Taxonomies for Learning and Training Content

Taxonomies are primarily for tagging digital content to make it more easily found when users search or browse on taxonomy concepts. Content can be of various kinds: articles and research reports, policies and procedures, technical documentation, product information, contracts and other legal documents, marketing content, etc. A growing area of digital content is instructional or training content, especially corporate training for employees. 

The need for taxonomies for training content

When an organization offers its employees a large number of training courses, it can be difficult for employees to find desired training. Having the training content tagged with controlled terms from a taxonomy makes it easier to find.

The training content may come from different sources and thus may come with different, inconsistent metadata already applied to it. An organization may have generic training (such as on diversity and information security) produced by a corporate training company, industry-specific training (such as anti-money laundering for financial services and retail industries) produced by a different training company, and company-specific training which is internally produced. An organization may also subscribe to an offering of business skills and technical skills training offered by one ore more third party, such as LinkedIn Learning. It may be very difficult to search across all these different sources.

Furthermore, simply searching on words in training course titles might not be effective, if topics are broad or the course titles are vague. For example, a search on “communication” may yield far too many results to sort through. A search on “writing” might miss a training course with a title of “Bringing out Your Voice” or “Use Plain Language.” Tagged with the concept of “Writing,” these courses can then be found.

Faceted taxonomies for training content

Example faceted taxonomy for training content in PoolParty software

For the complexities of training content, a single topical taxonomy is not enough. There could be ambiguity as to the skill level or between training topic and training format. For example, the topic of “Manager training” is not clear as to whether it is for new managers or all managers. The topic of “Presentation slides” is not clear as to whether it is training on how to create presentation slides or if presentation slides is the training format/medium. This is where a faceted taxonomy can help. Facets are different aspects of content which can be combined as search filters.

Training content is especially well suited for facets. Examples of possible facets for training content are: Content type, Level, Role, Skill, Training Program, and Topic.  An example of taxonomy terms in each facet are as follows:
•    Content type: Video training
•    Level: Intermediate
•    Role: Customer support
•    Skill: Written communication
•    Training program: Upskilling
•    Topic: Timeliness

It’s important to keep in mind that facets should be mutually exclusive, so the same concept, such as “Customer support,” cannot exist in both the Role and the Skill facets. Distinguishing a role and a skill can sometimes be difficult. It important to separate out Role, though, because then there is the possibility to recommend training courses based on one’s Role.

Taxonomy facets are based on metadata properties, but there likely exist many more metadata properties than needed for the end-user to filter train content searches. Additional, administrative metadata properties should not be implemented on the front-end for course searches. These might include Organizational unit, Original source, Region, Access Level, etc.

Skills taxonomy sources and challenges

Developing a skills taxonomy facet has its own challenges. First of all, there are multiple goals of skills taxonomies. Enabling employees or their managers to find appropriate training is just one goal. Other purposes may be to describe job openings to found by candidates with matching skills, to find an expert with a desired skill to ask question of or have work on a project, or to map roles and skills to identify gaps and improve human resources strategies and professional development programs.

There are also varied sources for skills taxonomies. Managers and subject matter experts would list certain skills, which might differ from a list of skills proposed by human resources staff. A taxonomist, metadata specialist, or information architect working on a taxonomy would come up with a slightly different list of skills, probably not as detailed. Finally, there are external sources, but these might not be appropriate to a specific organization. The largest, best known published taxonomy of skills is ESCO (European Skills, Competences, Qualifications, and Occupations), but with 13,890 skills, it is much too large and detailed for any one organization. It might be best to start with any skills list that the HR department has and build it out further with recommendations from managers, but not as detailed as some subject matter experts might suggest. External sources could be consulted to fill in some gaps.

There is the potential to get too detailed in creating a hierarchy of skills, and some of the narrower concepts may end up being specific topics and not exactly skills. For example, a skill of project management could get narrower concepts for different project management methodologies and then various components of each methodology.  This is would not be appropriate for a skills taxonomy, although, if important, these narrower concepts could be included in a Topics facet instead.

Presentations on taxonomies for corporate training content

My most recent conference presentation and my next conference presentation are both about taxonomies for corporate training content.  On October 16, I presented at the LavaCon content strategy conference in San Diego “Leveraging Semantics to Provide Targeted Training Content: A Case Study,” which was jointly presented with PoolParty software proof-of-concept project customer Esther Yoon of Google gTech. In addition to some of the issues described in this blog post, I also discussed how facets can be customized and how roles and skills can be linked for recommendation, and Esther presented how the POC improved the discovery of training content for those in roles related to customer support.

On November 6, at Taxonomy Boot Camp conference in Washington, DC, I will present “Challenges in Creating Taxonomies for Learning & Development,” which will be jointly presented with Amber Simpson of Walmart’s Walmart Academy, also a PoolParty software customer. In addition to issues described here, I will also provide specific examples of challenges in creation a Skills taxonomy facet. The slides will also be made available afterwards.

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