Content Mining for the 21st Century Training Professional
Training content is the most critical ingredient in any training project. And finding existing content is the key to quickly understanding what your learners need to know. You may have a very cooperative subject matter expert, and you may plan to observe your learners, however your time with them will be limited. So you’ll want to do a little learning on your own anyways. And creating content from scratch is incredibly time consuming no matter how knowledgable you are in the subject. So save yourself some time and do some investigative searching, or content mining, on your own.
You might remember these as the Z://drive or the P://drive, or some other letter on your corporate issued computer. These are storage servers owned and maintained by your IT department with space divided up between employees, and departments. You’re company may not house their own IT gear any more if they’ve moved to cloud services, but many still have them. And they can be a treasure chest of content gold.
This may take some time so prepare yourself for some long hours. I’ve taken 2 different approaches to mining shared drives over the years: random, and orderly. Looking at all of the different folder names can be overwhelming. The naming conventions of a few won’t even make any sense. But it’s important to click on all of them. Using the orderly approach I would start with the names that seemed likely to have what I was looking for. A more random approach includes clicking into the folders that are most likely to have nothing…but you want to be sure.
Make notes of everything you find and which folders required an access level beyond what’s available to you. The best folders to look through have titles like “technical documents”, or “process flow”. You many not need all of what you find immediately, but charting their location and knowing they exist will come in handy for future projects.
Existing Training Materials
You may be in a situation building a training department from scratch. And it would be easy to think that no training has existed prior to your arrival. You might be right, but if you ask around you may also find that a consultant was used in the past and old training materials from that project still exist. Don’t assume anything. Ask around. Find the employees that have been around a while and ask about their experiences with the company.
If the training department you find yourself in has been around the company for a while, then you will have some work to do. Some call this a training course audit. Depending on the amount of content, you may need to split up the work amongst your team, if you have one. But in general, your goal is to find these materials and understand how they were used, who created them, and how old they are. Some old training content might be found in 3-ring binders. This is where the gold is. Don’t discard it because it’s not digital.
Having this content is important in helping you find subject matter experts as well. This is critically important intelligence when first meeting subject matter experts. Being able to thank them for their previous work with the training department goes a long way in starting the relationship.
Searching the Internal Enterprise Social Network
Basic search engines have a come a long way in the last few years. Many Enterprise Social Networks (ESN) have document storage and sharing capabilities built into the system. In some cases the ESN completely eliminated the need for shared drives. But in many organizations both still exist. So, don’t stop your content farming after simply searching the ESN. And also, don’t stop your search after one try with the search engine. In many cases the search engine will not be able to return all of the results you need, or that exist. t pays to click through the menu structure of groups, communities, and folders, to find the gems that will make you look like a hero.
Standard search engine tips and tricks also work on search engines within social networks and intranets. Check out these search tips from a recent blog post. Your search results within a social network will also return items like employee profiles, and community conversations that match your search criteria. Again, make note of anything, or anyone, you see that will likely come in handy for future projects.
While your primary efforts should be around getting to know your peers, your audience, and potential SMEs personally, content farming will be a high priority. You will be amazed at how much you can learn about a company by content mining. And more importantly you will begin to see how your unique skill sets can be applied to helping the business reach its goals. Providing value to the business is your ultimate goal.