In his book “The World is Flat,” Tom Friedman highlights the democratization of content. Digital content can now be produced by anyone, anywhere and published to everyone, rapidly and for very low cost. We can see this trend outside of the workplace in the rise of blogs, wikis and personal publishing sites such as MySpace and Facebook. More people are taking pictures now with mobile phone cameras, in part to be able to instantly publish their images for a wider audience’s pleasure (or agony).
The democratization of content has been a steady trend over the past 20 years:
- Word Processing: When I started my first job, I was not allowed to have a typewriter. That publishing device was restricted to secretarial and administrative staff. I was supposed to either handwrite my letters or speak them out loud to a Dictaphone or secretary with transcription pad. I hid my personal typewriter in a closet to use at night after the typing police left the building. Word processing (and then e-mail) democratized letter writing.
- PowerPoint: Not so long ago a corporate slide presentation required a three-week timeframe to produce the overheads. We had to work with a graphic designer and a slide production specialist in the organization. Last-minute changes meant revisions two weeks before the presentation. PowerPoint democratized the production of slide shows.
The democratization trend is now impacting learning content in organizations as well. Here are a few trends and technologies to track:
- Rapid Learning Content: Line managers are leveraging tools and systems to create learning content, including rapid learning authoring models to learning content management systems. Using templates, a line manager can quickly produce a just-in-time module and disseminate out to the enterprise.
- The Wisdom of the Crowds: In James Surowiecki’s book, “The Wisdom of the Crowds,” he points to the power of corporate blogs and social networks to rapidly share multiple points of expertise. Building the capacity to publish safely from every corner of the enterprise brings a whole new set of challenges to the knowledge management activity. In addition, learners will be able to rate documents as they are published to allow for those with the highest value to float to the top of the charts.
- Mobile Devices at Work: Our current experience of mobile devices in the workplace is focused on Blackberry/Treo access to e-mail and the growing use of cell phones. With voice-to-text transcription services and digital cameras/recorders, the mobile device will rapidly become a content publishing tool in our organizations.
- Google Your Way to Knowledge: Increasing use of search engines such as Google will extend to corporate knowledge bases. Organizations will begin to use formats such as XML as their structure for all documents to allow for more targeted searching of published knowledge. Microsoft is shifting from .doc, .xls and .ppt for Office document formats to a common XML structure. We will need to start to “tag” documents to allow for easier search.
Learning departments have key roles to play in the democratization of content:
- Models for Quality Publishing: PowerPoint and word processing did not improve the quality of content, just the quantity and velocity. We need to create templates, role models and learning processes to help increase the value of publishing.
- Management of Content: Content management strategies are key to make content discoverable and reviewable.
- Culture Shifts: The democratization of content is coming. This is a culture and organizational change opportunity. How do we create a global publishing culture for our enterprises that keep us nimble and retain our key people?
The democratization of content is about creating a culture of learning and effectiveness that makes our enterprises nimble, current, self-correcting and smarter.
Elliott Masie is the CEO of The MASIE Center’s Learning Consortium. He can be reached at email@example.com.