Content-as-a-Service offerings are emerging as a way to solve
the issues surrounding the maintenance and delivery of effective
online training that have been hampering organizations since the
inception of e-learning.
An old mantra proclaims that "Content Is King." In many
organizations, where content management is considered a business
critical strategy for staying up-to-date with the ever-changing
business landscape, this statement is quite true. In the training
and development market, a strategic content management strategy is
nothing but essential to effective e-learning.
Learning content management emerged in the late 1990s as
organizations migrated their classroom-based training initiatives
to e-learning. Today, Forrester estimates the learning content
market at approximately $150 million. Since its introduction, a
series of market developments have had an impact on the cost,
flexibility, and the business benefits of e-learning content
solutions, though none as significant as the introduction of the
concept of Content-as-a-Service (CaaS).
Content-as-a-Service offerings emerged some three years ago as a
way to solve the issues surrounding the maintenance and delivery of
effective online training that have been hampering organizations
since the inception of e-learning. The last two years have seen
major adoption and expansion of the services provided to support
online content. Several learning management system (LMS) vendors
have introduced offerings, varying in completeness, to try to solve
the e-learning problem. However, content is still the most
neglected piece of an organization's learning strategy.
CaaS as a Trend
The foocus of application functionality and user interface still
dominates the buying process and arguably. Second, organizations
need to weigh heavily the consequences of ignoring the ability to
effectively manage and deliver e-learning. Ignoring content or
accepting a decentralized hosted model will continue to cause
integration and training problems rendering the best training
strategies ineffective. Find the LMS that best fits organizational
requirements, but do not forget the effect of online training in
this decision process. This is equivalent to buying the perfect car
Over the last couple of years, it has become even clearer that
companies continue to struggle with content management and
delivery. Internally developed content continues to be the major
area of concern in most organizations. Developing content requires
tools, technical expertise, subject matter experts, and
infrastructure to deliver the content effectively after
Internally developed content or custom content is also the most
valuable content to organizations as it encapsulates specific
business processes, firm culture, and unique intellectual property.
The ability to effectively manage, update, and deliver this content
remains the cornerstone of an e-learning strategy. Additionally,
most organizations struggle to load third-party vendor libraries,
as they are hundreds if not thousands of titles deep.
More importantly, organizations lack the ability to handle the
significant number of monthly updates for large libraries, which
can number in the hundreds. Loading content for "go-live" creates a
snapshot of valid content but this becomes stale over time. Not
accounting for updates is the mistake that compounds monthly. A new
trend of outsourcing the management of third-party titles has
proven successful for many organizations in satisfying end user
demands, containing internal costs, and maintaining content quality
The economic downturn in the fall of 2008 accelerated an existing
trend away from instructor-led-only strategies. As e-learning
becomes more robust and effective, there is less need for expensive
classroom based training, which limits or restricts the end-user
consumption. End users are increasingly looking for the ability to
take training during off hours, OnDemand, or via mobile learning.
This fits with shrinking internal budgets while organizations
attempt to train more with less.
The success of CaaS hinges on the flexibility of services to meet
varied customer needs. This flexibility is evident in the way
companies now purchase content. The concept of custom bundles,
whereby organizations choose titles to fit their exact learning and
development need, is one example of this process shift. Custom
bundles allow companies to pick titles from multiple catalogs,
multiple providers, and create a unique set of training for their
user base. Bundles typically range from 25 to 100 titles, which is
more in line with what an organization needs to support end-user
e-learning consumption, rather than purchasing 2000 plus titles
that largely go unused.
Organizations are no longer willing to purchase thousands of titles
that sit unused only to show a large inventory. In addition, some
companies are trying a mixed model approach where CaaS providers
manage a sub-set of the overall content library that the company is
having difficulty managing internally.
Companies leverage Content-as-a-Service to purchase content with
increased flexibility in timing, size, and levels. CaaS allows
companies to purchase in a pay-as-you go model or with pre-paid
cards. Each allows companies maximum flexibility in regards to
budgets and payment cycles. The added transparency of CaaS allows
managers visibility into the ROI of the training and determines
where the budgets are most effective.
A final trend seen with CaaS is somewhat surprising, as it busts a
common e-learning myth. Early CaaS solutions often fell short in
providing an e-learning only experience, given the lackluster
market response. It is a myth that some organizations need ONLY
e-learning. Companies need a meaningful way to deliver e-learning,
for numerous business reasons, but they also need additional LMS
Organizations serious about training need more than just
e-learning. Logging into a platform to take a few courses, albeit
simple, falls short of developing a strategic and effective
training program. The traditional LMS system provides e-learning,
plus hundreds (if not thousands) of other features. Some obvious
missing pieces are instructor-led training (ILT), virtual
classrooms, and blended learning. Even with the move away from ILT,
there is and will most likely always be a need for some blended or
As organizations develop training strategies, requirements that are
more complex evolve with credits, pre-requisites, eCommerce,
chargeback's, reporting, grouping, catalog management, and so
forth. Companies who prioritize training and employee development
need more than the ability to launch and take an online course -
they need a complete solution.
The paradigm shift around e-learning into a CaaS model is providing
a more meaningful solution for all sizes of companies. The
popularity of SaaS helps fuel the adoption of CaaS as more
organizations focus on the effectiveness and value of e-learning
and forgo wrestling with expensive infrastructure and resources.
This change allows organizations to drive additional value,
increase effectiveness, and lower overall costs.
Simple Questions, Tough Answers
The struggle for an organization to effectively manage and deliver
e-learning has increased. Technology improves the breadth and
complexity of content driving the necessary skills to support and
deliver it. More companies are using videos and simulations coupled
with more traditional static e-learning to train organizations.
However, most companies have not increased their internal technical
capabilities to handle existing content requirements, regardless of
e-learning's expanded role. These are the same problems that became
evident a few years ago, but they are growing larger and deeper.
Companies still do not have expertise or process to effectively
load, manage, test, and deliver e-learning.
Companies still struggle with the basic questions:
- Who produces XYZ type courses?
- Do I have the most recent version of this course?
- Will this course work with my LMS?
- Do I have the bandwidth and storage capability to support my
- What content do I have available for users?
- What content is being used?
- Where do I get more content?
These are the basic questions a CaaS solution solves and allows
companies to focus on the most important question: is the content
providing effective training? Organizations contemplating a CaaS
solution should find one that allows them focus on delivering the
right training to the right audience at the right time.
Dealing with the technical complexities and standards (AICC/SCORM)
of e-learning are a technical subspecialty. Without technical
resources and staff to administer content the basic steps of
loading content and managing updates becomes overwhelming. The
initial step of loading content still stymies organizations as they
attempt to publish hundreds if not thousands of titles. Once
published, the need to support e-learning expands as the problems
of launching, tracking, bookmarking, and recording scores requires
well-developed content and support.
Many organizations have multiple development tools that produce
content that behaves differently across LMSs - and especially
across different end-user environments. Different patches or
versions of the OS, Java, and browsers are only a few of the
technical support hurdles derailing e-learning. This is expanding
in complexity as more browsers and OS versions enter the market.
Another persistent hurdle is content delivery. The best content in
the world is rendered useless if users cannot download and consume
the title. As organizations expand globally and content becomes
heavier (simulations and video) the need for a content distribution
network (CDN) increases, but again is often ignored. Using a simple
content hosting box is less appealing but the adoption of a CDN for
some is still not a reality due to costs. A CDN solution such as
Akamai allows a consistent and reliable delivery stream for any
geographically dispersed workforce. Any CaaS solution must provide
access to a global CDN to remove this delivery problem.
Having technical and administrative staff on hand to trouble shoot
content issues is essential but costly. The list of technological
challenges above requires a broad set of skills that are difficult
to find, maintain, and afford. The simple task of discovering if
the issue is content or application related requires a unique skill
set most companies do not employ.
A simple example:
- Content is tested in a staging environment and rolled out to
- The content works for everyone but a small set of users.
- Troubleshooting those end-user environment variables requires a
deep technical knowledge of content, applications, networks, web
technologies, and programming.
Process and Updates
After the labor discussion, process problems quickly arise around
who is qualified and authorized to test and manage content. During
an implementation, content is published and ready for go-live,
however that content begins to stagnate on Day 1. Without personnel
and processes to update the content it will become stale and
ineffective. Most organization's implementation teams dwindle and
the remaining administrative staff is ill equipped to handle
e-learning. The technical skills continually vanish leaving
frustrated administers and end-users.
The update problem is exacerbated by the introduction of large
third-party libraries. As organizations took the approach of
covering, every topic for every user, they purchased entire
catalogs of content. Most vendors put out monthly updates for
content, which are required to keep the content accurate and fresh,
these require resources to manage and apply. Again, organizations
typically do not consider the update process with online content,
and much of the value of purchased content is lost as it becomes
unused or stale. This hampers adoption rates and training schedules
as users train on old content or wait for the latest version.
Lastly, the problem of authorized publication continues to be a
problem. The process of controlling the" who" and the "what" around
e-learning eludes most companies. Organizations need to know what
content is published and who is responsible or authorized to
publish. Too often organizations allow too many, too few, or the
wrong people to publish content causing cost and training problems.
Custom Content is King
As expected, internally developed custom content is still the most
valuable to companies. Moreover, this content continues to be the
most problematic for all of the reasons listed here. A consistent
issue centers on finding a consistent development process. There
are hundreds in the market and organizations typically have several
in-house. Most companies use custom content as a means to train
specific business process and procedures. The content is developed
on many different tools by SMEs and then rolled out to the field.
However, SMEs do not have the technical background to ensure the
content will function properly with an LMS.
A course may launch and play correctly in the development tool but
still fail in an LMS. Custom content contains the intellectual
property and business process most important to organizations. The
effective management and delivery of this content is crucial to
effective training plans. Inconsistent development techniques and
tools create content that may work in some environments and fail in
others. Unfortunately, companies continue to rely on SMEs or LMS
administrators to troubleshoot and publish custom content no matter
that they lack the necessary skills.
Less is More
The problems of the global economy in 2008 and 2009 cascaded down
to many training and development organizations. This translated to
smaller staffs and budgets to deal with e-learning or training in
general. We continue to see a shift away from ILT-only training to
move of a blended approach with emphasis on e-learning. This is an
attempt to try to alleviate some of the costs associated with
The smaller staffs compounded the troubles with e-learning as the
number of available resources to handle problems decreased while
the reliance and usage of online training increased. This created a
perfect storm for some LMS administrators who assume responsibility
for handling the overflow and increased occurrence of e-learning
Another shift is caused by demographics as the demands of a younger
work force look for alternatives to traditional training methods.
The changes in technology with bandwidth, social media, and content
development allow organizations to train employees in
ever-increasing fashion. More learning is done during off hours,
on-demand, and through simulations. These technologies are
increasingly popular and effective while adding to the technical
complexity of the infrastructure and skill sets necessary. This
trend will expand and increase in velocity over the next couple of
years, forcing companies to seek different solutions.
What a Short Strange Trip It's Been
It has only been a couple of years since CaaS entered the market as
a viable solution. This short strange trip is a true paradigm shift
in how organizations view and use e-learning. A paradigm shift
causes confusion, doubt, and froth in most markets and the content
world is no exception.
The adoption of CaaS was a slow and often confusing process as
companies were forced to understand and deal with problems larger
than just GBs of storage. However, with multiple CaaS offerings in
the market and the general acceptance of SaaS, the confusion is
dissipating with true long-term benefits for the market. Without
the constraints and fears of managing and delivering e-learning
organizations now focus on the effectiveness of training.
Organizations do not need to worry about hosting infrastructure or
specialized technical resources to support the complex e-learning
The goal of every CaaS solution should be to allow a company to
focus on delivering the right training to the right people at the
right time. There will be more changes as CaaS evolves and grows
and new ecosystems spring forth to expand the offerings. This
should enable training managers to more easily find and deliver
high quality e-learning across global teams at a lower costs and
higher acceptance rates. CaaS has changed rapidly over the last
several years and this change should only accelerate as more
vendors enter the market and companies continue to embrace the
benefits of the model.