LMS configurability : Power in user’s hand – Part 1

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Most of you in learning industry have come across and have used applications and tools which are vendor provided (off the shelf). Many of these serve the business purpose to most part, but don’t necessarily meet all the specific needs of business (there could be tons of reasons for it) and then you end up customizing the application to meet them. Depending upon your choices and the extent of customizations you add to the base product, you ultimately end up maintaining these customizations for the lifetime of the product. As evolves the business need and its complexities, so goes the hunger for customizations to meet those needs and desires.  And ultimately you may end up in such a big rat-hole where it gets almost impossible to get out of it. The cost of maintaining these customizations get higher and higher and the upgrades to new versions of the application/tool gets harder and harder.

What if you could change it? What if there is a vendor whose application not only provides the base feature set you need to meet key requirements for your business, but also provides you with tools and flexibility to configure (You see, Configure and Not Customize!) the application’s workflows and user experience to meet specific needs of business.

Edubrite provides you such LMS platform! Multilingual LMS platform from Edubrite is a complete SaaS authoring and delivery package for training and assessment needs. It has configurable workflows built in the application architecture providing tons of easy to use features. It provides all the right information and tools one need on the dashboard itself based on the user type (training admins, learners, etc.). It also delivers complete control to administrators and learners to define and configure what they want to see on their pages as per their preference and taste. It also delivers all the tools needed for super admins of the application and its sites to turn on/off the features they need and configure their sites for their specific business scenarios and needs.  It makes ongoing maintenance and upgrades completely transparent and smooth and hence delivering huge ROI to businesses.

Check out part 2, where we will discuss specific examples on the same topic.

Author: Praveen Khurana

Praveen Khurana is a learning technology leader in learning management and human capital systems. He has 18+ years of experience in this industry and has consulted with and has implemented learning, talent and knowledge management systems for many fortune 500 companies.

Image by Carlo Montoya

Blended Learning – WebEx integration

We now have integration with WebEx. With this integration EduBrite LMS is supporting organization’s blended learning need quite comprehensively. Now organizations can create their training with the combination of self paced online learning lessons (asynchronous learning) and live remote training (synchronous learning) for their workforce, partners and customers. All activities related to WebEx (create WebEx sessions, start or join WebEx sessions) is managed right from EduBrite LMS.

You now get best of both worlds! Leverage popular and commonly used web conferencing tool and also organize all learning information in one place. Quite cool, isn’t it? Another cool add-on is EduBrite allows you to monetize WebEx session same way as selling your online courses. Additionally, trainers can use following LMS features to augment their ILT (Instructor Led Training) sessions:

  • Attendance
  • Assignments
  • Quizzes
  • Surveys
  • Learner collaboration – Group Forum or Course Session Forum

We have launched WebEx integration feature in Q4, 2013. Initial setup needs to be done by LMS admin and will need key Ids from WebEx Account. For more details on Setup and how to use this feature, please refer our knowledgebase article.

Thinking about Learning Platform, Review your delivery needs

Trainings delivery methods can be as diverse as you can think of, such as self paced eLearning, instructor led (classroom/online), hands on experiments (online or offline), informal or combination of all. In this post let’s look at some common delivery characteristics you should consider when you look for a LMS. LMSs have different flavors and not all of them would be a good fit in all situations. This is second in the series, previous one discussed about Content aspects

Scheduling: Some training sessions are short like an instructor led online session for few hours and some are few days to months long which may be fully or partially self paced. Different capabilities are needed in LMS to make it good for both kinds of delivery. In professional trainings you might have some parts of the trainings done as seminar/webinar also. Does your LMS provide you flexibility to be used in all such scenarios? You should be able to setup the delivery, which could be for few hours, days or even weeks and months. Scheduling of individual items (like modules) should also be possible, especially in case of full or partial instructor led trainings. In case of self-paced delivery, system should allow you to setup number of days allowed in each step of the training, after which access to that step would get revoked.

Assessments: Multiple ways of assessments are needed depending on the kind of trainings you provide. Some examples are – embedded multiple-choice questions in the eLearning courses, giving online assignments (like a business plan writing), offline activity (like doing a presentation or experiment) or conducting formal exams. In some cases, you might find a printed questionnaire would be better suited to collect trainees responses which could be for assessment or survey. LMSs must be able meet these different kinds of assessment needs, otherwise an important aspect of trainings would have to be done outside of the LMS which will reduce its effectiveness.

Informal: To reduce the cost of managing scheduling of training programs, you might benefit more by making courses accessible to learners even without scheduling or assigning them. This is a kind of informal training practice, where teams (or training department) can create library of courses (just like a document library). There should be a way for learners to find and launch these courses and system should track and report the activities. This can be a powerful model to train your employees, customers and partners informally.

Access: Depending on who is getting trained, sometime you need to apply different access policies for the same course. E.g. its okay to given free access to the course for self-enrollment to employees, while your customers and partners may need to go thru online payment before they can enroll in the course. Depending on the kind of partner or customer, you might have different prices for the same course, and may also provide access to the course for different durations. You might also want to use the same course (or part of it) in instructor led programs where an instructor would utilize the course content. Check whether your LMS allows this flexibility or not. Any restriction or requiring you to make copies of course for different delivery situations would become a big overhead.

Learner’s Experience: Learners have very simplistic view about how they take online trainings. Ideally learners shouldn’t need any special training to use the LMS. Everything from learner’s perspective such as their enrolled and completed courses or catalog of available courses and events should be available to them on their dashboard. While going thru eLearning courses, learners should be able to easily navigate between the different content items in-place in the same context. On mobile devices, your training delivery should provide native experience with touch, swipe, zooming and panning just like any other app. Learners should be provided visual feedback about their progress and guided to advance in the course. Some other abilities such as pause and resume (even across multiple login sessions) auto bookmarking (to resume from where you left) and notes taking are quite important as well. For mobile delivery, think about whether you can make full or part of it available for offline access.

Download/Print/Email: Based on the kind of trainings, learners might be needed to download some parts of the course material – like an assignment, handout etc. Course creator should be able to allow selective download of certain items, and while viewing the course, learners should be provided visual clue about what is downloadable and what is not. Even in case of instructor led trainings, instructors might need to download/print some lessons to use in classrooms. Downloading should not compromise content security of the overall course.

Collaboration & Sharing: Having exposed to social platforms every day in personal or professional life, we all can see how essential it is to have collaboration among all participants in the trainings. Giving ability of discussion and sharing to the learners can enhance the learner’s experience and effectiveness of your trainings.

Thinking about Learning Platform, Understand your Content first

There are various dimensions in a learning platform and as a customer, they are quite important to understand as you look to implement a LMS. This is first in a series of posts about several dimensions of an Online Learning Platform (also referred as LMS). Just like any other business platforms, LMSs exist in all shapes and sizes and are used in different manner across the customer segments. Each product team in LMS space has made some design choices based on the kind of problems they like to address, and how well they address it varies.

In this post, let’s look at one of the most important dimension, Content.

Simple text like Wikipedia: Most support documentation on any product site exists in brow-sable open format. If you are looking for this kind of open resources without much tracking needs, look for a wiki like tool. You can even use a CMS or Blog tool to create such an informal learning resource site. Many wiki tools now allow creating nicely formatted pages using pre-defined templates. Some LMSs also allow creating this kind of open learning resources. A unique advantage of content, which exists as web/wiki pages, is that search engines can easily index them.

Example course with various content types

Various Content Types

Video and Slides

Video and Slides

Quiz

Quiz

Rich Text based courses: If your content consists in rich documents like PDF, Word and Presentations, you need a platform, which provides ability to upload existing documents and presentations and then delivers it in a format which is user friendly. Viewer should be able to browse thru the pages or slides, zoom and maximize the view. You can also check about some subtle differentiations like preserving the presentation notes (if you have any ILT requirements), animations and transitions etc. that exist among various tools. Products also vary widely on their delivery aspect of these kind of content because these content require a specialized player widget to render them inside the browser.

Multimedia: If your course consists of video and audio, along with the documents and presentations, your options become somewhat less in terms of available products. Not all learning platforms support streaming videos along with documents and presentations based courses. Even among those do support it, there are big differences in the way they provide these features and how far they go in their support. Some of the factors you should consider checking are – is there any limit to the duration of the videos, is there any limit to the quality (SD or HD), can the video be played back on computer and mobile devices, is it possible to use externally hosted videos from 3rd party streaming providers or even from social video sites like YouTube and Vimeo. Systems which support more than one video source can prove cost effective.

Animations, Simulations, Interactivity: If your courses consist of advanced interactions and animations, it is generally best to consider a separate tool for authoring as most Learning Platforms have limited built in ability to also act as a best of the breed authoring tool. You can buy a standalone course designer one time and create nay number of courses in a cost effective manner and without compromising the quality of the courses. For this you must check whether the learning platform you are considering supports SCORM/AICC and allows you to upload pre-built courses created in other tools. Common technology which is used to build the interactivity is based on Flash, which works fine for the PC/Laptops but is a show-stopper for iPad and iPhone if you are looking to support those. There aren’t many options available to create platform neutral highly interactive courses, so you will have to consider platform specific ways to create your content. HTML5 and SVG are possible solutions in future, but at present available tools are more suitable for Flash based content.

Quizzes: If you need to include quizzes in the course, then you either need to rely on SCORM based course creation and having a learning platform which can play and track the quiz results. If you are not using SCORM then your choices for learning platforms with quiz editing abilities become quite less. Not every learning platform supports creation of quizzes the way you might need. Check the type of questions you can create in the editor. And for bigger quizzes, check the ability to randomize questions and choices, timing controls and scoring options provided by the tool.

Re-usability: One aspect we find very often neglected in many platforms is the re-usability of learning resources. In many situations you might need to create a derivative of one course with some lessons/quizzes removed or added. In some situations we learned the customer wanted to create library of slides, videos and quizzes and allow different combination of courses created from the same library. Check whether the learning platform has this kind of library feature or linking feature which allows you to reuse the SCORM modules, lessons and quizzes across multiple courses without re-uploading them. It will not only save you storage cost but also would simplify the management of learning assets.

Content Security: It takes a lot of effort to build the content for the courses, and you don’t want to loose control on your content. Whether you are using desktop tools or cloud based systems, you should ensure that you can get your content back from the learning platform when you require. And more importantly, your content should stay protected from unauthorized copy/download possibilities. What kind of content protection you need

Internationalization/Localization: You should also check whether the learning platform you are considering supports ability to create course content in different languages. Although we believe most systems do this already, but its good to know that if you don’t check it, this could create surprise later. Ask if the particular system supports UTF-8 character set.

Pre Packaged Courses: Some services provide a library of pre-created courses on common training topics (such as OSHA, HIPAA, Business Ethics), which can be subscribed for your users with or without the ability to create your own courses. If you are looking to train people in common training topics for which off the shelf content is easy to get, look for a course provider rather than a learning platform provider. A few course providers also allow you to build your own courses along with the library of off the shelf courses.

Hope you find this information useful, we’ll look at the content (course) delivery aspects in detail in the next post.

Active Vs Passive Learning

How to you define active and passing learning and to that matter active or passive learners?

Traditionally approach for the learning leaders, instructors or curriculum developers when designing the learning environment has been to think of the students mind as empty vessels or sponges which can be easily filled with knowledge and students were expected to absorb most of it. This approach typically results in and encourages passive learning, where students are listening to instructors, reading books as per instructor’s instructions, looking at presentations or slides, etc. Passive learners always quietly take in new information, but they typically don’t engage with it. They do not interact, share their insight or contribute to it.

Interestingly enough, passive behavior to the most part is a learned behavior in itself. When the kids are born, most of them are not passive to start with. Almost every toddler wants to explore the world around them. They want to touch, feel and sense things to understand their environment better. They may want to crawl to the television to understand what is behind those pictures or want to hold the magic tool called ‘remote’ or emulate elders around the house, or do other funny or sometimes dangerous things, since they are and want to be actively engaged. It is primarily the cultural and behavioral factors and family norms and environment which plays a significant role in individual’s upbringing and results in converting children from adopting a passive style instead of
staying active.

Things have changed dramatically today. The reality is that the learning leaders, program owners and instructors today strive to create a learning environment in which student is engaged and motivated even before the actual learning starts and student can restructure and merge the prior knowledge with the new information and get the new insight and start practicing it, i.e. “active learning”. The active learning puts the responsibility on student and encourages them to get and stay engaged in class discussions and exercises and compel them to read, speak, listen and think.

The focus of active learning is on changing behavior. And that is the true motivation for active learners. They want to engage, learn and put learning to practice so they can learn new things or get better at things they want to pursue. They are able to construct their own knowledge, discover relationships, and organize subject matter on their own that is meaningful. And for the program managers and leaders, engaged learners who actively seek to learn and to change their behavior is exactly what they want. To accomplish this learning leader’s needed to create environment that trigger the desire and motivation to learn and encourages active participation. Where people are not just showing up in class or attending it, but are engaged in conversation and contributing to it.

Knowing the importance of active engagement and learning is great, but how to enable and foster it? The key as we discussed earlier is the “Active learning culture”. One of the things it requires is using combination of formal and informal learning opportunities. For example: it may include a formal class, group presentations, hands on assignments, role play, simulations, collaborative learning, mentoring/shadowing, etc. Technology and tool enablers for this could be multiple resources such as formal training system, social networking and learning platform, push and pull models, well established development and talent management processes, etc. The concept is to provide complete and simple mechanism for the people to engage in learning at the time and the manner that makes most sense for them. Providing the rationale is another element which eases the transition for many learners from their passive role to being active. If they understand the purpose to why they are doing what they are doing, they will be more receptive and adaptive. Besides the tools, another key element which needs to be part of learning culture is to give both ownership and autonomy to learners to create and contribute in it. When a group is created with a purpose and responsibility to solve a problem or for informational exchanges, in social networking setup, the passive lurking behaviors go down. It is because these groups have a clear purpose and direction and with opportunities and autonomy to contribute, they become more actively involved and feel more accountable. This results in change of behavior for them. To foster the active learning culture further, learning leaders need to recognize and reward such groups or individuals who demonstrate such behavior. They are the critical assets for the success of such initiatives. This encourages them and others and fuel motivation. Public recognition of good behaviors always motivates others to follow and emulate them.

I will end this discussion with some quotes here which summarize the concept of active learning really well. Ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius once said, “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; and involve me and I’ll understand.” This was further modified by Silberman, in 1996 as “What I hear, I forget; What I hear and see, I remember a little; What I hear, see and ask questions about or discuss with someone else, I begin to understand; What I hear, see, discuss and do, I acquire knowledge and skill; What I teach other, I master.

Author: Praveen Khurana
Praveen Khurana is a learning technology specialist in learning management and human capital systems. He has 16+ years of experience in this industry and has consulted with and has implemented learning, talent and knowledge management systems for many fortune 500
companies.

Mobile learning – Why and how

Well, if I have to simply put it, I would say that more and more people are using mobile devices such as tablets and smart phones and prefer access to easy and just-in-time (JIT) learning. Hence it makes logical sense for the learning organization to provide learning on mobile devices (m-learning).

How would you define mobile learning (m-learning) though? Mobile learning is actually any kind of learning intervention which could be carried out by use of mobile device and using wireless technology. And to create that intervention and support the learning through mobile devices it is very important to have the right adaptable learning content available on the mobile devices. There are several factors which make it a compelling case for delivering learning content and applications on mobile devices. A recent 2011 e-Learning Guild survey reports that about 70% of respondents are using their personal mobile devices for business applications. That means they are using their devices for browsing web, connecting to social networks, playing games and learning. Also there has been a significant increase in the number of employees who travel and work from outside their base offices and just-in-time information can help them overcome many challenges. Mobile learning provides convenience and flexibility to access information at any time and any place. It helps employees make use of their downtime, be it at a hotel, airport or while waiting for a client meeting to start. Not just corporate employees, mobile learning is a great avenue for anyone who needs to access any kind of information at any place and time.

The goal of mobile Learning should be to enhance the learning experience while providing learning content to learners. If delivered in right manner it can be an excellent tool for anything and everything learner would need, be it a streaming online content or on-the-job training materials or real-life simulation scenarios. Companies can also push out updates, offer reference materials via wikis and blogs, and provides collaboration through social networking, coaching or mentoring.

Mobile learning is not just repackaging of existing e-learning content and making it available through mobile devices. There are various challenges associated to the application and content delivery when it comes to mobile devices. The biggest challenge is availability of varying platforms and formats with no formal standardization to ensure the automatic adoption of apps or content on these devices. Also issues around content bandwidth, its security and integration with corporate systems such as LMS, LCMS and other systems create barriers in rapid deployment and adoption by organizations.

There are various organizations including learning content providers, application software providers, LMS systems providers who are doing great work in this area to enable and support mobile learning. These organizations are using some straightforward and simple but effective approaches which are helping them to be somewhat successful in overcoming many of the barriers.

One of the approaches many successful organizations are taking is to target their learning environment and/or content to specific mobile devices and not trying to support every possible device available. They have selected specific devices based on accessibility for their audience and of course popularity and adaptability to help them focus and support on key devices. Another key strategy is to focus on high performance just-in-time content and not design and create long full-fledged courses. Keeping the application designs for mobile tools simple and intuitive is another important strategy to enable mobile adoption. Users always like to use the experience which is simple and straightforward, has required functionality and eliminates any type of complexity. This type of interface on mobile tools provides easy and efficient access to the learning.

Some organizations while focusing on specific devices try to take advantage of inherent features of device itself to provide easy accessibility and interactivity. For example: Apple products such iPad and iPhone have lot of inbuilt features to make content interactive. Some organizations are also trying to provide collaborative learning environment by integrating the learning environment with social networking applications. These are all great techniques and strategies which are helping organizations to integrate the learning with the social and informal learning culture most of us have become part of and also keeping it interactive and fun.

Of course industry has long way to go, but there are some great and promising technological enhancements happening in the area of mobile learning which is for sure going to change the shape of it.

Author: Praveen Khurana
Praveen Khurana is a learning technology specialist in learning management and human capital systems. He has 16+ years of experience in this industry and has consulted with and has implemented learning, talent and knowledge management systems for many fortune 500 companies.

EduBrite at DevLearn 2012

Team EduBrite arrived Las Vegas on Oct 30th afternoon to participate in the DevLearn 2012. We immediately went to Aria Resort and Casino’s convention facility to make necessary preparations for exhibition which started on the Halloween day. This was team EduBrite’s first participation in learning expo event as an exhibitor.

Day 1 (Oct 31, 2012)
Day started at 7:30 am. Right after keynote session there were a lot participants came to the Expo area. We got to know a lot of curious minds, who shared what’s happening their world and learned about EduBrite LMS and our newly released mobile app for iPad. Some of them experienced iPad app themselves and praised the simplicity of using iPad for learning activities.

Ajay and Manish at DevLearn 2012

Ajay and Manish at EduBrite Booth, DevLearn 2012

Ajay presented the demo on “Train and Assess On Multiple Platforms using EduBrite” explaining the audience that how EduBrite’s light weight learning management system’s business ready features can help small medium business and training providers to streamline their training process and scale up the training operations. Additionally, custom branding, ecommerce gateway for online payments, single sign-on from Atlassian Confluence, Google or using iPad device for mobile training provides icing on the cake. A small clip of Ajay’s presentation is available at https://vimeo.com/52985423

Overall it was quite an eventful day. The reception hours in the evening brought a lot of enthusiasts to our booth as most lined up for cocktail, which was just next to our booth :). It was amazing to see participants in the great Halloween spirit and consumes .

Day 2 (Nov 1, 2012)
Day started around 9:30 am. Some of the participants from day 1 came back to our booth and had interesting conversation. Participants liked EduBrite course editor. They found it’s easy to create courses by assembling the existing documents, presentations, audios, videos (uploaded or external such as YouTube or Vimeo etc.) and SCORM. There was great appreciation for EduBrite online quiz WYSIWYG editor for it’s intuitiveness. Another eventful day with meeting so many people and exchanging information.

At 2:15 pm both Ajay and I were very busy with curious minds explaining EduBrite LMS and mobile app for iPad. We didn’t realize that big crowd gathered near our booth for an iPad drawing (due at 2:30 pm). Debbie Bess from VSPN won the iPad. Many congratulations!.

Debiee Bess winning an iPad

Manish awarding Debbie an iPad

Thanks all for coming to EduBrite booth and sharing your thoughts, experience. As I write this, I can still feel the residual of pain in lower part of my legs due to standing 20 hours in 2 days of expo. Thank god my mind is fresh after having good rest over the weekend!

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