Friday, 20 April 2012

E-learning Boxing Match

Okay, so we can safely say this may not be the world heavyweight title bout of the e-learning world; but there's a definite issue that sometimes comes between where your money, time and effort goes with respect to your learning technology (such as your LMS or social learning platform) and the content or e-learning that generally sits on it (or would if you had one in some cases). Is this really an issue though? Surely one of these is just the tool and the other what really matters? Maybe.. maybe not.. perhaps one of these is like the players and the other one the referee; nobody likes the ref but try and have a good contest with a bad ref and it turns into a mess pretty quickly.

If you're new to this e-learning business the first real question you may encounter is where to start; with e-learning courses or somewhere to host them. This isn't always the issue, regularly
LinkL&D/Trainers find themselves making online material long before they know it's really e-learning (or saying they make e-learning when they put Powerpoints on the sharepoint - no, not a knock on the excellent Articulate Suite!). Whilst this isn't a planned approach let alone a true e-learning strategy it's kind of the way to go. This is not a simple chicken and egg scenario; having an LMS, even a cool one like TotaraLMS, is pointless without any content; in fact generally it's really a killer for organisations trying to change culture and introduce e-learning if there's no, very little, or very bad content on their system. The converse isn't quite true, you can put up some e-learning Flash modules on your sharepoint, you can put them in a shared file or even host them on a web-page if you know how - none of these are an LMS, but at least you can get to the content. It's kind of like buying a house without a garage and parking in the street; it's not ideal, but it will get you by initially.

Now this is a learning technologies blog so don't think for one second I'm conceding that easily to the content without at least a bit of a fight. That was the initial discussion and if you're in the early stages of the e-learning journey you definitely nee
d to think about how you're getting your content together ahead of the optimum method of delivery. That said if you go out and buy some classic cars where the badges cost more than my Toyota (not difficult in all fairness) you probably don't want to park them outside your local and hope they'll be okay. Again, this is a budget issue; if you have plenty of dosh to buy Ferrari learning packages (not literally, unless of course you're a car dealer..) you probably have plenty of money to waste on a corporate LMS or spend wisely on an Open Source one. Either way for my money, round one goes to the content.
Later round of the fight is where we quickly realise the frustrations of using something other than an LMS to manage our e-learning. The first point is as early as the 2nd round when the seconds come out and no-one can tell you the scores from the first round. Tracking is the single biggest killer of parking your cars on the street - after all, would you park them on a street if you didn't know where they'd be when you went back? So early in the piece you are going to need to invest in an LMS. The LMS of choice for small companies, educational institutions or anyone on a very limited budget is Moodle. Why? Simply it's very good if you're basing things around courses and don't need to have the world's greatest tools. It will launch and track e-learning and that's a great place to start. There's a reason it's used by more organisations than any other LMS; usability, customisability and of course, it's open source so doesn't carry the price tag of a corporate system. Round 2 definitely belongs to the technology; but wait..

Back bounces the content; we're now tracking away and launching our e-learning, but what have we got to show for it? The LMS is the system but as long as they can launch courses that's what really counts isn't it? If so, we must now spend time on getting those done (speak to Kineo Pacific here; we're real good - last plug I promise). The only way it's not a knock out at the mid-stage of the fight is that your LMS should be able to fight back with some authoring tools of its own; maybe not the cool clicking animation things, but certainly content like resources, web-page development and activities like quizzes and assignments etc. Buying or using an LMS with content development tools is a bit of a win-win, your instructional designers or trainers will be happy, but so will management if they have the tools they need.

Mid-way through the fight and content is on top again, is there anything the technologies have up their sleeve to force this fight on or should we concede? Maybe there is, what if you spent nothing or next to nothing on your LMS to enable content to be built and there's a few things it's missing that will make all the difference to your learning? Jabbing out with some dashboard controls and easier interface, firing some hard punches of being able to build custom reports, hooking away with performance management tools like individual learning plans and competency based training. Content can defend itself but the haymaker comes in the form of integration. Okay, that didn't pack the literary punch I was looking for but wait a second, if you put in place a simple cloud or stand-alone LMS what would an LMS that actually talked to the other systems that you use do for you? All your users, your hierarchies, your competency frameworks, your performance management and goals, even your reporting engine and records management. It's not about an LMS that does everything, it's about an LMS that talks with other systems to do everything together.

But somehow content stays on its feet. There's not really anything new in its approach, content is the slugger that won't stop advancing. In the technology world we've thrown everything we can at it. The only way to beat it lies in one last ditch attempt. Yes in order to stop the onslaught technology has to turn away from its roots and go back to face to face (apologies for the rambling mess of running metaphors and literals). So the extra power we need is in the blend. Your LMS needs to handle those workshops and face to face courses that your organisation used to survive solely on. By incorporating and enhancing workshops with management tools you have moved beyond e-learning and into blended learning where you always said you wanted to be. This has eliminated the defense of e-learning content and sets it open for the knock out..

Can social learning provide this.. self-generating content that doesn't have to be written.......

Okay, think I took the match too far. In all seriousness if your LMS takes up all of your budget something is seriously wrong - tweet or email me and we'll do something about that. Content is always going to survive and thrive, but don't underestimate the power of the technologies that are, like labour saving devices of old, there to make our job that much easier. The trick is finding the right technologies at the right price; again, choose your partner wisely.

As usual the opinions here are my own and more than likely some of you don't agree with them, that's cool I'd love to hear from you: @NigelKineo or