An LMS for the open web? Not for me, thanks

Yes. This is another post about the LMS. A perennial feature of any learning commentators blog. I return to theme this week following a call with Don Taylor about leading a session at the Learning Technologies Summer Forum on designing good user experiences for digital learning. Something practical about good and bad practice is required. As I turned the theme over in my mind in drafting some talking points, I realised that I was essentially listing reasons not to use an LMS. Yes. This is that kind of post.

Since landing on planet L&D, I have tried to understand why nothing like the Learning Management System and its raison d’etre, the eLearning course, exist on the open web. In the roughly twenty years of evolutionary experimentation in the venture capital funded laboratories of the web there has been no meaningful sighting of an LMS-like product or service. If these tools are the best of the available solutions to the learning potential available online, then where are the public equivalents?

Similar services do exist to make courses available on the web (or course like packages of learning content). Masterclass is a really interesting example of the type – an explicit course provision product with closed, commercial access to exclsuive courses. This makes sense, I suspect, to provider and learner alike. It is the closed part that works best here. Register for an account and pay for the course. It’s a very simple, paid access LMS. The value for the payment is access to the course and experience. What is the user value for an open access LMS on the web, however? What extra benefit would I receive from use of that system? It certainly not search or browse – Google is pretty good for that. Recommendation is well handled via social media, as is discussion and commentary. Access to expertise is available and in large part is free, although I fancy this may change over the coming years. Of course, none of this is tracked but I don’t think LMS data is used by learners anyway (is it?).

At the heart of my LMS misgivings is basically that lack of user need. A service like that would attract little or no funding in a world where generating a large , loyal user base (i.e. millions) is the oxygen of investment. The value in the LMS is the for the learning provider: allocating courses to learners, managing access and tracking and reporting on completions. From a user perspective the LMS typically erects barriers to learning content. It then controls the experience of the content once accessed.

The gradual emergence of the Learning Record Store might shift movement in a more positive direction but I suspect it will be adopted by LMS operators as a means of dragging open content into the closed LMS domain. Open Badges also play a part in creating a location or system for recording and displaying learning achievement and activity in the wild – there is more hope here I feel as the education sector starts to consider these kinds of services. (I fear, though, that they have also been bacterially infected by the faddish application of another new buzz-tool: gamification).

Find things out. Get things done.

At one point of my BBC career I held the title of Director, Intranet Refresh Programme. The team I worked with were tasked with refreshing and re-presenting the entire corporate intranet (take a role like that with care is my advice). We had a working motto for the new product “It will always help users find things out and get things done”. This is the kind of utility value that good open digital learning tools should have too. They are designed to answer those needs as defined by the user and available at the moment of need with minimal or no barriers to access. An LMS is a long route round to the need of getting something done.

All of this is not to say that there is no value in the LMS. The idea of recording behaviour in a learning system is excellent. If only that data were then put to the use of the learner. This is where LinkedIn Learning Solutions could play a role as the place where open learning resources can be collected and reflected upon in a social context, gathering value in the user profile. Early days for this development, perhaps but there is something to pursue there clearly The utility for the user being the management of their profile and its value to a marketplace they chose to participate in.

None of this is intended to caim that there is not a role for the LMS in corporate learning. There are too many of them around for that argument to hold water. The value (and there is a fair amount to contend with), however, is for the orgnanisation rather than the user. That is why we, as users, don’t chose to use them.

 

 

 

This product must be installed by a competent person

It is Sunday afternoon and I have just laid fragile claim to some masculine territory. It is a minor triumph by any standards and no triumph at all by many. However, as an office worker, who has been a keyboard warrior since work began, I will take my emotional sustenance as I can. My achievement was fitting one of these and one of these all on my own. I celebrate because I am anxious of electricity. I don’t really understand how it works but I do know it is dangerous and invisible.

I read the minute instruction leaflet that came with the equipment. It was clear that “the product must be fitted by a competent person”. Was that me? Am I competent? An important choice to make here. I read ahead to see what step I needed to be competent in. Some wire cord cutting, shaving of plastic, joining of wires to fittings and putting it back together. All of this was to be preceded by TURNING EVERYTHING OFF FIRST. If I could, I think I would have disabled the entire electricity supply of my postcode. You can’t be too safe.

I judged that I could be competent at this task.

I satisfied myself with switching off the lighting circuit upstairs and wearing rubber soled slippers. As I proceeded, I realised that there was only really one way of fulfilling my task. There were probably a few options to complete it more or less well. But, to get it working, one set of steps would cover it. Quite a well designed product then.

One thing I did not do, which I would normally, was checking the advice of a surrogate dad on YouTube. You know the fellow: impressive tool belt and a great deal of kit at his disposal. A sign of confidence in my competence. No father figure needed for me.

It all passed off well and the new light fitting is working well. My son can see his work space clearly again (another excuse removed). Thousands of light fittings are out there fitted by the self diagnosing competent electrician I reckon.

If I were at work I suspect some form of diagnostic would be in play. Some questions about my understanding of electricity and electrical equipment. A quiz on my knowledge of tools and their appropriate modes of use. A risk assessment, for sure (insurance policies are exacting). Ideally, some way of having a go in a safe space.  A record of my achievement of sufficient mastery would be needed. What would have slowed the whole thing down and raised the expense is the involvement of a third party in judging my competence. Most tasks in most work can be done by most people with sensible support and some trust to figure it out (with a surrogate parent at hand – often called a friend or colleague).

I now have my eye on the light fittings downstairs. My competence is growing.

 

 

 

A learning bubble?

A quick thought…

A few weeks ago, I posted about the head office bubble. A place where central office functionaries talk to each other about people in their organisation without talking to them.

Returning form holiday and catching up with a few folks, I think there is an L&D bubble. This is a place where L&D folks congregate and talk to each other about learners and learning without talking to learners. Or, we talk about learning rather than about doing. We are preoccupied with designing and delivering learning – it’s in the job title.

I am uncertain that these learners exist. There are plenty of people trying to get things done, find things out, figure things out, get better at things, understand new things. There are plenty of problems to solve and plenty of scope to help people solve them. (There is also plenty of scope to get out of their way and let them solve them on their own). I don’t think people think of this as learning though. I think that’s what we call it in the bubble.

They aren’t trying to learn they are tying to get things done. The learning is by the by.

Outside of the bubble people have networks, not personal learning networks. They have information sources not learning sources. They have contacts and people who help. They don’t have subject matter experts. They research subjects and gather useful information. They don’t embark on learning journeys. And they never use an LMS unless they have to. They don’t know what an LMS is. When we use the ‘L’ word we create the bubble.

What do you think? Is there a bubble? Or is this just post-holiday blues?

Whose training record is it anyway?

Some time ago, a friend and colleague suggested this topic. I agreed and then time overtook me and I missed the moment. A conversation yesterday jogged my memory and the theme rose again. So, thank you Karen Moran, if you still have the patience to stick with me, for what was a good idea.

The theme is disruption. (I know. I know. It always is. Sometimes it is hard to get away from it). To be a little more helpful, the disruption of the recording of training and education. The higher education world is struggling to respond to the idea that a three year degree is weak signal of the value and capability of a candidate or employee – add the £27,000 fees to that and the pressure for higher education to pay off is aggressive. Breaking degrees down to smaller and more descriptive qualifications that match economic needs is a valid response. Smaller credit bearing learning ‘moments’ would be easier to participate in, beyond higher education, too. Separating the learning from the credentialing will help this. Smaller, cheaper courses with employment requirements designed in will become more common: “we should put learning from all sources on equal footing and assess it through an independent approach”

There is a clear logic and trend towards this outcome. But, where does that record of education reside? With the issuers of the credentials? Yes. A centrally recorded, managed and verified repository seems like a necessity to help deal with false claims and mendacity (the CV will never overcome it alone). But this is not enough. I want my own record too, one where I can add context and experience that does not carry a credential. I want to show projects I worked on, teams I was in, technology I know about, documents I have written. I want this to carry the context of my working network too. It needs to be public, at least to have the potential to be public. (Maybe even blogs could be included?) LinkedIn are moving into this territory, to claim the place as the professional profile of record for the global workforce. The purchase of Lynda.com may help cement that case. I’m sure Microsoft will be pleased to support as well.

The world of Training and corporate L&D needs to respond more thoughtfully. asAs workers are increasingly mobile and decreasingly company-loyal, a fragmented series of learning record  scattered across LMS systems of the past becomes more impediment than irritation. The increasingly freelance workforce needs a solution as well. Companies will want to retain their training records but need to set them free for workers to apply them outside of the corporate boundary. The Experience API deserves applause for enabling the addition of learning context from other experiences beyond the LMS (webinars, workshops, books, blogs, conferences can paint a much more subtle and useful picture of a person). So far, the application of the learning record store has been corporate or institutional (please do let me know where I am wrong – a meaningfully open LRS feels like an important development to share). So, an LMS morphs to include, or become, an LRS. There is still a personal angle missing. Is it truly my record?

Is there a real opportunity here? Are we ready for personal professional profiles that carry accredited learning evidence? I think we are. The momentum behind Open Badges seems to support it. Smaller credentials accumulated as we work and learn feels like a good answer or will LinkedIn just swallow it all up?

 

The LMS market – bigger and better or just bigger?

In a bid to keep pace with developments, I have been reading a few research reports and papers on various themes of the eLearning industry. The visit to Learning Technologies is still running through my mind as I continue an attempt to complete my mental sketch of the status of the market. It is clear that the industry is growing – getting bigger. Bigger trade shows, bigger stands, more exhibitors. The existing players are consolidating and that acquisition activity indicates a confidence from sources of funding. The current industry is growing. I wonder though, that it is an existing shape getting larger rather than changing shape or developing in new ways?

As providers grow, they are adding features and functions to their systems but are the customers (to say nothing of learners) doing new work with them?

Maybe.  A bit.

One of my self-study texts has been the Saffron Interactive report by Edward White, “The LMS: Are we experiencing a sea-change?”  (To read the whole report, I think you need to get in touch with Saffron and request the PDF). It is the fruit of an extensive survey it aims to dig beneath the headline growth of the LMS market from $2.65bn in 2013 to (a forecast) $7.8bn in 2017 (hence the acquisition funding). Whatever the definition of an LMS in those figures, there are a lot more of them and they are a lot bigger. So, all good then?

Not so. The survey asked that nagging satisfaction question about recommendation: “How likely are you to recommend your LMS to a friend?”*  It seems that only 15% answered positively, 57% said they were unlikely to. Yes. That’s right. An industry sector growing by almost 200% in four years (really?) has a satisfied customer base of 15%. As the youngsters say, “what’s up with that?”

Whether there is a sea change on the horizon or not, the providers need to find one. Edward points to user expectations now being set by social media tools and content discovery experiences.  This is an area in which all corporate technologies suffer by comparison with personal tools. There is also an anxiety about the adaptability of these platforms to future needs. This is where the industry growth looks really interesting. Existing services are selling more but, according my highly unscientific scanning of the exhibition floor and other news, the start-up and new entrant scene is still quite modest.

There was no start up zone or innovations space at the Learning Technologies exhibition. That may be a flaw of the organisers or an indication of an immature market. Either way, that looks like it could and should change. There are plenty of dissatisfied customers out there and there seems to be investment funding around too. Smart new players picking off areas of poor performance in incumbent businesses at lower cost and higher quality should be queueing up very soon if they are not already.  That is the familiar pattern of industry evolution in the digital sphere.

Now, where is that drawing board…

 

* In my world, this would be a most unusual question to ask a friend but I think we get the point.

My little learning journey – or how to microlearn?

Here is a short story describing a learning journey I have just completed. (Qualifying statement: I am uncertain about the definition of a learning journey and the veracity of many claims made on the topic. This was a three web site exploration, from one to the next. If that is learning journey (perhaps a jaunt), then I had one.

The journey begins…

On some days, I have a little time to catch up on some material saved on Pocket for later consumption. Today, I was watching this video of a talk about Developing a New Language for Learning by Mark Weber of Atticmedia. I wholeheartedly support the idea of a new language for learning – the current idiom of courses, interventions ,systems, tracking etc. does not translate well to those who are trying to accomplish something in a working day. My journey ad begun.

A fork in the road…

Mark described new content formats and tools shaping the future. Snacking content is one of those. An example of a new service in this space is offered by Grovo. They service businesses with microlearning, which is a descriptor of very short learning elements planned to meet a learning goal. Short assessments with short content are one core element. (It seems they have done a good job of analytics too, a common eLearning failing). So, no modules and courses from Grovo. Just simple, targeted short learning. To be clear, I have  not used this service but it is interesting at my first glance.

All roads lead to YouTube…

I then wondered how this might be different from an aggregation of YouTube “How to…” videos? If the discovery and filter problem were better solved, what would we not be able to learn from YouTube? A search for “How To” returned 251,000,000 results. An ocean of all kinds of learning, much of it bite sized. Obviously, much of it terrible and borderline insane, much of it excellent too. A scan of this ocean made me wonder two things:

  1. Does one need instructional design any more? People are making a living out of these films already with little or no sense of what this kind of design is or of the skills required to fulfil such a brief. A well designed experience from this style of content will get most learners quite a long way I suspect. (No single tool will solve everything).
  2. Despite moderate uncertainty of what microlearning might mean in all its uses, I am convinced that it is not only the future but has been the present for at least five years now. We all have much to learn from the emerging cottage industry of media studios populating the YouTube revolution. One expert telling me, directly and simply, what they know and how to use that knowledge. Seems good to me.

I end my wander thinking about filtering and packaging and the value that this would unlock.

So…a learning journey? Not sure that part really matters…