Let Go Through BPO For ELearning

Let Go Through BPO for eLearning

BPO: Managing Services & Association eLearning

Associations love their members. Members love professional development opportunities. So, associations strive to provide those opportunities to their members. Sounds like a match made in heaven!

However, many associations are starting to recognize that while members are central to their functions, the deployment of professional development is not an association’s core business. This is particularly true for learning provided over the Internet. As such, associations are beginning to look outside their own organization for help with service management, or outsourcing the business process (BPO).

Companies such as Accenture, GP Strategies and Web Courseworks offer external consulting and implementation solutions to businesses with needs ranging from IT services, training, and recruitment. These companies help other organizations maximize processes in terms of efficiency and quality.

How does that work for associations?

Essentially, an association identifies a need that it lacks the expertise to fulfill in various ways. Let’s say they need to deliver eLearning to thousands of members. So, the association hires experts to provide the services to fill that need.  The key change is that associations are looking to hire external services for managing these processes rather than relying completely on internal resources.

This is BPO at work.  It allows companies and associations to “let go” of frustrating issues and organizational headaches and instead focus on more important matters such as marketing, building your brand, and growing revenue.

What service management needs might an association “outsource” for eLearning?

As noted previously, it is not the central function of an association to deliver online professional development. This is, instead, one of many services they provide to their members.  Many processes go into providing that service, processes that should not cause an association’s time or resources to spiral out of control. Which processes of eLearning, therefore, can and should be handed off to the experts to worry about?

The education side of professional development has always been relatively easy for associations to tackle. However, due to the explosion of eLearning in the past 15 years, education staff members need to have new areas of expertise, particularly in IT-related processes.

SCORM, Flash, HTML5, 508 compliance, etc… The rapid pace of change and innovation for eLearning is making the lack of synergy between education expertise and IT expertise more apparent. This is problematic for associations hoping to successfully and effectively provide quality online learning for their members while minimizing hiring costs and interdepartmental issues.

More associations will consider utilizing BPO to maximize their eLearning and IT processes in a variety of ways. Don’t think about it as giving up cold turkey on an entire eLearning, training, or support department. At its extreme, yes, an association could go that route. Most of the time, however, it would be more likely that management will strike a balance upon determining which functions and responsibilities should remain more internal and to what degree others can be transferred to or shared with highly capable external teams.

Examples of typical processes that can be successfully managed and streamlined by BPO.

An association with eLearning needs, for example, can hire an external company to administer a variety of functions necessary to create, host, deliver, and/or assess the eLearning and the systems that enable those processes. For instance, the external company takes over administration of the association’s learning management system. Compare this to the association itself spending months and money to find a qualified team who satisfy both the educational understanding and IT expertise needed for the job. The BPO company would still work with the association to ensure their needs for the system are met, and the association focuses on more important aspects like their brand and relationship with members. This is what we like to call a win-win situation!

Ranging from simple to more complex, these needs may include:

  • Hosting software (SAAS)
  • LMS administration
  • Support/help desk
  • Content management
  • Project management
  • Subject matter expertise
  • Live training workshops

What makes an association an ideal candidate for using BPO with eLearning?

In general, associations looking to minimize expenses and maximize revenue would benefit from considering this method of managing their services. However, the decision also depends on the capabilities of any departments involved, as well as the availability of resources to be able to make that success happen.

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Tin Can – Sorting Through The Junk

Tin Can – Sorting Through the Junk

An Internet Resources Review

There are a lot of exciting things happening with Experience API this year, making our prediction for 2013 starting to potentially ring true—this new open source standard for eLearning interoperability is certainly gaining steam. Colloquially known as Tin Can, the standard makes big promises for the mobility and flexibility of data gathering and analysis. With those big promises, however, come big challenges.

What is lying underneath the fluff and sparkle of Tin Can’s promises? What is noteworthy in terms of achievements so far, and what is still floating around with no answers yet? We dove head-first into the “junk”—the vast array of resources and reviews—looking for treasures. The search yielded some great up-to-date information along with lingering concerns about Tin Can.

What is Experience API (Tin Can) hoping to do?

Mainly, it hopes to appeal to the eLearning masses by offering a simpler, cleaner, and more thorough record of learning activities, both formal and informal. SCORM—Tin Can’s parent standard—still reigns as the widely-used standard for publishing and sharing online educational content. However, Tin Can offers the opportunity to do more, and to do it better as well:

  • better portability for content and data
  • better analytics of a user’s learning experiences
  • more mobile and offline access for learning
  • more tracking of real-world activities
  • recording formal learning activity and informal learning activity

Due to these promises, Tin Can has gained attention from eLearning providers and application companies. Rustici Software helped coordinate programming efforts and compliance for the standard’s code. The company’s President, Mike Rustici, has high hopes for Tin Can’s potential to support “K-12, teachers, mobile developers, web developers, universities, government, education technology, MOOCs, games, and an array of real-world use cases we can’t even imagine yet.”

As it is still a relatively new standard, however, it is still a long way from having the sheer amount and variety of adopters that SCORM has. Tin Can’s promises may be challenging to deliver this early in the process. Currently, some questions remain about Tin Can’s implementation and the implications it has for eLearning.

Why revisit this now?

Almost a year ago, Web Courseworks CEO Jon Aleckson interviewed Michael Rochelle of Brandon Hall and Aaron Silvers of ADL about their excitement towards Experience API/Tin Can. The news of an emerging standard that could improve and surprass SCORM functionality was intriguing to us as an eLearning company. However, at the start of 2013, our team was split on how effective Tin Can would be in delivering on its promises while balancing the costs of implementation.

Version 1.0 was officially released this past April, an exciting landmark for the early adopters who were involved in implementing the early codes and sharing their experiences. The Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative (ADL), Rustici Software, and a host of contributors from the eLearning community all played an integral role in producing, tweaking, and testing the new standard. This year has brought more examples and information to light due to the efforts of early adopters, but many questions still remain that will be important for programmers, eLearning managers, and others to consider.

Here are four questions that help us get a picture of where things are at for the Experience API/Tin Can standard. Looking through current online literature and videos on Tin Can, the answers seem to be bubbling right below the surface. As adoption of the new standard continues, hopefully more information about these questions will be shared.


How will Tin Can change learning design?

Since Tin Can’s goals support multiple formats of learning, how will best practices for eLearning instructional design be impacted? Epic Learning Group, an early adopter of Tin Can, believes that instructional designers will be free to “think creatively outside of what was previously possible with SCORM.” In theory, that does sound pretty great! There are some underlying questions that need to still be considered in terms of learning design.

One way to consider current learning design principles for eLearning.

“Real-world activities” can be tracked with Tin Can, which may lessen the amount of control an eLearning team will have over the design of the activity environment. Will internal learning design be drastically changed if most activities are external? For example, a content writer/designer may need to focus more on how to lead learners to different external resources and then back again to the module, rather than focusing on how to incorporate content into the module. This could include directing the user out to YouTube to watch a video, and tracking the user’s interactions on YouTube itself to view similar videos before the user returns to the content package. Additionally, the eLearning team has no control over how content is displayed on YouTube or any other external source. How will that impact the design of eLearning modules?

YouTube videos are a popular example of how Tin Can could track informal learning activities. However, efforts to “Tin Cannify” external content platforms such as YouTube are still underway in terms of coding and implementing. This reveals another challenge that could affect learning design—as well as programming efforts. At the very least, this may require the relationship between programmers and the instructional design team to change. Supporting this, eLearning enthusiasts David Kelly and Kevin Thorn note that most of the discussions so far on Tin Can are very technical still. They question, “If the Experience API is the future of learning and performance, and it requires the ability to actually write code, how does it impact the vast majority of instructional designers who do not have coding skills?”

In a broader sense, some questions have been raised about the emphasis of tracking gaining precedence over the emphasis on learning. Learning design should focus on the needs of the audience, rather than the needs of data collecting. Will Tin Can strike that magical balance between the two? Are we “obsessing over the ability to track everything we learn,” as eLearning blogger Mark Aberdour asks, or will this truly lead to a “future of personalised, adaptive, just-in-time learning” as promised?

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How To Make Your Own MOOC! (Well…quasi-MOOC)

How to make your own MOOC! (Well…quasi-MOOC)

Recently, we’ve been getting inquiries from associations and corporations interested in having their own MOOC. Unfortunately, you can’t have a MOOC. Sorry. End of blog post.

Why not, you ask? I guess I’d better explain myself.

The barrier is not technology–we (and many of our competitors) have the software and infrastructure to support a MOOC right now. The problem is that you don’t have the brand to draw a truly massive number of learners, and that critical mass is required to make MOOCs work.

But there is good news!  You can create a MOOC-like experience–a “quasi-MOOC.” Below, I’ll explain why massive numbers are essential to making MOOCs work, then offer five simple tips for creating a quasi-MOOC that gives almost the same experience to your learners–even if they don’t number in the tens of thousands.

MOOCs, Mass, and Social Learning

Let’s start with definitions. The term MOOC (coined by Dave Cormier) stands for massive open online course. So, it’s a course, it’s online, and it’s open–free to anyone with an Internet connection. But why is the “massive” part so important?

Massive is a borrowing from techie precedents like MMORPG (massively multiplayer online roleplaying game, like World of Warcraft). It means this open online course is big, of course, but it also implies that the mass is simultaneous: tens-of-thousands-of-learners big, with everyone working on the same content at the same time. Without that, it’s not a MOOC. The educational experience does not work the same way without those tens of thousands of “multiplaying” users.

A MOOC works by substituting its gigantic online community of learners for traditional student-instructor interaction. As the New York Times (among others) has noted, a MOOC instructor cannot answer all the questions generated by students. Instead, students jump onto the discussion forums or other social tools to put their questions to the user community. If the MOOC really is massive–think of those thousands of students all working on the same assignments–then it’s virtually guaranteed that someone else has already asked a student’s question, and that another person has taken the time to give a helpful answer. Just as quickly as you could get a personalized answer by raising your hand in class, you get the answer by typing it into a search box. It just comes from another student instead of the instructor.

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