Trying Notion (after MS Ignite October 2021)

The legless avatars of Mesh stole the social media buzz around Microsoft’s latest round of news (mostly coming out of Ignite). However, there was a LOT of changes to existing tools and non-Mesh stuff.

Windows Weekly, as always, has done a good job of pulling things together from different press releases, blog posts, presentations, etc. Some thoughts…

Loop

One thing discussed on Windows Weekly was Loop, a new tool which the WW hosts compared to Notion. Elsewhere it has been compared to Google Wave and other tools (see the comments on this article for how this tool seems to cut across existing tools).

Well I hadn’t used Notion before so I thought I would give it a try (they have 200k followers on Twitter so I am clearly late to the party).

Notion

Free for individual use (and free trials for team use) you can access Notion here.

50+ tutorials are on the Notion YouTube channel for getting startedl.

I would say that the, individual use, Notion is really a kind of personal Wiki but with various templates and other functionality to plug in. In this regard it is likely great for small teams (or even individual freelancers) to track their work. Indeed they have a page on the website regarding Wiki use. That said I have been burned with using Wiki and other tools (inc. Google Wave) in the past that have closed and needed me to transfer content elsewhere so I would understand why people would prefer to do similar activities via MS Teams (perhaps using OneNote over the limited Teams wiki).

An email from Notion suggested “Notion can feel overwhelming at first” – and I think that is a fair acknowledgment from them.

Should learning pros shift from sector specific tools? #3 : “creator” all-in-one platforms (over an LMS)

A bit of background on the learning side

This bit is an attempt to think where we (i.e. the learning industry/industries) currently are with ‘platforms’…

Learning management systems (LMSs), love them or hate them, remain the core component of many learning environments – be that workplace learning and development (L&D) or in education (where virtual learning environment, or VLE, may be the preferred term dependent on geography). Many LMS/VLE are built, at least initially, from the point that a common product, a ‘course’, is at their heart.

Even the rise of the Learning Experience Platform (LxP/LXP) has not shifted the need, for many, of an LMS. Indeed the lines that separate an LMS and an LXP are blurred at best – “there is no hard and fast distinction“. Continuing use cases for an LMS include that they often remain the single source of truth for compliance records, the ‘one stop shop’ for organisational learning opportunities, a walled garden for education and much more. Whilst LMS/LXP/VLEs come in many shapes and sizes they have, in many ways, replaced or reinforced the ‘learning by location’ model – i.e. you used to learn in a classroom now you learn in/via this technology or simply register for in-person events via it.

Coaching, mentoring and other less formal and location defined learning experiences are supported to differing degrees by the wide range of LMS/VLE/LXP that are out there in the market. The learning sector in the last c.20 years has arguably fluctuated somewhat in how much an LMS should be an ‘all-in-one’ tool with, at times, it being simply a launch pad for SCORM and other content whilst at other times there has been a push for talent management, discussion, social learning, knowledge management and much more (that have separate specialist tools/markets) to be included in core LMS functionality. Today we tend to see platforms that may not offer all this functionality but will integrate with other tools, for example via integrations, APIs, etc. These integrations often developed via acquisitions by the tech vendors themselves.

Creator platforms

So on to the point of this blog – some reflection on another market segment I am new to, having only just realised in the last couple of weeks that such things exist.

Previously I presumed most people monetize their ‘creator’ work through the relevant platform (YouTube, a photo site, WordPress or whatever) in combination with services such as Patreon. However, there appears to be another model that has developed via ‘creator platforms’.

Podia is one of the tools that clearly see themselves in this space. They split their own functionality “sell your work” and “market your work” functionality, interesting the sell aspects include online courses, webinars and other functionality that will be familiar to many learning pros. The below video is seemingly a pretty honest self-assessment on their part, comparing themselves to another major player in this space (do let me know if there are other tools worth looking at):

So is Podia an option for learning pros?

As is often the case, it really depends on what you already have and use. However, if you were looking to break from, say, a Moodle with sales plugins, with separate CRM, video hosting, etc to move into a (potentially) simpler all-in-one solution this seems like a realistic option.

Your online course, your way.

Choose from a variety of online courses that fit your business and customers’ needs; we support every file type, host all of the content, and never place limits on how much content you can upload and sell to your students.

https://www.podia.com/features/sell-online-courses

Is Podia really a learning platform?

In many ways Podia is quite a traditional solution for learning pros in that a “course” remains a unit of transaction, i.e. you buy access to a course. The platform lets you sell these via one of a number of temporal-based formats such as standalone, timed release, cohort based, etc.

In terms of content you are effectively talking about adding links to content and uploading media. This is clearly not SCORM focused like a traditional LMS but is no different to how many LMS are used, for example the traditional complaint that university online learning platforms are used as “file stores”. That said, Podia as a file store approach is quite appealing considering there are “zero limits on content…as much as you want to as many people as you can.” Many of us will have horror stories about eLearning systems falling over in the past when used at scale so Podia seems to have a lot of potential here.

There are other functionality options beyond static content, including borrowing from the traditional approaches of the learning space:

Ensure your course students are truly understanding your material with a multiple-choice quiz at the end of your lessons.

https://www.podia.com/features/sell-online-courses

Obviously a MCQ is far from ensuring ‘true understanding’ but I guess it at least separates a tool like Podia from something like, say, WordPress for hosting your content (yes, I know there are lots of WordPress plugins!).

Beyond the content and MCQs the more interesting element may well be that more social learning is possible via community elements and webinar integration. It is perhaps worth noting here though that Podia’s “all-in-one” would still need to connect external accounts for the webinar functionality itself:

Podia integrates with both YouTube Live (all plans) and Zoom (Shaker/Earthquaker) to let you offer webinars to your audience.

https://www.podia.com/features/sell-webinars

Conclusions

Overall, these platforms seem to offer another option for those who work in learning. By creating a ‘community’ around our work there is a different model here than the traditional LMS – be it if these were used internally to an org or for the sales-based models they are clearly intended. One market that clearly could look in this direction would be Membership based organisations who effectively have existing communities and are, in some ways, the traditional “creator” organisations due to their model of sharing useful resources, links, courses, encouraging knowledge sharing, etc for bodies interested in a topic. If the costs are worthwhile for such an organisation will clearly depend on the alternatives and existing IT setup, resources, platforms in use, etc.

Should learning pros shift from sector specific tools? #2 : Weet for video based communication

That I have not been to any conferences or other in-person events for at least a couple of years might be why I seem to be stumbling across a few new tools of late. In the last couple of weeks this has included Weet.

Are you already using Weet for learning related projects? If so, let me know.

Weet offers browser based video recording with very easy webcam over screen share functionality. Obviously similar functionality exists in Teams, Zoom and elsewhere – indeed one of my few paid for apps is Screencastify which has some similar functionality. Where Weet is powerful is that the webcam video can make use of their virtual backgrounds (ala Teams and Zoom) within the browser based recording.

Weet themselves do a good job here for explaining its benefits for learning so education/learning is clearly a market they are aiming for. Therefore, they are targeting market share from some of the more sector specific tools such as Camtasia.

The Teams integration (I haven’t tried this) offers an easy way to communicate, share video, etc without having to do the slightly counter-intuitive Teams approach of having single person “meetings” to record video messages.

A very nice feature of Weet is that even on the free plan you can download your recordings. Therefore, if you have concerns over their hosting (which can be a private or public link) you can download and host/share on/via your own systems. The free plan caps you at a 8 minute video which, in all honesty, is probably as long as most videos should be anyway.

Obviously lots of use cases as part of async communication – in education video based feedback would be an obvious example.

Here’s a quick video I did for my LinkedIn profile.

More generally, are we seeing a move back towards browser based tools? It feels a little like this to me, with less emphasis on Apps, or maybe I am just imagining that?

StreamYard: the streaming tool we’ve been waiting for?

So, I am not sure how I became aware of it initially but I have been giving StreamYard a go.

What is StreamYard?

Basically you can Stream live, from your browser, to a number of different platforms (YouTube, Facebook, etc). This is all super easy and cheaper than more traditional methods:

Why might you be interested?

From an education and L&D background, I have used various online classroom/meeting tools over the years. These normally involve some level of friction for the user, be it logins, tracking, plugin installation, etc.

I recently only just realised that LinkedIn has a beta “live” feature – details here. StreamYard is one of the tools you can use to publish to your profile and/or page(s) via this – if you have LinkedIn groups this might be the way to go, being able to broadcast direct to your groups, rather than needing a separate meeting tool (at least for low interaction broadcasts).

The alternative to a browser based model is a tool like https://obsproject.com/ – an open tool but one that requires install and setup. When I have tried to use Twitch in the past I might have tried OBS but must admit I can’t actually remember what I used! Either way it was not as easy as how StreamYard makes things.

StreamYard trial

So, what have I found with StreamYard is that it is very easy to use. I ended up deleting most of what I created in the trial but it is noticeable that there are still hoops to jump through, for example, YouTube requires your phone number to allow you to live stream to your channel. Therefore, StreamYard might be the best tool in its space (considering ease and cost) but the platforms you stream to might still be a problem.

More on educational games : the example of mission1point5

Using mobile gaming technology, Mission 1.5 educates people about climate solutions and asks them to vote on the actions that they want to see happen.

https://www.mission1point5.org/about

This new climate change related online activity is an interesting idea, combining a series of what are basically multiple choice questions (that give the user options for what their government should do to meet the 1.5 degree challenge) with calls to action for individual and national-level behaviour change.

Responses from your selected country will be aggregated and submitted to your government as your “vote”…

What will we do with the results?

Your vote, and those from your country, will be compiled and presented to your government to encourage bolder climate action. Votes will also be counted in a global tally. So stay tuned for the results!

https://www.mission1point5.org/about

Presumably this vote piece is only prearranged with the 12 countries (plus the EU) that are listed. In addition the game mechanics themselves are a little odd given your choice for each point is really between two items as one is clearly a ‘red herring’. The onscreen results from the ‘quiz’ record 10, 700 or 1000 points depending on your answer to a question and combine into a total score for tackling the 1.5 challenge across multiple areas such as “farms and foods”, “transport”, etc.

Example question from the “Farms & Food” topic.
A section’s “vote” (which acts like a summary/debrief of the ‘correct’ answers for each section).
Overall scoring in keeping temperature change down.

Does it educate?

The first quote included above specifically states the resource “educates people”. Obviously I could write a lot here about what educating someone actually means versus learning something, etc. What I will try to focus on is if someone is likely to learn anything from the activity. The answer, of course, will be “it depends”.

If we take the cattle example, in the above screenshot, there is a lot of pre-requisite knowledge required – for example a reading level to comprehend “livestock” and “plant-based diet”, albeit with mobile-style friendly graphics as visual clues. Beyond reading ability, there is no real information on the different option and what they mean – thus the light touch to any kind of knowledge content could be confusing and if you really wanted/needed to learn something from this you would likely have to do some research away from the resource. This is not helped by the text being image based and, therefore, you can not simply select text and ask your browser to search the web for more information.

Therefore, I am tempted to say this resource might be quite useful for a school to run through in a group, i.e. with a teacher/facilitator in place to use it to foster discussion, rather than as a learning resource per se.

How could it be improved?

10, 700 and 1000 don’t obviously relate to the 1.5 degree temperature and it is not very clear from the onscreen graphics how many ‘points’ are needed as a minimum for your choices to meet your country’s requirements. Indeed there is a contradiction between not wanting to add to temperature but also needing a high score. It would be better if the scoring was somehow reversed – e.g. starting with your high carbon total and then cutting it with a % target to reach 1.5 from a high score.

There is also a risk here from oversimplifying as, presumably, the carbon impact of some choices would be more in some countries than others (this complexity might be built in but I doubt it).

The “none of the above” option on the vote really does not work either as a form of learning summary nor as a mockup of the democratic action. Particularly if the intention of the resource is for actual democratic input…

Reliable information on public opinion on climate action

This is given, in a related YouTube video’s description, as a reason for the website’s vote element:

Mission 1.5 YouTube introduction

However, it is clearly a limited activity with just three (well two) options to consider per question and then the user being very heavily prompted to select the ‘best’ option for each section’s three questions as the vote. I must admit I voted a few “none of the above” responses in a Brewster’s Millions style mood.

Summary

Overall this feels like one of those examples of where someone wants to try to achieve educational outcomes but they have limited content, a desire to reduce instruction (but to the point of irrelevance) and really only manage to leverage the gaming expertise involved (which seems considerable from the “about” page) to graphics/UI and little else. It also highlights the incredible difficulty in building content for a global audience with no personalisation or clear target audience.