Preservation of e-Learning Content

July 30, 2007

The United States is one of the most litigious nations in the world. There is something like 3-4 lawyers for every 1000 people. You can’t turn on daytime television without getting slammed with lawyer ads. I’m not badmouthing lawyers. I do have some very good friends that are very good lawyers (and thank goodness for that!).

In my experience, lawyers got involved in e-learning primarily to approve contracts for outsourced products and services. That changed when I was handed a subpoena to provide details on training practices and the training of a particular employee. The employee’s handling of a particular business transaction was being questioned and in turn, the lawyers wanted to know if the person was (properly) trained. They wanted the training history for the employee and all the training content. This was several years ago – pre-LMS.

Sometimes, requests for copious amounts of information – business processes, technical manuals, and even training materials is enough to force a settlement but still, packing up the old training binders was crucial, legally enforceable, and driven by a tight timeline. So since that first time several years ago, I “dropped everything” and packed up boxes of tutorials, manuals, and books for several such lawsuits. Thankfully, the issue of proper training was never an issue. It never came down to that.

E-learning created a particular challenge because the subpoena demanded content for the time period before the alleged error that was the subject of the lawsuit. It was hard enough finding the right edition dates for print materials but how did I know there had been no changes to the e-learning? Could I say, under oath, that there were no changes? Could you?

I think we talk a lot about how easy it is to update e-learning content and how we can reuse content but I’m not sure we talk about preservation as much as we should. Many organizations have digital document control procedures that include e-learning content. If you don’t here are some suggestions:

  • Include e-learning preservation in your learning governance
  • Research legal compliance for your jurisdiction(s), i.e., how long should you keep materials and in what form?
  • Determine what capabilities your learning technology infrastructure has for tracking changes in content
  • Develop a process for handling content changes and determine accountability at each step in the process
  • Address security – who can make changes, who has access, etc.
  • Include custom e-learning content whether internally or externally produced and third-party off-the-shelf content
  • Address standards and specifications – this includes version handling and review and updates of metadata

I would love to start a conversation with organizations who have effective e-learning perservation processes in place. I suspect heavily regulated industries and the government have had such procedures in place for some time. We haven’t yet tackled what training materials include….how does one handle social networks, blogs, wikis, etc.? Yikes, I think I need some legal advice.

Photographer: Mikael Damkier

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