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Customized for You December 18, 2006

Posted by Ben Craigo in Intructional Design, Trends.

I watched David Letterman a couple weeks ago when Beck (a musician) was on promoting his new CD – The Information.  In the opening monologue David commented on how the CD cover is basically blank.  Inside there are several small sheets of stickers that allow the buyer to create their own custom cover.  His final comment on it was along the lines of “You know, for the price you have to pay for this thing I would expect the cover art to already be done.” It was a funny line (you had to be there).  

After seeing that bit, I put together a draft of this blog entry.  The interesting thing about that CD, and the joke that went with it, is that more and more people are expecting and demanding products and services tailored to their wants and needs.  This goes for e-Learning as well. 

As a content provider, the courses I produce are all designed with the expectation that the client will want things about it changed – matching the corporate brand, additional lead-in or trailing content, changing/adding content, new videos and even different actors.  Basically I need to be able to take a course that is on the shelf and tailor it to fit an organization’s culture and goals. 

Customizing an existing course doesn’t sound too hard on the surface.  There are probably a few folks out there who are already thinking about exactly how they would go back in and make changes to one of their courses if they had to.  However, the challenge is being able to make the changes efficiently and effectively, without changing the core message of the course, and be able to do that process over and over and over again. 

An even bigger challenge is how to manage all those different versions of the course that are now propagated who-knows-where.  If you had to update the core content of the course, that is now in several different tailored states and being used by different groups of learners, how would you notify all the different deployments and rollout the updates?  What happens when there are folks learning off different versions of a similar course?

In order to manage for customization effectively, the planning must happen up front.  Jot down those areas you expect to be changed in the future and think through each scenario.  The goal is to design ahead of the requests.  Of course, there is also a danger in over thinking a solution.  Know when to pull out of an analysis nose dive.  There are always going to be those things that will be a snap, those that will take some effort but are manageable, and those things that effectively make it a new course.

Even if you don’t make shrink wrapped courses, this same challenge comes with creating processes that adapt for different types of contents for new course requests.  How do you design for change?  How do you satisfy the increasing needs of creating custom content for your learners?



1. Cynthia Huber, CTM - December 31, 2006

What a great article -and food for thought. I have not had to face this issue for my own business…yet, but see it on the horizon taunting me! I am so interested in knowing how others handle this and hope that you get many responses.

2. Ben Craigo - December 31, 2006

Cynthia – Thanks for the comment. I would wager you do quite a bit of customization on the fly in your trainings. It’s one of the reasons why training with someone face-to-face is the Cadillac of training (as long as the trainer is good, of course). The core content remains the same, but you’ll tailor its delivery based on time, verbal/non-verbal feedback from students, how fast they get it, etc.

For e-Learning it’s a different approach, only with the same goals. And the method is different if you are doing live e-Learning (think WebEx) vs. self-paced/on demand e-Learning (web based training).

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