In our recent blog post, 4 reasons to use DITA XML to create learning assessments, we mentioned that you can use DITA XML to create Learning & Training courses that people can access on their mobile phone or tablet in whatever language they prefer. That left readers wondering: How does that work, exactly? And how hard is it to do?
At a high level, DITA XML enables dynamic delivery by making content readable by a machine. Adding “semantic” markup code to your content gives it context and makes it possible to find, share, and present information in powerful ways. Let’s look at how this works in a Learning & Training environment.
DITA has a number of file types that have been specifically developed with L&T best practices in mind. When designing a new course, developers can start with a Learning Overview. Here’s what one looks like in the easyDITA XML editor:
The Learning Overview template is designed to give a student the information they need to find the course that is right for them. The content in the Introduction field will appear as a course description in syllabi and online course listings. By designating the Audience as Beginner, developers can ensure that the course will show up in lists and searches for Beginner’s courses. If there are prerequisites, listing them in the designated field will enable Learning Management Systems to prevent students from registering for a course they are not prepared to take.
These are just a few examples of semantic information that provides useful context that a machine can use to enhance your content. For non-technical people, using templates like this one makes it easier to enter the right information in the right place so that a machine can make the magic happen. Meanwhile, XML jockeys can look behind the scenes and get at the source code:
The stuff inside <angle brackets> is the markup. DITA and XML are standard markup languages, meaning everybody uses the exact same <tags>, so you can export your course from easyDITA and dynamically display it in any DITA-ready wiki or web CMS, or import it into a DITA-compliant automated translation tool. If you’re not using a standard like DITA XML, you may be locked in to a single vendor’s offerings and miss out on a lot of cool things. See more at 4 tests to prevent “vendor lock-in” for DITA, XML and other documentation tools.
Once you have the Learning Overview, it’s time to start creating course materials. DITA has four major classifications of information: Topics, Concepts, Tasks and Reference. Here’s what a task looks like in the easyDITA XML Editor:
Task files consist of a title, a short description of the file’s contents, the context of the task, and a series of numbered steps. In easyDITA, these are presented to the course developer in a familiar, word processing-style interface. Here’s the source code view:
By putting content inside markup tags, you can develop stylesheets to display each element perfectly on a computer screen, smartphone or printed Student Guide. Notes like the caution pictured here can be displayed with eye-catching colors, for instance. That’s just one more way that giving your content some rules and structure with DITA XML frees it to be used in the most user-friendly and useful ways. (It’s ironic, I know.)
Once your course is written, it’s time to assess the student’s mastery. We showed you this example of an assessment question in our previous blog:
Here’s the source code:
Each question type is defined by the DITA standard, so any tests you build are interoperable with DITA-compliant LMSs. Each assessment question can be linked to feedback and Learning Objectives, so students can review the material they haven’t mastered yet. Questions can be used and reused for many different purposes, including SCORM-compliant online training. As with all DITA content, stylesheets ensure that everything looks and works great in every delivery channel, including mobile.
Let us know if you have any questions, or would like to see a demo of easyDITA’s tools for creating state-of-the-art Learning & Training.