Have you ever tried to find that one video file you need for a presentation… in a directory of 100 other videos? Naming conventions are rarely a top priority for many training centers. Establishing rules governing course names and numbers, file names, and revisions can prove extremely beneficial. Using naming conventions, you can use your computer’s operating system to quickly find relevant files.
Naming Conventions & Your LMS
So what areas of your learning management system benefit from consistent naming?
- Common practices dictate that every staff member, instructor, and student be assigned a unique numerical identifier. The use of numbers that include elements of (or are even based upon) a social security number are highly discouraged. In TrainingForce, the Alternate ID field is used. A person’s employee ID number may be used, but be cautious if the same number is used to access payroll or other sensitive information.
- Create rules for using salutations and suffixes. Searching your database will be much easier if you decide early on whether to use “Dr. John Smith” or “Janet Smith, M.D.” If your students self-enter their own profile information, delegate a staff member to review information on a daily or weekly basis.
- Course numbering can provide a lot of information. Generally, U.S. based colleges use a fairly consistent system. They use a four-character subject identifier, such as CJUS for Criminal Justice or ENGL for English. The subject identifier is followed by a three-digit course number. The first number (the hundreds position) is relative difficulty, 1 being the least difficult. Courses in the 300 or 400 series are usually thought of as upper-level courses. Courses starting with a 5 or higher would be graduate or doctorate level. The last number (the ones position) can be used a couple different ways. Courses meant to be taken sequentially can be labeled that way, as in 201 and 202. In some systems, the last number can be used to represent a subset of the overall subject.
- Item tags, tag clouds, and navigation categories (such as those used in TrainingForce) are beneficial for students. A tag or category should match the subject, at a minimum. Think about how your students will be searching for information.
- Use naming conventions for locations and rooms. In many cases, this involves translating the information on a location to shorthand required by your learning management system. Be consistent in how you translate the information. When creating automated documents, be sure you include both location information and specific room.
- Use file naming conventions (discussed below) for any supporting files uploaded to your learning management system.
Naming Conventions & Content
One of the first steps to take is establishing a common area for your files. Common areas can be set up easily on a network file server by your information technology department. Ensure team members have appropriate access for their role in the training center. For smaller centers, simply set up an external hard drive and share it among staff. The Digital Asset Management Learning Center provides an excellent best practices guide (http://www.damlearningcenter.com/best-practices-guide/) . Overall, naming conventions apply not only to individual files, but to folders also.
Be sure you have established procedures for backing up your data in at least one additional location.
- Establish a folder structure. Create a template outlining the desired structure, and planning for the future. Start simply. Don’t require 100 folders in a directory if 85 of them will be empty. Consider how individuals will be using the structure. Will a user be look for individual images or video clips more often than course creation files? A folder structure also improves performance.
- Consider four main types of groupings: by subject, by process (course, class), by file type (audio, video, PDF), or role (developer, instructor). Each training center is different, so consider how the center operates.
- Don’t allow people to “float” files to the top of the list using the “_” character.
- Avoid redundancy. Don’t store the same content in multiple places; good naming conventions and an established folder structure eliminate the need for duplication.
- Consider using a temporary or working directory for active projects (where most members of your team will have read/write access). If you have a large development team, consider giving each person a “working” folder. Have the working folder synchronize with an appropriate area on the user’s local hard drive. Differentiating working folders from the permanent library can be very useful; it also helps prevent a staff member from copying and using content that may still be under development.
- Identify a member of your training center staff to act as the librarian for the center. The librarian monitors use of naming conventions, folder structures, synchronization, etc. The librarian can copy material from the working directories to the permanent library.
- Those involved in production of documents should ALWAYS utilize version numbering. Software developers utilize a process where sections of software code must be “checked out” so that no other developer can work on that code. Some content development tools use a similar process. Ensure that your staff is clear on how to identify and manage workflow so that current content is always easily identified, and archive versions are kept.
- The actual file naming convention should be something universal throughout the training center. You may have multiple naming conventions depending on types of files and structure. For example, you may name audio or video assets as “YearMonthDate_Subject_Type_Description.Ext”. The subject is an abbreviated subject (potentially matching the naming convention for your courses), while the type might be an abbreviation for type of footage (interview, b-roll, etc.). A second naming convention and folder structure might be used for actual class documents, such as presentations, documents, etc.
- Generally, the file name should consist of the top two or three key elements that someone might be searching for. The most important element may be referred to as the anchor. Dates are often critical, both for identifying timely content and document retention purposes.
What’s in a Name?
The most important part of a content naming convention is that all personnel in the center make use of it as an important tool for sharing of information and created content. Although fully integrated digital asset management is a growing trend, the basic principles can be easily applied. Many of today’s “gallery” tools allow for quick addition of descriptive tags and date information, they are not a substitute for solid naming conventions by the training center. Gallery information is relative and software driven, while file naming conventions and folder locations represent a permanent solution. Lastly, if your existing naming convention or data structure isn’t working – don’t be afraid to start over.