Make Yourself Modular

Take a lesson from e-learning: Reuse and repurpose learning content and processes—and your training skills.

As many of you probably know, there is a concept in e-learning called RLO, for reusable learning object. The theory holds that if you assemble learning in bite-sized units, rather than weave it inextricably into complex and mission-specific programs, you later can lift these gems of learning from their original settings and place them into other courses, where they can shine anew.

The key to RLO is the database. Whenever someone creates a learning object, it must be indexed in a way that lets us find and use it again (or differently), as needed.

I paste content and processes from one learning program into another all the time. Take a simple example: using a fire extinguisher. If we are teaching delivery drivers to apply this tool effectively, we create a certain kind of information product. But what if we are teaching emergency preparedness?

When faced with training the entire staff for emergency preparedness, do we pull up this piece of information, already designed and stashed somewhere in our database? We should. There is no need to redesign a learning module if we can locate it and simply lift it out. And if the subject matter needs a little updating for technical or other reasons, we can do so quickly at that point. When the module goes back into our database, we return it in its new and improved format.


We can improve such a small chunk of learning with relative ease. And by returning it to our training database, we improve any training it affects thereafter. But this is not an article about e-learning. I’m writing instead about how we can take a buzzword most closely associated with bits of software and apply it in a direct and personal way to our work as trainers.

This is an article about redefining the skills we use as trainers—redefining skills into chunks that add value to an organization. Let me give you a case in point:

Several years ago, I did a two-hour presentation in Washington, D.C., on managing change for a major high-tech company. One of the attendees contacted me last winter and asked me to help build a meeting in Asia for technical people using the participative processes he saw me use in the earlier presentation.

I worked with him and his staff to build a three-day meeting. For each presentation, we designed ways to involve participants, rather than simply asking them to listen to a series of technical presentations.

The meeting was a success. One of the participants then contacted me to help design two more meetings, each on a different continent, which would include both employees and key customers for three days. Many of the same ideas applied, but the audience was different, so the sessions could not be identical to the original. Much of the technical information remained the same, but the learners were different. One segment, for example, was for customers only, with a technical expert employee serving as a translator to ensure proper understanding.

Why do I share all this? To illustrate how RLOs work in our daily lives as trainers.

Less than 10 percent of the changes between these various incarnations of my session required new training material. Rather, the focus was on repurposing my training skills and applying them in different contexts.

Instead of RLOs—reusable learning objects—I provided RLPs: reusable learning processes. I took segments of knowledge and learning ideas out of one program and pasted them into another, where they were just as pertinent and educational.


The whole chain of events was based upon some concrete ideas I had about managing change—and the processes I used to engage the participants in the content. Those processes were as useful to a technician in Asia as they were to an end-user client in Europe. This is our future. We must position our training skills as reusable, portable, and “chunkable,” so they apply with high value in a broader context than training alone. By doing this, we:

  • Add value to the organization
  • Increase the Training function’s credibility
  • Enhance our personal value to the organization

What RLPs can you repurpose in your organization? How will you start using them?

Until next time—continue to add value and make a difference!

Bob Pike, CSP, CPLP FELLOW, CPAE Speakers Hall of Fame, is known as the “trainer’s trainer.” He is the author of more than 30 books, including “Creative Training Techniques Handbook” and his newest book, “The Expert’s Guide to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) to Training.” You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook using bobpikectt.