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About a month ago I spent quite a bit of time looking into the possibility of using open source tools to create a learning infrastructureelements-in-cloud that is radically different than what is currently available today. My goals for creating this solution were twofold:

  1. I was working with a partner to identify and architect a potential solution for a client.
  2. I wanted to leverage a powerful CMS so that the user interface and experience were different than anything currently supported by the industry.
Leveraging the flexibility, support, scalability and cost effectiveness of open source technologies, my recommended solution provides an engaging and flexible user experience with  an easy to administer front end for supervisors and administrators. It was my goal to provide a solution that not only will meet the demands for today, but also build in technology that will support future training delivery needs.

Recommended Training Delivery System Architecture

The completely integrated solution will provide user/member management, support for eLearning (SCORM 1.2, 2004, Tin Can), document management, web conferencing, social learning (discussion forums, threaded Q/A boards, virtual classrooms, communities) and reporting & management tools. The solution is comprised of three main technology components, WordPress, SCORM Cloud and web conferencing tools (an open source and a license based one). WordPress will be the Front End /Portal to the solution which will enable a seamless environment for both learners and administrators.

WordPress - Overview and Background of Technology portal

This application is an open source blogging tool and a content management system (CMS) based on PHP and MySQL. It has many features including a plug-in architecture and a template system. WordPress is used by over 16.7% of Alexa Internet's "top 1 million" websites and as of August 2011 manages 22% of all new websites. WordPress is currently the most popular blogging system in use on the Web. It was first released on May 27, 2003, by founders Matt Mullenweg and Mike Little. As of December 2011, version 3.0 had been downloaded over 65 million times. (Reference: Wikipedia) WordPress’ flexibility and functionality is based on its theme, plug-in and widget support.

Themes

Allow for the easily updating of the look and functionality of a WordPress website or installation without altering the information content or structure. The PHP and HTML code in themes can also be edited for more advanced customizations, if required.

Plugins

One very popular feature of WordPress is its rich plugin architecture which allows users and developers to extend its abilities beyond the features that are part of the base install; WordPress has a database of over 22,000 plugins with purposes ranging from SEO to member management to discussion forums.

Widgets

Widgets are small modules that offer drag-and-drop sidebar and footer content placement and implementation of many plugins' extended abilities. These small modules can be used to add functionality such as a course catalog, Facebook Like box, most recent blog posts, top 10 Q/A and more.

SCORM Cloud - Overview and Background of Technologylms

The SCORM Cloud is a hosted (SaaS) solution that allows for the importing, hosting, delivery tracking and reporting of eLearning content. This application adheres to the Advanced Distributed Learning’s (ADL) Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) specification with support for SCORM 1.2, SCORM 2004 and the newly released Tin Can API. It is important to note that the support for Tin Can is vital as it will allow for the creation of new learning experiences (either within or outside of this framework) that can be tracked and reported. These new learning experiences can be based on learner’s participation in reading of articles on different websites, or their contribution to discussion forums. The Tin Can API can even being used offline where users note their learning experiences and a statement is generated to the Learning Record Store (LRS) in the SCORM Cloud, which you can report out on.

Tin Can Defined

The Tin Can API is a brand new learning technology specification that opens up an entire world of experiences (online and offline). This API captures the activities that happen as part of learning experiences. A wide range of systems can now securely communicate with a simple vocabulary that captures this stream of activities. The Tin Can API is simple and flexible. It lifts many of the older restrictions. Mobile learning, simulations, virtual worlds, serious games, real-world activities, experiential learning, social learning, offline learning, and collaborative learning are just some of the things that can now be recognized and communicated well with the Tin Can API. The ADL is the steward of the specification.

Web Conferencing (2 Options)webconf

The direct integration of a web conferencing tool will allow for the solution to support the need for synchronous training including virtual classrooms, chat, video conferencing, whiteboard and application sharing and polling. Two options are available, both of which are fully integrated into the solution.

GoToTraining (License  Based)

In my experience and based on functionality/budgetary requirements I recommend using the GoToTraining product offering from Citrix as the License Based option. With GoToTraining integrated as the web conferencing (virtual classroom) tool, the end user will be able to allow for multi-user accounts for the various instructors that will be giving the online virtual classroom trainings. This tool will allows for the following functionality:
  • Desktop / Application Sharing
  • Chatting / Polling
  • Q/A
  • Mobile Presenting and Viewing
  • Multiple Presenters
  • Recording Tools
  • Drawing Tools
  • Audio Conferencing (via telephone and computer)
  • HD Video Conferencing
  • Advanced Registration & Scheduling
  • Detailed Reports
  • Break out Rooms
GoToTraining is fully integrated into the solution by leveraging the APIs made available. By leveraging these API’s, the virtual classroom events will be accessible, launched, tracked and reported on through the portal, which will be built on WordPress.

BigBlueButton (Open Source)

BigBlueButton is an open source web conferencing system built on over fourteen open source components to create an integrated solution that runs on Mac, Unix, and PC computers.  This open source tool supports direct integration with WordPress through the use of a plug-in and was built specifically for online learning. BigBlueButton’s supported functionality includes:
  • Recording and Playback - Record your lectures (slides + audio + chat) for later playback by learners.
  • Whiteboard - Whiteboard controls let you annotate and call out key parts of your presentation for viewers.
  • Go beyond slides. The presenter can broadcast their desktop for all learners to see. Works on Mac, Unix, and PC.
  • Audio Conferencing - BigBlueButton voice conferencing supports voice over IP (VOIP) conferencing out-of-the-box.
  • Document Sharing - The presenter can upload any PDF presentation or office document. Keeping everyone in sync with their current page, zoom, pan, and the presenter’s mouse pointer.
  • Video Conferencing - Multiple users can share their webcam at the same time. There is no built-in limit on the number of simultaneously active webcams.
  • Chat - Learners can take part in a group chat which is viewed by everyone within the conference, or select a user and begin a separate private conversation.
Leveraging this option as your virtual classroom tool adds an additional open source component to the overall solution, enabling ongoing costs to be low while at the same time being able to scale as user demand increases.

Overview Summary of Technology Solution

By integrating, configuring and supporting the various applications described above, I am presenting a new and unique solution that consists of:
  • Open Source architecture (WordPress and BigBlueButton)
  • Adherence to industry standards and support for future-state learning activities (SCORM Cloud and GoToTraining)
  • Portal Environment supporting formal and social learning activities, member management, knowledge center and customizable interface

Proposed Solution Functionality

The architecture that I recommend for this solution will enable a multi-modal training capability that will provide a blend of eLearning, virtual classrooms, social learning, individual reading and learner/teacher interaction. The goal of the proposed solution is to leverage technology to provide the most effective solution, while at the same time offering a training program that is based on solid instructional strategies. If you are interested in the functionality that this solution architecture supports contact me at: tgorostiza@knowledgestream.net.

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learningManage_clip_image002 With the eLearning Guild’s signature conference this week many of us will be converging on the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas to see the latest buzz in the learning world. Without doubt the hottest buzz is on mLearning and all that it entails including how to design, develop and deliver for the mobile platform, as well as the ongoing HTML 5 vs. “Everything Else” battle. Last year HTML 5 was up against Flash and now that it has won that battle (not a fair fight since Adobe pulled support for Flash on Mobile quite some time ago) it seems its only enemies are those professionals who are dragging their feet and not embracing this current, new and evolving standard. More on this topic in a separate future post. Also SaaS LMS offerings are all the rage these days and already Docebo and Docnito have issued press releases touting their brand new, completely flexible SaaS offerings. Vendors pushing for SaaS so convincingly should tell the learning professional at least one thing, it is that the companies who design and develop learning systems are doing away with customizations and trying to fit every customer into a “one box fits all” design. Sure they will have numerous configuration choices for customers, but the overall architecture and workflows will not be all too flexible and this may turn away many large enterprise customers, or those with inflexible workflows. I am curious to see the new players and their wares. My particular interests lie in tools/vendors that can create/convert compelling content for mobile, and have a good understanding of the various mobile handset/tablet platforms, meaning they understand how to develop to not just  iOS devices, but also to Android, Windows RT/8, Blackberry and also to the desktop. Also of importance to me is to look at technology that supports informal and social learning, implementing useful functionality to not only support these types of interactions, but also promote them. learningManage_clip_image001 And in closing, what value would going to this show be without looking at Tin Can and how it is being adopted/integrated by the authoring tool and learning management community. Building a learning system centered on Tin Can and supporting the various learning actions it supports sounds like a pretty good way of future proofing your system for down the road….at least until things change again tomorrow

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Since June I have been working with a client to determine their requirements for transitioning from an internally created external facing learning management system to an off-the shelf one to satisfy many of the current systems’ deficiencies. This engagement also included the organization’s needs for internal learning management, which in turn resulted in many discussions around performance and talent management, and succession planning. Throughout this process it has been amazing to see many individual’s appetite for more sophisticated and actionable-based systems directing everything from on boarding through learning and performance management to a complete picture on the organization’s talent pool and where they maybe deficient, have flight risks or are okay for tomorrow’s workday. Understanding that these needs exist from business units, IT, HR and executives only reinforces what has been happening lately in the HRIS, HCM, HRMS, or “whatever you want to call it” world. The convergence of many systems into a single offering from a given vendor is the current trend. Many in this space are acquiring their “missing pieces” to offer an end-to-end solution comprising core HR functions and associated modules including recruiting, talent, performance, learning and succession. Consider the latest happenings and tell me convergence is not occurring at a rapid pace:

  • Success Factors (Talent/Performance/Recruiting) acquires Plateau(Learning) and now Success Factors is acquired by SAP(Core HR)
  • Taleo (Talent/Performance/Recruiting) acquires Learn.com (Learning) and now is in the process of being acquired by Oracle(Core HR plus a lot more….)
  • SumTotal which started off as a pure training company many years ago has evolved from Asymetrix to Click2Learn, to a merger with Docent to now a company with a complete HCM offering with individual modules supporting Core HR and Talent/Performance/Recruiting
Convergence is happening in this SaaS world with vendors creating a complete solution with modules that can be turned on/off for their clients based on their current needs with the goal of every client using all modules with the vendors’ suite. Where does that leave the LMS vendors that are still independent and focused on just learning and or learning/talent/performance? Maybe it leaves them ripe for acquisition, or ripe for death. However you look at it, it is a very interesting time for those of us in this space who are waiting for the next domino to fall. Is that domino Workday and if so what is their plan? I can guarantee you it is not to be acquired by Oracle……..

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Well another year has come and another mLearnCon has passed, leaving each of us attendees, presenters, exhibitors and wanderers with more excitement than ever. This year’s show had about twice the amount of registered attendees (approaching 800) and more than 25+ exhibitors/vendors who have been instrumental in gaining awareness and attention to the space. With over 100 focused learning activities spread across 4 days there wasn’t a topic that didn’t get its due respect and attention from this crowd. Combine in interactive learning zones and the “Mosh Pit” and there was something for everyone from those just hearing about mLearning, to those planning on implementing, to those trying to understand the technology, those needing help creating an RFP and even those already looking for success stories. Some of the cooler apps I had a chance to see where the:

  • EventPilot Mobile Conference App which let you see the schedule, presenters and also real time updates of what was happening now and where.
  • Qualcomm Mobile Browser app that enabled an employee anywhere in the world to see scheduled classes based on his/her proximity to the location where the class was taking place, and even a link to the LMS for registration.
Most importantly what I saw as a whole is that this industry is starting to mature as authoring tool, LCMS, and mobile distribution system providers are working together as one to build awareness, integration capabilities and “real” offerings that will support adoption. Keep an eye out for new product launches in the next few weeks from OnPoint Digital, Xyleme, Articulate and Brainshark. From what I saw of the demos they provided, HTML 5 is alive and showing very well on mobile. If you attended the conference please comment to provide your thoughts.

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So you have a formal learning plan in place, your LMS has been up and running for years and you even have a certification program in place for your new hires, employees and 3rd party partners. Your company can be considered a “learning-based organization”, so now what? For the past couple of years the idea of implementing new technologies that have arisen out of the consumer world have intrigued the training professional. Everything from social networking to blogs, wikis, instant messaging and mobile have shown promise to extend the formal learning environment but has anything truly succeeded to provide ROI and benchmarking to continue its use? Let’s think here….I have an LMS that has social learning aspects built in (forums, interactive messaging, etc.) and we use portals for document management, knowledge transfer, wiki’s but how do I leverage this infrastructure and investment to today’s world, the world of remote workers, some of whom are disconnected? learningManage_clip_image002_0000Mobile is the answer! It is not just the next fad or technological wonder, it is ubiquitous and always there. The more important questions that need to be addressed are: What to deliver? How to deliver to all the various devices? Each of these questions have many sub questions and branching options which I will get into in subsequent posts but the one thing to remember for now is that more now than ever in the past, the end delivery device and its uses and limitations must be taken into account.

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Based on some articles I have recently read from Learning Solutions, Float Mobile and Kaplan, making things that don’t seem to be a game into a game is growing in popularity within the learning world. Game mechanics, scoring, points, badges, time elements, pattern seeking, item matching, content ratings are quickly working their way into almost every element of life from web site rankings and Thumbs Up/Down to rewards in social games like Farmville and Mobsters. Gamification, as it is now called can also be called the “new thing” within the training community. As we all know, if there is new technology, processes, tools, methodologies available someone will try and implement it into a new program. While Gamification is somewhat new in our world it has been gaining steam in “micro games” online and more specifically in social networking sites where individuals try and acquire an elite status, receive badges and outdo their competitors. To add some clarity, Gamification is only somewhat new in regards to the accompaniment of newer social and mobile technologies. Training designers & developers have been creating learning programs for decades with these same very principles entrenched in the instructional methodologies. How about an on-boarding program given by an instructor that asks new hires to perform certain tasks in order to achieve a certain level, or how about automotive sales reps performing walk-around tours that are then graded by their peers? These training programs enable games withing a learning construct, this engaging users in a different way. learningManage_clip_image001

Courtesy: OnPoint Digital

How do we incorporate games today using newer technologies? What about using games to satisfy both the learner’s desire to be engaged and the company’s training professionals desire to have high fidelity and viewership? These questions can be answered by many different approaches and solutions but a couple ideas a learning professional can use and build upon are: ♦ Developing a game within a mobile app that requires a user to view certain content, pass the associated quiz and then be able to move on to a new or different level utilizing prerequisites. Levels and points will be achieved based on predetermined scales and a leader board will be available to show all participants where they stand amongst other game players. This game can communicate back to the LMS to track the training. ♦ Creating a bracket/challenge for sales representatives in retail/automotive

learningManage_clip_image002_0001

Courtesy of Growth Engineering

industries. Users would take videos of themselves performing their sales technique/strategy and this video would be uploaded to colleagues in the same organization so that they could vote or rate their peer. A bracketing system similar to college basketball is used to determine who moves on to the next round. Participants of the challenge are able to communicate with one another through forums and commenting and are motivated by prizes for certain levels of achievement. While these ideas are not necessarily novel, the way you can use today’s mobile, social and web application technology to implement them just very well be….

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