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Have LMSs Jumped The Shark? March 20, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I constantly hear people (across many organizations) complain about their learning management system (LMS). They complain that their LMS has a terrible interface that is nearly unusable. Upgrades are difficult and cumbersome. Their employees’ data is locked in to a proprietary system. Users hate the system. It’s ugly. (Did I miss anything?) I think LMSs may have jumped the shark.

If LMSs are going to survive, they’ll need to change drastically. We’ve recently seen LMSs shift to include more functionality, such as wikis, blogs, social networking, etc. I think they’re heading in the wrong direction. I don’t really understand why LMS vendors are now thinking they need to build in every possible 2.0 tool. If I want a great blogging platform, I’m going to download WordPress (it’s free and has a huge support community). If I want a great wiki platform, I’m going to download MediaWiki or DokuWiki (also free and they have huge support communities). And when it comes to social networking, as a co-worker put it, “Do they really think I’m going to create a ‘friends’ list in the LMS? Seriously?”

Maybe LMS vendors are taking advantage of the people/organizations who don’t have the technical resources to install these free open-source systems on their own. I think it’s a big problem; by using these tools within the LMS, people are now locking even more data into a closed system. One of the few LMS add-ons that I think may have merit would be a talent management module, mainly because it could integrate well with the data in an LMS. That seems like a good fit to me.

Instead of adding all this new functionality, LMS vendors should concentrate on better connecting and integrating with open standards and technologies. User data should be 100% portable. RSS feeds should be available both ways: people should be able to subscribe to a feed to monitor when new resources are added in the LMS, and the LMS should be able to import and act on data fed to it. The systems and the data should be mashable. The LMS will need to become one of the building blocks within the enterprise, rather than remain as a standalone system that doesn’t play well with others.

I don’t mean to sound pessimistic; I’ve made a good living in the world of learning and technology working with LMSs. I think I’m most frustrated because other areas of software and technology seem to have progressed at a much more rapid pace in terms of usability and flexibility. I believe there is a future for the LMS, but only for the vendors who are able to see the changes on the horizon and adapt before it’s too late.

The gLearning Challenge January 31, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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The eLearning Guild has announced an interesting challenge for their upcoming Annual Gathering conference in Orlando. It’s called The gLearning Challenge and the concept is to create a learning solution using ONLY Google products. Here’s a more thorough description, from their web site:

The gLearning Challenge is your chance to use the slew of free and easy-to-use Google tools to showcase your e-Learning design chops. Your entry must use any, or many, of these free Google tools to create a course, a module, or even some informal learning. Get Creative! Win Prizes! Be crowned the Master of gLearning!

The suggested list of tools includes:

Submissions will be accepted until Friday, March 6, 2009.

Read more about The gLearning Challenge.

Building a Learning Portal January 17, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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We implemented a learning portal at work several months back, and it has turned out to be one of the best things I could recommend to an organization for improving access to learning materials. In the past, I’ve worked at organizations where we would tell learners, “Look in the LMS” to find materials and information. I’ve realized that a learning portal creates a self-service environment for users that can’t be beat. They can go, search, find what they need, and move on. It’s a Google-like experience, for what has generally become an information-on-demand culture. Let’s take a closer look at learning portals…

What is a learning portal?

A learning portal is a web site that contains links to all different types of learning and training materials for employees at an organization. It may display upcoming classes, online courses, job aids, programs, links to web sites, etc. It may also include search functionality, a rating system, bookmarking ability, and more. The content displayed on the portal may be general to all employees at an organization, or it may be customized for that individual and the role they play. In a perfect world, the learning portal would be able to analyze the person’s department, role, and previous training history. It would then automagically determine learning resources that may be most valuable to that person. It may take a little while, but we’ll get there.

How to build a learning portal (in a nutshell)

First, analyze your users. Interview power-users and find out what resources they access on a regular basis for learning and looking up information. Find out what information is most important to them and find out how you can aggregate it in a way that is simple, clean, and useful. Look at your HR/training systems (ex. your LMS). Find out what key information should be displayed in the portal. You may want to show the learner information on their upcoming classes (if they have already signed up). You may also want to show them all upcoming classes that could be relevant to them based on their job role or specialty. Contact vendors or systems specialists at your organization to find out if this information can be extracted and displayed on a web site, such as a learning portal. (Beware that vendors may charge you for this extra work.)

Build it. Test it. Improve it.

Start small with the first version of your learning portal. Aggregate some useful resources and slowly add features and functionality based on users’ feedback. Interview users and put a poll on the portal. Get as much feedback as you can. It will improve naturally over time if you listen and respond.

More portals are coming

Some LMS vendors are introducing portals of their own, so keep an eye out. Your LMS vendor may have one coming out soon. These may be rigid at first, but I’m sure they’ll get better with time. I’d recommend you analyze the needs of your users, and then determine if it’s best to build your own or use a vendor solution. Either way, it will probably be an extremely helpful resource for your learners.

Using Metrics That Matter October 24, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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When it comes to measuring the impact of training events (ex. instructor-led classes and online courses), there are two main types of metrics: transactional data and user data. Transactional data is all about numbers. For example, it tells you how many people completed a class in a given time period. While this data is sometimes mildly interesting, it doesn’t tell you if your students learned anything. That’s where user data comes in. User data allows you to dig a level deeper to see the true impact of your training event. This is where we get into Kirkpatrick’s levels of evaluation, the Success Case Evaluation Method (PDF), and other classification systems. User data is more likely to provide us with information to help us make decisions. User data is actionable data. It shows us where we are succeeding and where we are failing. It helps us realize what we need to change. The tough part is that it’s difficult to collect accurate user data.

Over the past few months, I’ve been researching a product from KnowledgeAdvisors called Metrics That Matter®. To put it simply, Metrics That Matter (from here on, MTM) is a system that integrates with your LMS to automate the evaluation process for training events. It records the evaluation data and then it gives you several ways to slice, dice, benchmark, and review the data once it is in the system. (The back-end of MTM provides a customizable dashboard, scorecards, and 100+ reports.)

In the past, I’ve used paper and online surveys to collect evaluation information, but I will admit that it never felt right. I wasn’t getting the information I needed, which made it tough to make decisions. This is where MTM steps up to the plate: KnowledgeAdvisors has done a great job of not only building a system that can survey learners and collect evaluation data, but they can help you develop sound evaluation instruments that you can rely on to provide actionable data. Forget "smile sheets" – they have created some serious evaluation sheets that collect great data. We haven’t bought or implemented this system, but I really like what I’ve seen so far.

Here’s how MTM works, in a nutshell:

  1. An individual takes an online course or attends a live class.
  2. (That night, some magic voodoo takes place between your LMS and MTM to communicate the names of the learners that completed classes.)
  3. The next day, MTM sends an email to the person requesting that they fill out an evaluation.
  4. The person fills out the evaluation. (MTM can be configured to send out reminder emails to the learner if they don’t fill out the evaluation.)
  5. The system collects the evaluation data from the person.
  6. You are immediately able to view this information using the dashboard, scorecards, and reports. You can also do blind comparisons of other organizations (benchmarking) to see how your organization stacks up.
  7. Follow-up surveys can automatically be sent at whatever interval you prefer (ex. 30 days, 90 days, etc.) to collect additional evaluation information.

And I know I’m leaving off many of the features of MTM, because I’m not that familiar with everything it can do (yet). Surf on over to the KnowledgeAdvisors site to learn more.

Additional MTM information:

Learning 2.0 Is Like Punk Rock September 12, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I had a fun discussion last night with several friends / colleagues. We were trying to hypothesize why so many (e)Learning 2.0 initiatives don’t get the traction we would expect, both at our organization and at other organizations. Several of us learning tech geeks see such great opportunities with learning 2.0, but it sometimes feels like others just don’t get it. We have fantastic tools at our disposal, like blogs, social bookmarking, wikis, RSS, etc. – and many of these tools are free. However, it feels like we’re pulling teeth when we try to make a business case to show the value and possibilities for these tools. To get around this, we’re seeing more grassroots movements take place. Instead of waiting for top-down direction, employees are installing learning 2.0 tools/technologies and experimenting with them on their own.

Peggy Gartin, a friend and colleague, came up with a great simile: Learning 2.0 is like punk rock. Punk is a music genre that defies the mainstream. It grows from people wanting to express themselves and share their work; they don’t wait for an executive at a record label to provide them with ideas. Punk embraces a DIY (do it yourself) ethic, with many bands self-producing their recordings and distributing them through informal channels (A bit of that definition was borrowed from Wikipedia.). This resonates with what I’ve seen related to learning 2.0. If you try to harness it, control it, and direct it, you’ll lose its magic. It won’t have the same effect. If you force people to use social bookmarking, they’ll ignore it. If you force them to blog, they’ll get writer’s block. On the other hand, if you provide these tools and let people run with their ideas, I believe you’ll see much better results.

Many executives are still in the early stages of hearing about learning 2.0 and they’re still trying to get their hands around it. From what I’ve seen, the key may lie in the everyday learning and technology professionals like you and me. We should continue to test-drive tools and technologies. Experiment on your own and find out what works best for you and your organization. Don’t wait for some suit in an executive office to tell you what to do. We need to be the rebellious ones. Now go forth and rock. 🙂

Basic Mozilla Ubiquity Commands September 5, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Last week I discussed Mozilla’s new project, Ubiquity. Ubiquity is an add-on for Firefox that allows you to quickly perform tasks that would normally take several extra steps (and involve you having to access other web sites). It’s a great little tool that makes power-users giddy with excitement. Ok, maybe just me… 🙂

I’ve been experimenting with the commands in Ubiquity, and I managed to create a few that will be pretty helpful at work. The three commands I’m sharing are:

  • lms
    Type in lms topic – and Ubiquity will take you to your LMS search results page for that topic.
  • cd
    Type in cd name to search for somebody in your company’s directory with that name.
  • q
    type in q searchTerm to search for information in your company’s intranet site.

(All three of these commands assume you can access these systems via the query string. If nothing else, the commands will help you understand how Ubiquity works, which may help you build your own custom commands.)

To get started, make sure you have installed Ubiquity in Firefox.

Next, go to this URL: chrome://ubiquity/content/editor.html (sorry, I couldn’t make this a link – WordPress wouldn’t let me).

Paste these code snippets into the editor:

  name: "lms",
  takes: {"your search string": noun_arb_text},
  preview: "Search the LMS for courses.",
  execute: function(searchString) {

  name: "cd",
  takes: {"your search string": noun_arb_text},
  preview: "Search our company directory.",
  execute: function(searchString) {

  name: "q",
  takes: {"your search string": noun_arb_text},
  preview: "Search our company intranet.",
  execute: function(searchString) {

(Note that you’ll probably have to fix the line wrapping for the Application.activeWindow.open line of each command before they’ll work in Ubiquity.)

Finally, insert in your custom URLs in the 3 places where it says “http://www.INSERT_…”

Now you’ll be able to press Ctrl+Space to open Ubiquity, and then you can use the lms, cd, and q commands.

I used the Ubiquity Author Tutorial site to create these commands. I recommend that you start there if you’re interested in creating your own commands. Plus, it shows you how to package and share the commands with the rest of the world (or just your organization).

Happy command-writing!

Mozilla Ubiquity as an On-Demand Learning Tool August 28, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Earlier this week, Mozilla (the makers of Firefox) released Ubiquity – a small application that allows you to quickly perform web-related tasks without having to surf out to different web sites. Watch their video for a quick introduction.

So, can this relate to learning? My answer would be absolutely! My main job is to help people learn (acquire knowledge and skills) and then apply what they know on the job. Sometimes this is done by providing them with the right tools. Ubiquity is one of these tools. It gives learners faster access to a wide range of information; it empowers them.

Now here’s where things get interesting: Mozilla has built Ubiquity in a way that allows outside developers (you and me) to add commands and actions to the tool. Think of this scenario: You have a user who is interested in taking a class on leadership skills. Imagine if they could pull up Ubiquity and type lms leadership to bring up a list of classes offered at your organization related to leadership. Or imagine if they had to look up information that was specific to your organization: They could type widget XYZ to immediately pull a spec sheet for a product. Ubiquity allows them to grab information very quickly without having to surf around to different web sites. This is on-demand learning!

If you’re using Firefox, install Ubiquity and then take a look at the tutorial. (If you’re not using Firefox – get it now! It’s definitely the best web browser out there.)

Have you tried Ubiquity? What do you think?

(I plan on developing some Ubiquity commands in the coming weeks. I’ll report back on what I find. Please let me know if you do any work in this area. I’d love to know more…)