Friday, February 13, 2009

Has Single-Source Publishing FINALLY Come of Age?

I remember attending my first session on “Reusable Learning Objects” back in the early 1990’s. A dear colleague and friend of mine Wayne Hodgins, the individual whom many credit with starting the learning object movement, was attempting to help us grasp the concept. To oversimplify, we were talking about a world where an Instructional Designer authored a single chunk of content, for example a set of steps to complete a task, and then reused that object, or a version of it, in multiple outputs or learning solutions. The idea was stunning, but came with many complex issues at the time. Strange terms and acronyms began to immerge such as SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model), XML (Extensible Markup Language), and Schemas. Standards boards and industry groups such as CEDMA (Computer Education Managers Association) and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) did their best to begin wrestling with the management of this emerging world and help us integrate the potential into our daily work. For some it was the beginning of an incredible journey, for others it was the beginning of years of frustration and failed projects. I don’t blame the premise or the pioneers. The complexity of the tools, design methodologies, and even the concept was what often got in the way. In the real world the skill set, resources, and bandwidth needed to be successful just wasn’t there.

Well, those days are gone! Single-Source (SS) publishing, as we call it today, has finally come of age. The new tools available today, combined with the design models and standards which have emerged, has made the dream of “authoring once, publishing too many” a reality for any learning professional. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. With the economic challenges we face today there’s never been a stronger business case for reusing the limited resources we have, in the most efficient way possible, while delivering learning in as many formats as needed. If you’ve been hesitant to migrate to this type of approach and tool, there are three fairly compelling benefits which may help to convince you otherwise:

  • If you can author in Microsoft Word™ you can author in XML: This was always one of the most mystifying part of this discipline for me. Frankly, I struggled with the early XML editors and related tools. Classifying, tagging, reusing, and relating one object to another was just too complicated. The recent SS authoring tools have incorporated editing environments which require little more than a word processing background. They also take advantage of many of the standard features used across today’s desktop applications such as embedding a graphic, applying a style sheet, and hyper linking to a website or related resource. Toolbars, wizards, and common content manipulation procedures such as “drag and drop” are now incorporated to make creating and reusing learning objects easy and efficient. All this is accomplished while the XML coding and tagging goes on in the background. The designer RARELY has to deal with this layer of complexity. The systems manage all that for them.
  • Your existing content created in other authoring tools can still be incorporated: The last thing some learning organizations need is another tool. Although SS authoring tools will let you author content from scratch, they also allow you to incorporate existing content types into your new learning publications. The following are just a sample of some of the formats which can now either be hosted by or linked to an object: AVI, WMV, SWF, PDF, HTML, Microsoft Office documents, and even lessons or topics within an e-Learning library. SS authoring should not be seen as yet another tool to be added to an already overloaded and complex set of tools, but rather it can be used to actually decrease the tools needed. This also solves the problem of giving the learner access to the right learning asset at the right time. Even though we have been publishing to the formats listed above, many of our users simply can’t find them or utilize them at the right moment of need. With SS authoring you can output one publication which can host all objects in an instructionally sound and consistent way.
  • TRUE blended learning is finally a reality! In my travels, two of my favorite questions to ask learning professionals are:

    1. How many of you have attempted to create a blended learning offering?
    2. How many of those have been successful?

    Typically I get a resounding yes to the first question and an equally resounding no to the second. The difficulty in effectively creating a blended learning solution has typically been a combination of the design and the learning assets available. Until SS came along most learning solutions created to be stand alone learning assets built in disparate tools (Captivate, Lectora, PowerPoint, MS Word, Flash, Toolbook…). The developers may have created one outline for one type of content and a different one for the next. Sometimes we purchased learning assets which wouldn’t have considered our outlines in the first place. SS authoring tools allows you reuse your learning objects across multiple outlines and outputs. This lets you tailor and format the object for the appropriate output while still maintaining a high degree of consistency across that content. It allows you to decide how much content appears in which output. This way you can create a classroom manual, a desktop electronic performance support platform, and a mobile learning tool all from the same content while only using the elements which best fit that environment. This allows you to guide a learner through a consistent blended experience based on the moment of need, not on the sometime disconnected tools which are available.

Single-source publishing has always held enormous promise, not only for performance support, but across the learning journey. But until recently, it was an option which was only available to a select few. Today that is no longer the case and it is clearly something we all need to consider as we attempt to offer cost effective, efficient, and highly impactful learning solutions for the organizations and learners we serve.

Friday, February 6, 2009

M-Learning vs. M-Support

Mobile “Support”: Is it the next generation of M-Learning?

Con and I have been watching the buzz around what our industry is calling “Mobile Learning”, or M-Learning, for quite some time with some very interesting trends emerging! I thought I’d share a few in this week’s Blog entry. Any and ALL comments are welcome!!

  • M-Learning vs. M-Support: There appears to be two disciplines emerging within this space – M-Learning, which is analogous to e-Learning on a mobile device, and M-Support which is more in line with PS. This is an important distinction to make because it has implications in both design and outcome. It also parallels many of our discussions around the 5 moments of need.M-learning is designed to meet the first two moments of need; when someone is learning for the first time or attempting to learn more. When it comes to handheld devices (more on this later) the jury is still out as to how much content a learner will tolerate on a 2.5 inch screen, BUT the early returns are promising. Many are fairly tolerant and even excited that learning can be distributed in this way. What’s yet be determined is whether or not their tolerance level will decrease once the novelty wears off. Some things to watch on the learning side are:

  • How many of our e-Learning design principles can and should transfer to the handheld environment?

  • How will the smaller footprint of a 2.5 inch screen impact the type and level of content we put on these devices?

  • How will compatibility issues in both software and mobile platform play out?

    M-Support seems best suited for the last three moments of need; when one is trying to remember or apply something, when things change, and when something goes wrong. The itch being scratched here is not one of learning new information, but rather a situation where having ACCESS to the most immediate, helpful, and current information is paramount. This is a perfect application of a mobile device. Often the learner is physically immersed in the problem they are trying to solve or about to enter into. This would be especially helpful for those in sales, field level support, or technicians where the immediate access to information is critical. The “mobile workforce” also seems predisposed to looking to these devices for this type of information, so the adoption and learning curve is reduced. For example, most of these individuals use their Blackberry to read email, to look up a contact, to check their appointments, or to surf the web for information. Extending that experience to include performance support is a natural next step. We have already had some experience in creating content around sales, tech support, and even disaster assistance and the early returns are very powerful. For many of you, this could be the entre into performance support you’ve been looking for!

  • Mobile ain’t just for phones anymore!!: Many of the early efforts around M-Learning/support have been limited to devices such as phones and mp3 players, but with the recent advances in wireless technology and broadband, laptops have become a key player in this discipline as well. We have recently seen solutions where organizations are delivering immediate web-based PS to their technicians and sales team via this level of connectivity. For many, gone are the days of needing to wait until they were back in your hotel room or near a “hot spot” to be on-line. I’m actually posting this week’s blog using my laptop while on the road and browsing via my Verizon broadband account. I know that the laptop has been touted as a mobile computing platform since its inception, BUT never has it had more potential as a performance support device then today. We now have as much access to dynamic and streaming content as we do on our phones, but with MORE screen real estate and processing power! Don’t limit your thinking to a 2.5” screen and multi-platform incompatible devices. The laptop is entering an entirely new era of connectivity and PS functionality.

  • We still need to consider the entire learning eco-system: Con and I have been throwing around a new term – the Learning ecosystem. It implies that learning is a dynamic, interdependent, living thing, and it is! You have heard us talk many times about the fact that our industry needs to see learning from every angle and as an ongoing process. The 5 moments of need reinforces this approach. The danger we see in M-Learning/support is a potential return to a myopic view of the ways in which we support our learners. It’s seen as a “vertical” or just another “add-on” to an already crowded bag of tricks. For mobile to work it needs to be seen as an integral part of the entire learning journey, or ecosystem. If it’s not brought back into the classroom, supported by the helpdesk, reinforced by line managers, and maintained to some degree by the learners themselves, its chances of reaching its full potential are in jeopardy. When considering introducing a mobile strategy (NOT just a device) please take into consideration some of the following issues:

  • How can adding M-Learning/support complement and enhance your existing learning approaches and assets?

  • Is there a single-source strategy or tool you can adopt which will make the reusability and consistency across your learning assets, from classroom to mobile, more of a reality?

  • Are you teaching the most effective use of mobile learning in the context of your other offerings?

  • How does the learner see this new learning option? Do they see it as an “add-on” or as part of a larger learning ecosystem supported and complimented by other assets?

  • What DOESN’T mobile learning provide? Are you overlooking other options, or some of the shortcomings of this modality?

  • Have you involved other stakeholders in the ecosystem in your strategy such as trainers, content developers, helpdesk professionals, and even the line managers of the learners themselves? These individuals play a critical role in the successful adoption and sustained use of these tools.

Mobile learning/Support is becoming a powerful new learning asset, but it will only reach its full potential if we each, as the learning professionals within our organizations, carefully embrace all the areas it can impact.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

New Media Elements on PS Blog

Con and I will be adding a few media elements throughout 2009 to help spread the word round PS.

Podcasts: We will be recording at least one podcast a month. This month's podcast is on "The Five Moments of Need". One of our classics:) You can download the audio file for playing either on your PC itself or an MP3 player of your choice. To download the podcast to your PC:
  1. Right-click on link below you will get a pop-up menus
  2. Select "Save Target As..." from the menu to save the file
  3. Select a destination on your PC from the "Save As..." dialogue box

    Podcast Link:

We hope this helps!! Let us know if you have any questions, AND if the podcasts are working!

Recorded Webinars: Now that we're using voice over IP (VOIP) for the audio portion of our webinars we are finally able to record them and post them here! Click on the following link to listen to this month's webinar on "Selling PS into your Organization": Hopefully the webinar will automatically start playing in the media player on your PC. If you have problems let us know!

We hope you enjoy these new addition to the Blog!

Yours in Service,

Con and Bob