The world's best training content all in one place?

This post is the first in a series we'll use to explore the different kinds of learning content that companies use to train their employees.  Getting excited?  Let’s do it!

Of all the different kinds of content out there, there is one particular that, at least for me, is most associated with the Training and Development industry: off-the-shelf content libraries.

Off-the-shelf content libraries are a collections of learning content typically sold to organizations by vendors as a package and installed in an LMS.  The most prominent examples include Skillsoft, Bizlibrary, and CrossKnowledge.  Of course, there are many more of these out there, so if you have a particular favorite let me know in the comments - don’t be shy!

So what has made these kinds of content libraries a mainstay of the training industry?

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Benefits

Comprehensive

These content libraries have tens of thousands of courses in them, across abroad array of subjects, generally deemed as important to the enterprise.  This is a huge plus for any L&D professional looking to get their organization equipped with training content as quickly as possible, because they can be sure they’re going to be covering their bases.

Well Known

Another benefit is that they’re a known quantity.  Over the 10+ years that these vendors have been around, hundreds or thousands of organizations have purchased the same content library, so it’s a pretty risk-free decision.  That’s why, as I heard one guy put it, “...no one ever gets fired for going with Skillsoft.”  That said, most of us aspire to do more than just keeping our jobs, so we’ll keep investigating.

SCORM

Finally, an oft-cited benefit of the courses in these big content libraries is that they are almost always 100% SCORM compliant.  Why is this important?  Two main reasons are:

  1. SCORM works with your LMS

  2. SCORM allows you to deliver compliance training

Truthfully, SCORM itself isn’t actually providing this benefit, it’s the widespread compatibility between SCORM content and your LMS that enables these uses, but we’ll save the SCORM post for another day. The key point here is that comprehensive content libraries are generally all SCORM courses, which can meet your compliance needs, and will work with most LMSs out there.

Tradeoffs

You can’t have benefits with at least some tradeoffs, right?

SCORM

It’s a blessing, but also a curse.  There’s just no diplomatic way to say this: the SCORM courses in these content libraries are almost universally ugly, boring, and outdated, and always will be.*  (My apologies to those of you who create these things - it’s not you, it’s the medium).  If fostering genuine interest and engagement is not a top priority (and there are legitimate reasons that that may be the case), this may not be an issue. However, if you do care about learners not disliking your learning resources, SCORM is not doing you any favors.

Side note:  I actually think it’s worth delving into why SCORM was created in the first place, why it is still in use, what might change if the industry were to move beyond it, and how we might be able to make that happen, but I’ll leave those more expansive thoughts for a future post.

Jack of All Trades, Expert At None

This is the counterpoint to the comprehensive nature of content libraries: they have so much content across such a wide range of topics that it would be completely unreasonable to expect this content to be uniformly high quality.  Not only that, given how fast we know the world is changing, imagine trying to keep 17,000 in-depth courses up to date...  Forget about it!  I have no data on what the average age of a Skillsoft course is, but I wouldn’t have high hopes.  Again, maybe this isn’t important to you, but you should expect that it factors into the way your learners perceive their training.

Lack of Transparency

Content libraries are not competitive marketplaces, so there’s no real way for you to tell how valuable others find the content to be.  Without this transparency, you’re basically left to take it or leave it and hope for the best.

As for pricing - I don’t actually know if this is a tradeoff or a benefit because, well, there doesn’t seem to be much transparency into this either.

Conclusion

Content Libraries are one of the quickest ways to get a broad catalogue of learning content that can be used for both compliance training as well as general professional development. However, because of their broad nature, they are not very engaging or up to date. For many L&D professionals, the benefits outweigh the tradeoffs, but remember that there are many other great sources of learning content.  Our next post will look at one of the hotter topics in e-learning: MOOCs.


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