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Gaining management support

Applying a Pedagogical Model to Educating Management

Pamela Kostur
The Rockley Group

When starting a content management project, you generally need support from key stakeholders within your organization. You will need to "educate" management about your project and your reasons behind your project, but to do so, you need to learn about their needs so you can present materials to them appropriately. This article suggests applying a pedagogical model to educating management. This approach may help you to gain support for your project initially, and keep managers informed throughout the project's various phases.

The topic of educating management brings back "fond" and vivid memories. I recall being a eager young technical writer, looking to implement a usability initiative whereby we would define usability criteria for each of our audiences, allowing us to incorporate usability into the document development cycle. (I was passionate about this initiative because besides being an eager young technical writer, I worked in a department where we were not allowed to talk to users and were evaluated on how many pages we produced.) My zealousness, however, was my downfall. My colleague and partner in "crime" and I outlined the project and presented it to our manager over lunch, our treat! We talked about the need to accommodate users' needs, about lost productivity faced by users looking for information or looking to make sense out of information, we talked about users being the reason documentation existed. We even talked about the dollars required for the project and how spending the money now would make us more productive down the road. We were brilliant. Not being a technical writer herself, our manager wasn't really buying it and in fact, looked quite bewildered, so I explained (rambled on, really), "I'd just really like to tell you more about what we do so that you can understand the function of our group and what we need to do our jobs effectively. Blah blah blah." And, then we used the "E" word. "You know, we'd just like you to be more educated about what we do." She stood up, tapped her finger furiously on the table and stated quite emphatically, "I will NOT be educated." That year, I faced the worst performance review of my life ... and I never did meet the users I was writing for.

Educating management is critical, and tricky. You definitely don't want to give management the impression that you are "superior" simply because you have a brilliant idea. Bottom line is that you have an idea for something and you want them to back it. You want (or, more accurately, need) their support and if they don't understand why your project is important or what it will help you (and the organization) to achieve, you have to help them-gently-come to that understanding. This article describes strategies for educating management to gain support for a content management project, focusing on following a pedagogical approach to understand their needs, and provide "learning materials" to them in a way that best suits their needs.

Adopting a pedagogical model

Instructional strategies are based on understanding learners' needs and providing them with the information to support those needs. In this case, you need to think about management as the "learners"; following a sound pedagogical model may be the best way to go about "educating" management. Effective instructional design includes three components: prepare, do, and reflect. To develop a pedagogical model that supports these components, you need to:

  • Define needs, both yours and your "learners"
  • Determine a learning architecture appropriate for your materials and your users
  • Define and incorporate interactivity into the learning plan (how will you interact with the key stakeholders? at what stages will you plan activities? how will you know that learning has taken place?)
  • Design learning activities (decide what they need to know, how best to present it to them)
  • Create a "course structure" that guides key stakeholders through your information in a manner best suited to their needs and the type of information they are "learning"

Define "learners" and their needs

Implementing a CM project (or any project for that matter) requires support from within your organization, but from whom? One of your first steps in putting together a project plan (or a learning plan, keeping the pedagogical approach in mind) is to identify who your key stakeholders (learners) are and what their needs-or interest-in relation to your project are. When starting a CM project, you generally do so because there's some sort of "pain" in your organization that you need to fix. In our book Managing Enterprise Content: A Unified Content Strategy, we recommend that you start in areas with the most "pain"-where processes, tools, and technology are failing or inadequate, and where your organization is seeing the most negative results and hearing about them from customers or management. We recommend that you identify the dangers and challenges facing your organization, the opportunities you can realize if change occurs, and the strengths within your organization that you can build on to realize opportunities. Once you know where the pain is and what the challenges are, you can identify who is affected by the pain, who can benefit from change, and who has the strengths to help you move forward with your project. This list forms your key stakeholders.

What do your learners need to know?

Before approaching your key stakeholders, you should analyze their needs to learn how best to approach them. Much of this is "interpersonal stuff" that is often not considered when putting together a CM project plan. However, it's important to understand people if you want to gain their support and hence, "educate" them. Key questions to help you understand them include:

  • What financial or emotional interest do they have in the outcome of your project and what motivates them most of all? How will CM benefit them from a financial perspective or from an "easing" their workload perspective? Don't overlook the emotional aspect; in a world where we're all driven by the "bottom line" it's important to remember that there are other reasons for CM, like assisting authors, or making content more accessible to users. People who have a emotional interest in your project often become your most ardent supporters.
  • What information will they need from you and how do they prefer to get information? Some people prefer email, some prefer phone calls, some prefer full project briefs. You need to figure out what your stakeholders' needs are and communicate with them accordingly. (See Learning architectures, below) Also, what kinds of interactions are required as you exchange information?
  • What is their current opinion of the work that you and your department do? If they don't know about the work you do, or if they don't understand its value, you may have to do some selling/educating about your work before trying to get their buy in for your CM project. Again, if you need to educate at this level, think of your key stakeholders as learners so you can target your message to them in the way that best suits their needs.

A very good way of answering these questions is to talk to your key stakeholders (potential learners) directly. Answers to these questions will tell you such things as:

  • Who you need to target the learning to
  • What their specific needs are (for both the project and to support your investment in the project)
  • What materials will address their specific needs
  • What kinds of learning activities (interventions) you should plan to support their needs and gain approval for your project. And, as in any learning project, you also need a way of measuring when your activities have been successful.

Define learning architectures

Learning architecture refers to the way in which instruction is designed. The learning architecture describes the overall approach to your strategy and is based on both your users' needs and the materials you have to present to them. The four learning architectures are: receptive, behavioral, guided discovery, exploratory. Depending on what materials you feel you need to provide to stakeholders, you select a learning an architecture that best suits your materials.


In a receptive architecture, learners absorb knowledge and skills from listening to a lecture, watching a video, or reading text; there is no externally prompted interaction. Information is presented in text sequences, examples, analogies, visuals, etc. Receptive learning can cause cognitive overload if other strategies aren't incorporated with it. It's good for building up a good source of information, but-especially for novice learners-it must be balanced with other approaches to ensure the information is absorbed into LTM (long term memory). Adopting a receptive learning architecture for introducing your content management needs and strategy may be more useful at the beginning of your project. Learning activities supported by a receptive learning architecture include short presentations, prepared materials you distribute, and demonstrations.


The behavioral architecture assumes that learning occurs by a gradual building of skills and information, strengthened by interactions imbedded into the instruction. Learners are provided with small chunks of instruction (basic to complex), followed by an interactive session after each chunk. This approach is widely used in computer-based learning. It manages cognitive load and encourages encoding of information into LTM through frequent interactions. It works very well for teaching procedural information. However, it's sometimes tiring for learners with more experience.

Using a behavioral architecture may be useful once you've introduced your content management idea to management (through a receptive architecture) and want them to explore-through hands-on experience-the need for it. For example, you may want to set up an activity in which they compare different instances of similar content across a set of documents. The activity could include showing them five different versions of a product description and having them examine them for similarities or differences. Often, management isn't aware of these kinds of inconsistencies, so by having them look at different versions, you are involving them in the process of determining why content management is required. Such an exercise could take place following a short presentation, with you leading them through it.

Guided discovery

Guided discovery emphasizes the building of knowledge through case-based learning. Guided discovery is a more "constructivist" approach to learning; the instructional materials provide learners with the resources and experiences required to construct new knowledge. The emphasis is on construction instead of acquisition (which is the basis of the behavioral architecture). Learners are provided with a realistic problem or scenario, and access an array of resources to solve the problem.

Like the behavioral architecture, guided discovery is useful when combined with a receptive architecture, only with guided discovery, you're sending people out to make discoveries on their own. Keep in mind that you don't want to waste their time and any discovery must be brief and relevant to your cause. During a presentation, for example, or as part of a project update, you might ask managers to go out and find all the descriptions of Product X on your web site, then report back how long it took and how many they found.


Exploratory learning accommodates higher learner control. The assumption is that learners will access the information that best suits their needs. Depending on the amount of information to explore, overload can result, but keeping topics brief and adding frequent, optional practice/illustrations, can help to manage the cognitive load. Adopting an exploratory architecture may be useful for participants who work remotely, can't participate in meetings or activities, or who-and this is especially truly of some senior managers-prefer to set their own schedules, eschewing meetings in favor of reviewing materials on their own. However, if they are reviewing materials on their own, it's critical you do design materials so "learning" occurs. Just providing access to materials is not sufficient. You need to find a way to "track their progress" through the materials.

Define and incorporate interactivity

Once you've determine what materials you need to support your cause and adopted a learning architecture best suited to them and to your users, you need to find a way to incorporate interactivity. Interactivity is sustained, two-way communication among two or more people within a learning context. Interactivity occurs from the learner's perspective and does not occur until a loop from and back to the learner has been completed. Interaction is essential to learning and to the overall success and effectiveness of any instructional environment. When "educating" managers about your content management idea, interactivity goes beyond taking them for lunch and talking about your project. You need the kind of interaction that tells you learning has taken place.

There are two types of interactivity: social and content. Both types contribute to the learning experience. Effective content interaction is incorporated through complex activities that engage learners in the instruction, such as guided analyses. Ways to incorporate social interactivity include online conferences, chat (private or group), newsgroups, listservs, email, and collaborative exercises.

Design learning activities

Learning activities are used to exercise learners' thought processes and analytical techniques. They allow learners to do such things as consider, analyze, question, research, reflect, annotate, evaluate, organize, discuss, decide, test, apply, link, solve, and synthesize. Learning activities should be incorporated into each "topic" that you need to present to management, allowing them to assimilate what they've read/seen in the presentation sequences and to ask questions about it. Learning activities can include such things as:

  • calculating costs of producing redundant content
  • figuring out which element of redundant content is correct
  • following a fictitious user through a case study as he/she tries to find content on your web site
  • conducting a content "scavenger hunt" throughout the organization or a web site

However, because this isn't a typical learning situation, feedback should not be graded, and must be positive. Also, because most managers have limited time to engage in such activities, they must remain relevant to your case. You might even want to consider guiding managers through activities by leading an online seminar or meeting.

Create a course structure

There is rarely implementation of a single learning architecture and as you are putting together your "learning plan", you need to accommodate various levels, various users, and different types of information. Typically, a pedagogical model follows a course structure something like this:

  • Introductory material, including scope, objectives, resources required, prerequisites (which in this case could be references to past projects, other initiatives), time commitment required
  • Topics (presentations, reading material), repeated and enhanced with graphics as required
  • Learning activity, incorporated into presentations
  • Summary (of each topic/phase, at the end of that topic/phase)
  • Evaluate; assess understanding


Planning a CM project-specifically during the beginning stages during which you need to gain approval for your project-is similar to developing learning materials. Learning materials should always be targeted towards your specific learners, support their learning styles, accommodate the type of materials you are "teaching", and provide the necessary level of interaction to help learners understand the materials. Likewise, project materials need to targeted towards your audience in very similar ways. Definitely think of "educating" the people whose support you need, but go about it the right way. A pedagogical approach will guide you through learning about them, so you can help them learn about what you and your project.

Copyright 2004, The Rockley Group, Inc.