Friday, September 29, 2006

Roles in Simulations - Clark Aldrich

Clark Aldrich is suggesting some ideas on the Learning Circuits blog around vocabulary for roles in educational simulations. I think this an interesting direction in discussion simulations and business gaming as well. Not least the concept of people controlling the primary characters rather than the simulation, and the simulation controlling the environment and context, and maybe some of the bit-parts. This seems far more a) achievable given current technology, and b) actually more flexible. The investment to build complex and realistic simulations, is I still think, beyond the budget of the everyday.

Ethics and Mobile Learning - E-learning Queen

Susan Smith Nash (the e-learning queen, no less) has posted an interesting piece about ethics and mobile learning. I think the whole discussion of ethics relating to e-learning content is underplayed anyway. How is this impacted by the extension to mobile? Probably, quite a lot, as the context for usage goes outside the typical business environment and into the everyday. I think Susan has prompted an interesting discussion.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Corporates re-think generic e-learning

Just over a year ago, we put out a research note focusing on the ways we were starting to see corporates reevaluate their use of generic e-learning materials, especially when they had company-wide commitments to large catalogues of content from companies like NETg and SkillSoft.

Some key elements we identified at the time were:

• Greater focus on driving high recurrent usage around a narrow set of generic titles; often linked to specific major business projects or changes, which may be cycled over time
• Rapid growth in adoption of non-traditional forms of e-learning content, particularly on-line reference material, driven by significant increases in perceived relevance and value from an often e-learning sceptical audience
• More focus on industry-specific (vertical) or job-role-specific (horizontal) content, often from niche providers with a proven understanding and brand in their niche
• Increased desire for flexible adoption of e-learning content, embedded within mainstream learning programmes (the so-called trend to blend)

We also noted that organisations were often struggling to achieve expected adoption and usage in their learner population, often relating to:

• An often negative perception of e-learning for discretionary learning and development based on poor experiences linked to compliance and regulatory (must do) e-learning
• A lack of flexibility of historic e-learning products in addressing learner-specific needs and questions
• A cultural resistance and resulting limited engagement from the broader learning and development community

A year further on, and not a lot seems to have changed. We still organisations asking the same questions. The longer term implications could be quite significant, especially for the generic content vendors. This is already a highly-competitive market and pressure from corporates for more targeted contracts or pay per use could have major implications for vendor revenues. And at a time when they are already struggling to keep their existing portfolio up to date, and up to the latest standards for e-learning design.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Apple targets PodCast Ready branding

There's an interesting storm brewing in the technology press around Apple's recent targeting of PodCast Ready for their use of the "pod" word.

According to Engadget, Apple is not planning to try and shut down generic use of podcasting, but it looks as clear as mud to me!


The LMS M&A Drag Factor

We all know there has been (and still is) a lot of mergers & acquisition activity in the LMS market, with plenty of consolidation going on. But although we've seen a lot of vendor consolidation, how much consolidation of products have we actually been.

Whilst some of the vendors have been very focused on trying to consolidate market share, they seem to be struggling to actually consolidate the customer bases underneath them. For example, Click2Learn and Docent merged to form SumTotal Systems. SumTotal then buys Pathlore, who itself had fairly recently bought DK Systems, and Pathlore still had quite a lot of old Registrar customers that still hadn't moved off that platform. Now SumTotal may have a large user base, but user base for what? Certainly not the current SumTotal platform - yet. And SumTotal is not unique by any stretch of imagination. We even see this is smaller regional providers that have been playing the M&A game. Most of the LMS vendors have at least some of this kind of historical consolidation challenge.

One key reason for this is because many of the major customers just upgrade to the latest release of their old product to maximise their support window. They then sit and wait to see how things evolve with the new company. So it takes a while, often more than two years plus to see how a given customer base will react to the acquisition of its vendor, sometimes longer. We're also seeing the same thing happening (but with even longer timescales) in the HR systems space following Oracle's acquisition of PeopleSoft. This isn't so much a function of size, but of perceived effort versus value to move sooner.

Elearnity has been tracking and analysing these vendors for many years. But one new strategic consideration that we're now factoring in is what I call the "LMS M&A Drag Factor". Its all full well and good having a large user base, but you have to be able to service it and move it forward. That's tough to do in the LMS world with multiple platforms and technology bases. The more diverse this is, the more effort needed to leverage it yourself, and the bigger your investment sometimes needed to create something more compelling to move everyone forward with you, rather than jumping ship with someone else. I think the LMS M&A Drag Factor will have quite an influence on individual companies performances in 2007/8.


A really worrying trend ....

Barry Sampson has started an interesting thread picking up some of my discussion about changes to custom e-learning. In particular he is concerned (rightly so in my book) about the probability that rapid e-learning tools with massively magnify the amount of dodgy e-learning content swishing around in corporates.

I believe he is right, but the challenge is not to prevent the explosion in content, but to make sure it is fit for purpose as a learning resource. A lot of this will come down to making it easier to produce OK content than bad content, and the processes that support and surround the management of the content for distribution.


Small changes to blog page

I've just made a couple of small changes to the page template to add a list of the latest entries in our Research Knowledge Base, and also a custom search tool for learning and e-learning related queries (using Rollyo).

Hope you find them useful. Happy to get any feedback if not.


Monday, September 25, 2006

Donald rants on Kirkpatrick

Donald Clark has just posted another of his interesting rants on Kirkpatrick, titled amusingly Donald talks bollocks.

Here is my comment on it:

We said pretty much the same thing from some research and presentations a couple of years ago. The trouble is though that the KP levels and thinking has become lingua franca for the training community, and whilst individuals may question it, collectively they just accept it and continue to promote it.

I also believe this has been further magnified by the complicity of ASTD with Kirkpatrick and Philips in the US. Even ROI = level 5 now seems to be taken for granted even though ROI is just one format of presenting financial results. The biggest crime of many may be of perpetuating a model where the training industry thinks that "evaluation" is something that happens after the event rather than before and during. The effect of training's adherence to KP-thinking and systems for L1,2,3,4 evaluation is that it actually obscures rather than highlights the real issues of impact.

I would much rather trainers focus on understanding clearly what impact you are trying to achieve, whether it is a "learning" issue at all, and if so, in what way, how to design and construct solutions that make that impact, as well as delivering them to ensure they do make that impact. If you do this simply and clearly, understanding how to measure whether you are successful or not, becomes much more obvious.


P.S.One other quick though on L1. Why is the training industry the only one in the world that thinks it needs a detailed customer service questionnaire filled out by every customer on every transaction? I do see the need for business functions to understand their customer satisfaction, and encourage feedback, particularly on critical or challenging things. I do not understand why training thinks it is valuable to force it for every transaction. Ever hear of "sampling" guys!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Some articles and papers which you might find useful

Here is a link to a collection of articles and summary papers from the Elearnity Knowledge Base which you might find useful.

The changing face of custom e-learning

Last year we did some research looking at the changing nature of custom e-learning production within large corporates in the UK. A couple of key trends were clearly emerging that I think will have a profound impact on the e-learning market - especially given that custom e-learning content has been one of the more bouyant parts of the market.

Firstly, it seemed clear that pretty much all of the organisations we researched were increasing the amount of company-specific e-learning they were doing. But, they were also radically changing their patterns and amount they spend on it too. Most organisations had historically used specialist custom content vendors to develop their content, often having a short list of preferred suppliers. Whilst these arrangements were still in place, the budgets for projects were becoming significantly reduced. Whereas historically they might have spent £50-100K+ per project, now they are trying to get similar work done for £5-10K.

Secondly, as well as exploring offshore production to cut costs (usually with variable success), companies are also increasingly adopting rapid authoring tools - Lectora, Breeze, Articulate, Atlantic Link, etc. to enable self-authoring of content within L&D and line of business. This shifts the point of production completely, but creates a lot of other issues internally as well.

We expect both these trends to continue, and to interconnect. Corporates need to diversify their content production strategies to deal with the increased scale of need, and the associated focus on reducing cost and time for development and maintenance. For volume content, corporates will increasingly mandate the development tool in order be able to self-maintain the outcomes. They may pay one vendor to develop some customised templates that are proven to pre-integrate with their LMS (a topic for another day!), they might pay another company to provide instructional design input to projects, and yet another to quality assure any outputs.

Who will actual content development and production - good question? Some of it will be done internally, some will be done offshore, and some will be contracted out whole as a discrete (yesteryear-like) project with a reasonable budget allowing some creativity and investment in custom media. But the majority will be "fit for purpose", quick to produce, cheap and easy to maintain.

If the above really happens ,and I believe it is inevitable, it will have big implications for the skills and resources needed within L&D to manage it effectively. It will have even bigger implications for the large number of vendors that make a living by delivering whole projects. Nice big £100K+ projects will still be there, but they will become few and far between, the main focus is switching to the mass of "fit for purpose" content that corporates need everyday.

As the corporates also start cherry-picking single service components (template development, instructional design, media production, project management, quality assurance, content input, ...) rather than buying whole projects, I believe the writing will be on the wall for many vendors.

How will they survive this? Some will specialise and down-scale. Running a £0.5-2m custom e-learning company is a lot easier than running a £3-5m one. Others will offshore and automate tools to slash development costs further to compete. A few will aggregate and rise above it - move up the value chain and do a total BPO on learning development, but it will be only a few in each geography. The rest??? Start diversifying now!

Tony Karrer comments on DTI Blended post

Tony Karrer, a US blogger with some interesting views has picked up my blog on the DTI research on blended learning. I would be really interested in what readers (US and otherwise) make of this issue.

The statement from the DTI research was unequivocal - blended was old news! Like you I think this is not a correct message, but I don't think it's just confusing blended as a label versus blended as a practice.

From our research, we still blended as the fundamental model for any structured capability development, as well as for high-impact project-based learning. Here is a link to some of the public domain research info we've put out on blended.

One additional point. One of the problems of blended was that it was a hype jargon, and became a bandwagon for lots of people to jump on, and subsequently off. This always happens of course, the equivalent for this year is probably "informal learning". Now, I don't mean these things are important or right, just that they encourage or allow many people (customers and suppliers) to: start using the term for a while, make some cosmetic changes, and then adopt the next bandwagon as it emerges. We see this all the time. Makes you look like your leading edge, but at the same time results in little different outcomes or any sustainable change in thinking and approach.

Its the latter that really interests me - for blended, for informal, or for any from any significant innovation!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Beyond E-learning - Barry's view

Just read Barry Sampson's blog entry for the DTI session, and some of the comments. I think his view was similar to mine, but it will be interesting to see where the conversation goes ....

Is "Blended" really dead?

One of the topics briefly touched on at the DTI Beyond eLearning session was the lack of any interest in the topic of Blended Learning in the US companies the group visited. According to Alec Keith, the US was not interested in discussing the topic, "Blended Learning is still in the literature, but not discussed seriously" was one specific comment. So is Blended Learning really dead?

From our research in corporates in the UK and Europe, we would say no, and for two reasons. Firstly, I think we're still partly in the hype curve of Blended Learning. Many UK/European corporates are still at the early stages of realising that the e-learning story is not going away and they have an increasing need for integrated learning approaches. Partly this is still driven by market hype, but it is also magnified by hard drivers of reducing cost and increasing the reach of learning programmes.

Much of this blending is not actually very blended. Lowest common denominator thinking drives decisions to chop down classroom time and substitute in e-learning content that is not really integrated with the classroom content. From a research project Elearnity did a year or so ago, most blended design seems to singularly focus on selecting media - in particular where should we use e-learning. I think far much too much attention has been payed to this.

This leads to the second and more profound reason why I think Blended Learning is not actually dead. Blended Learning should force us to focus on learning as a process rather than as a series of events. The value of blended learning should be in understanding and describing that process, and then understanding the interplay between and the added value through the components of the process, i.e. the whole design, not just the selection of specific media types. Process-based and integrated.

Whilst I may not personally like the term "blended learning" very much, I feel it is worthwhile if it forces us to design holistic learning processes rather than media-delivered events. But our research indicates that is not happening yet, and so, for good or bad, I will disagree with the US DTI research and keep advocating blended as one of our learning stories.

Once we have that as the norm, I would certainly be happy to consign it to the bin adn just call it learning!

E-learning vendors - market ripples

The recent news of that AdVal had gone into administration was not a surprise, but it was a disappointment. Rumours had been circulating for most of the year that AdVal was struggling beyond the norm, but its' recent acquisition of the Maxim business has doubled the consequences of it.

Couple this with other acquisitions and uncertainties over the past year and it paints a mixed picture of change and uncertainty. WBT's recent acquisition by Horizon Technology is another local example. Some of the bigger US vendors have also suffering the same fate. And whilst the LMS market, for example, has seen significant vendor consolidation at the top end, we're yet to see significant platform consolidation follow on from it - i.e. the vendors still have a lot of legacy platform transitioning to deal with.

Whilst these vendor changes are part of a positive trend to a more mature market position, short term they are only magnifying corporate uncertainty. Or if they are not, this may largely through ignorance than insight!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Informal Comment - The Blog Switch

I've been providing some background commentary to go alongside Elearnity's research knowledge base for a while and now decided I need to commit more effort to this active. Basically there are just too many things/conversations going on to handle them all through formal comment in our analyst service or through structured articles and presentations. It takes too long to get the stories out there, and the mechanisms for feedback and discussion are just too limited.

I've therefore decided that a change of strategy is due. As of now, I'm increasing significantly the level of general blog activity, and creating it via my Learning Reflections blog on blogspot. I will be similarily be ceasing informal blog entries in the main Elearnity knowledge centre, but will include links to relevant entries from Learning Reflections.

Whilst this is actually less integrated from the point of view of the formal Elearnity research, it is much more flexible and integrated with the general blogosphere. And I guess that counts for more.

Hopefully you will find this easier to use and find, but let me know if this creates any issues. Otherwise this will be the last blog entry in the knowledge base.

Regards, DAVID

Donald Clark takes role at LINE Communications

Donald Clark continues to expand his variety of roles with a new position (on a consultancy basis) as Director of Strategy at LINE Communications. See here.

Whilst not his first foray post-Epic (he is also involved in the boards of UFI and Learning Light) it is clearly more directly involved in Epic's market space and therefore competitive to them. Donald not only understands the market very well, he is very connected. It will certainly be interested in how this impacts both LINE and Epic in the longer term.

DTI Global Watch - Beyond E-learning

I recently went to the launch seminar for report from the DTI Global Watch project "Beyond eLearning: practical insights from the USA" along seemingly with half of the UK e-learning world.

Presentations are available from here.

I thought the content of the day itself was disappointing. Nigel Paine gave a nice keynote based on his BBC viewpoint and not really relating to the research itself. Interesting but not the best use of time. The individual research reports were fairly superficial, with little real insight into companies visited or specifics in the USA. I thought that was the point of the session, but obviously I was mistaken.

Charles Jennings and Gordon Bull did their normal good job, but not sure there was any new insight. Most forthright and therefore valuable of the sessions was Euan Mackenzie from 3MRT on Game-based learning - really challenging the assumption (echoed by the others) that the US wasn't ahead of the game (pardon the pun), other than maybe in the Military which they didn't look at.

Overall thing that struck me though was how eLearning 0.0 the event was to talk about eLearning 2.0 and related stuff. All gather in London for a one day session. Cram into a lecture hall with a printed report and stand and deliver sessions just scratching the topics.

Sorry guys, nice idea but need to be more innovative in getting the learning out into the community. Maybe someone should have blogged it!