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Need an LMS? Look at Inquisiq EX. June 28, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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3 comments

I’ve heard so many LMS horror stories over the past year that I thought I’d share the great experience that I have with my LMS vendor at work. We use Inquisiq EX, which is offered by ICS Learning Group. Inquisiq EX is a very affordable LMS which is available as a hosted service or as a behind-the-firewall installation. We installed it almost a year ago, and it has turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve made. (This is not a paid advertisement, I swear.)

Features

Inquisiq EX has all of the basic features of an LMS. You can upload and track SCORM-compliant lessons, manage information for live training sessions, manage users and groups (or connect to an external user directory), organize courses in a course catalog, and more. If Inquisiq EX doesn’t have a feature you desire, chances are ICS can develop it for you. They’ve done a bunch of custom work for us, and it’s been well worth the money.

Customer Service and Support

I’ve had nothing but excellent customer service from ICS. They’re always quick to respond, via email and phone, and they never get sick of my questions (which surprises me).

I won’t hide the fact that we occasionally encounter small bugs with Inquisiq, but thankfully we haven’t run into any show-stoppers. If we do encounter issues, ICS responds immediately and provides a fix. (I think we’d all be fooling ourselves if we thought there was any type of bug-free information system.)

ICS also has an online ticketing system for tracking support issues and an online knowledgebase.

Convenience

I fully realize that there are some excellent (and free) open-source LMSs out there. However, I run a one-person eLearning department and I don’t have time to tinker with the LMS software or be responsible for its uptime; that’s not my area of expertise. Inquisiq gives me the ability to focus on my courses – and not worry about the LMS.

Do Your Homework, But Remember Inquisiq EX

The eLearning Guild has done some great research on LMS vendors. Check out the research reports if you are seriously in the hunt for an LMS, but make sure you take a look at Inquisiq EX. I don’t believe they are featured in the report because they aren’t one of the BIG players. (Brent Schlenker – if you’re reading this, please get ICS Learning Group some visibility!! They deserve it, big time, for having such a quality product.)

Read more about Inquisiq EX here.

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Redbird DevNet: SCORM Heaven June 19, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Redbird Software recently launched Redbird DevNet, a one-stop shop for all things SCORM. DevNet has an aggregation of the latest SCORM-related news and blog feeds, job postings, and excellent SCORM documentation. The site will soon feature discussions forums as well.

Redbird DevNet is still under development, but this is certainly a great start. There aren’t many resources out there on the web devoted 100% to SCORM, but this site aims to fill that gap. The ADL site is certainly helpful, but I get the feeling this will be a better place to stay up on news, changes, best practices, etc.

I wrote about Redbird Software in an earlier post. Be sure to check out Trident – The SCORM IDE, if you haven’t already.

Understanding Personal Learning Environments June 14, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I’ve been soaking up as much information as possible about Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) lately. If you’re not familiar with the concept, a PLE is a set of tools and resources that an individual uses to learn and store information for future reference. PLEs differ from person to person and may consist of tools such as search engines, blogs, RSS readers, wikis, email, instant messenger, virtual classroom tools, social bookmarking, note-taking tools, and so on. I envision that my PLE is an imaginary bubble that wraps around me; it’s my own learning ecosystem. Some parts of my PLE come and go, depending on how useful I find them, while other parts are permanently attached (ex. email, RSS reader). My PLE helps me learn on a daily basis. I take my PLE with me wherever I go.

Corporations and PLEs

Some discussions have heated up surrounding corporations and their role in PLEs. Should corporations provide specific tools for their employees to manage their information? Something like a PLE manager? If corporations provide these tools, is the learner able/allowed to take their information with them when they leave the company? You can see that a line becomes drawn between personal and work learning environments. Some of the information you learn applies generally to your career, while other information may relate specifically to your job at XYZ corporation. How do you keep this information separate? Do you store it differently, and in multiple locations? This is where it can get messy.

I would suggest that companies address this issue using policies, rather than by dictating that employees use specific in-house tools for managing their information. Policies should state that confidential or sensitive company information should not be stored on external systems (ex. publicly-available blogs). Any other information can be stored using whichever tool the learner prefers.

PLE Resources

So far, my favorite article related to PLEs was written by Michele Martin. You can find the article here. Michele clearly outlines several tools and how they fit into her PLE. It’s a good read. Check it out.

Tony Karrer has done a great job of discussing PLEs here and here, and he also provided some great links to other PLE resources.

Tom Haskins has posted several great articles on PLEs, too.

Closing Thoughts

I believe Tom Crawford nailed it in this post. Tom says…

I think PLEs are a great topic for people to discuss and understand. It’s helpful for me to understand what Jay or Ray use in their own PLE. However, the discussion is not so that I can standardize it for all employees, but so that I might be exposed to something I hadn’t thought of and try it in my own PLE and possibly recommend it to others to try. Certainly, corporations should make a wide array of tools available and encourage their use, but can we please stop trying to standardize something that is inherently personal?

I couldn’t agree more. The minute we try to formalize PLEs or develop a tool for managing a PLE, we’re missing the point. The best thing we can do as learning professionals is educate people on the idea of a PLE and help them become more aware of the resources available to them. We can also help introduce new ideas, concepts, tools, technologies, etc. After that, it’s up to the learner to take advantage of their PLE.

How to Use Wikis June 7, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Wikis are an interesting creature to me. I know they can be incredibly useful for collaborative work, but I’m trying to figure out the best ways for implementing them within an organization. I’m struggling to define their role.

Here are my questions:

  1. Should you use wikis in training? For example, in instructor-led or virtual-classroom training, do you have the learners split into teams and work on a project together using a wiki? If you do this, is there any value to keeping the wiki around after training?
  2. Should you just provide a wiki platform to your entire organization and let them do with it what they want?
  3. Do you create a wiki for an entire organization? Or just a smaller group (ex. department)?
  4. If a group of people wants to focus on a particular topic, should they create their own wiki or contribute information to Wikipedia? For example, if a group of trainers wanted to create a wiki dedicated to training and development, how do they decide where the best place is to post their information?

Maybe these questions will answer themselves when I implement my first wiki. Until then, I’m going to explore the different types / brands of wikis and research as much as I can.

Here’s a great video from CommonCraft called "Wikis in Plain English." This is a must watch if you are new to wikis. Great stuff.

mLearning: Now I See The Light June 4, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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There’s quite a buzz around mobile learning (a.k.a. mLearning), but up until recently I hadn’t seen examples that I believed were convincing or promising. I always envisioned people working through eLearning courses on their cell phones, squinting their eyes to navigate from page-to-page; it never sounded like a good idea to me. Well, my outlook on mLearning changed dramatically this weekend. Follow me for a minute…

The Waiting Is The Hardest Part

My wife and I were running errands on Saturday, and we stopped at a bridal shop so she could get fitted for a bridesmaid’s dress. One of her best friends is getting married soon. Knowing that I would be waiting for a while, I grabbed my cell phone (a Sprint PPC-6700) and started surfing the web to kill time. I remembered that I had access to Google Reader, my RSS reader, on my phone. Over the past few months, I’ve set up Google Reader to pull in feeds from about 50 eLearning, training, design, and development resources (blogs, news sites, etc.). I decided to dive in and see what was happening in the world.

I ended up waiting for about a half-hour, and I’m surprised to say I was very productive during this time. I was able to catch up on a large amount of information that was/is important to me. I felt like I’d just spent some quality time at my PC.

I finally realized that mLearning consists of chunking content and delivering it to the learner when and where they want. This is certainly not a revolutionary concept, but I hadn’t thought of it in the context of learning. I was too focused on the course model. When I used to hear mLearning, I would think of eLearning courses on a phone. Instead, I should be thinking of RSS readers, knowledgebase applications, web sites, and other tools that can be accessed on a phone (PDA, mobile device, etc.). These provide the learner the opportunity to grab information on-the-fly, as they need it. The tools can act as a learning resource and a job-aid.

mLearning Uses

I see three main uses for mLearning:

  1. On-the-job assistance / information lookup
    It’s no secret that people are more effective at their job when they have the right information at their fingertips. For example, if a client asks a difficult question in a sales meeting, it’s much more effective if the sales person can grab their cell phone to look up an answer and immediately respond intelligently – instead of the classic, “I’ll get back to you on that.”
  2. Keeping a company connected
    Many companies have employees (consultants, sales associates, etc.) distributed across large geographic areas. If a company had their managers and/or executives maintain blogs, the traveling employees would feel more connected and have a better opportunity to communicate with management. The traveling associates could easily access this information via an RSS reader on a mobile device. (The word "blog" is still scary to many people; if you take this approach, you may want to call it an "online journal" or something similar.)
  3. Something to help time pass
    My example above illustrates this use of mLearning. How many people spend time waiting in airports? Or on airplanes*? These are great examples of times where individuals can catch-up or brush-up on their skills.

    * Some mLearning solutions offer offline capabilities, so connectivity is not always required.

Give It a Shot

There are some technology constraints with mLearning, but they’re becoming less and less of an issue. Many cell phones are capable of accessing web sites and online tools, data rates are speeding up, and data plans are getting cheaper. I’d recommend testing the waters of mLearning, if you haven’t already. I’m certainly going to do more research and look for ways to use it both personally and professionally. Feel free to share ideas, recommend tools, etc., too. Good luck!