e-learning demystifiedThere is no doubt that technology has been growing at an extremely steep curve. Just consider mobile devices. Not only is there more variety in the type of smartphones or tablets available today, they have more functionality than they did some five years ago. With this expanding tool set, BYOD (bring your own device) likely needs to be a part of any comprehensive learning strategy. 

But many obstacles impede the addition of BYOD to most learning strategies. For starters, if you work in a mid-sized or large enterprise learning and development ecosystem, you know that few commercial, off-the-shelf authoring tools or learning management systems (LMSs) are able to support BYOD. More importantly, there is no base user experience (UX) for delivering interactive multimedia instruction on smart mobile devices. 

3 Levels of Online Instruction 

Interactive online learning typically breaks down into three basic categories. Level 1 is the most simple—and familiar—offering (Think: PowerPoint). Level 2 has a little more interactivity, including tools like menus and polls. Level 3 offers a full spectrum of interaction: drag-and-drop activities, animation, games, sequencing, assessments, scoring, certificate generation, and so forth. It’s time for the L&D community to set the bar at Level 3. But how do we translate good UX to advancing technology options like BYOD? 

What’s more, the reports generated by these three levels of learning experiences offer little guidance for instructional designers and course developers. Most reports typically focus on completion rates, scores, and maybe a handful of interaction statements. Again, let’s set the bar higher and demand finite learner interaction reporting. This begs the question, how do we generate this type of elevated reporting from learning available on any device? 

Bottom line: The developing learning ecosystem has a lot of moving parts, but three issues are perennial stumbling blocks. Here’s a closer look at each challenge and some potential solutions based on the success achieved at Riptide. 

Display Highly Interactive Learning Content on Any Device 

As we all know, PC and mobile operating systems are very different from each other. To date, a technology solution has not emerged that will enable developers to write once and compile everywhere—to both PC and mobile devices. 

Consider this: Since the iPad hit the consumer market in 2010, there seems to have been a persistent “hope” for a magic bullet to also hit the market that will convert the many cool engaging Flash-based modules to a format that is readily available on mobile devices. It hasn’t happened yet—and I think holding out hope is debilitating to advancing the L&D industry. Minus the magic bullet, we need more developers with the skill sets to build engaging mobile user experiences. Although Flash web developers may be able to make the jump to HTML5 web development, expecting them to be native-language OS developers as well can turn into a major human resource challenge. 

Another issue plaguing the industry’s ability to serve up learning in any format is the level of complexity required to maintain separate code bases. In other words, to accommodate different delivery options, you will need different versions of each course title for each OS. Doing this will create a high technical debt with accumulating interest. No doubt, the need for a web developer to play a part in creating stellar user experiences (Level 3) is not going away. The best we can do, therefore, is put together a rapid and flexible production framework. 

Here’s the good news: nearly all mobile devices are equipped with web browsers, making the move to HTML5 a little easier. In fact, the mobile industry has been a great steward of HTML5, which has reached the point where you can deliver a user experience comparable to Flash. I am starting to see a path through HTML5 to native mobile. For instance, a growing number of mobile operating systems follow the “web view” development concept. This “web view” will enable learning developers to create an app that in essence is an HTML5 web application, but to the user is simply an app like any other.  

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Proper Hosting and Delivery Mechanism of Learning Content 

Hosting and delivery of mobile content strikes fear into the heart of many LMS managers. Indeed, in our interconnected mobile world, the capability to GET media on the device is as important as the device’s ability to view or play that content. Think of it this way: For a Level 3 learning experience, you need to use the same kind of technology stack and content delivery network that Netflix uses to deliver HD movies to all devices. 

However, the legacy LMS model assumes constant connectivity to the user (or client), but that is just not the way the world works today. Reporting standards like SCORM and AICC hold information about a specific learning session in the browser. At Riptide, we employ a three-tier caching strategy for our BYOD courseware. This means that the session is not handled by the client side only. Instead, the client, device, and server “holds” the connection and delivery of the learning. Simply put, the installed LMS is not the way to deliver BYOD learning. Some LMS’s have moved to limited cloud and content delivery network capabilities, but that alone does not provide a comprehensive solution. 

Meanwhile, other organizations are adding microlearning to its BYOD offering—to make smaller HTML5 learning pieces more palatable. But what if that is not an option? What if, like one project at Riptide, you have a mandated two-hour harassment and discrimination course that includes audio, video, drag-and-drop activities, and so forth? In this sort of instance, you need a single page application (SPA) that considers the resources of the learner’s device and browser, which is only thinking about a few pages of content at a time, but still allows the user to navigate the table of contents. 

The bottom line is that the proper solution does not simply compress and load onto an LMS. Fortunately, most LMSs support third-party hosted content and integrations for reporting. In addition, they are fully aware of the problems highlighted in this blog. In fact, Riptide is working with a growing list of proprietary LMSs on backward-compatible (SCORM/AICC) integrations. 

Accurate Experience Reporting to Verify Competency 

Learning managers, instructional designers, and training facilitators need complete and accurate data. That includes the elimination of false negatives and a decrease in data loss. A false negative is when your learner completes training and prints the certificate, but the LMS keeps reminding them to take the training. Also, in legacy LMS standards, the learning interaction data that is being held in the browser session is often lost. Why does this happen? In my opinion, the legacy LMS technology supporting SCORM/AICC takes more of a “fire and forget” approach to reporting, rather than a proper “hand-off” of data. This leads to a higher percentage of false negatives. 

In short, the entire industry needs something like xAPI if we are going to progress into adaptive learning, competency-based learning, and so forth. (For more on xAPI see “The Enterprise Learning Ecosystem Demystified: Part I.”) More importantly, it’s time to focus on the practical application of xAPI—the engineering rather than science and theory. That’s what we do at Riptide. So, during an average 30-minute Level 3 learning solution, a single learner can generate 1,500 to 3,000 interaction statements, and we do not experience data loss. Compare that to your legacy reporting in which you are only asking for five SCORM statements and 14 percent of your learner population is showing false negatives. In closing, with the proper API, you can continue to use your LMSs. You should probably stop waiting for your LMS to solve your BYOD problem, though. 

To delve deeper into these issues, check out the recording of the February 17 webinar Demystify the Enterprise Learning Ecosystem