When preparing to develop an eLearning course, or poised to deliver eLearning content, it’s always wise to conduct a thorough content analysis. While Needs Analysis will steer you on the right path to understanding the challenges faced by learners, it is Content Analysis that’ll offer the building blocks to successfully address those needs.
Content Analysis 101
Academics define content analysis this way:
“Content analysis is a research technique used to make replicable and valid inferences by interpreting and coding textual material”
So, for the purposes of eLearning, what exactly is Content Analysis, and why should it matter when developing eLearning courses?
Well, as humans, we are prone to “assuming” that what worked for us will also work for others. If we learned how to operate a piece of equipment (or perform a job function or use a software tool) using certain learning tools and content, or using a certain approach, we think others will learn using that same exact approach, too. Wrong!
The content we used to gain mastery of a tool or situation, won’t work for every learner. That’s because we all learn and interpret content differently. And before you start putting content together for eLearners, you need to assess whether the proposed content will accomplish the desired learning objectives.
Consider the example of someone developing content for an advertisement to sell a product or service. If they don’t analyze that content for desired results, the advertiser will never know if the advert is effective in selling their product or service. The same is true for eLearning. By conducting an objective analysis of your eLearning content, you’ll be able to better determine whether the content you produce is, in fact, advancing your course objectives.
ELearning Content Analysis Done Right
Before you start analyzing your content, you need to understand two aspects about the “problem” that the content is meant to address:
- Who has the “problem”?
This is what gives you a clear idea of the intended users of your content – your target eLearning audience.
- What’s the problem?
Understanding the nature and scope of the challenge, for which the content is being produced, will help you analyze whether the content is “fit for purpose”. Without this appreciation, you won’t be able to conduct usable content analysis.
Content analysis is largely a qualitative approach to analyzing eLearning content. Experts agree that: “…instead of merely being a set of techniques for text analysis, the connection to the concrete subject of analysis is a very important point for qualitative content analysis”. The conclusion therefore is that content analysis isn’t a “step-by-step” process. Rather, it is an approach that needs to be adapted depending on the audience and subject matter that you are analyzing.
It’s time to analyze the content needed to address the problem. Steps 1 and 2 of the process should provide you with enough background to pull together the desired content that will form the basis of the solution.
Here are eight ways to analyze your eLearning content. These analysis techniques are equally effective to analyze content you might be considering, as they are for content that you’ve already produced:
- Personal experience: The best guide to assessing the most appropriate content is your prior experience. However, there might be biases attached to this type of “analysis” and, therefore, you should validate any conclusions through several of the seven other methods discussed below
- Personal observations: Once you know who your target audience is, and where they are (work, socialize, meet, congregate), it might be a good idea to immerse yourself in their environment to get a first-hand sense of what content they’d like to see included in a proposed eLearning course
- Professional networks: If this is a new “problem” for you, then reach out to other professionals and learn from them about recommended content to fulfil these specific needs. Your network can also be a valid sounding board for proposed content you have already produced
- Surveys: Identify associations and groups that have similar profiles to your target audience, and poll them about their eLearning course content expectations, or run your content by them
- Interviews: Conducting one-on-one interviews with individuals exposed to your proposed content can reveal exceptional insight into whether the messaging (from your content) is successful
- Focus groups: Strike up a focus group of representative candidates from your target population, and work with them to come up with suggested ideas for content. The groups can also provide feedback on existing content you intend for a new eLearning course
- Advisory panel: If you have access to SMEs, now might be a good time to create an advisory panel and tap their brains for content ideas and content feedback
- Pilot project: The proof of the appropriateness of content is in the outcome it produces. The best way to analyze the effectiveness of your eLearning content is to conduct a pilot run of the course, and assess whether the exercise delivers the learning outcomes that you had established
These eight approaches to content analysis will provide valuable insight to instructional designers about the content they’ve created (or intend to use). What you do with the results of that analysis will determine whether the content will deliver on the learning objectives for the course.
Content analysis, just for the purpose of analysis, isn’t very effective for eLearning audiences. For the analysis to be meaningful and accomplish a purpose, you need to act upon your learnings from the analytical exercise. So, what might some post-analysis steps involve?
- Clarifications: Your analysis might highlight the need to further clarify some of the content in the course
- Summarization: You may have to summarize some aspects of the content or present them in abridged form
- Annotations: Although your content might hit the mark, learners may want to explore additional details about the subject matter. Content analysis might indicate the need to annotate or provide further explanations
- Tone: Most adult learners assimilate content best when it’s presented in active rather than passive tone. Slight adjustment to the “voice” of how you deliver content can change the messaging substantially
- Restructuring: Analysis of the course may also reveal the need to restructure and reorganize the flow of content. Perhaps more advanced content should follow basic concepts and introductory content
Kimberly Neuendorf, Professor at Cleveland State University School of Communication, in her book “The Content Analysis Guidebook”, defined content analysis as: “the systematic, objective, quantitative analysis of message characteristics.” The key takeaway here is: Since messaging changes with a change in audience, context and learning environments, the characteristics of those messages should also evolve accordingly. This means that content analysis is not a one-time exercise, but rather an ongoing endeavor.