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Monday, December 15, 2008

Training Standards

Bill Sawyer posted in response to my Conversation Topics post. You can find posts aggregated via eLearning Learning - 100 Conversations. I've not met Bill before, and this was a great way to start. He is definitely challenged and thinking a lot about training standards.

Bill has quite a few questions in his post:
eLearning is suffering from the Beta/VHS or Blu-ray/HD-DVD challenge. In fact, it is probably even more systemic. For example, it is elearning? eLearning? e-Learning? or E-Learning? Heck, if something doesn’t even have a standard for what to call itself, is it really ready for a rev. 2.0?
I'm not really going to address this much. See some thoughts at: eLearning or e-Learning vs. learning, but I somewhat agree with Jay Cross (who coined the term eLearning) that it's not worth a whole lot of time trying to define it too closely.

Instead, I'd like to focus on what Bill asks about the challenges around training standards and eLearning 2.0:
What is happening with the eLearning world is that we lack standardization. Should we support Flash? Where does PowerPoint fit into the standards? Should we be supporting OpenOffice? Where does SCORM fit into the picture? Should we demand that our product support SCORM? What about Adobe products vs. Articulate vs. Qarbon?

Until eLearning vendors bite the bullet, come to real standards on formats, and then the tools and structure can build up to support those standards, eLearning is never going to be what it can be.
When I talked about Training Design one of the things I didn't discuss is how we've gone through waves of innovation along with each innovation cycle. When CBT (CD-ROM based multimedia training) came out, there were a lot of different authoring tools and approaches that came along with it. It was hard to choose a tool because you didn't know quite what you were eventually going to do with it. However, it all settled down to roughly Toolbook, Authorware and IconAuthor. I used to love these tools. Each allowed us to do some pretty incredible things. But then along came the web and WBT (web-based training), again huge innovation, lots of tools. This made us uncomfortable with our choices. But, I actually think things in the world of traditional online courseware development have become much easier. There are a few leading elearning authoring tools that work in most situations. That said, the cycle of innovation is happening so fast now that one cycle doesn't settle completely before the next cycle starts. That's why it feels so uncomfortable all the time ...

When he asks what do we use as the front-end technology and in which case?
  • HTML + simple JavaScript
  • AJAX
  • Flash
each has different characteristics and quite different implications in different kinds of environments. The inclusion of Flex in this mix makes it that much harder. And add into the mix, mobile delivery. This makes it hard to decide what front-end is best. Especially if you are trying to decide on what will be the right answer 3 years from now.

In terms of SCORM, Almost always the answer is yes, authoring tools need to support it. Do you ever plan to track it in an LMS? Then yes. But don't most tools support SCORM at this point?I completely understand why Bill feels the way he does. The amount of innovation and change and number of choices definitely makes it harder to decide how to approach things. At the same time, asking for standards is likely to be asking a lot. It's doubtful we are going to see enough coming from standards except in narrow areas like SCORM.

Bill, I hear you. Certainly, there's a lot to try to figure out. And it's not getting any easier. I'm not sure I buy asking for help from training standards, but there seems to be a need to have some ways to get through the clutter to understand how to structure things.

In a prior post, Bill tells us that:
I train Oracle programmers, primarily internal employees in the E-Business Suite (EBS) line of business, how to write J2EE-based applications for Oracle’s EBS product using our framework called Oracle Applications Framework (FWK).
Given this context, I think I can understand a bit more about why Bill would have expectation that there would be more in the way of training standards. In the world of J2EE app development, there are incredible standards being worked on all the time. These allow all sorts of interoperability. I'm not sure I even know what the standards would be in the world of eLearning.

At the same time, this happens to be an area where likely there will be high expectations about providing more than just training. Programmers are very much used to accessing code examples, reference libraries, seeking and getting help, etc. I'm going to guess that Oracle does quite a bit of this for this exact audience. I have no idea if/how this ties to training standards, but it may be the case that elements of eLearning 2.0 already exist in this world.

Bill, I look forward to any further thoughts on this.


V Yonkers said...

It is important that there be a distinction between "tools" and "training" standards. The fact is that coca-cola was originally developed as a medicine, but now has many uses (including cleaning battery connections).

One problem I see all the time between ITS and "trainers" is that trainers want to be able to use tools in various ways that they may not have been designed for. ITS wants to be able to replicate the use of tools as it makes them more productive.

However, this falls into a cookie cutter approach to training in which a formula is worked out and the training is trying to be forced into that formula (cutting up a square to fit into a circle). While this does produce "standard" training, it also takes away some of the individual learning that Web 2.0 tools allows.

I think a better way to approach this dilemma is to focus on standardizing "tools" for interactivity, but making sure that the tools might be used in different ways than designed and may still need to be tweeked.

Damon Regan said...

Wow, I love this topic. I keep meaning to join your 100 conversations, Tony. If you're reading this blog post and aren't already participating in LETSI (Learning-Education-Training Systems Interoperability) discussions, I recommend you check out LETSI. LETSI is assuming the stewardship of SCORM from ADL and is working on the definition of a SCORM 2.0. Many white papers have already been written and are available for review. What should the future of standards look like? You say.

While tools are important, they should not be confused with standards. That way leads to the Authorware end of life situation where content can't evolve in new tools easily. (Although my company, Eduworks, can convert this Authorware using a fast technology-based approach). Focusing on standards allows competition of tools to produce interoperable data. If you don't like editing HTML with Dreamweaver, you have choices.

The future is certainly more complex related to tools and standards. There are page or screen level standards (HTML, SWF, etc.) with a associated tools able to produce those standards to varying levels. Knowledge here is critical.

There are publishing standards like SCORM. Knowledge here is critical as well.

It is not sufficient to just view SCORM as a checkbox if an organization seeks to achieve goals of costs, learning experience, or greater accountability -- subjects all discussed on this blog by Tony. I posted on this topic last year. Sorry for such a long comment, but I love this topic.

Tom Friedman said the symbolic game of the cold-war era was sumo wrestling -- all about posturing. he said game characterizing globalization is the 100 yard dash. And you run it everyday. This is especially true in eLearning.

Gary H said...

As a developer, I think we do have standards, but maybe not the standards Bill is looking for. We use the same standards as any web/mobile developer, often the ones set by W3C. SCORM definitely standardizes LMS based courseware from a tracking perspective.

What we don't have is standard tools, or standard practices. That is an organizational decision based on requirements and budget. Adobe products have somewhat become a standard, but they are pricing themselves out of a lot of organizations.

The bottom line is what you want to accomplish. You have to pick tools based on the desired outcomes of the course. Good developers can make it happen using almost any tool. I think the key is having a well rounded tool set and being able to tie various pieces together into a meaningful learning experience.

Anonymous said...

I think there also needs to be a distinction between standards, princples and best practice.
The Articulate Blog by Tom Kuhlman (Spelling?)creates lots of food for thought about what makes great elearning. Many things he talks about can be considered for any elerarning tool and not solely focused on Articulate products.
Standards should vary depending on the organisation they are designed for. for example, what should the standard pass mark be for an online quiz open book.