me how that process hasn’t changed at all since the company was founded. I’m going to guess this process has probably changed a bit within the last decade. And if so, the odds are quite good that it will change again within the next.

Even if the process doesn’t change, the delivery method probably will. All those Flash interactivities we were building in in 2008 don’t work so well in 2018, do they?

With most of our development tools, it’s like we’re still designing for a printed page. For a simple training example, let’s say I make a training catalog for an 8.5 by 11 sheet of paper. Will it work on A4? Um, maybe, we’ll have to check. Will it work with your email newsletter? No, not really. Will it work with your responsive website? Nope. Will it scale for the future needs that you haven’t yet identified? No, it will not.

When we build learning assets as if they are permanent resources, when we deliver training fixed to a specific and immobile medium, we sabotage ourselves and any future learners we hope to serve. Why are we still doing this?

I believe we would be better served to cut it out. We can choose to design for the fact that everything expires, we can decide make things that adapt to their context.

In truth, we must do this. Either we decide to design better, or we will be disrupted by those who have better designs. The pace of change is only increasing. Pretend permanence is a poor choice. But it’s a path we know very well.

Designing for the full lifecycle of your learning content is an unequivocally better choice. And examples abound of other industries of that have pulled this off. Indeed the world wide web now separates content from display from behavior on the vast majority of its websites, yet our online courses and events continue to lag. So far we’ve been able to mostly limp along by requiring special hardware or software, and choosing not to support anything that deviates from spec. But if we want to do right by our learners, and remain relevant to the businesses we serve, we’ll need to catch up to what the rest of the world has been doing for some time.

Expired content is content that your learners still continue to see as long as it is active, yet no one in your workplace should ever see it again. It is no longer valid, and this costs us all.

You can help eliminate this problem where you work. Will you?

It all starts with a conversation

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