Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Introducing Enterprise Content Management (ECM) at School?

When I was in school content management mostly consisted of storing my documents in a three-ring binder. If I could keep the papers for each of my classes organized between the color-coded page separators for a whole semester it seemed like a real victory. Archaic as that may appear today, when you think about it, learning those content organization skills was preparing me for work in the “modern office” of the time. At least I learned not to pinch my fingers in binders or open more than one upper filing cabinet drawer at a time.

Obviously, a lot has changed in decades since I was in grade school. More and more students are using online resources to supplement the learning process in addition to tracking and reporting on their progress. Learning or, course management systems are rapidly replacing traditional methods of content delivery and introducing fundamental changes into how students and teachers interact.

Students using today’s online learning management systems are also developing the skills they will need to succeed beyond the classroom. In less than a few years, IDC expects that over 70% of US employees will interact with their managers remotely. These workers will depend on a variety of content management tools to help them collaborate and work together across distances and time zones. They will probably expect to have access to tools like the one’s that allowed them review a lecture online or participate in a class discussion remotely.

While it may seem strange to discuss students using content management systems at school, that’s exactly what they are doing. Over 85% of higher education institutions have adopted an LMS standard and a growing number of K-12 districts are doing the same. Among the many advantages these systems offer, managing and sharing content online is fundamental benefit. As a result, students are learning how to access, create, modify and collaborate on learning materials at younger and younger ages.

Just as I learned to organize my own documents and later access others in the school library, today’s students are discovering new ways to search for information online and associate it with their own academic histories. As parents already know, it’s not unusual for class projects to be published on web pages these days. In fact, a growing number of students are now maintaining their own web portfolios, often using the same systems that help manage their class work. The concept of re-using content between applications or business processes won’t be foreign to these digital natives.

What does all of this learning management system experience mean for the ECM industry and the workforce that depends on its technology? A significant opportunity for change, I suspect. The common metaphors we use for organizing information are changing as content becomes more complex and abundant. Metadata is becoming more important to content discovery while file and folder hierarchies seem ever more cumbersome. Just think of how you last searched for rich media content (a photograph, perhaps?) on Google (Picasa) or Facebook.

My understanding of storage hierarchies and taxonomies may become as useful as my old three-ring binder as search technologies become more capable and our applications produce more useful metadata. This could be good news for ECM applications. It might allow them to become more flexible and easy to use, just like the web-enabled learning and social networking technologies that students are becoming comfortable with today.

It’s reasonable to expect that tomorrow’s knowledge workers will need to become even more efficient than today’s and ECM technologies should help support that demand. As students continue to gain familiarity with content management via their work with learning management systems, it will be interesting to observe how that experience shapes their expectations in the workplace. At a minimum, I expect that the mobility afforded by web applications will be demanded at the office.

A Web 2.0+/social network-guided education experience may also prepare future employees for a very different office computing and content management environment than we’re familiar with today. Who knows, that might leave hierarchical filing systems and the computing technology that’s enforced them back in the closet with my old binders and hanging file folders. I would at least expect it to increase demand for similar learning management solutions to support continuing education in the workplace. That’s something we’ll need to look into next time.

Until then, you can learn more about learning and content management beginning at Regards, Jim

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