Rapid Media Development: Establishing a Production Workflow
The demand for quality learning content, and lots of it, will increasingly exert pressure on training departments to change their structures. Microlearning, mobile learning and content curation are just three trends pushing the learning function beyond an events model into a space where they must also become content factories.
Content creation is already a big activity in many training departments, given the development of e-learning over the past 15 years. Combine e-learning with these new trends, and it becomes clear that digital media content will be at the heart of training’s future.
The last article in this series discussed the importance of improving the professionalism of training content. This article looks at how training departments can maintain professionalism while ramping up the amount of content they create and how they can do so cost effectively. Newsrooms achieve this goal by following robust workflows.
If you make a cup of coffee every morning, you likely follow a workflow: Boil the water, grind the coffee beans, combine the ground beans and hot water, pour the coffee, and add sugar and cream. The more you follow that same routine, the more it becomes automatic – so much so you won’t consciously think about the brewing process each morning, and your mind will be free to wander to other things.
Successful media organizations follow carefully structured workflows for curating and creating content. Workflows serve many functions. In particular, they:
- Free the mind to be creative: At an individual level, if you’re creating a series of training videos and spend most of your time thinking about each step in the production process, you’ll have less mental space for creativity.
- Speed up production: The more you follow a workflow, the better you memorize each step. You can then perform routine tasks quickly with little time wasted trying to figure out the next step. Saving time also saves money.
- Ensure consistent quality: Good workflows have quality controls and checklists built into them to ensure content achieves its purpose and meets publication standards. These checkpoints allow production to continue at full speed while minimizing mistakes that cost time and money to fix down the track.
- Ensure better teamwork: A workflow ensures everyone follows the same steps. If one person is called away from a project, another colleague can quickly and easily step in to complete the work, because he or she will be familiar with the process and can make educated assumptions about what has been done so far. If content needs to be revisited or updated in a year’s time, producers will know exactly what to do at each step of the process to avoid reinventing the wheel.
Woody Allen famously said that 80 percent of success is simply showing up. Having a workflow to follow will increase the success of your content production process. It will equip you to make more content and do it more quickly.
However, a robust workflow that is well thought-out will lead to even more success. For example, when you make a cup of coffee, it makes sense to fill the kettle and start boiling the water before you grind the beans, because you can grind the beans while waiting for the water to boil. In production, doing certain tasks first will also save time. Successful newsrooms follow workflows that have been designed to save time. And while poor workflows often improve efficiency, good workflows generally improve both efficiency and creativity.
Rapid Media Workflow
“Rapid Media Development for Trainers” (ATD Press) shares a three-stage workflow for creating digital learning content that is ultimately divided into eight key steps:
- Create a persona for your learner, and identify the learning objective. The persona helps you make the content more personal and relevant, while the objective becomes a yardstick for editorial decision-making and keeps you on track.
- Break the content into knowledge and skills chunks. This step is about getting to know your content intimately by pulling it apart.
- Choose the modality that best supports teaching the topic. Text, graphics, audio and video work differently and are suited to different topics. Choosing the right one will either speed up or slow down the learner’s comprehension.
- Identify the device on which the learner will access the content. Content needs to be shaped for the user’s experience, which is hugely influenced by the device he or she uses. Knowing the likely device enables you create a conducive learning experience.
- Prepare the content. This step is the nuts and bolts of content creation, including research, scriptwriting and storyboarding.
- Plan the production. When working with audio and video, you’ll need to complete tasks like requesting location permissions, checking copyrights and doing risk assessments. You’ll also need to book the equipment and check that it is operable.
- Create the content. This step is what most people associate with media creation: writing text, recording audio, drawing graphics or shooting video. In reality, this step takes the least amount of time in the process when it’s well planned and carefully prepared.
- Edit the content. For text and graphics, this step is when the content is polished and checked. For audio and video, the editing stage represents the point where all the small elements are turned into one complete package.
Each individual step has its own sub-workflow. For example, effective editing follows a four-step process, whether the content is video, audio or text. Creating the structure for content follows a deliberate narrative process.
Workflows can look intimidating at first, especially for trainers who are used to successfully “winging it” in their approach to content production and who have possibly learned bad habits. When we wing it, we tend to perform a task differently each time. A workflow ensures consistency and, once you’ve been through it enough times, becomes automatic.
If you want to employ a newsroom model to your training function, to ensure your microlearning, mobile learning and content curation is professional and fast and leads to results, a workflow will be your best friend. And if you want more than one person in your team churning out great content, then it’s critical that all your team follow that same workflow.
Jonathan Halls hosts the weekly Media Pulse for Learning Professionals and is the author of “Rapid Media Development for Trainers,” “Rapid Video Development for Trainers” and “Video Script Writing.” He facilitates advanced train the trainer programs for mid-career learning professionals, provides workshops and consulting on digital media content, and teaches at George Washington University.