Sunday, January 24, 2010

g-LMS Pre-Press Release

We've got a big announcement that will probably take place next week, but I'm so excited about it I find I need to use this blog as a rough draft of whatever press release we end up issuing.

We've been sitting on some technology we had in our back pocket for quite some time as we concentrated on growing and improving our e-learning content catalog and getting it the heck out in the marketplace.

In the process of talking to the marketplace, though, we found we were hearing over and over again: content alone is often not enough (compliance training by definition needs to be tracked), but commercial Learning Management Systems (LMSs) are often way too much tech for small and medium-sized companies. The "enterprise solution" is made for really large enterprises!

Here's what our clients and prospects have been telling us they need to be able to do in order to efficiently manage training:
  1. Add learners to courses (or assign courses to learners)
  2. Manage passwords/logins
  3. Quickly and clearly see who has completed the training
  4. Quickly and clearly see who needs a fire lit under them
  5. Download reports in a form that can be further manipulated, imported into other company record-keeping systems, etc.
Here are some of the features of standard commercial LMSs that our clients and prospects specifically did NOT want or need:
  1. Elaborate succession planning tools
  2. Automated gap analysis tools
  3. A bunch of different reports on all the possible minutiae of learners' activities
  4. Months of study and specialized training just to have a clue how to run the damn thing
Slap to the forehead - we realized we already had the roots of just what these people have been telling us in some coding for tools we'd created in the past, and all we needed to do was pull it all together with the features we're hearing this demand for, and voila, the GCP's g-LMS - Global Learner Management System - will most likely launch at the end of the week!

It's a super thin application - tiny on the server, very obvious and intuitive interface for both learners and training managers (and our administrators who will run it in the background). It's elegant without being fancy at all.

For now we'll be hosting it, as that's what the market's been telling us to do. But down the road, we'll be able to license it to clients who want to run it on their own servers - we built the basics into the tool to do just that and will only have to tweak a few things to be able to deliver on that capability.

Also... nope, I'm getting ahead of myself; let's just get this thing launched this week! Stay tuned for a real live press release, and a demo site where you can try it for yourself. Can't wait to hear what you think!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

DIY Custom Training, Facilitated

Interesting article by Agatha Gilmore in Chief Learning Officer Magazine: The New Workplace Mantra: 'Do It Yourself'. That DIY theme is exactly what we had in mind when we put together Ultimate and Developer's Editions of our courseware.

In her article, Agatha says:
"According to new research from Novita, a talent recruiting and development services firm, 71 percent of organizations surveyed are now doing more tasks in-house than before the economic recession. The main reason? A smaller budget, according to 85 percent of respondents."

The predominant mode of purchasing e-learning content has long been handled via the tired and painful "learner-seat" model, in which a company basically rents access to courses they need from the content vendor who owns the courses. I've said it before: Whoever came up with the learner seat subscription model was a sadist, a masochist, or both. It's beyond onerous to try to predict how many employees need these seven courses, which subset of employees need these other two courses, etc.

And when you rent courses, you are sometimes offered the option of customizing the courses, but they don't belong to you, so the time, effort, and money you spend customizing is in the toilet as soon as you stop renting from that vendor. It's a terrible model, and I really do not understand how it's hung around as long as it has.

We've always had our ears open to the needs of those Do It Yourselfers, whom Agatha Gilmore says are growing in number.

Here's what we think: If you've got a person or a small team of people in your company who are charged with producing training content, wouldn't they be a lot more productive, effective, and profitable if they had a giant head start on the courses they need to develop? If the hardest part of the development were already done for them and available in a "kit" format that enabled them to tweak and refine rather than building from scratch?

I've developed a ton of courses. I've been involved in every step of course production, from needs analysis to determining learning objectives to creating a storyboard to gathering media elements to creating the multimedia, and through all the steps of testing, revising, and updating them.

The hardest part in all those steps is putting the content into words. Writing the storyboard takes the most time, requires the most smarts, is the most painstaking. It's the key to the course. It contains everything that everyone else involved in course development needs - the words and ideas to be conveyed, and the instructions that will turn the words into a living, functioning, effective course.

How much time, effort, and cost would it save your team to start the course development process with a completed storyboard? A well-crafted storyboard, with clearly stated learning objectives, elegantly-written instruction, and assessments tied to the objectives, in Word format for ready customization?

How much less time would it take to modify an existing course than to write it from scratch? How many more courses could your team put in front of learners each year - heck, each month? Would you save more money on development than you spent on the development kits? Only one way to find out...

Monday, January 4, 2010

Top Ten Insights on Top Ten Lists

Leo Casey posted a thoughtful list of his Top Ten Insights on Learning in the
Learning, Education and Training Professionals Group on LinkedIn this past weekend, as a summary of his recent blog posting.

Leo's list:
  1. Learning is constructed
  2. People are curious
  3. We learn best in social settings
  4. Much adult learning is child's play
  5. We have a Learning Identity
  6. Meet the Digital World
  7. Adults learn what they want to learn
  8. Learning can be additive or transformative
  9. We learn throughout life
  10. We strive to be all that we can be
After 8 years teaching at the university level in a VERY multicultural setting, and the subsequent 10 years developing online learning experiences in collaboration with adult learners and the training professionals responsible for their programs, I must admit I always worry that lists like this pretty much automatically reflect the listmaker's learning preferences or specific training environment/subject matter/audience.

I know I catch myself declaring that "learners want [insert preference here]" when in fact, I may want that thing, but others may not!

And that training "thing" that *I* am sure learners want or need might be the best way to impart safe work practices in a manufacturing environment, but at the same time be a terrible way to hone customer service skills in a retail setting, for example.

So item #3: "We learn best in social settings." I have to ask, who are "we?" Learning what? In what kind of social setting? Group work with motivated teammates on project-based learning is fantastic, but there are certain learning objectives best mastered in quiet solitude. My replacement insight: "Training modalities must be selected with both the audience and the learning objective in mind."

I also find that lists like this tend to idealize the learners. There's a big difference in attitude between happy lifelong learners who decide it would be fun to learn a new language, and employees who are required by law to receive training on how to choose the right protective gloves or eyewear for this or that workplace task. So I would revise a couple of the insights above.

For example, #2: "People are curious." I myself don't choose to spend more time than I have to in the company of non-curious people, but really, have you never met a person who was devoid of curiosity? Never had a conversation that consisted of you trying to get more than a grunt out of your interlocutor? The non-curious do indeed exist, and they are not exempt from compliance training. My replacement insight? "Training needs to engage even those who are not curious."

Likewise, item #10: "We strive to be all that we can be." But guess what! Homer Simpson is not a completely fictional character - you and I might strive for excellence, but my friends, there are slackers out there who feel as Homer does that "Trying is the first step towards failure." They don't have a mission of doing their best or being their best. Self-improvement is not among their core values. My replacement insight? "Training must sell its own importance to those who don't care."

My overall point is, lists like these can help us focus on important points and provide an excellent starting point for deeper reflection, but we have to be careful not to flavor them with our own biases.