The Future of E-Learning: Our Perspective

The last few decades have seen the birth and evolution of a number of different technical solutions to solve the following problem: How can an organization effectively deliver and track online learning for their users? Intellum has been developing enterprise learning solutions for 17 years and our focus has been squarely on learning innovation, user experience, and usability. Our clients expect us to deliver the best learning solutions in the industry, so it’s imperative that we “get learning right” without adding unnecessary or underutilized features or functionality. When we formulate a strategy around how learning assets can be created and how they interact with our LMS, this philosophy is very important to us. To better understand where we are going as an organization with regards to E-Learning, it’s best to quickly recall how this all got started.

Even prior to the internet, online courses were built to save money and be convenient to access. Early LMS solutions tracked students’ progress in online courses through unique client/server solutions. This uncovered the need for standardization in the industry, which led to the creation of AICC (1989) and SCORM (1999) specifications as the internet blossomed in use. While these specifications have evolved since they were first made public, believe it or not many companies still utilize the earliest versions of these specifications, especially SCORM 1.2 (2001), which our LMS has supported since the earliest days of the company.


Current State

Unfortunately, with specifications that weren’t written as true “standards,” problems can and do persist - mainly due to the fact that vendors interpret these specifications slightly differently. Who hasn’t dealt with users’ E-Learning issues due to courses not launching or freezing mid-way, courses not tracking the correct status or bookmarks, or courses displaying strange error messages? Despite authoring tool and LMS vendors’ best efforts, not one company has solved the somewhat messy problem of LMS ←→ ELearning communications. Why is this communication process so challenging? Consider this example: If 5,000 learners wish to take a course – that means 5,000 individual conversations must occur between each learner’s browser and the LMS. This poses a number of challenges such as browser support, security considerations, and general usability challenges. Little wonder that things can go wrong - maybe course statuses aren’t being reported, or are being reported incorrectly. Perhaps the course isn’t behaving as expected. Or, some people are encountering technical issues.

What also isn’t helpful are the hundreds of course authoring tools available in the marketplace. While some of these aren’t widely used, there are close to six dozen or so that are. And every one of those authoring tools is trying to communicate to our LMS via a specification that leaves many details open to interpretation.

So, What Is Intellum Doing About It?

Over the last 4 years we recognized that in order to “get learning right” we needed to adopt the same strategic approach utilized by popular consumer software applications. As users are demanding and responding to smaller, bite-size learning assets, we recognized that a more consumer-like work experience was key to improving employee engagement. We also realized that consumer software is ahead of the curve regarding user experience and engagement well before the enterprise catches up. More and more employees are abandoning traditional learning approaches for informal, just-in-time learning experiences. In fact, you may be shocked to know that the two biggest learning platforms on the planet are: Google and YouTube! Employees constantly turn to these two platforms to search for and consume content relevant to their personal and work problems. This kind of informal learning is great (and we’re the first ones to encourage its use), but wouldn’t it be fantastic to serve up and track this learning approach within the LMS?

Around four years ago we realized that this was a problem in desperate need of a solution. We began work on a version of Exceed that would allow organizations to leverage any type of file or asset, including content curated from the internet, to create and supplement learning initiatives that feel more like the “bite-size” assets learners are seeking. We call this our “open asset” approach to learning, and Exceed quickly became the industry’s first “Open Asset Learning Management System.” Now, companies can bypass the restrictive courseware specifications (like SCORM and AICC) of old and create learning assets that just work. In addition, with our curation platform in place, not only admins but students can play the role of curator and share best-in-breed content obtained from across the web, for free, within the LMS. This generates a high degree of personalization to a student’s learning experience - one that can be accessed in a just-in-time environment through the devices students normally use.


Wait, What About The Newer SCORM Specs?

We’re glad you asked! SCORM 2004 was released fourteen (!) years ago and was meant to solve the main problem of sequencing and navigating through individual learning modules which were packaged together and uploaded to the LMS. However, with Exceed’s Path functionality, which allows you to combine, sequence and navigate through any type of learning activity, the incremental advantage of SCORM 2004 over SCORM 1.2 was negated. What is very interesting to us is the fact that over the last decade, the percentage of content being utilized with the SCORM 2004 spec vs. SCORM 1.2 is decreasing, from 50% in 2007, to 35% in 2011, to 25% in 2015.

Then, just five years ago, the first version of Tin Can, or the xAPI (Experience API), was released. A spiritual successor to SCORM, Tin Can mostly tries to solve the same problems our open asset approach meets head-on: the tracking of individual, informal and non-traditional learning experiences that students partake in on a daily basis. We watched a number of early-adopters struggle with Tin Can and our own detailed review in 2013 lead us to the realization that Tin Can was not an improvement. We determined that it adds layers of unnecessary complexity and cost, not the least of which is the required Learning Record Store (LRS), an additional database that must be managed and maintained alongside the LMS. In essence, addressing Tin Can would not have improved our tools; in fact, we concluded that it had the potential to diminish them. And the industry seems to agree, with Tin Can hovering around a paltry 15% adoption rate.

Will we ever change our minds about Tin Can? Perhaps, but as you can imagine we’re pretty excited about how our open asset approach has been embraced by our quickly-growing client base. But a few clients have asked about Tin Can, and we do look at every feature request, every emerging trend, and every new fad and ask ourselves whether the potential addition improves the software itself or the experience of using it. If the answer is “yes,” we will build for, incorporate and support a particular technology or approach. At the end of the day, Tin Can did not meet this standard.

The “tl;dr” version of this section is that, in a nutshell, SCORM 1.2 is like an MP3 file - it’s been around forever, everyone supports it, and it’s got sufficient functionality for the vast majority of users.


The Future Is Paved With Innovation

Our open asset LMS takes care of where you and your users are headed. The LMS auto-detects, labels and optimally displays the type of content being added. It supports rapid content creation and the development of microlearning initiatives that your users are looking for, not to mention awarding of certificates and gamification through our Level app.

Our clients can mix and match a wide variety of file types including documents, spreadsheets, presentations and PDF files, traditional E-Learning assets like SCORM or AICC-compliant courseware, and non-traditional resources like links to YouTube videos, TEDTalks or blog posts. We believe this to be a better way to curate, track and report on all types of learning content. Our decision to deliver a better solution, rather than blindly adopting “the next big thing,” is a good example of our nimble approach to emerging technologies, and it should serve us well in the coming years as we encounter the next technological hurdles on the horizon.

At Intellum, we believe engaging employees through learning requires two main things - great content and an extremely positive user experience with the learning software. If the goal is to create a learning destination that employees return to consistently to seek out opportunities for personal improvement, then developing a discoverable environment, filling it with bite-sized, informal assets on a wide range of topics, and making it accessible from any device at any time, is a solid, winning strategy, and should be for years to come.



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