Learning Leftovers: How to Repurpose Your Old L&D Content

repurpose old learning contentWhen the new year starts, we’re used to hearing phrases like “out with the old, in with the new” or “new year, new me.” New things are better, right? And isn’t the new year the best time for revamping everything from your home to your team’s goals to your company’s L&D content?

Not exactly. When it comes to your learning and development program, you may find yourself reluctant to throw out old content for various reasons. Some of it may still be relevant. The L&D team may have worked hard on older content. You may be particularly proud of some modules. And of course, there’s the bottom line: it’s expensive to create quality custom training content, and — though it tends to cost less — you also shell out for off-the-shelf courses. Having to toss out something you just built or bought may not sit well with you or your team. And good news: you don’t have to.

Does this mean I don’t have to update my L&D content?

Quick note: this blog post is not a license to just leave your L&D the way it is forever! (You wouldn’t leave holiday decorations up all year, would you)?

You definitely have to update content regularly. Regulations are often changed, which means compliance content needs to be updated. New products or job descriptions mean you’ll have to update learning modules. New technology is also a reason for a learning content upgrade.

None of those reasons mean you have to throw out all your old learning, however. It’s just time to repurpose it so it better fits your organization’s needs. Now, at the start of the new year — when your fridge may be full of last month’s holiday cookies, and your home may still have wrapping paper strewn all over (full disclosure: mine does) — is the best time to figure out how to reuse your learning leftovers.

7 tips for repurposing your learning content

1. First, see what you have

If you don’t have a complete inventory of your learning assets, now is the time to make one. Create a list of every bit of training material your organization uses, from courses to webinars to the content used in live instructor-led training. Include some assets that you might not think of as training materials, such as PDFs, PowerPoints, and quizzes — the sorts of things that might have fallen out of use once learning went digital during the pandemic. Once you can see what you have, you’ll be better able to manage it.

2. Ask yourself the hard questions

Now that you’ve collected all your learning assets in a single location, it’s time to give them each a long hard look. Are these items still useful to your organization? You and your team can better understand the usefulness of a piece of content by asking certain questions about it. An article in Training Industry offers a list of useful questions for curating existing content. The ones we’d like to focus on here are the following:

  • Is this content relevant to our learners and our organization?
  • Have learners engaged with this content?
  • Might this content work better in a different format?
  • Is this content necessary?

You may not love that last question, but it’s an important one. As the Training Industry article points out, sometimes it’s better for a skill to be learned in the course of everyday work than to be taught in a course or module.

3. Ask other people the hard questions

When you’re reviewing old content, it helps to have input from your learners. If you’ve been using learner engagement surveys to evaluate content, as an increasing number of L&D pros have done in the past year, you’ll have learner feedback about course engagement and satisfaction at your fingertips.

If not, this is a good year to start, but in the meantime, have a look at studies about learner preferences, like this report from Training Industry and Litmos about what learners want in their training. Such reports contain a treasure trove of information about how learners prefer training — for example, more than half of learners prefer live, in-person training, but learners with more complex jobs prefer virtual and informal training.

4. Trim the fat

After evaluating your learning assets, it’s time to do the work of editing your training materials. Maybe some pieces of a course are relevant and others aren’t. Maybe one course needs an update. Perhaps another one needs a new section.

Just as you’d do with your holiday leftovers, throw out the pieces of your learning that aren’t good anymore, and save the ones you can still use. You might need to whip up additional learning to make a meal out of that old course, but that new piece will make the course fresh and relevant.

5. Don’t throw away tiny useful bits of learning

Sometimes, when you’re going through leftovers you might find that some bits are still good, but also too small for a full meal. That’s the case with learning as well. You might have to get rid of most of a module, but there’s still one good piece of information. Or maybe the handouts from an old in-person course are still good. When you have tiny pieces of information, repurpose them into microlearning — small, easily digestible chunks of learning that address one topic at a time exactly when your learners need them. Think of them as the snacks of the learning world.

6. Consider if it sparks joy

Once you go through your learning you may find pieces of content that have been engaging for learners although the content is no longer relevant. If your learners really enjoyed a particular module or asset, repurpose the approach or tone of that asset when designing new learning. The content itself might no longer work, but if learners enjoyed an activity, definitely create a new module in the style of an old, popular one.

7. Review your content regularly

Your learning assets are like the contents of your refrigerator: it’s best to check them regularly to see if everything’s still good rather than to wait until they start to mold.

Set aside a little time every year to review your learning content in order to be sure you’re not serving anything that’s stale, past its expiration date, or rotten. The more you get to know the contents of your L&D program, the better you’ll be at whipping up new learning materials out of last year’s leftovers.