Tag Archives: LMS

APIs, Adaptive Learning & the Invisible LMS: Andy Wooler Interview

I was very lucky this week to catch up with Andy Wooler. Andy is the Academy technology Manager at Hitachi Data Systems and one of the most experienced people I know when it comes to learning management technology. I was keen to get Andy’s take on how learning technology is developing.

Andy is always looking outwards at new technologies and their potential application for learning. What I particularly like about Andy is that he cuts through the hype and has a good sense for what will really work inside large corporates. This is what he had to say about current trends.

Has the death of the LMS been exaggerated?

Despite predictions about its imminent demise the learning management system (LMS) continues to evolve and thrive.

The LMS will continue because it covers all the learning processes we need to manage, particularly in a regulated industry. However, the LMS will become less visible to learners.

The LMS functionality will sit behind the scenes and we will surface the functionality and data at the point of need.

In the old days we had a SCORM compliant LMS (the learning tracking standard developed originally by the US military) and we produced a lot of SCORM based content. These days learning blends have a rich range of content including video and a wide range of resources such as blogs, slides and social networks. You need to be clear what you need to track. There is an increasing body of content we don’t track in the LMS. We use a lot of video based content which we surface on platforms such as Jive where it doesn’t need to be tracked.

What does this mean for learning design?

I think it is a challenge for learning designers. How do you bring in collaborative elements and how do you adapt the learning. In my view the future is adaptive learning. For us this means producing less scorm based content and creating more learning in an adaptive learning tool.

Adaptive learning tools continually assess the skills and competencies of staff and then adapt learning delivery accordingly. I think this is key as it is about making learning and knowledge fit the individual learner. We are using adaptive technology from Area9 to assess how much the learner knows at any given time, and which adapts the learning accordingly. In my view the future of learning design is adaptive and personalised learning.

What will be the impact on tracking and reporting?

Tracking how many people have completed a course can mean very little. What we really want to know is the current competency and skills of our staff.

With our adaptive learning we are continually assessing staff competencies and skills. We use sophisticated assessments, for example we also ask on assessment how confident learners are of the answers they have provided. How sure are you of the answer you have given.

I think xAPI has a huge role to play. The LMS of the future needs a learning record store (LRS) and the ability to integrate data. Learning should be linked to an individual’s competency and skill.

I can see use cases such as for software engineers inserting a Tin Can statement into the executable file of the software they install which will then bring back data from their actual performance such as time taken errors logged etc. Thus using xAPI we may be able to track not simply learning but performance that can be mapped to their learning needs.

On data analysis there has been a lot of talk of big data but in reality it is not about big data but making best use of the data we have. To me it is important to get the data out of the LMS and analyze it in a data warehouse. We can then look at correlations with other data for example learning and sales data, can we see if learning increases sales. By combining data sets in data warehouse we can look for actionable insights to improve our performance.

So the future is APIs and an invisible LMS

Absolutely, I don’t want anyone to see the user interface for the LMS unless they absolutely have to. What we need to do in the future is pull content and data from the LMS using an API which allows us to surface it on different platforms at the point of need. For example, content could be launched from a deep link from a QR code on a piece of machinery. It gets accessed at the point of need.

The learner really doesn’t care if there is an LMS. We care as learning managers as we need to manage a range of processes and track the impact of learning. The key though is delivery of learning at the point of need, using APIs and single sign on. Thus we need to be able to surface content and data on other platforms as required.

Reproduced by kind permission of Steve Rayson.

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Creating the “Invisible LMS”!

Secret LMS

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a real pleasure recently to be interviewed by my former boss, Steve Rayson, for an “Expert Interview” on the Totara blog.

And this theme of the “Invisible LMS” has been behind a number of conference presentations I have made recently – most recently for a workshop as part of the Learning & Skills Summer Forum at Olympia.

What do I mean by this “Invisible LMS”? Put simply, it is the idea that we should be taking the learning to the learner and not taking the learner to an LMS interface which he often doesn’t understand! The learner really doesn’t care if there is an LMS! We care though as learning managers as we need to manage a range of processes and track the impact of learning. How to achieve this was the topic of the Olympia workshop.

Of course, you can spend a lot of money customising the user interface of your LMS and I have seen some great examples of this. But there are other ways to improve the user experience other than playing around with the LMS interface – just remember, the user often doesn’t want to have to go there in the first place!

I believe 3 things are key:

  • Deeplinks to your learning content
  • Web services to surface LMS functionality wherever users need it
  • Single sign-on to remove the barrier of yet another password

Deeplinks

The major LMS vendors will have the ability to provide links that take you straight to the content. For elearning courses, this should launch the course without the learner having to find it and register for it. In it’s simplest form, this could even be a simple Excel spreadsheet with a list of courses with their hyperlinks! This technique was used very successfully at one of my previous organisations for the roll out of Sales Training Curricula and completion rates were the highest we had seen! (and the idea for this came not from a learning technology guy, rather the manager responsible for sales training!). Another potential use is of course Social Media. If you have seats free on an upcoming course, why not use Twitter to try and drive more course registrations?  Using deeplinks in a tweet!

 

 

 

The applications of this technique are many – think about where the learner goes on a regular basis and the times and places they might need access to your content. QR codes are another good way to surface content – imagine an engineer arriving on site to fix a piece of equipment which he hasn’t seen for a while. He opens the faulty item and finds a QR code taking him straight to some video content from the LMS which guides him through the process on his smartphone. Is this learning or performance support? I can tell you that the engineer will not care if it helps him complete his task!

Right now you might be thinking “how do I create a QR code”? Here’s the answer! How to create a QR code

 

 

 

 

 

Think also about the value this could add to printed course materials – it’s great to show a video in the class but wouldn’t it be great if the learner could access that from the handouts as well? Or perhaps have additional verbal explanation on a  topic using an mp3 file that the learner can access on their mobile device direct from the printed page?

Web services/API’s

So far, I have focussed on accessing specific content. But there are other things we might want learners to find more easily such as:

  • Finding appropriate learning
  • Knowing when they have an upcoming course
  • Are my Certifications up to date?

Let’s first think about where these learners might be in contact with us:

  • In our customer support portal to seek technical documentation, raise support cases, download software updates/patches
  • In our customer or internal communities
  • On our main .com website
  • On our Intranet – if you are very lucky!

These are all places where web services can be used to bring personalised information on current enrolment or Certification status together with access to an easy course finder. All without visiting the LMS UI itself. Of course, we enable LMS notifications on all of these too – but how many get really noticed? In my current organisation, we have already enabled a view of the current enrolment status within our Customer Support portal and plan to extend this to more services soon. We also have a course finder app on our main .com website and display the current most popular courses in our Customer Community. All without the user visiting the LMS.

Single sign-on (SSO)

The final barrier to the LMS! The separate user id and password can be a barrier to getting your users into the LMS and single sign-on is the answer to this. Whilst the use of deeplinks is possible without SSO, removing the intermediate step of logging in totally hides the existence of the LMS interface and completes the move to the “Invisible LMS”!

No LMS Here!

The views expressed here are those of the author and not of any current or previous employer.

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The LMS is Dead! Long Live the LMS!

RIP The LMS?

Is it really 50 issues ago that “Inside Learning Technologies and Skills Magazine” was launched? Congratulations! At 15 years old it is older than most LMS vendors.  And during those 15 years, the death of the LMS has been predicted with regularity. But is that really the case?  In this article I’ll discuss the origin of the learning management systems, its evolution, and what the future LMS might look like.

An LMS for you, and you, and you…

The last 15 years has seen a near constant stream of new LMS vendors coming to market, one of the most notable recent examples being Cornerstone OnDemand, but also a huge amount of consolidation, such as Docent/Click to Learn becoming Sum Total and Saba acquiring Thinq. Well known US based commentator Craig Weiss  recently tweeted that there are 620 learning systems/platforms out there and that the number is still rising. (Although I wonder how many of those will still be around for the 100th edition of the magazine!)

Most of the long standing LMS systems evolved from tools created to help manage the administrative burden of Instructor-Led courses and as such they are not there to manage your learning but to manage the processes around that learning.  They were (and in some cases still are) training administration systems rather than learning management systems.  And despite an explosion in eLearning over the last 15 years the classroom hasn’t gone away.  In my own organisation, 60% of the customer training takes place in an instructor led event, although of course, the use of virtual classroom technology has increased significantly too.

Feature creep

In complex global organizations such as the one I work in where we train resellers and customers as well as our employees, training administration goes way beyond managing classroom registrations, and LMS’s now include capabilities to manage financial transactions including credit card payments and volume discount programs.

And of course modalities have exploded.  First came elearning. But that wasn’t totally new either – computer based courses had been with us for some time, both as CBT’s you ran on a PC or interactive Laser Disk-based  or tape-based courses.  When the World Wide Web came along, it was an obvious move to put these courses onto a web platform – and where better that the LMS? The desire of many organisations to track and record all learning made the LMS an obvious choice at the time.  Since then we’ve added video and podcasts and job aids – the list goes on.  And having spent over 25 years in Financial Services, the advent of more regulation led to a bigger need to record Compliance related courses to appease the regulators. (Whether that is a good thing is another debate!).

In the last few years, we have seen the addition of Performance Management, Talent Management and Social applications. But for many vendors, the heart of the system remains the management of the processes behind these use cases, which may go a long way to understanding why the user experience is often awful!

I once attended a demo of a new LMS whilst it was still in development. The demo used emails with embedded deep-links, and at one point one of the attendees asked the question “but what does the UI look like?” The response was way ahead of its time: “Why would anyone want to use that when they have quick access this way?” How right he was!

Delivery at the point of need

One of my favourite training sayings is that “learning should be a part of work, not apart from work.” By this, I want to see easy access to relevant content at the point of need. For example, if you need to learn about a product – say a CRM system – then why not have that learning accessible within the product itself, rather than forcing the user to go hunting for it in an LMS? Or have mobile device access to specific content accessible via a QR code on hardware so that the engineer has all he needs on site when he gets there?

The user experience is probably the most often criticised aspect of any LMS – and rightfully so! But that is no surprise when you consider my earlier point that the LMS is predominantly there to manage the administrative processes around learning. This, though, is changing, and not necessarily just by the UI improvements made by the software vendors.

I said earlier that like many other companies, my organization teaches customers in addition to our own employees.   Customers interact directly with our LMS, but also with our dedicated customer portal, our online community, our main .COM site – and many other web properties and applications.  Our customers would prefer a single place to go to get all the information they need, and the ability to surface functions from the LMS using web services is now an important part of an LMS procurement decision.

We’ve already started to use those web services. Access to your current class enrolments is displayed within the Customer portal with plans for other functions to be added. The web services we have available in our LMS platform allow us to deliver the basic things people want to see:

  • Catalogue search
  • Courses I need to do
  • Courses I am doing
  • Courses I have done

…all without going to the LMS user interface.

The second aspect of the delivery at point of need is the ability to deep-link direct to relevant content (a URL that takes the user directly to the content object), either as links in the customer portal or via a QR code. Once again, the LMS needs to be able to provide these links and should become another important part in vendor selection.

The future

Whilst the core administrative  function of the LMS will be needed as long as the classroom is alive, its days delivering page turning elearning are surely coming to an end.  My own organisation is now working with “Adaptive Leaning” – think of this as the idea of the course without an end or a never ending skill/competency assessment that is dynamically adapted minute-by-minute to the unique needs of every student. SCORM has no role to play in this, as there is no concept of completion in this new world. Of course, the LMS may well still be where a learner can access such “courses” but the tracking of progress will be taking place outside of the LMS.

In our case, learning objectives will map to skills or competencies and we may want to bring this together with the remainder of our learning data. But does that need the LMS? Not necessarily! With the emergence of “Big Data” thinking in the learning space, much of this analysis will be taking place in a data warehouse rather than the LMS itself where it can be combined with other customer data such as CRM sales data, Support Desk call data and even data from Social Media and company collaboration tools. Learners will eventually want their data to be portable and the power of the Tin Can Learning Record Store (LRS) will come into play.

So, my vision of the LMS by the time we get to edition 100 of “Inside Learning Technologies and Skills Magazine” looks like this:

  • The core function of managing classroom and virtual classroom courses
  • A place where a learner can find learning paths based on skills/ competency gap analysis
  • A tool to find learning paths that are appropriate for their role
  • A record of all their training and Certification history

I do hope they will not need by then to use the system user interface! The LMS of the future will be delivering all of this at the point of need with content being surfaced via API’s into Customer portals, Collaboration sites, mobile devices and directly into the workflow. And LMS data will no longer be analysed in glorious isolation!

The LMS of the past will be consigned to history – but the things it does well will be done even better and users will not even know they are using it.

This article originally appeared in the October 2014 edition of “Inside Learning Technologies & Skills”

 

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Reflections on Life at Kineo

As I am shortly taking up a new and exciting position with Hitachi Data Systems, I wanted to reflect on what has been a great 5 months spent with the UK’s leading e-Learning company, Kineo.

 

My role at Kineo was specifically around consultancy support for their larger corporate TotaraLMS customers – and for me, this was new territory on two counts:  a) working on the vendor side of the fence and b) working with Open Source based products. Now, I have personally had a Moodle site for a number of years – it was a great way of having a second place to test SCORM content! But as I have said many times, Moodle is not an LMS and has no place in the regulated world which I have inhabited for the last 25 years or so.

 

Which brings me to Kineo: When I met Sven Laux & Steve Rayson for the first time, it was clear that they were doing something about that!  There is still development to be done but Totara is certainly headed in the right direction. But don’t just take my word for all of this, check out the recent eLearnity report on Moodle and see what David Wilson and his team think.

 

There is another though another dimension to the LMS debate and this is where Kineo have also added real value. The User Interface is often cited as a major challenge for enterprise LMS implementations but when engaging a vendor which has a rich history in elearning design, you stand a better chance. Kineo have a lot more experience in creating engaging UI’s than the average LMS vendor (although it is also fair to say that a lot of LMS customers don’t invest enough in learning how they could improve their UI themselves – maybe a later blog for that one!).

 

The final major insight I gained relates to Corporate Purchasing processes – and yes, I have been on the other end of this for many years! But the Open Source model is something that seems to be totally alien to many corporates and they don’t always get it. If you are one of those people, then go read this Learning Solutions article:- “Levelling the software procurement playing field” 

 

Another interesting Open Source tool from the Kineo stable is Mahara – an e-portfolio tool. My own website at Andywooler.com is now powered by Mahara.

 

So, a great company with great people – you might ask why then is Andy leaving? It’s simple. I had an offer I couldn’t refuse and am returning to the client side of the equation with a Saba customer where my 10+ years experience of working with Saba and their product set can be fully utilised.

It’s been a fun ride and my thanks to all at Kineo – I leave you wiser and much richer for the experience and also with these thoughts about Moodle from the users themselves:
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Implementing an LMS? Here’s My Top Ten things to consider!

I am often asked “what are the most important things you have learned about implementing an LMS” – so cue the music if you can’t access YouTube through your firewall, you might need to imagine listening to “At The Sign of The Swinging Cymbals”! (for non UK readers, this was a famous radio theme for a top ten show!)

 

 

  1. Involve IT from day 1– I cannot emphasise this one enough! And this is important even if you have gone for a hosted or SaaS solution too. Your users will have to negotiate a number of potential IT “traps” which can spoil the user experience from day 1 including:- Desktop – how is their PC setup, what browser versions, Java, Flash, Adobe Acrobat, sound cards etc
    - Firewalls and proxy servers – they need to get out of the infrastructure to wherever you LMS is hosted
    - Security standards – you will need to consider the standards for passwords, access controls, data security and much more. And don’t forget to consider the Data Protection issues that may arise from your decision on where the LMS is hosted!
    - Penetration and performance testing – trust me, your IT team will have a view on this! (and rightly so!)
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  2. Understand the business requirement – and meet it! There’s nothing worse than deploying a big-ticket system and finding that it doesn’t actually do what your business needs! Requirements gathering up front is one of the most important tasks and must go beyond what the L&D or Compliance teams want to do. All successful implementations have a clear link to meeting the needs of the business. Seems rather obvious I know but trying to mandate a central decision for an LMS into a business that isn’t bought into the idea is also a recipe for failure!
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  3. Make sure you have budget to train your own implementation team – they need to know how to configure the LMS, especially the UI. One of the most important things you can do is invest in training – something that is not always done. Understanding how you can change the User Interface yourself will pay dividends later on and also, save you a considerable amount of money! Of course, you also need to have enough people who know the system inside out and ensure that any skills you gain around the tools are transferred. You could use one of the wiki tools in your LMS to capture best practice for example.
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  4. Run a proof of concept with your short listed vendors – time for them to put their money where their mouth is! This can be a serious way to discover for yourself if the tool will actually deliver what the RFP response said it would! It is also a good way to test out some of those key business needs whilst also testing compatibility with your network infrastructure.
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  5. Reference visits – and seek out your own from the vendor client list. Remember, they will give you their best clients! Most vendors will have customer lists on their websites – but you can also seek out customers through your PLN’s (Personal Learning Networks) – a quick tweet may get you a reference site your vendor would prefer you didn’t meet! I once sat next to the Sponsor of a reference project at dinner. He shared with me the fact that they were considering a change of vendor due to some of the issues they were facing. Priceless!
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  6. Get an active sponsor – an inactive sponsor such as CEO may seem a good idea but just wait until he leaves! (I speak from experience here!). Hearing a CEO say “It’s a no brainer” is great for the project until circumstances change.
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  7. Find your Champions – people out in the business who will help you spread the message are very important and will help to establish the business relationships you will need for success.
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  8. Employ an expert – if this is your first LMS, go and find someone who has both the T-Shirt and is the sequel of the Video to save some pain!
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  9. Win the hearts and minds of the Training world – especially classroom trainers who may see an LMS and eLearning as a threat. (It’s not, it’s probably more career enhancing but they don’t all know that!). Get them involved by ensuring they are trained on how to use the trainer functions on the LMS. Use this as an opportunity to upskill them in how to manage on-line training activities such as asynchronous chats and discussion forums.
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  10. Governance – if you are deploying an LMS cross function, country or organisation, you will need to have some kind of governance board to ensure consistency in approach for global initiatives. Trying to deploy a centrally mandated project requires buy-in from across your organisation.
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  11. Involve IT from Day 1 – did I mention that one? ;)

And remember, when implementing an LMS, if all you do is automate the chaos you already have, all you will get is very fast chaos!

 

 

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Learning Management – Systems have a part to play

Learning Management – Systems have a part to play – from Learning Technologies Conference 2012

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I had the pleasure last week of speaking in a panel discussion with Charles Jennings & Barry Sampson on the LMS at the Learning Technologies Conference in London.

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My presentation video is now available here:

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The first thing that will surprise some is that fundamentally, we all agreed! You cannot “manage” learning using a system! What an LMS does incredibly well though is to manage the processes around learning – and this for me is vital in any business that has a regulatory or other compliance requirement. What confuses the issue here is the terminology used to describe the systems we use – if it’s not “managing” learning, then should we really still be calling it an LMS? The term LMS conjures up a very specific image for many – and that image is sadly often based on what these systems were like 10 years ago! I have to say that for some people, the LMS evolved whilst they weren’t looking!

Like the cell phone, they still do all the things they did 10 years ago but now do so much more including:

  • Performance Management
  • Talent & Succession Management
  • Collaborative Learning
  • Delivery of social media
  • Blended Learning

Now I know there are those who will tell you that you don’t need these tools in your LMS and that you should be using those openly available – such as Twitter & Yammer. And of course, I use both of those and more! However, it’s not always as simple as just setting up a free Yammer account especially if you are regulated! At least one regulator would not be happy that you cannot control user access to the free Yammer environment for example and there are other requirements relating to security testing for any data held outside the organisation.

Perhaps the real meaning of the term LMS is Litigation Mitigation System!

To support my session at Learning Technologies, I surveyed a number of my peers in the world of Financial Services – whilst it was a relatively small sample, their opinion is nevertheless important:

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How valuable is your LMS in ensuring you can provide supporting data about the competency of your people to your regulator?

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How Vluable is your LMS?

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How would you collate the information you need if you didn’t have an LMS?

  • by spread sheet and rubber bands!
  • Spreadsheets or forms on Sharepoint!
  • Manually by a myriad of Excel docs no doubt!
  • Excel Spreadsheets or bespoke access database
  • By hand…
  • Manually on Excel spreadsheets

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If you didn’t work in a regulated industry, do you still think that you would deploy an LMS?

  • 100% Yes

In your opinion, will Social Learning tools ever make your LMS redundant?

  • 100% No

So, next time someone tells you the LMS is dead, consider the 2011-12 Towards Maturity Learning Technology benchmark which tell us that:

  • 71% have Learning Management Systems
  • 78% have electronic based content
  • 68% have online assessment
  • 77% use surveys and questionnaires

The last LMS I deployed had all of these of course!

And the final statistic: 69% want to roll out new IT systems - I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a lot of “LMS” Vendors are getting a slice of that too!

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