Thursday, 26 July 2012

Where do I start?

In today's environment everyone but everyone does this elearning thing right? I mean there can't possibly still be organizations using purely face to face (f2f) training or paper based distance learning can there? Surely everyone not only has elearning but they also have the right systems to run it on too, right? If this was a Likert Scale I would probably be on the Strongly Disagree button right now! Whilst there are plenty of organizations successfully running blended learning systems on their LMS, there are plenty at various stages of development and a huge number still not yet embarked on the journey at all.


Working in New Zealand; you may have assumed that this was just a local issue with an agrarian culture that's way behind the rest of the World, but you'd be far from correct. I deal predominantly with NZ and Australian organizations, but neither of those societies is in digitally backwards one, the geographical isolation of NZ in particular has made it an early adopter of digital communications across the Internet, the largest growing industry here is online shopping. I've previously worked in the UK for a number of years and encountered the same thing, there are runners, walkers, crawlers, observers, non-starters and ostriches in the world of Learning Technologies.

Some areas of business and education are seemingly more advanced than others here; most banks, insurance, government agencies and health providers seem to be on their journey, but it's amazing how many commercial enterprises haven't yet started. Even more surprising is the number of training providers still holding on to the old world of only f2f sessions. Medium and small sized businesses are often of the impression they neither have the time or money to invest in elearning. Of course, necessity is the mother of invention; organizations with dispersed workforce facing increased pressures on reduced travel expenses are more often than not early adopters in this area, but just because the organisation is a local one, doesn't mean that the training and records need to be the same.. Anyway, let's talk about getting it going..



Step 1; This is a bit like any 'training' in that you need to establish the need. That means finding out firstly about how your organisation currently approaches learning, development and training. The big motivators for most organizations is around time and money, but you should really be focussing on what is the best way to deliver the training ahead of the savings.. Think effectiveness first and efficiency second. Sure, justifying any expenditure to your CEO is going to revolve around benefits and their biggest interest will be around time and money, but think about how you can do things better first.

Step 2; Get some help. Read my previous blog on You don't know what you don't know to get some tips here.

Step 3; Plant the seed, spread the word and any other clich├ęs that essentially mean you need to get key influencers and decision makers on side. You need to form your vision of how this will work and the sell this vision to those key people. It's about taking the first two steps and painting a picture that others can see.



Not a step, but quickly thought I'd add looking up from my breakfast in Koru Club (hey I travel a lot!) that I was surprised to be f2f with our NZ Prime Minister John Key! Good news is that he's got no plans to sell off our Koru Club in the near future!

Step 4; Get your enablers sorted and start the ball rolling. If you're working with very limited budget this is even more key. If you're working without budget look at Open Source offerings as a way to start; Moodle is a great first step towards this and Totara if you have any budget. Authoring tools come in various shapes and sizes with a huge variety of costs to associate that I can't go through here.. We'll do that in another blog, but the Moodle and Totara in-built tools are a great place to start!

Communicate. Whether this is all new to you or your already on your journey towards a truly blended learning environment, communication is the key. You need to continually paint the picture and let people know, involve others and celebrate every success as I talked about in.....



That's all for this one, my planes going to go without me if I don't get moving, by John, safe flight to Christchurch. As always, the opinions here are entirely my own and don't represent anything that anyone else would want to write anyway. If you agree, disagree or just feel like commenting please do so here or to @Nigelkineo or LinkedIn



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Friday, 20 July 2012

You don't know what you don't know

Okay on the face of it that's one of those cliche and annoying comments that people make but when it comes to this Learning Technologies stuff it's often infuriatingly true.  The number of times I speak with a client or potential client about developments or possible other ways of skinning the cat (yes, there is more than one way) only for their face to drop as they realise they could have saved the last six months effort if they'd only known that so-and-so feature, software or service existed.  So forgive me if the statement is obviously true, but accepting that at face value why do so many elearning novices strike out there on their own without the necessary help and support?

Firstly there's the almighty obvious answer of money.  There's a large number (and even one or two who may read my blog) that are the sole elearning 'expert' in their organisation and have been given that nice round figure to work with and expected to move the organisation in the right direction.  The first thing you need to do is get yourself in and around a community with common struggles.  In New Zealand the NZATD is a great place to start, but there's numerous other support streams depending upon what you're trying to achieve and what tools you're using.  I'm a big TotaraLMS and Moodle fan; so both of these have their own forums and support access (welcome to Open Source) but so do some commercial products like the excellent Articulate suite and the Adobe lot too.  It's not hard to find help (you just need to know it exists).
It's a lot like going to the gym for the first time out there; it can be quite intimidating out there with the big bodies and grunters; life is a lot simpler with a personal trainer to help you work your way around and show you the pitfalls.  That's where people like myself (learning technology consultants or similar named helpful individuals) can really pay dividends.  We can show you a little of what you don't know and explain the possibilities whilst helping you avoid some of the very costly mistakes it's possible to make in the world of learning technologies.  Whilst many of us in this field are self-taught, it take years to get there and we all have our stories of where it didn't quite go the way we thought!  Be careful when you do this.. my old article here has some advice on this:  choose your partner wisely.

The next thing is to find a 'friend' or mentor who is further down the path than you. If you know someone who regularly goes to the gym, then why not arrange to go with them.  You don't have to match the weights or exercises but you can pick up some great trips along the way, especially if your fitness instructor can help correct some of the bad habits your mentor might have got in to!  Your mentor doesn't have to be the same height, shape, sex or build as you (they can come from a different organisation or sector I'm saying here!), just have to have something in common and get along. 
You also don't need to take this journey on your own.  You need to find someone where you are who can relate, be interested in or at least support you along the way.  If you really are a one (wo/)man band then speak to your boss or mentor within the business. They don't have to work-out with you every time but if they are with you it becomes more fun; not a single journey that isn't better with the right company!

My last piece of advice on the unknown is that it's not a good idea to workout in the dark.  What I mean here as I (as usual) take the metaphor a stage too far, is that you don't have to be alone and in the dark even if you feel that way.  The trick here is to communicate with those around you what you are up to and embarking upon.  Whilst it would be nice to pop in to the gym silently every night and return to work 6 months later (yes, it takes time..) with a perfect bod to show off, the reality is small steps.  If you do this without any help, without letting people know, without celebrating those little successes then your overall likelihood of success is greatly reduced.  Besides when you communicate, you'll be surprised what some of the people you thought wouldn't be able to help are communicate; it's not so dark after all.

The moral of this story is that you will never know what you do not know, but with some help, guidance and friends, someone will know enough to help or point you in the right direction.  Life may be a journey rather than a destination, but it sure helps if you can see which way you're heading on that journey.

As always all opinions expressed above are entirely my own and I reserve the right to be wrong without admitting it.  If you have a comment then please post it here or get in touch with me either directly by email: nigel.young@kineo.co.nz or through LinkedIn or Twitter

Friday, 13 July 2012

Pain in the SaaS?

Just like how the word 'cloud' cleverly took the internet based norm and made it sound a bit sexy, internet based software was given a name facelift and has is now known as SaaS.  For those of you not in the know that's a simple acronym for Software as a Service; which in layman's terms means the software doesn't sit on your computer it resides like a magical kingdom in the 'cloud'.  The question is whether or not it's better to live in a castle in the clouds or grounded like your computer; the answer is predictably that it depends.

When it works really well..

So cloud based systems are always going to be dependent on your internet connection so when you work in office based environments with reliable high-speed internet that's a good start.  When you add in to that a collaborative environment with several developers working together to put projects out or make elearning then there are going to be some significant advantages to being able to share via the cloud; these translate just the same for the software you use.  If you're using software and want to share without a SaaS type platform you have to have a copy of that software on each machine you want to develop on.  Of course if your offices already use a thin client approach (basically your computer is a terminal rather than everything contained on it) then you're already using SaaS for your key tasks whether you know it or not.  Under these conditions SaaS offerings are perfect for you.  A good example of SaaS is your Learning Management System (LMS).  If your LMS is not cloud-based you really would have to question why not if you have access to internet or even intranet.  This option is also great for sharing files.  I work with clients across New Zealand and Australia and sometimes the US and UK so we need to be able to move big files some times and email isn't the best way to do this. Services like Dropbox allow us to do this and access the files wherever we are.


When it's really bad..

When SaaS is bad it's really bad.  The frustrations that are caused when you can't access the site or the software crashes and throws you out are just that much more when you access them across the net.  The biggest issue is usually around the client end internet access.  Lets face it if you're still working in an organisation that believes internet should be throttled to the nth degree then you should probably steer clear of SaaS offerings unless your organisation opens the pipes up for that application.  Of course there's also the SaaS providers service and access.  If they don't have the proper hardware at their end (check out their scalability; how many 'big' clients do they have?) your bandwidth won't matter; you'll get poor service.  Fortunately most services will let you test-drive for free, this is a great opportunity to see how fast it runs, don't just check it at home, make sure you run it through your office too to make sure it's fine.  It does matter where it's hosted too, particularly if the software requires quite high bandwidth; as a general rule the closer the server is to you the better.  The last road-block for you is metaphorically speaking just that, if your organisation is firewall happy and blocks anything that looks remotely useful from coming through the web then think twice about SaaS offerings unless you have the backing of your IT department (hey, I need a whole article on dealing with those guys).


When it makes no sense

So sometimes we get a SaaS type offering just because it's trendy, if it's in the cloud it must be cool right?  Not really, sometimes it makes no sense because it's not the best option and we should make our decisions on what is the best option (with a little financial consideration thrown in for good measure).  A great example of this is when you have a single developer or someone who is dedicated to working in a 'deep' environment with minimal distractions.  It makes sense in these type of conditions to have a dedicated high-end development machine where the development takes place.  If you use a SaaS offering this then negates most of the benefits of the high-end machine and places the pressure squarely back on the internet connection.  You could say the same for small teams geographically located in the same place.  The most obvious example of where it makes no sense is where you have no internet access; believe it or not there are still places in the world where this is the case!


The future..

It's always hard to predict how and where all this will end up but the fact I'm writing this on a SaaS offering, work predominantly on LMSs and use SaaS tools more than I use the software on my computer makes me realise just how much things have changed in the last couple of years and I can't see the trend to the web slowing down.  Eventually internet connection shouldn't be an issue for anyone should it?  But if we all live in the clouds how will we keep grounded?  And how far can you see ahead when your head is in the clouds anyway?

As always all opinions expressed above are entirely my own and I reserve the right to be wrong without admitting it.  If you have a comment then please post it here or get in touch with me either directly by email: nigel.young@kineo.co.nz or through LinkedIn or Twitter