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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Top 10 eLearning Predictions 2011 #LCBQ

This month's #LCBQ is the first with the Big Question Thought Leaders.  It's been fun working with them and has definitely added a new spark.  I'm hoping that others will join the effort.  We strongly believe the #LCBQ offers an opportunity to have something online that's like a sophisticated cocktail party.  Lots of discussion and debate around interesting questions for eLearning professionals.  We would welcome lots of discussion.


This month's LCBQ is What are your Predictions and Plans for 2011?

I've attacked this by looking at my past predictions, then looking at lots of predictions from other folks, and finally I get to my Top 10 eLearning Predictions for 2011

My Past eLearning Predictions

You can see some of my predictions from the past in:

Ten Predictions for eLearning 2008

    1. eLearning 2.0 - Increasing Pressure
    2. Virtual Classroom Tools - Meeting Tool + Second Life Lite
    3. Authoring Tools - Captivate and Articulate Will Dominate
    4. Less Authoring - More Web Pages
    5. Mobile Learning - Continued Scattered Examples and Disappointment
    6. Metrics-Driven Performance and Learning Interventions
    7. LMS => More of What You Don't Want
    8. Serious Games - Seriously Sorry, Not for You
    9. Niche Online Discussions
    10. Knowledge Worker Skills - Just Beginning in 2008, Big in 2009

12 eLearning Predictions for 2009

  1. "Self-Directed Learning" Increases
  2. eLearning 2.0 Grows - But Creating "eLearning 2.0 Strategy" Fails
    Corollary: if you have SharePoint installed, you will be using SharePoint a lot more this year.
  3. Increase in Consumer/Education Social Learning Solutions will Increase Pressure for Social Learning Solutions in Corporate Learning
  4. Quick Wins & Toolkits
  5. Virtual Classroom Tipping Point
  6. Greater Domination by Leading Tool Vendors
  7. Niche Tools Emerge and Get Traction in Niches
  8. More Wiki Pages - Same Authored Minutes - Less Classroom Minutes
  9. Knowledge Worker Skills
  10. Mobile Learning Niche Growth

Top 10 eLearning Predictions for 2010

  1. Hacking Work
  2. Convergence Ramps Up Big Time
  3. More, Lower Cost Learning Solutions (Low-Cost Test and Quiz Tool Comparison, Low Cost LMS)
  4. Social Learning Grows But Becomes More Specific
  5. Lots of SharePoint
  6. More Examples of Mashups and Add-ons to Extend Simple Self-Paced eLearning
  7. Major Merger LMS + Talent Management Vendors
  8. Turmoil in Learning Organizations
  9. Open Content
  10. Cloud Computing

Predictions and Trends from Others

Some predictions I've seen from other sources that I've selectively edited to make them short enough to easily consume.

Horizons Report 2011 (PDF)

Time-to-Adoption: One Year or Less

  • Electronic Books
  • Mobile

Time-to-Adoption: Two to Three Years

  • Augmented Reality
  • Game-Based Learning

Time-to-Adoption: Four to Five Years

  • Gesture-Based Computing
  • Learning Analytics

eLearn Magazine - Predictions for e-Learning in 2011

Lisa Gualtieri

  • The Rise of Curation

Charles Jennings

  • Working and Learning Merge

Roger Schank

  • Death of 'You Will Need it Later'

Harold Jarche

  • Networked Learning
Karl Kapp
  • Dramatic Increase in Gamification
  • Draconian Social Media Policies
  • Killer Augmented Reality App Developed
Saul Carliner
  • Informal Learning
  • Apps for the iPad and Similar Tablets
  • Trend toward shorter programs

Janet Clarey

  • Personal videoconferencing, telepresence technologies, tablets, and integration with existing systems will drive innovation in Virtual Classroom Tools.

Elliott Masie

  • Learners as designers.
  • Learning apps.
  • Video galore.

Rovy F. Branon

  • Learning Management System App Stores

Bob Little

  • Apps, Not Courses

Inge de Waard

  • Augmented reality moves towards augmented learning with easy tools: Wikitude, Layar, ARToolKit...
  • Situated learning (learning within context in a community of practice) grows thanks to augmented mobile reality.
  • Virtual classrooms and smart-boards are used in a more student-centered way (not putting all the attention to one person up-front=bad).

Tony Bates - eLearning Outlook for 2011

1. Course Redesign

            We will see increasing efforts at redesigning courses to incorporate both online and face-to-face teaching

2. The Future is Mobile

3. Open Educational Resources Matures

4. More Multimedia

5. Learning Analytics

6. Shared Services between Institutions

Manish Gupta - e-Learning Predictions for 2011

    1. Live Online Training to Grow in India
    2. Birth of Motion Controlled Learning & Interactivity
    3. Performance Support Tools to Gain Adoption
    4. Outsourcing to Continue Growing 
    5. Gaming to Gain Momentum 
    6. LMS’s to Remain Primary Delivery Mechanism for e-Learning

Glenn Hansen's 2011 predictions - 2011 - the year of collaboration

Collaboration tools such as micro-blogging software (e.g. Twitter, Yammer), wikis, blogs, discussion groups, etc. open up exciting opportunities for people to access relevant information where and when they require it.

The availability of cost-effective resources to facilitate wide collaboration (including open source software that enables wikis, discussion groups, chat and even web conferencing) presents the chance for organizations to reconsider the effectiveness of the performance support being offered to their people.

Of course, you can’t look at learning in 2011 without mentioning mobile learning.

Jon Aleckson - eLearning predictions for 2011 and beyond

    1. Just-in-time learning
    2. Greater access to information
    3. Peer coaching
    4. Cloud training
    5. Ability to reach those previously unreachable
    6. Tools allowing for easier collaboration and interaction
    7. Richer media experience (videos and simulations)
    8. Content repositories & Learning Object distribution and searchability 
    9. Movement away from static textbooks as primary resource
    10. Customized learning spaces, i.e. personal learning environments (PLEs)
    11. Customization of content presentation and access
    12. eReaders and eBooks providing better and more interactive content (just in time)
    13. Changing paradigm of "bounded courses" to unbounded courses where learning is a continuous process that can occur anywhere and at any time
    14. Sharing resources and co-producing content to reduce cost
    15. Informal learning, sharing own learning with others via internet (e.g. blogs, wiki)

Nick Morris - 10 eLearning Predictions for 2011

    1. 2011 will finally see the end of Internet Explorer 6
    2. The rise of mobile learning
    3. The rise of the 'robot teacher'
    4. Student adoption of Twitter
    5. The return of 'distance learning'
    6. Increased use of Twitter in teaching
    7. Increased use of Facebook in teaching
    8. The death of RSS
    9. The rise of the eText Book
    10. The launch of an 'email' killer
    11. VLEs will go cloud

Predictions and Hopes for Elearning in 2011

Ellen Wagner, Executive Director, WCET

  • Mobile learning in all of its rich and nuanced forms will finally become an obvious, self-evident solution for learning because we are finally focusing on meeting the needs of learners who are mobile.
  • Analytics will be the buzzphrase of the year.

Some Mobile Learning Predictions for 2011

    1. Mobile learning will get its own identity.
    2. Investment in mobile learning will significantly increase.
    3. Mobile learning sub-disciplines will begin to emerge.
    4. Mobile learning development for tablets will become one of these sub-disciplines.
    5. Flash will still have an impact (at least in the area of mobile learning).

10 Predictions for 2011: Trends that Will Reshape the Training Industry

    1. Total spending for training services will increase by an estimated 7-9%.
    2. Training department staffing will grow by a modest 2%.
    3. Selective outsourcing continues to grow while comprehensive outsourcing will become less popular.
    4. The role of the learning leader is shifting from being a program manager to a solution architect.
    5. Learning technologies are becoming social, collaborative, and virtual.
    6. Speed will become the new mantra for training.
    7. Convergence of educational institutions to the supply chain of corporate training will change the supplier landscape.
    8. Learning content will be transformed for easier consumption.
    9. Success metrics for learning will be based on content access, views, involvement and downloads.
    10. Learning leaders will be more focused on relevancy of information.

Learning Technology Trends To Watch In 2011

    1. Growth of Social Learning
    2. To LMS or Not
    3. Pocket Video Technology
    4. Mobile
    5. iPad or Alt-Tablets
    6. Virtual Worlds Rising Up
    7. Augmented Reality
    8. Blogs
    9. eBooks
    10. QR Codes

5 Trends to Watch 4 in 2011

    1. Lite LMS
    2. Extended Enterprise/Channel Product/Distributors Market
    3. Marketplaces & Exchanges by LMS/Learning Portal Vendors
    4. LMSs focusing more on the end user experience
    5. HTML5 &  Rapid Content Authoring Tools

CLO Magazine - Five Trends in Learning Delivery 2011

    1. Increased Fidelity of Experience
    2. Kiosk Learning
    3. Crowdsourcing for Learning Assignments
    4. Data Mining
    5. The LMS Adds Informal Learning

Top 5 things I hope not to hear in 2011

    1. Death by PowerPoint
    2. I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn
    3. Dear Twitter
    4. Learning styles don’t exist
    5. If Facebook were a country

Enterprise mLearning Predictions for 2011

    1. mLearning Engagements Expand.
    2. Device Diversity is the “New Normal”
    3. Mobile Apps Become Essential to Enterprise mLearning
    4. Pad/Tablet Use Explodes
    5. Authoring Tools Will Evolve
    6. Private Social Networks Win Over Public
    7. Market Consolidations Will Occur
    8. Here Come the Experts!
    9. New Features and New Possibilities

My E-learning predictions and plans for 2011 #LCBQ

    1. 2011 Moving from the LMS to the workplace
    2. Form courses to nuggets and collaboration
    3. Disclosure of content: capturing context

And still more:

Looking at this another way, I went to eLearning Learning and looked at what were the keywords that arose based on eLearning Predictions 2011 and based on what were the keywords that were more active during the beginning of 2011 than in the past.  Here's what came up.

Obviously, the Cornerstone OnDemand is because of the IPO.  Others are actually are fairly instructive about what the current trends are in eLearning.

My Predictions

So with all of that as a lead up.  Here are my top 10 eLearning predictions for 2011.

Prediction #1 => Growth of Working Smarter and Increase in the Schism Between Learning and Doing Organizations

What do you call the combination of informal learning, performance support, social learning, providing help directly at the point of need, providing tools, access to peers/experts and the other kinds of techniques that can be used to improve business results but that are not training?

Jay Cross talks about this in terms of Working Smarter:

I don’t talk much about training or learning these days.

The goal is achieving the outcomes you seek. How you get there is immaterial. Sometimes it’s easier to add smarts to the workflow (performance support) than to stuff things into people’s heads.

I have reframed how I help organizations get things done. It may or may not involve learning. I call it working smarter.

Jay has launched Working Smarter Daily that collects some of the best thinking on how people and organizations can work smarter.  Interestingly, it's Xyleme - an LCMS vendor that is sponsoring the site.  I find that interesting because clearly they see the need to capture and deliver information and support in new ways in organizations.

While I like Jay's approach, I'm not sure that specific term will be embraced.  At the same time, we are struggling to find a term to describe how to describe this broader set of approaches.   In trying to come up with next month's #LCBQ, we specifically wanted to be able to name this.

That said, I think it's clear in 2011 that there will be a growing schism between traditional training organizations that increasingly are marginalized and those that go after working smarter.  I think of this as the difference between those focused on learning and those focused on doing.

Prediction #2 => Mobile Tipping Point

You can see that my predictions for mobile were rather pessimistic in the past.  In 2008, I talked about how there would be "Continued Scattered Examples and Disappointment" In 2009,  I said we would see "Mobile Learning Niche Growth."  My belief is that mobile this year has reached a tipping point a bit like Virtual Classroom tools in 2009.  We have reached a time when there's a kind of ubiquity for access of content on new kinds of devices (cell phones, smartphones, tablets) and in places away from the home and office. 

The explosion in the world of mobile learning (mLearning) is fueled by the numbers, but also by the need to provide new kinds of learning and support that can be used at the point of need.  When everyone has a mobile device with web access, clearly there are opportunities to provide content in new ways.

We are seeing the beginning of lots of Mobile Learning tool offerings.  And I think there will be a wave of eLearning Startups that leverage mobile deliver as a differentiating factor.

Prediction #3 => Curation Hot in 2011

Lisa Gualtieri predicted 2011 as "The Rise of Curation."  There are many people, especially those who come from the world of publishing that are calling 2011 the Year of Curation.  If you've not been hearing this term a lot already, you soon will.

Why is Curation an "it" term in 2011?

The answer is simple: Information Overload provides inherent opportunity for curation.  A great diagram is in Information Overload Paradox:


The post talks about the issue of overload:

I can certainly consume more content than I could two decades ago, but no matter how much content is available, I can’t consume much more. And relative to the sheer volume of content available to me, I’m actually consuming a smaller percentage every day.

And talks to where they perceive to be the real opportunity:

The real opportunity here, in my opinion, is to create – and curate – the best content focused on one specific area frequently enough that you become the one brand that consumers look to for this information.

Publishers are clearly looking closely at this issue as the question is whether content creation provides as much value or is curation the real value creation.  I've argued that many training organizations and eLearning companies look and act like publishers.  In the Business of Learning, I asked:

While training as a publisher of courses and courseware faces an increasingly challenging market, what other things can learning businesses successfully sell to internal or external customers?

In a world where content creation is devalued, but where helping employees handle information overload is highly valued, there's a clear opportunity to look towards filtering and curation as a means to provide high value. 

What does this mean for a learning (or more correctly a doing organization)?  It means that you will take on responsibility for getting into the flow and finding of relevant information to help people do their work.

Prediction #4 => Text-to-Speech Growth Accelerates

Watson (the IBM machine that beat humans on Jeopardy) shows us how intelligent machines can help answer certain kinds of questions.  One thing that I've not heard discussed as much is the voice recognition and text-to-speech of the application.   In the Fall of 2010, I did a series on Text-to-Speech in eLearning.  There were lots of folks who argued that human narrators produce better results.  And while that will remain true, the point is that there are lots of applications and eLearning scenarios where that simply won't make sense.  To achieve lower cost, faster time-to-market and to be able to support growing mobile access and specialized kinds of information access, I think we are going to see growth in the use of text-to-speech.

Prediction #5 => Book Publishers Moving into eLearning

I've really been struck over the past few months on the opportunity and need for traditional book publishers to move into new kinds of electronic publications.  In eLearning Startup Opportunities, I point to Chegg's acquisition of Cramster.  Chegg is roughly Netflix for textbooks.  Cramster provides interactive and social support to help students answer textbook questions.  The clear issue for Chegg is that textbooks will soon be delivered electronically.  The logistics aspects of the company becomes less important in that world.  But the opportunity is clear - create additional value on top of the text books and you will be a winner in the world of electronic text books.

In the Business of Learning, publishers clearly needed to think about how they might go after

  • specialized tools and content that meet particular industry or audience needs
  • games and simulations
  • web 2.0 approaches that leverage distributed content creation, social aspects as part of learning, collaborative learning and editing.

Of course, a lot of traditional publishers will not be making this transition on their own.  Worse yet, there are many publisher who do not have the rights necessary on the content to be able to make this transition.  However, there's so much opportunity here.  I've been working on two different projects where books/publisher content was used as the basis of a startup where the content was used as the backdrop for tools.

Prediction #6 => Content Creation - Rapid, Low-Cost are the Key in 2011

Many of the trends I've cited Curation and Publishers Moving into eLearning talk to the need to look beyond traditional content creation.  Looking to move upstream where possible.  What if you are still in the content creation business?  Well, despite the predictions by lots of other people that is listed above, I don't see a lot of sexy new things around content creation such as gaming.  Instead, my belief is that the discussion will be much more around rapid, low-cost content creation.  Closely related will be outsourced, especially off-shore content creation.  Production of content into eLearning is becoming much more of a commodity.  This is especially true when the content is more about compliance than performance.

Prediction #7 => Video Takes Off

It's been amazing to see how the bandwidth in most organizations finally reaching a point where video can be pushed out as part of our solutions.  It's also amazing how simple it is to capture video.  And video is close to being possible out to mobile devices.  Put this all together and video is going to really take off as part of learning solutions.

Corollary => Open Source Video Technologies

I'm dealing right now with delivery of video on mobile devices.  It's a mess.  There's clear need and opportunity.  I expect to see a lot of activity around this especially with things like Kaltura Raises $20M for Open-Source Video Technologies.  It's early for this technology, but I'm paying close attention to solutions that will enable video to be delivered much more like images.

Prediction #8 => Lots of Discussion around Enterprise Gamification

As you know, I'm big time into using social signals as a means of social filtering.  My belief is that this crowdsources aspects of curation.  With the growth of Facebook Like buttons, there are all sorts of new social signals going on.  This has real value for the enterprise.  But what's been interesting to see building over 2010 and early 2011, is the growing discussion around social games that relate to the enterprise.

  • CubeDuel is Hot or Not for coworkers - basically making a game out of rating coworkers.  Combine this with LinkedIn Skills and you have an interesting way to rate everyone's skills.
  • Badgeville allows you to add a social game layer onto your content.
  • Rypple gives users the ability to create custom badges and, more importantly, define what they mean.

My belief is that there are ways to allow interaction with content to provide greater engagement through gamification, social discovery, improved personalization.  I'm sure we'll hear a lot about it this year, but I'm not quite sure that it's going to be reality for most organizations.  Still I'm going to be reading closely things like: Enterprise 2.0: social scorecard and social media karma.

I don't think this is going to have much impact in 2011, but it's a discussion that we are going to have.  And I'm not quite sure if gamification is what I want to talk about or more about automated curation and the socialization and personalization of content.

Prediction #9 => Learning Analytics Hype

Learning analytics, data mining came up several times in other predictions.  There is definitely a lot of interesting information that we have around our content, talent, learning, etc.  However, unless you can turn that into actionable information especially the kind of Data Driven learning solutions, then I'm not sure I buy that this will be much more than a neat thing to talk about and for vendors to sell.  My belief is that we'll hear a lot about it in 2011, but that by mid 2012 the focus will change to more actionable information related to doing.

Prediction #10 => Augmented Reality not a Reality for Most

Augmented Reality came up in several of the predictions I cited above.  Last year I posted: Augmented Reality for Learning that contains lots of great infromation about this topic and why many of us believe it is going to have big time long-term impact.  The automotive example where mechanics have a heads-up display with real-time support is in the context of the work is amazing. 

Unfortunately, the reality is that most eLearning Professionals won't see any impact for several years.  Actually, the Horizon Report putting it at 2 to 3 years is probably optimistic at best.  Much like games for learning - I believe in the impact, but the amount of discussion is far greater than the reality of use.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Flash Controversy Continues - Is It a Good Choice for Development?

Garin Hess wrote a post 5 Reasons Flash is NOT dying...give me a break! and it seems like my recent post  Mobile Learning and the Continuing Death of Flash got him a little fired up. 

I am fed up with people saying Flash is dying. That it's old technology. That HTML5 is the ultimate replacement. That it shouldn't be allowed to go forward. Come on! Give me a break!

Garin has some good arguments on why he likes Flash as a delivery mechanism.  Probably worth visiting his blog to read them. 

Let me go back to the original issue that I raised a little less than a year ago in Beginning of Long Slow Death of Flash:

As a Part-Time CTO, I am continually making choices about what platforms to use, what do we build for, how do we integrate with social networks, etc. And just like a few years ago when it became clear that you shouldn’t build desktop applications anymore, I think we are hitting a tipping point where you have to question building anything that uses Flash as the delivery mechanism.

I'm defining my technical approach for my eLearning Startup or for my application that will be delivered to employees, consumers or students, etc.  This could be a new authoring tool, an aggregator, the course playback mechanism, a recruiting tool, etc.  My technical choice needs to seem like a good choice 5 years from now.  I need to think about what will produce the best user experience.  The costs.  Technical and business risk.

Garin raises a great point.  We don't know whether Apple iOS will eventually support Flash to stave off competition from competitors.  Originally, I thought that Apple would bow to pressure.   No one at this point really knows.  But let's assume for a second that you believe that Apple will cave and iOS will support Flash.  And let's also assume that we are not strictly talking HTML5, but rather HTML+JavaScript + some ideas of where it is today and where things are going.

What's to Like about Flash

1. Greater consistency across platforms. 

2. Good support for animations, 3D, and video.  Video especially is problematic without Flash to do cross platform.

3. Able to do things visually that are hard with CSS/HTML.  As an example, CSS 3 introduced linear and radial gradients. Good. Can these gradients be applied to the text rendering engine? No? Why not?

like rounded corners, no surprise [gradients] came up. (All we need is to define wet-floor-reflect and we’ll complete the Web 2.0 design tricks hat trick.)

Yes, CSS 3 can do awesome things, and I love it. But it was designed to just barely meet the design needs of today. Any time you want to experiment with a wildly new design direction, you find yourself fighting against the way HTML and CSS were intended to be used.

4. Flash (AIR) can create and use raw TCP or UDP sockets.

Of the above, 2, 3 & 4 of are likely to be a question of what the site/app needs to be able to do.  #1 is definitely an issue as you need to write once and test everywhere for HTML. 

Flash Concerns

There are some things I would be concerned about:

1. Security - some recent security issues with Flash that caused real damage are a continuing concern for me.

2. Closed - as Garin points out there are lots of people working with Flash - an ecosystem.  That said it's still closed.  And it's MUCH smaller than the world that works with HTML.

3. Commercial - it costs money for Flash development and anytime you are dealing with something that's commercial and closed, there are clear risks.

4. Installers - these are somewhat annoying and there are greater risks around them.

Will I Choose Flash?

So - what do I use as a developer? It's way too complex a question because there are a ton of factors that will need to be considered for any given system.  Here's some things I would definitely look at:

  • What's our mobile strategy?  Are we actually looking at Apps or via Mobile Browser?  Big time tradeoffs in each?
  • Do I need an interface that could be provided more quickly via Flash?  I've been involved in creating some pretty sophisticated interfaces via HTML+JavaScript.  But there are development cost tradeoffs to be made.  As an example Flash is used by Zynga to create their games.
  • What's the cost of Cross Browser HTML compatibility issues?
  • What's our strategy around multiple screen resolutions?
  • Will we need to run in low-end phones with basic web access capabilities?
  • Right now Flash is causing performance issues on mobile devices.  This will be improved, but there will be issues.  What will the impact be of those issues?
  • What audio and video do I have?  Complex animations?  Can these be Flash elements within an HTML wrapper?
  • Do I need audio or video capture?
  • 3D?
  • Do I need raw sockets?
  • Who is developing it?  What skills do they have? How easy/hard is it to source people with the skills?
  • What are the implications downstream for the organization?  Do we believe it will help or hurt us around time of acquisition?

Impact of iOS?

All of the above is greatly impacted by the choice that Apple makes around iOS support.  People want their content to work on iPhones and iPads right now.   To Gain's point, if Flash is on iOS and gets over the current performance issues, then it's going to win out far more often as the delivery mechanism of choice. 

Of course, my guess early on was that Apple would bow to pressure.  But then it became clear they wouldn't in the short term.  Now, no one knows.

Using Flash

Interestingly, I'm right now looking at technical choices for an eLearning Startup.  And guess what - Flash looks like it will make sense as a choice.  Of course, we are trying to hedge our bets and we are definitely making it an element on the page rather than betting the entire delivery on Flash.  The idea is that we could change the approach for that portion if another solution comes along.  iPhones and iPads will be supported as an app - ugh.  But we don't really have another choice for now.

All of that said, I still will tell you - even though you won't be happy to hear it - if this application didn't need these specific features that are supported by Flash - we would choose HTML+JavaScript because it would work on iPads in the browser.  That's why I still believe until we know that iOS will support Flash - it's death is continuing for now.  Choices are being made to avoid it everyday by CTOs.

Monday, February 14, 2011

eLearning Startup Opportunities

I'm going to be moderating a CalTech MIT Enterprise Forum that looks at Entrepreneurial Opportunities in eLearning - basically where do we mutually see a good opportunity to create a successful eLearning Startup.

I've talked a bit about this in eLearning startups:

the startups in eLearning sit in smaller niches or by attacking tangential opportunities in eLearning. They are going after things like:

  • specialized tools and content that meet particular industry or audience needs
  • games and simulations
  • web 2.0 approaches that leverage distributed content creation, social aspects as part of learning, collaborative learning and editing.

and in Business of Learning, Future of Business of LearningFuture of Learning and the #LCBQ : What will the workplace learning technology look like in 2015, there are a lot more thoughts around where learning is heading from a business perspective. 

In the case of the CalTech MIT session, the attendees are mostly interested in where there's opportunity to do an eLearning Startup.  I'm very much looking forward to hearing from the speakers and panelists, but I thought I would use this as an opportunity to both respond to this month's #LCBQ (2011 Predictions) and to prepare for the session. 

Technology's Impact on Learning and Education is Greatly Underestimated

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

Roy Amara, Institute for the Future.

We are collectively underestimating the incredible impact that technology is going to have on education.  I've talked before about a world in which the Best Lecture is available to us anywhere.  This already is available.  Distance is really dead. 

If we are going to force students to sit through lectures, shouldn't they be the absolute best lecture?  Tell me how you are going to compete with Physics Lectures by Professor Lewin?  People will argue that Dr. Lewin's is not appropriate for all students or in all situations.  Agreed, but you can't tell me that the high school and college lectures going on around the world is the best way to educate students. 

Of course, should it even be a lecture?  How about if it was an interactive experience instead? 

With the death of distance, what does this mean for universities?  Should we all be taking online courses from the very best we can access?  How does a local university with a limited brand compare to an online degree from a much bigger brand?  Or compare to someone who aggregates content from various online sources?

What does this mean for high schools?  My daughter last year took an online summer school course taught by her high school teacher.  This year we are trying to find an online high school course (US history but not AP US history) taught by someone else.  It's hard to find that today, but there are dollars there ready to be spent.

If you doubt this impact, make sure you take a look at what's happening in things like SAT prep, Driver's Ed, Tutoring.  In places that are not controlled by government, there's incredible adoption of technology that has greatly shifted things online.


I'm excited to Rob Angarita co-founder of Cramster that is now part of Chegg on the panel.  Cramster helps students with homework by providing answers to textbook questions and interactive support - think little pieces of eLearning for helping students figure out those problems.  It also wires into an online community and tutoring services.  Chegg is basically Netflix for textbooks.  Rather than buy a textbook, you rent it for the semester.  It will make college bookstores obsolete - think Blockbuster - actually they just won't be called bookstores - they will be called a campus store - they will sell all sorts of other things and handle local fulfillment to the college market.

Of course, just like Netflix, Chegg is going to face a really interesting battle as books go digital.  Textbooks are going to go digital as well.  And when they go digital, there are going to be eLearning Startup successes like Cramster that can address specific needs.

In fact, more broadly publishers will need help to find ways to make their materials relevant in a digital world.  I'm working right now with two eLearning startups doing exactly that.  They are partnering with publishers to make their books come to life as interactive content and tools.


There are also a ton of smaller startups emerging that essentially focus on niche topics.  These can be one person shops that selling training to particular audiences.  I recently heard a podcast from a one-person operation that had a list of people in the world of real estate.  He would put out offers for an upcoming course that he would teach online.  If he got enough interest in the course, then he would actually make it happen.  If he didn't get enough interest he wouldn't offer it.  He was doing $400K per year as a one man shop with virtually no overhead.

For more about this: Long Tail Learning - Size and Shape

Aggregation, Curation and Social Signals

Of course, this also suggests that there are going to be big time opportunities for an eLearning Startup that aggregates offerings for particular audiences.  For example, my daughter wants to take that online high school course.  It can be from anyone as long as it gets her credit from her high school.  We'd like it to be a great experience from a well known brand.  What are my options?  As the number of options grow, the need for directories grows.  This is an eLearning Startup that someone should do immediately.

More broadly, addressing the issue of information overload for particular audiences is going to provide big time opportunity.  Aggregage does this for particular topics - allowing curators to bring in appropriate content and the wisdom of the crowd through social signals to filter to the best content.  This kind of approach (using curation and social signals) is big time opportunity for dealing with the increasing flow of information.  We'll see startups providing rating systems, filtering systems, etc.


With the death of distance, that also means that you have immediate access to people across the globe.  This greatly changes things like tutoring and language teaching.  You can now be working with a tutor or teacher from anywhere in the world.  We've seen quite a few successful eLearning Startups doing these.

But there will be a lot more in things like mentoring, matching,  getting quick help, micro-consulting.  Look at the success of eLance and Amazon's mechanical turk.  Quora (Q&A) is getting a lot of buzz - I'm still not sold, but it points out the continued interest in connecting people around questions, help, content.


I added this after I posted, but here's a great capture that will help you think about the market more generally and who the buyers are for your startup.eLearning-Buyers


Of course, during any gold rush the people who have the sure thing are the ones supplying the gold miners (shovels and jeans).  There are likely going to be lots of opportunities to be an eLearning startup providing tools.  Incumbents will definitely be tougher here.  But we still don't have a really good solution for niche content providers.  The real estate training company has cobbled together a solution.  Lot's of people have tried the marketplace, but white label has not been done well. 

There also will likely be tools around:

  • Creating performance support - Learning meets action.  See: Performance Support in 2015
  • Mobile
  • Augmented reality
  • Communication (leverage platforms, but in a learning context)
  • Virtual environments
  • Integration with Google Docs

And ????

Now it's your turn.  If you were going to do an eLearning Startup - where would you focus?  Or if you are doing an eLearning Startup - what is it?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Mobile Learning and the Continuing Death of Flash

About a year ago, I wrote about the Beginning of Long Slow Death of Flash. I pointed to Scribd switching from Flash to HTML, and pointed to their CTO Jared Friedman saying:

"We are scrapping three years of Flash development and betting the company on HTML5 because we believe HTML5 is a dramatically better reading experience than Flash. Now any document can become a Web page."

mLearning-iphone-ipadYesterday, I saw what Rapid Intake is doing with their tools to allow authoring of Mobile Learning - what they call mLearning Studio. By way of background, Rapid Intake provides tools that allow you to very rapidly input content that is composed into courses. The mobile version allows you to compose mobile learning courses using the same authoring system. You choose templates, add text, images, audio, video and quizzes, then publish for web and mobile. It can play back on iPhone, iPad, and Android with support for Blackberry coming soon.

The look of the course is slightly different on the different form factors. For example, you use next and back in a browser, swipe in an iPhone. Table of contents is persistent on the iPad and is a pop-up on the iPhone. Etc. And yes, the mobile version is SCORM conformant. If you want to find out more, you can see a video via the link above.

But here's where it gets interesting...

Rapid Intake's web player is Flash-based. The mobile version is HTML 5.

They've basically been forced (because mobile doesn't play Flash) to go with a completely different technology for their mobile player. The really nice thing for them is that they are a form-based authoring tool (much like an LCMS). That has made their transition to mobile much easier that other authoring tools that are much more closely tied to Flash (and I think you know who I mean).

The death of Flash is continuing.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

LCMS - Warehouse and Authoring

I’ve received some good feedback on my post Learning Content Management Systems (LCMS) for Managing Course Assets. One thing is pretty clear, LCMS tools have really headed towards a kind of super Authoring tool and there's a related but quite distinct need for support for a Warehouse. The need for the Warehouse - keeping track of learning content assets across the organization has its own set of requirements.

I would really like to have a dialog (email exchange) with people who are managing large collections of production and produced digital assets in larger organizations who can describe how they are managing it. Know anyone who can contribute to this?

In terms of use of traditional LCMS products towards the needs cited in the previous post, Brenda Robinson and I had a good "discussion" around this - email exchange. The following all come from her, and I've interspersed some commentary:

Requirement: “We need to figure out a way to get information from other departments to make sure we have the most current information available.”

This in very common across all larger companies. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand has, nor do they know whether or not it is current or accurate. My larger customers faced the same problem and use LCMS to fix it. In a true enterprise deployment of LCMS all learning content and original source files regardless of what tools may have been used to develop it are stored and meta tagged in the LCMS central repository facilitating quick and easy search and retrieval. Problem solved because now we know what we have and where it is.

Your reader also points out a common problem in larger organizations of knowing whether or not the content is the most currently available information. Meta tags provide information on where the content came from, who the owner of the content is, when it was created, when the last time it changed etc. Powerful and flexible workflows facilitate content reviews, approvals and provide audit trails. They can also be configured to have content contributors and approvers to digitally sign off on the content for accountability. Another problem solved by LCMS technology.

Brenda is right that this is a classic example where an LCMS can help. However, this is only "problem solved" if you use the LCMS to manage your assets. If you are authoring using several authoring tools with distributed groups doing the authoring, then it's possible but unlikely that they will be willing to use the LCMS to manage all of those other assets. The LCMS can help with workflow and meta tagging. External vendors can work with the LCMS as well. The key is to have appropriate organizational standards and governance in place that people must work against. That said, I've found many large organizations that will operate this way for some kinds of content and manage that through an LCMS, but other kinds of content is built in other ways and does not use the LCMS. This most often devolves into the LCMS being used to manage assets that will be packaged (authored) for distribution.

Requirement: “We need to set up a process to determine all courses the information will impact.” and “We need to make the changes.”

This another example of a common problem LCMS’s solve.

As you mentioned LCMS’s do come equipped with powerful easy to use authoring capabilities. While content can be authored, tagged and stored from any authoring tool the built in ones provide for very powerful content management. Your natively created content can now be managed at the asset level. Let’s say a company has 1000 courses on the LMS and let’s say our company logo has changed. Now imagine having to find every image of that logo and update it. Scary thought eh? J We probably wouldn’t do it. In fact there are many changes to company policy, regulations etc that happen every day and because you can neither find the content or find where in the content the change needs to happen and because it’s a daunting task to do it it’s not done. So what does this mean. It’s means that employee’s very often are working with out of date or incorrect information.

Now let’s take that same scenario and let’s say we have the ability to search for that logo and click a button and every instance of that logo across all 1000 of our courses in our LMS is instantly updated and no LMS administrator had to lift a finger J Let’s say we have a change to policy and need to know what content that change will impact. Now imagine doing a quick search, finding that the change will impact 50 courses, make the update and all 50 courses are instantly updated in the LMS. Pretty powerful eh :) That’s why companies use the built in authoring capabilities when they can. Another problem solved by LCMS technology.

If you use an LCMS in a smart way, then certainly you can help to determine what courses will be impacted by changes. If you are REALLY good, you could even have the same content assets get reused in multiple courses so that a single change can propagate changes out to all the courses. For something like the logo change - if everyone is using exactly the same logo asset from the LCMS, you will be in good shape.

The problem is that a lot of what people want here is that when a policy changes they want to know - what courses do I need to go change and let's go make those changes. In many cases, the relationship between a policy and a set of courses is not well defined. If you know that's the kind of changes that will occur, you can be smart about how you keep track of things (in an LCMS or not). I've seen some cases with things like product descriptions where updates really do flow nicely because of an LCMS. But in many organizations, a policy change comes through and it's a lot of manual work to go find all the courses that have been authored that need to be changed - or more correctly you decide if it's worth it to make the changes with lots of the courses not getting updated. And in the case of a picture of a product - somehow authors have made their own copies to fit into their courses. It's certainly not changing the picture in one place and poof it gets update.

Obviously, the LCMS can provide big time value here if used in a way that supports these changes. But if you have distributed authoring with different kinds of tools (not to mention service providers), it's a lot messier. Again, any LCMS vendor will tell you that all of these things can be done - but will you have the ability to really do it, especially when/if it adds overhead for things that are authored outside the LCMS.

Requirement: “Save the previous version in the archives for discovery requests.”

This is common in highly regulated environments. How do we know what version of content a learner went through? Let’s say we are a financial services company and one of our employees messed up. Our regulator wants to know exactly what that learner was taught. We need to know to defend our company reputation or worse. Let’s say that regulated content has changed 25 times in the last year. How can we locate and retrieve the exact version of content that learner went through on say March 25th 2010?

An LCMS can track, version and archive all changes to content. We would do a quick search in the archive, locate and restore an exact copy of what that content was on March 25th 2010. Let’s say the regulation for how long we keep content information is different for every state or country. In Canada the regulator say we need to keep the record for 7 years. In Germany 6 years etc. Most regulated companies want content to completely disappear soon as possible :) Again easy if you have an LCMS. Set your date once and poof it’s gone. No more evidence that it ever existed!

This is clearly a place where authoring with an LCMS makes a lot of sense. Trying to do this with traditional authoring tools can be done - by saving copies of the produced courses along with their dates on a network drive. But you must manually handle all the policy decisions. And there's still possible issues around lack of electronic signatures and other controls. I.e., how do you "prove" that's the content. The LCMS can help back you up if used correctly.

“Save the current version for future updates.”

With an LCMS you always have the most current version, it’s easy to locate and it is automatically updated where ever it might be.

Again, a very good match for the requirements of an LCMS.

One thing that's quite interesting is the the reader who originally provided the requirements works in an environment where there is distributed authoring with different authoring tools being used. I don't know if that includes third parties authoring as well. They need to decide what kinds of content would be best to author within an LCMS to get the value described by Brenda. And for other kinds of content, will the assets be tracked in any significant way.

Again, please weigh in on this.