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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The High Art of Reusability

We often talk about reusing "knowledge objects" for elearning but seldom do organizations really take it to heart. Every course is "special" and the content needs to be "modified" each time to ensure that it has the right meaning.

One organization that has taken reusability to a high art is Disney. Their ability to reuse a song, an image or a character is impressive. This drawing is from 1957 and shows how even then, ole Walt Disney himself, was thinking about maximizing content and reusing it where ever possible.

Take for example a simple flow from Disneyland to TV. The image shows that Disneyland provides article material for Walt Disney Magazine which, in turn, feeds Publications (Books and Comic Books) which plugs films which feed into the Creative Talent of Studio Theatrical Films which feed 16 mm films which then feeds Television which uses TV revenue to pay off the costs of creating their own films while plugging merchandise and creating licencing revenues which, in turn, promote Disneyland. Your head might be spinning but Disney leverages the content for high profits while building incredible brand loyalty because you know and are comfortable with the brand images because you see them all the time.

What a great concept! Now think of how you might use and reuse materials (information, knowledge, ideas) within your organization.

Try this...look at the diagram and imagine substituting in corporate or academic stuff:
A research scientist's blog provides material for an idea which is then critiqued and expanded as it appears in a collaborative wiki. The results of this "fine tuning" are fed to the marketing department who runs the ideas by focus groups, who then feedback to the product development team, who, in turn, writes the results on the collaborative wiki for the research scientists to view. The scientists tweak their work based on the feedback and, again, post the changes to the collaborative wiki. The product development team takes the refined information and creates the new product. After the product is in the field for a bit, customer service and product use information is fed back into company, compiled and posted to the wiki for future product enhancements and re-designs. Scientists and others are notified via an RSS feed of any changes.

Or, on an academic level:
A science teacher assigns the students the task of learning about polymers, the students post information on a wiki, then in history class the students learn about the history of nylon and the pioneer scientists who worked on creating plastics from polymers and post pictures and other information onto the wiki. Then, in a math class, the students learn how to graph different melting points. While the English teacher requests that the students take the information aggregated on the wiki and create a report about the history and use of polymers in the last century.
The interconnectedness of events, ideas and concepts is what leads to knowledge and ultimately wisdom. Instead of teaching things in isolated silos, let's think of the connections and leverage those connections for our learner's success...just like Disney leverages those connections for financial success.

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