Top 5 Talking Points from 2013 #LSCon
What does the future hold for learning? In the second of a two-part blog reflecting on Learning Solutions Conference and Expo 2013 Unicorn CEO, Peter Phillips, looks at the five hottest conference issues - mobile, Tin Can, authoring tools, what's next for the LMS and could websites be the new LMSs? 1) Mobile is everywhere but not everything. Mobile was pervasive this year. It is now established as a core element in the mix of eLearning delivery and it is not going away. Increasingly with BYOD and remote working, users expect to be able to access learning away from their desk. The trend to mobile has been so rapid since the arrival of the tablet, that implications for design, authoring tools, delivery, security, the LMS and the death or otherwise of Flash are still raging and recurred throughout the sessions. There is general agreement that mobile JIT learning will be delivered in shorter bites, with more intuitive navigation, more video, less text, and of course no Flash. The browser v App debate seems to be moving towards the browser solution, at least for the corporate market, although if mobile is to truly transform learning for remote communities, offline will remain important for a long time yet. Does your LMS have plans for an off line Scorm player? Or should that be XAPI? See below..... Security is a big issue in the corporate world and I picked up some useful pointers, although no definitive answers. Some argued “create Apps to get round the corporate firewall issues” others that Apps are less secure as the content resides on the device. Better to access it through secure LMS login protocols. But then there is the issue of the security or otherwise of your local Starbucks Wifi connection (70%+ of tablets are wifi only). The most reassuring note here is that email on BYOD is a much bigger security issue than eLearning. Note to self, find out more about enterprise mobile security management systems like Mobile Iron and MAAS360 On a positive note, one certainty is that the eLearning community is going to have plenty of work for the foreseeable future updating and converting all that mobile-unfriendly legacy content. 2) Kick that Tin Can out – it’s the Experience API now. The other unavoidable #lscon topic du jour was Tin Can. This new set of standards set to replace SCORM has not even been published yet but already it has a shiny new name and a nickname, XAPI for short. So what is it? XAPI is a standard for data transfer based on an Actor Verb Object syntax. So “Jackie ate this stack of pancakes”. The new data is collected in a Learning Record Store (LRS) from where it can be accessed by your LMS (or the LRS may be part of the LMS). So far, so boring, so why all the excitement? Well, if I’ve got this right, the primary advantages over SCORM are that the standard is expected to be adopted for a wide range of activities in learning and beyond. As XAPI is taken up and evolves, so more verbs will be added. For our industry, as XAPI goes beyond SCORM tracking of eLearning to the potential tracking and reporting on a wide range of learning activities, so “Anna watched a video, read an article, attended a seminar, commented on a blog” etc. It opens the potential to create much broader learning journeys, and generate much richer MI from the data. YouTube, we were told, already has XAPI compatibility. In Neil Lasher’s view, this brings eLearning and potentially the LMS into the BI space. It also creates new opportunities for instructional designers to think more about outcomes and analytics as part of the creative process. Authoring system vendors are ahead of LMS providers in embracing XAPI and are even creating new verbs already. In the Unicorn context, the potential for better recording and reporting the full range of CPD activities in regulated industries and professions is an obvious immediate application. 3) Have we become the Tools of our Tools? It is central to the #LScon event that it gives delegates the opportunity to catch up with the latest in eLearning tools, compare the alternatives, and preview what’s coming next. This year didn’t disappoint, and of course Joe Ganci was there to guide us through the maze, and provide some entertaining historical perspective on the evolution of authoring tools. There is no doubt that Storyline is the big hit of the past year and it continues to attract lots of attention and generally very positive feedback. The main competitor is Captivate 6.1, which interestingly is on most measures the better tool, but it is not so easy to use. That lesson – useability and simplicity before power and complexity – is marginal in this case, both are great tools, but it’s a lesson that few LMS vendors have yet grasped. I was delighted to learn that iSpring7 with HTML5 publishing is launching this month. It is in my opinion the best of the Powerpoint based rapid tools, technically excellent, robust and simple too. The most interesting new arrivals are the web based tools, many of which are free, and including Smartbuilder for branching scenarios, and the quirky but impressive ZebraZapps. I’ve made a resolution to get our team looking more closely at these. The main message though is that when it comes to the tools, it is horses for courses. Developers need a toolkit and should not allow the choice of authoring tool to determine the ID but vice versa. 4) An alternative view On Friday morning I was lucky enough to select as my final breakout session one that turned all this attention on authoring tools on its head. Several of us left the session saying it was the best we had attended all week (although Yvonne Camus then went and topped it!). The speakers, Harley O’Brien and Abigail Wheeler, advocated that the approach to eLearning development should mirror that of the web at large. HTML5, CSS3 and jquery are at the heart of the web. Why not build e-learning experiences in the same architecture? The learning assets can each be created or access independently and integrated or accessed just as you would in designing a web site. They claim that this approach makes content updating much easier, is “mobile ready”, and requires only easily learnable coding skills. This approach brings the seemingly separate world of eLearning, with its proprietary LMSs and focus on development tools, back into the much wider world of web development. “Work on the experience not how to deliver it”, “think formats not tools” were two messages from this session. They also recommended the float learning blog 5) And the rest There was much more to assail the senses, including the informal connections, the vendor expo and the user showcase, and plenty of discussion on the future of the LMS which, despite rumours of its imminent demise three or four years ago, remains remarkably robust. The future of the LMS undoubtedly lies in moving from the monolithic “enterprise” model to smarter solutions that link seamlessly with other systems and services – HR, authoring tools, helpdesk, social platforms – and use the mash up potential of the web whether it is Google maps, Facebook Comments, or search engines that can search content repositories across the enterprise and beyond. The LMS will also unquestionably become more “intelligent”, able to recommend learning to meet individual competence needs, with better reporting, XAPI records. Mobile is of course a given. So, to quote Yvonne Camus “Enthusiasm is a renewable resource”, and this year’s Learning Solutions certainly renewed my enthusiasm to face and help to shape an ever more exciting future of on line education.