All Information Expires, So...


I work primarily in the field of Learning & Development (the industry formerly known as “Corporate Training”), and I’m always trying to encourage we professionals who do this work actually learn and develop ourselves. I tend to come from a systemic view and speak structurally and practically about how we can improve the quality of our work too.

Sometimes this is welcome, sometimes it just annoys people.

One of the more annoying things that I just can’t let go of is the structural matter of the need for updates to the stuff we make.

When we make learning assets, training resources, or 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, they need those records of what was once true. But for those of us who make resources for workplace learning, it does actually 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.

When we design learning around permanent facts, we’re doing it wrong.

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. 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 many remaining historical records can attest, the right answer was 7. In every case, the date you learned the answer is irrelevant to what is accepted as correct.

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? Now tell me about 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 just 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. Ignoring the changes underfoot or assuming yesterday’s content is still relevant to tomorrow’s performance does a disservice to our learners, our organizations, and discredits our very profession. This pretend permanence does not serve anyone. The familiar path is clearly not the right one.

Either we decide to design better, or we will be disrupted by those who have better designs.

Designing for the full lifecycle of your learning content is an unequivocally better choice. And examples abound of other industries that have pulled this off. While our online courses and events continue to lag, the world wide web itself now separates its dynamic content from dynamic display from dynamic behavior on the vast majority of websites. 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.

Over half of the internet traffic may be mobile, but this doesn’t affect our courses, right?” Well, maybe. But maybe only for now. 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 already been doing for some time.

Expired content will still be seen as long as it is active, yet no one in your workplace should ever see again. It is no longer valid. Learner exposure to this content costs us all.

Likewise, attempted exposure of correct content to Learners who cannot see it — or cannot interact with it as intended — will confuse and frustrate everyone. This is not the kind of impact we want to have.

Whenever we are actively engaged in creating a reality that we don’t actually like or want, I can’t help but raise annoying points like this. Why? Why would we do it this way? Why not just do it the smart way, which also happens to be easier and better and every way?

I still struggle to comprehend the nature of the ongoing problem here. If you have some insight of your own to lend, I’d love it if you would do so in the comments below. Thanks!

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