Opportunities and Limitations of Ontologies in the Context of a Unified Content Strategy

About the project

In 2020, I was in my final year of studying Technical Writing and Communication at Munich University of Applied Sciences. During my studies, I always was most interested in leveraging metadata to deliver content in the right context and channel. Therefore, I decided to take a closer look at ontologies and how they can aid in realizing a unified content strategy.

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This thesis discusses the question of how ontologies can be used for the implementation of a unified content strategy (UCS), highlighting possible benefits and challenges.
So far, the literature and case studies have shown that the implementation of a UCS comes with several benefits, such as consistency and reduced cost, due to the high reusability of content. The metadata models used to implement a UCS were mainly based on taxonomies, which can only depict hierarchical dependencies.

With the growing need for interoperability and personalization, a development referred to as content 4.0, this thesis examines whether ontologies can support a UCS and how. Since the creation of an ontology takes a substantial amount of time and resources, reusing existing ontologies is preferred to creating a new one. The thesis examines iiRDS, a content delivery standard which also comprises an ontology for technical communication, and discusses its use for the implementation of a UCS. However, to classify content originating from other departments, iiRDS needs to be extended. Using the example of workplace learning content, the thesis discusses how iiRDS can be extended by creating the iiRDS Learning domain.

The thesis comprises of two parts. The first part looks at 15 research questions to introduce terms and technologies concerning the implementation of a UCS. Based on literature discussions and case studies, the requirements of a UCS, ontologies, and workplace learning are collected. In the second part, a new iiRDS Learning domain is created to meet these requirements, following Uschold and King’s method. The method lacks a conceptualization phase, so this deficit was mitigated by incorporating engineering practices described by Feilmayr and Wöß, which also focus on reuse.

The thesis finds that ontologies provide a powerful tool to model metadata, ensure their consistency, and deliver content based on personal preferences. The possibilities of effectively using iiRDS for a UCS are tied to the software that can process iiRDS packages, i.e. the iiRDS consumer. At the time of writing, the only off-the-shelf iiRDS consumers are content delivery portals. Other applications, such as chatbots, are still in the early stages of development. Since learning management systems cannot process iiRDS packages, the usefulness for classifying e-learning courses is questionable. For static media, such as workbooks, the iiRDS Learning domain provides sufficient metadata.

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