There’s a lot of good reasons why you should take advantage of DITA to create dynamic Learning & Training courses. One is that DITA XML has some great tools that you can use to measure a student’s mastery of the material, and these assessments can be integrated directly into your learning management system. Here are four more reasons, followed by a how-to:
1. Reuse content from support systems, User Guides, and online help
It’s unfortunate but true that in many organizations learning & training, technical documentation, and support services are completely isolated from one another. They all develop more or less the same content in their own little silos, with very little reuse of information. At global companies this means duplicate content is being sent out for review and translation every day, greatly increasing the cost to the enterprise.
To the customer this means the messages they are getting from many companies are inconsistent and even inaccurate. The problem is made worse by the fact that many popular tools in the learning space (PowerPoint, Captivate) are unstructured, meaning course developers get to enjoy a few creative liberties but organizations lose control of their content.
As we said in our white paper, DITA for Everyone: It’s Not Just for TechPubs, not only is content being developed redundantly, it is often stored in several different repositories and content management systems. As a result, final output from the three different departments, or even from different groups of courseware creators, can look quite different. So much for maintaining a consistent brand.
The ability to share and reuse content is one of the major arguments for using DITA and a good CMS to create and manage high-value, customer-facing content. If you are creating a learning module on a topic that is in the User Guide, for example, you can reuse the existing topic instead of re-creating it. The same efficiency is available when you write phone scripts for the support desk.
Training content itself includes many reuse scenarios. Instructor manuals, Student guides, syllabi and practice tests are all examples of training deliverables that can be pieced together from existing content.
This is not to say that technical writers, help authors and instructional designers are now interchangeable. But as documentation becomes more task-focused and minimalist, and content that used to go into a training manual can now be delivered more effectively through a help system, companies can adopt the mix of training, documentation and help that best serves their customers.
2. Assemble entire courses from learning modules and assessments
Leveraging DITA’s structure is a great way to create consistent learning content that follows good instructional design principles. Use DITA Tasks to walk the learner through step-by-step procedures, while Concepts explain the context and answers the Why? questions. DITA topics are modular, so they can be easily mixed and matched to create customized courses tailored to specific audiences or situations.
In addition, the DITA Learning & Training specialization has 100+ learning-specific elements. Drawing on a consistent set of best practices, DITA will help you organize entire courses; Learning Maps begin with an Introduction, and have designated spots to input the expected Duration of each module, list your Objectives, etc. Learning Summaries include semantic elements for Review, Next Steps, and Resources.
Assessments can be used throughout the course to gauge and direct a learner’s progress through the material.
3. Relate learning objectives to content.
Good training courses are usually goal-oriented. They add value to your product documentation by putting the focus on those critical real world tasks that a user has to understand and perform to be successful. The DITA Learning & Training specialization contains several features that enable Learning Objectives (LOS) to drive your instructional design.
Everything starts with Learning Objectives. Once you set them up, you can reuse them in your syllabus, course overviews, and summaries. You can create a master overview topic for each LOS, and use Learning Maps to connect your objectives to the relevant DITA topics.
When it’s time to evaluate your learner’s progress, assessment questions can be linked to the Learning Objectives they test. When a student gets an answer wrong, you can direct them to the appropriate topic for review. The system can be integrated with a Learning Management System (LMS) to report who has mastered each LOS.
With DITA, everything reinforces the learning goal.
4. Support multiple delivery pipelines.
One of the major advantages of DITA is that it separates content from formatting. That means that, unlike courses built in traditional desktop publishing programs like Word or PowerPoint, you can output your content in print or online and use style sheets to ensure that it looks great in every delivery channel, including mobile.
With a DITA XML CMS like easyDITA, you can integrate with an LMS for even more output options. The DITA Learning & Training specialization also supports generating SCORM, the standard for delivering online training.
For assessments, when you store each question as a separate topic, you can present them to the learner in an organized way – by LOS, by module, or any criteria you select. You can control the use of each question, ensuring that you only use it once in a certain course deliverable or period of time. You can reuse question in practice tests and end-of-module reviews.
Imagine a customer accessing your learning content on their mobile phone or tablet and being delivered a custom training module or job aid based on who they are, where they are, and what language they prefer. You can do that today with a DITA-based learning application, dynamically delivering content based on DITA elements for Audience and Prerequisites, as well as data pulled directly from the device via W3C standard APIs, including time, geolocation, touch, orientation, direction, and motion.
How to create learning assessments in easyDITA
easyDITA makes creating any kind of DITA content easy, even for non-technical authors and instructional designers used to working in Word, PowerPoint and FrameMaker. Our L&T module gives you a template for building assessment questions that feature all the benefits of structured content but keeps the scary coding out of sight.
Here’s how to do it. In the Create New drop-down menu, select Learning Assessment.
A blank learning assessment template is created. By default, this contains a single multiple choice question. You can delete it and add a new question type, if you want.
Tip: If every question is contained in its own DITA file, you will have more options for how to use it later. For example, you can randomly select questions from a pool to generate a unique test for each student.
You can add an image or audio/video file to the question by clicking the Add Asset button.
Type the question in the Question field and fill in the answers. Each answer can be associated with specific feedback. Click the checkbox to indicate which answers are correct.
Each question type is different, with unique things that need to be filled in and configured.
We take a deeper dive into all this in our follow-up blog, What Does Semantic Content in DITA Look Like?