“No more sitting on the fence” (Learning Technologies 2013 Summer Forum)

It was great to hear this, just a shame it was from a Learning Management System (LMS) vendor talking specifically about Tin Can.  However, it was my take away message from the recent Learning Technologies 2013 Summer Forum (LTSF).  The statement acts as something of a wakeup call; Learning and Development departments need to deliver, not just responding to fads but offering a joined up approach.  A Learning Management System that offers holistic support is, realistically, probably the easiest way to structure that support.

The challenge in my eyes, however, is if a LMS remains realistic.  In many ways they have evolved to the point where they cross over with many other systems, not least the near universal SharePoint.  Their USP remains testing/SCORM tracking and as such a stripped down basic LMS might work better than one which supports all the possibilities now discussed at events like LTSF.  If you are going beyond this then you need a joined up approach between L&D, Knowledge Management, competitor intelligence and other teams for:

  • Internal communication,
  • Sharing resources
  • Learning

With this in place professionals’ (in whatever company) know where sharing is recommended (although they’ll of course still use Twitter), how to collaborate, where to access relevant learning (preferably embedded with the relevant work tools) and have a clear understanding of how their career can progress both within their current organization or elsewhere.

FadA fashion that is taken up with great enthusiasm for a brief period of time; a craze.

L&D now have tools to deliver what a business needs by combining pieces of the puzzle so they are no longer seen as fads.  Indeed the LTSF presentation I attended from MindClick outlined some of the ways an LMS can be used for 1-2-1 support (the importance of which has been recognized by Bloom and others) at a distance, including via personal development plans, BYOD and badges (which in isolation could be seen as fads).  One way for your new LMS to not be seen as impractical is to make money and the SAAS LMS model is increasingly being sold as one to enable course sales via the extended enterprise.  This could be a fundamental shift for some L&D departments from pure internal support and, arguably, help drive up quality as a result.

The LTSF was dominated by a number of topics/tools for me:

1)    Tin Can/The Experience API/xAPI

2)    (Open) Badges

3)    (Learning) Analytics

4)    Mobile (Learning/Delivery/Authoring)

5)    Social (Learning/Collaboration)

6)    70/20/10

7)    Personalization (development plans/personalized curriculums)

8)    LMS/Portal developments

9)    eLearning

So, when is a fad not a fad?  Perhaps items 8 and 9 on this list can now be seen as evolutionary rather than revolutionary but the others are still gaining slow adoption.  The struggle for mobile adoption picked up by Andrew Jackson’s article (The shortest lived technology fad ever?) over on TrainingZone.  He also points out that eLearning is still revolutionary for many businesses which, whilst keeping some e-learning companies and consultants going, is – I would say – just a little depressing really in 2013.

I would agree that mobile was a fad but I would say it must now be considered as part of the learning designers’ toolkit, just as it is for marketers and other industries.  I would effectively consider 3-9 ‘traditional’ tools and 1-2 simply new ways of doing old things.  Ultimately the speed of ‘new’ technologies has changed and working them into a learning model should not be as hard as many people at such events seem to feel they are.  That said, they are not always as easy to adopt as the vendors would like to suggest but that is technical adoption rather than the enthusiasm of working something into your learning approach.  Enthusiasm, vision and a willingness to try things do not really need to be restricted by budgets either.  It was clear from a number of LTSF stalls that ‘phase 1’ deployments are something vendors are willing to support to prove concepts locally.

Yes, as Andrew says, we shouldn’t get hung up on the technology but neither should we discount the potential (especially of Tin Can) to transform learning and development.  Both 1 & 2 potentially open us all up to the world and make us think about our skills development in new ways, which can only be a good thing in my opinion (taking into account certain risks of course).  That said, LMS tracking, certifications and other tools did some of this in the past.  The outstanding question at LTSF seemed to be if capturing experiences should be automatic via Tin Can or rely on self certification.  I can see a value in a learning log of the (noun>verb>object) statements but reflection is also needed somewhere in terms of goal setting, and understanding your own learning.  I can see TC and Badges reinvigorating the personal web space and ePortfolio debate (or at least pushing LinkedIn into full adoption).

I think what Andrew tries to suggest is that, with mobile, we have simply responded to new devices, fine, but I would like to think that that response is about acknowledging issues such as flash vs. html5, app vs. browser, form factors, location of learner, etc. it should have never been about tablet vs. phone vs. laptop vs. desktop per se.  Similarly Epic’s talk at LTSF correctly identified that the Experience API (aka Tin Can) is useful in what it can mean for analytics, such as assessing the impact of learning, and thinking differently about the courses rather than about the development of a Learning Record Store for the sake of the learning logs alone.  KnowledgeAdvisors hinted at the potential of combining MetricsThatMatter data sets with performance data to change how L&D operates.  This includes making use of data to drive “performance based vendor management”, such as paying eLearning vendors only a percentage of their bills if their materials fail to improve workers’ performance.

Now, I appreciate my main interest is in Learning Technologies but many people seemed new to Tin Can and Badges.  That so many people did not seem to comprehend these is worrying and indicative that, like with mobile, we face years of presentations, white papers, etc that simply rehash arguments.  Maybe I have a ‘start-up mentality’ but I would rather see people presenting on early adoption failures than introductory presentations.  I hope this is what we see at Learning Technologies in January but I will not hold my breath.  Even better will be successful coming together of the two with experiences (captured via Tin Can) driving badge creation.  Another interesting piece will be to see the development and interaction of “apps everywhere” (as NetDimensions called them) with learning record stores and/or LMSs.  However, this is potentially not too different to offline LMS access that NetDimensions, and others, have supported via USB drive LMS systems.

The problem may be that for L&D to succeed in implementing what appears to be an optimized learning strategy it would need to be all encompassing of an organisation.  People will only socially collaborate and ‘surface’ informal learning in a tool if it is a tool they have to use or, unlikely, want to.  Thus, new ‘social learning’ tools at LTSF do not fill me with confidence – if someone is already using SharePoint, Yammer or similar has L&D not got to leverage that?  It would seem nigh on impossible to work in a light weight LMS/social tool such as Svelte Social (new to me I think at LTSF) if you have other tools in place.  NetDimensions, whose presenter used the “fence” idea, did a good job in explaining if the LMS can fit in as the social tool or not by saying organisation need to decide what system will be the “social bedrock of their organization”.  Here I would argue culture comes in as, say, a university has an advantage that the ‘place of work’ will be the VLE/LMS so the university’s staff can be encouraged to use that same tool for their own development as it is already the “bedrock” for their daily work.  It is more difficult in a corporate context but the big tools, like Salesforce, have acknowledged it by working social into their own tools.

I came away from the main Learning Technologies event earlier in the year feeling somewhat underwhelmed.  The question now seems to be, as vendors are making the jump into Tin Can and other solutions, can Learning and Development departments use these appropriately to meet business needs?  Simply adding on bells and whistles to an existing, monolithic LMS doesn’t seem to be an option to me.  Instead, organizations as a whole need to consider if L&D professionals in their organization really are just about running/building courses (as NetDimensions pointed out L&D and LMSs in some organisations are simply for compliance) or if they are true partners in making organizations “collectively smarter”.

For the record these are the talks I attended:

1)    The use of Tin Can and Open Badges for learning programmes (EPIC)

2)    Meeting learning objectives with Totara LMS (MindClick)

3)    How to build a business case for formalization of learning analytics (KnowledgeAdvisors – largely the same as these slides)

4)    What you need to know about portals (Redware)

5)    LMS – Evolution or extinction? (NetDimensions – seemingly a follow up to this article)

6)    Apps and video communications – top 5 things you need to know (Dreamtek)

Author: iangardnergb

My name is Ian Gardner and I am interested in various topics that can be seen as related to learning, technology and information. To see what I am reading elsewhere, follow me on The Old Reader (I.gardner.gb) and/or Twitter (@iangardnergb).

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