Where is eLearning headed in 2013?
If you checked out our previous blog series on the Top 8 Topics in the eLearning world for 2012 (and if you haven’t you should, starting right about here), you already know where eLearning is coming from. Let’s face it, 2012 was, like most years, a year of pretty equally distributed triumphs and defeats.
Yet we are almost a full month into the new year and what do we have to show for it ,eLearning aficionados? Well, nothing yet, but that’s where you come in! What do you think will be the newest hot topics for eLearning in 2013? Are there any trends you’re dying to see come to fruition, or are you hoping some will fizzle out?
Give us your best predictions and who knows, maybe this time next year you could be heralded as the world’s foremost eLearning psychic!
LMS, LCMS, CMS, and TMS…What’s the Difference?
(First in a periodic series)
If, at this moment, you find yourself even vaguely acquainted with the world of eLearning, what I’m about to say should come as no shock to you: the eLearning community loves its acronyms.
I suppose it’s to be expected really. We live in a society where everyone and their Nana have used the term “lol” on multiple occasions. So important eLearning acronyms like LMS, LCMS, CMS, and TMS fit right in, right? Well, not so much.
Unlike “text speak” acronyms, the definitions of LMS, LCMS, CMS, and TMS cannot be found by awkwardly asking your 10-year-old niece.
But don’t lose heart! In this post, we will define the terms LMS, LCMS, CMS, and TMS.
Getting down to the definition nitty-gritty…
Learning Management System (LMS)
A LMS is a system intended to regulate and control the training process during an eLearning course. In other words, the LMS is to the learner what a teacher is to a class, guiding the learner through the content and tracking a learner’s progress in a course. The LMS also performs functions such as registering learners and tracking a course in relation to other courses. It even goes so far as to report this progress back to the course creator!
Even though it has all that to do, an LMS also can manage several courses at once with different content from a variety of sources.
Whew! Now that we’ve made it through LMS, let’s take a look at its similar sounding but very different partner-in-learning, LCMS:
Learning Content Management System (LCMS)
An LCMS is a system used for the development of eLearning course content. For our purposes, let’s think of the LCMS as a company that creates textbooks, with the textbooks being the course content in this analogy. Just like a textbook company, the LCMS’ job is to develop the content into a format suitable for the course and make necessary course updates, maintain the content, and store course content that is not currently in use. And just like a textbook company sifts through mountains of information to determine the most vital information/graphs/pictures to put in the book, so too does the LCMS. Except in the case of the LCMS, the information and pictures are known in eLearning as learning objects and content objects.
Furthermore, a LCMS has another useful feature – it can also select the learning and content objects to be used in a course based on specific learners. In fact, in its finest form, an LCMS can also choose the next learning and content object a learner should take based on how they did with the previous one. So, in an eLearning nutshell, this translates to personalized learning specific to each student. This would be the same as if a textbook company saw that a certain student grasped concepts better when illustrated diagrams were in a chapter instead of pie charts, and as a result, the textbook company used only diagrams to illustrate concepts in the remaining chapters for that specific student.
Now let’s look at the term CMS. The acronym CMS is actually used to abbreviate two different eLearning terms, which are quite different from one another.
Course Management System (CMS)
You catch a break with this CMS! Whenever you hear someone refer to a Course Management System, they’re really just referring to a Learning Management System. It’s a classic “also known as” term in the world of eLearning.
Content Management System (CMS)
This CMS won’t let you off the hook quite as easily as the last; however, it is just as important to understand. A content management system is a program that is used to create the framework needed to organize the content of a Website. What makes this CMS special is that, when used, it creates a participatory atmosphere where it is possible for many people to interact and contribute to the content.
Talent Management System (TMS)
Finally, let’s look at the Talent Management System (TMS). Sadly, we are not talking about the Jerry Maguire brand of talent management. Unlike the rest of the eLearning terms we’ve looked at, this is more of a Human Resources (HR) term. Essentially, it is software system that enables the selection and recruitment of talented employees as well as tracks their performance, their development within the company, and their training.
What is unique about the TMS is that it integrates a variety of technological services into one system, allowing an HR department to assess all angles of how well employees (also known as human capitol) are meeting the overall goals and needs of a company.
To keep with the our “tradition school” analogy, the TMS’ role is similar to that of a school’s registrar office. The registrar office at any given college or university functions to manage the students, enrollment, transcripts of grades, and student development as well as tuition payments. In other words, the registrar office exists to maintain the school’s finances and human capitol. The TMS functions similarly, managing a business’ workforce along with their training to ensure that the company’s employees are equipped with the right skills to meet its needs and goals.
“Now I know what an LMS, LCMS, CMS’, and TMS are! What next?”
Congrats! You’ve made it through the veritable minefield of eLearning acronym pitfalls, but your journey is far from over. In our next post, we will delve into what differentiates these terms from one another and what their roles actually look like in eLearning.
(Fourth in a periodic series)
The world is full of standards. There’s a standard of living, standard rules for sports, and even the bane of high school existence: standardized testing. Without standards, this crazy world we live in would fall into a state of utter chaos. Surgeons wouldn’t scrub up before surgeries, fast food restaurants could serve food that fell on the ground, and anyone could compete in the Olympics regardless of how qualified they actually were.
So what do the Olympics have to do with eLearning? Well, just like everything else, eLearning requires its own set of standards, and one of these widely used set of standards is SCORM.
SCORM: A (semi) New Hope
A long time ago (12 years ago to be exact) in what seems now to be a galaxy far, far away, the Department of Defense and the Department of Labor started the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative, also known as ADL. Among ADL’s first tasks was the development of a set of technical standards that dictate how eLearning content was to be developed and supplied to learners. You see, in the dark period before a set of specifications and standards was created, the integration of content between different Learning Management Systems (LMS) was nigh impossible. Enter SCORM – the set of standards that proved to be to LMS integration problems what the rebel alliance was to the death star.
SCORM, which stands for Shareable Content Objects Reference Model, wasn’t the first attempt at a set of standards for eLearning content and LMS’ integration. However, it took some of the better aspects of earlier sets of regulations, combining them along with its own, more specific, technical guidelines to create the SCORM standard that is still widely used today. SCORM has had several updates along the way…
The very first version of SCORM. Like many first tries, it had its share of problems, including spotty integration between systems. As a result, it has never been widely used.
Shortly after SCORM 1.1 was released, SCORM 1.2 debuted as the first fully functioning version of SCORM. It was, and still is, widely used, because it enables learners to easily access SCORM conformant courses via a variety of SCORM conformant LMS’. Also, Version 1.2 introduced more specific standards for SCORM conformance. This includes regulations for how content should be packaged, how the learner’s progress is shared with the course host, how the course content should operate at different levels.
SCORM 2004 is the most current version of SCORM based on new API standards, and is an improvement on 1.2 because its standards are more clear-cut in order to reduce issues. Adding to the more specific regulations introduced in SCORM 1.2, the 2004 version introduced new technical regulations. These new regulations are technical guidelines for the format of the LMS, so that no matter what LMS the learner uses to access a course, the course will look and act the same way. There have been four editions of SCORM 2004, the most recent of which was instituted in 2009.
So why this SCORM history lesson, with a dash of Star Wars analogy? Because it is important to see where it began to fully understand why we use it and why it is necessary today.
(Third in a Periodic Series)
So at this point in our SCORM journey, you may be asking yourself, “Alright, so why does any of this matter?”
The reality is that, in the world of eLearning, SCORM is pretty important! SCORM is to eLearning what the Back to the Future flux capacitor is to Doc Brown’s DeLorean. Without it, things start to get hairy faster than you can say, “Great scott!”
In this post, we will be diving deeper into why SCORM is so important.
Why is SCORM important?
By now you know SCORM is a household name in the eLearning world. SCORM shows how an eLearning course should be written so that it opens in an LMS. SCORM also defines how a course and a Learning Management System (LMS) should communicate with each other.
What does all that mean?
In order for a learner to access a course in an LMS, the course has to describe itself, so to speak, in a very specific way so that the LMS can access it and a line of communication can be established. This is where SCORM comes in. Think of this basic course description as the key for opening communication between the course and the LMS. Unless the course “key” is made according to SCORM standards, it isn’t going to be able to open the door for communication between the LMS and the course.
Furthermore, once that door to communication is opened, there still needs to be rules for dictating how that communication takes place. For example, let’s say you had a pen pal in Timbuktu. If you sent your pen pal letters and your pen pal sent you telegraphs, you would never reply to each other since you hadn’t established a standard for the method of communication you would each use. What you would have there is a failure to communicate.
The same goes for communication between the courses and LMS’. Without a standard dictating how courses and LMS’ should converse and what information they should share, it would be very difficult for any information to pass between them. SCORM is important because it is that necessary standard, and it makes communication between LMS’ and courses possible and simple.
Uh, huh. So why else is SCORM important?
So now you know some of the technical reasons SCORM is used in eLearning. So why is it important in a practical sense?
Well, the eLearning world is a bit like the world of ballroom dancing (bear with me here). At a ballroom dancing competition, there are at least ten couples on the floor at any given time that are performing the waltz for a panel of judges. To get onto the floor, the couples have to know the basic steps on the waltz. Once they know that, they can wear whatever color costume they want and add their own flourishes to showcase their skills, as long as their steps still conform to waltz standards.
The same can be said for the importance of SCORM in eLearning. There are so many different courses and LMS’ on the eLearning dance floor that a universal standard is necessary for creating and running them. One universal standard is SCORM, and without it in many cases, the show cannot go on.
Is that all?
No not quite, now that you know why SCORM is important, you probably are wondering where it came from. Our next post will look at the history of SCORM and how it came to be so important.
(Second in a Periodic Series)
In the previous blog post, we defined SCORM as a set of standards and regulations for developing eLearning courses and LMS’. “So that’s it, right?” you may be thinking. “Definition complete?”
Well, not exactly. It’s also helpful to take a look at what SCORM is not.
In this post we’re going to do just that, completing our picture of what SCORM is by exploring what it isn’t.
Let’s start by looking at a couple of examples of what SCORM is not:
SCORM is not a computer language for writing content, like HTML. With SCORM, the coding that is used to write the content from a technical standpoint doesn’t matter, as long it meets SCORM standards. Remember, SCORM is a set of standards for eLearning conformity, not a language that eLearning companies use to write their content. Therefore, the content for eLearning courses can be written any way the creator chooses as long the course works with SCORM standards. Not so for content made for web browsers, which, if not written in the computer language, cannot be accessed.
SCORM is not a computer program. Unlike Microsoft Word or Excel, you cannot simply “pull-up” a SCORM computer program to write SCORM conformant content. Similarly you cannot open up a SCORM program to read SCORM conformant content that has been sent to you. SCORM is (say it with me) the set of standards by which eLearning content is packaged. It therefore cannot be, and is not, any specific computer program for writing or accessing eLearning content.
Now, let’s tie in what SCORM is not with what it is.
SCORM is a bit like the standard for building a baseball diamond. In order to build a baseball diamond that any major league team could play on, you have to follow a very specific set of layout and construction standards. For instance, the pitching mound has the be a circle that’s 18 ft. in diameter, the home plate area has to be 26 ft, and there has to be 90 ft. between each of the bases.
But just setting standards doesn’t create a baseball field out of thin air. I mean, you wouldn’t go out there and start ripping pages out of the construction manual and laying them out the form home plate would you? I should hope not. The standards are just the guidelines by which a diamond is built, not the building materials with which it is made.In the same way, SCORM is simply the set of standards by which eLearning courses and LMS’ are built, not the language used to build them.
Also, similarly to how SCORM is not a computer program, you aren’t going to go out into a field with your baseball diamond construction manual and say, “Alright manual, let’s play ball!” and expect it to magically open up into a baseball diamond. No way, José Canseco!
Baseball diamond standards and SCORM are both (once more with feeling) sets of standards and regulations for building.
So what next?
There you have it, SCORM, defined both by what it is and what it is not. The question you must be asking yourself right now is, “Great, so why is SCORM important anyways?” Our next post will look to answer this question.
First in a periodic series
In the world of eLearning, you can’t get too far without having a basic knowledge of SCORM. By avoiding this crucial piece of eLearning info, you would fall victim to one of the classic blunders- the most famous of which is “never get involved in land war in Asia.”
In other words, to get to know eLearning you’re going to have to cozy up to it’s somewhat confusing but well-known friend, SCORM. In the four part “Back to Basics: SCORM Unscrambled” series to follow, we will introduce you to SCORM and explain what it is not, why it is important, and where it came from.
In this post we will be defining what SCORM is, and what it means to be SCORM conformant.
“So, um, what is SCORM exactly?”
SCORM, meaning Shareable Content Objects Reference Model, is set of technical standards and regulations for eLearning. Put simply, it is a question that most people who use eLearning face…is the course SCORM conformant? In order for eLearning to be possible, two vital software components are needed, the course content (what the student is learning) and the Learning Management System, or LMS (how it’s being delivered). The LMS’ job is not only to deliver the course content but also to keep track of how the student is doing (quiz scores, time spent in the program, etc) and keep a record of the student’s development. SCORM functions as a means of standardizing both of these components to make communication between them run smoothly. Therefore, any SCORM conformant course will be able to work with any SCORM conformant LMS. There’s a common denominator.
Now, a key piece to SCORM is to understand that the standards it lays out are technical standards about how the content is packaged and delivered, not the content itself. This means that two different eLearning courses can look completely different from one another and have different content, but as long as they follow SCORM standards and regulations, both are SCORM conformant and can work on the same SCORM conformant LMS.
Whew, that was a bit of a jargon heavy mouthful, wasn’t it? Let’s break it down with an analogy.
Let’s say that SCORM standards are like standards for bicycles. Our old friend, the Merriam Webster dictionary, defines a bicycle as, “a vehicle with two wheels tandem, handlebars for steering, a saddle seat, and pedals by which it is propelled.” There you have it, as long as a bicycle has each of those specifications (i.e. pedals, a seat, two wheels, and handlebars), it is officially considered a bicycle.
Does this mean that all bicycles will look the same? Far from it, these are simply the specifications for what a bicycle should have, not what it should look like. For instance, here are just a few of the many different bicycles, past and present, that have come out of the human imagination.
The bicycle on the left looks like it rolled straight out of 1863 (which it in fact did), the bicycle at the end is Lance Armstrong’s bike, and the bicycle in the middle is a bike you could probably pick up at any neighborhood bike shop. Even though all of these bicycles have different wheel sizes, different styles of handlebars, and are different colors they are all still considered bicycles since they all conform to the standard of what a bicycle is.
SCORM operates similarly, as long as the LMS and course are SCORM conformant, the content can look however the creator wants it to look. To put it another way even though there are standards, there is still some wiggle room for what the content can look like and operate like.
So now that you know what SCORM is, what’s next? Is your eLearning “Back to Basics” crash course at its end? Nope, we’ve still got three more parts and whole lot more SCORM headed your way. Our next post will go beyond the question of simply “What is SCORM?” and define it more clearly by what it is not.
As we look to mLearning, we cannot ignore the two elephants in the room, one of them being the massive investments that companies have made in their Learning Management Systems and the second one being those pesky desktops. Unless the LMS providers enable efficient, secure, and well thought-out mobile access to the content or catalogs and unless we can address the existing desktop orientation for eLearning, large-scale mLearning adoption is squelched.
Recognizing this, LMS vendors lately have been adding mobile access features, which is fine for new LMS implementations. However, we know many organizations are either behind or way behind in the LMS upgrade path and simply have no way to let users login to the LMS via their mobile device.
It is understandable why organizations fall behind in their LMS upgrades. In one sample case, a customer of ours started to do an LMS upgrade but the new LMS version required a database upgrade. Upon investigation, the database upgrade required a hardware upgrade. Needless to say, this is quite a long and costly process for them and is certainly delaying mLearning support.
LMS technology aside, many organizations require a VPN access to their infrastructure. In this case, depending on the mobile device being used and its ability to connect, it either does not work (e.g. the devices does not support VPN access) or is very cumbersome. In either case, issues from minimal LMS support to simple connectivity matters inhibit mLearning.
Point: If you can’t get to or launch the content from your mobile device, mLearning is stifled.
What about desktops?
Most of the organizations we work with are budget conscious and are searching for ways to reduce expenses. The notion of implementing a “net new” learning delivery technology (e.g. mobile) that does not work in the desktop environment is a no-go. The simple fact is that Mobile Learning is/will be held back if it requires organizations to double or triple their content development efforts.
Why won’t a mobile course work on the desktop? Consider that, as of this post, Internet Explorer 6, 7, and 8 has about 35% of the desktop market share and that these versions of IE basically do not support HTML5 (the language used for building mobile ready courses). Given this, even a simple mobile course that has a video on it just won’t work on the desktop that uses IE 6, 7, or 8.
Browser Market share
Adding to this issue, we face the reality that moving beyond IE8 requires a move to the Windows 7 Operating System, and there is no indication that Microsoft is going to “back port” HTML5 support to XP-based machines. Currently, XP has 47% of the desktop market share, meaning that until organizations make significant inroads into changing their operating systems, mobile will be hampered unless it has a desktop component.
Desktop Market share:
Compounding this desktop dilemma, most mobile solutions out there have people creating content using “device templates”. Using this device template approach, authors build content using fixed screen sizes (e.g. “size your buttons for use on a phone”) for the learning. So, even if the course somehow dodges the IE/HTML5 issue, who wants to take a 300×240 course on a 1680×1150 screen?
Enabling a “new learning modality” such as mobile learning is great, but for large scale or enterprise deployment, failure to address the realities of the desktop world certainly inhibits embracing a new paradigm.
While CourseAvenue cannot upgrade people’s current LMS’s, desktop operating, or dictate a specific corporate standard for a browser, we can help by providing a “light LMS” for mobile delivery and, most importantly, for the ability to publish one course that will support both desktop and mobile browsers simultaneously.
We cannot ignore the existence of the LMS and desktop orientation. Therefore, to capitalize on mLearning, we need to accommodate it on all devices.