Challenges to implementing SCORM courses

Implementing any technology effectively requires knowledge and flawless execution. As I mentioned in my previous SCORM post, the SCORM standard is not a silver bullet. Don’t get me wrong it is a massive step towards standardizing content that is deployed over the internet and we shouldn’t take away from it. Having said that, the development and implementation of SCORM content still requires detailed planning, knowledge and in some cases effective problem solving steps. Before I proceed, let me make it clear that many of the issues and challenges that I will highlight over the next couple of weeks are not directly related to the SCORM standard, but rather they are implementation challenges.

This discussion is not intended to necessarily critique the SCORM standard per se, but rather I want to demonstrate that having a SCORM conformant course doesn’t mean that you (the customer or developer) won’t have any issues in terms of deployment and continued support. Many people think that all you need is a SCORM conformant course and then you won’t have any issues. I’m sorry to break it to them, but they overlook the fact that technology can’t be implemented in a vacuum. Technology lives in the real world with people. Technology has to deal with organizational politics, limited resources and in some cases incompetent people. Pardon the personification of technology, but my point is that technology is developed by people who interact with other people and as we know, people are far from perfect. This means that even if you have a perfect technology standard (which SCORM isn’t at this stage) you are still going to have issues.

Let’s start with the most important part of the SCORM standard, which is the fact that it is a standard not a mandate. The SCORM standard is a basic road map to developing content that allows the developer a massive amount of freedom. This is not a critique of the standard as it would be impossible and unrealistic to force developers to follow very stringent rules. SCORM outlines the way a course interacts with a SCORM conformant learning management system (LMS). The course can send information to the LMS and it can also pull information from the LMS based on standard SCORM CMI scripts. Wow, I hear you say that is great. Yes it is, but SCORM does not dictate what type of application your course is developed in. You could have a SCORM conformant course that does not work on your user’s computers. You’re probably asking yourself whether that is really possible. Surely having a SCORM conformant course means that it will work on my SCORM conformant LMS, right?

Again, let me make it clear that the issue is not directly related with the SCORM standards itself. The standard is great but it does not define or control the context in which the content will be implemented. Let’s go back to you having a SCORM conformant course that doesn’t work on your SCORM conformant LMS. How could this possibly be the case? Well, as I mentioned SCORM doesn’t dictate the deployment program, so in many organizations the actual course application requires a particular software application to function correctly. Examples of applications that are commonly used for deploying eLearning courses that require a software download would be Shockwave, Flash and Authorware. In addition most proprietary software applications require a download to work correctly.

It is true that Flash is now native in most current web browsers and users don’t need to download the Flash plugin. However, many large organizations are still using older versions of the browsers that still require the flash plugin download. So the first wrinkle in the SCORM standard is the interaction between the application and the LMS. You could run into a situation where the developers used all the correct scripting to launch the course but users can’t launch the course due to a down load issue. The natural response to this issue is to blame the course, when in reality the issue is a result of the larger corporate infrastructure. In many large organizations users don’t have administrative rights to their machines, so downloading even a simple plugin may be a challenge.

Over the next couple of weeks I will share some more ideas on deploying content using the SCORM standard and other areas where you may run into trouble. If you find this discussion useful I would sincerely appreciate your comments. Hopefully you will share your eLearning experiences with me as I am sure you have had other issues/challenges that I may not cover.

I wish you and your family a happy and relaxing holiday season!

Effective blogging

I have been having a very thought provoking and interesting conversation with some experienced blogging folks at Tony Karrer's informative blog. I would definitely recommend that you check out Tony's blog which he describes as a blog that covers "trends in eLearning and more broadly the use of technology that aims to improve human performance".

So the
discussion that I have been having relates to the use of blogs and more specifically what type of content should/could be covered in blogs. The responses that I got were interesting and some times a little heated, but none the less posted with good intentions. These discussions have been enlightening to someone who is admittedly new to blogging. My intention was to get some insightful feedback on what it means to blog effectively and to this end I feel I have been extremely successful. I would appreciate any more thoughts on what you think a good blog is and please provide some examples and links to thought provoking/engaging blogs.


Blogs: Engaging the reader

Hi Tony,

Thanks for the comments. Upon reflection I think my comments on the top 19 eLearning blogs reflect the fact that blogs are still very new and much like the early websites many people are trying to figure out what the structure of a good blog should be and what content should be presented. Both of these (structure and content) are obviously very subjective and based on the objectives of the blogger.

In my case I have tried to focus on very substantive issues related to eLearning that I think people would find useful. At the moment my focus is on trying to share some of the common mistakes and misperceptions about eLearning. I started my discussion with the issue of risk and I am now moving onto the SCORM standard. Both of these discussions are focused primarily on how risk and SCORM are perceived in relation to the eLearning industry. My objectives are to demystify eLearning and to share some of my lessons learnt with customers/potential customers and developers.

I think the main challenge with blogs is to make them entertaining while at the same time sharing something that may be beneficial to a participant in the eLearning industry. A second challenge is to get people to participate in your blog. So, how to do share your thoughts/lessons learnt without seeming to be the expert (which I am clearly not). Coming across as an expert may intimidate people, lessing the chances of them responding to your blog posts. By the way, you have had great success overcoming this obstacle based on the many responses that you have got on your entertaining and educational blog.

I digress. In response to your question as to what should be discussed in blogs I would say it is very subjective and it depends on the audience that you are trying to attract. I have noticed that many of the current corporate/business blogs try to cover all the bases i.e. covering news, books, tools, articles, best practices, personal news etc. Sometimes this comes across as a little disorganized and it is hard to filter through all the information to get to the meat. Although I like the idea of a blog, I am not sure that it will be that helpful to people unless there is some sort of structure. A collection of unassociated thoughts and ideas is great if you have a lot of time to filter through the posts, but most people don’t have the time to do this. I guess my struggle at the moment is to come to grips with the blogging format and trying to decide what value I can provide to my audience. The ultimate value of a blog is to get people to engage with you and to share their ideas, rather than it being a static medium. I would love to have your thoughts on how you managed to achieve this.


Top 19 eLearning blogs

I had a look at some of the top 19 eLearning blogs as identified by Gabe Anderson. This is a great starting point for identifying great eLearning blogs and many of the blogs are TOP notch. However, I must say that a few of them didn’t impress me. I guess this may be because I am new to blogging and maybe I don’t have the basics down yet. What I found were references to other prominent people in the industry, rather than substantive discussions about important topics in the eLearning industry. In addition, many of the blogs promoted products and tools either by the company or other related companies. Some of the blogs looked like a random collection of ideas, rather than a discussion around a particular topic. Again, I am new to blogging and I am admittedly not connected to the big dogs of the eLearning industry, so I may be missing the larger context as an ‘outsider’. In my opinion, blogs are about sharing best practices, lessons learnt and learning from others.

Having said that, I do think that my observations highlight an interesting dynamic i.e. the thin line between entertainment and learning content. Admittedly the two can overlap, but in some cases that is not the case. Do people want to read entertaining ‘fluff’ blogs or are they looking for substantive discussions regarding the industry? In some cases they may be looking for both and many of the top 19 cater to that very well. Another interesting dynamic that is evident in the use of blogs is the blurred line between the personal and the business environments. This begs the question of how much time you spend in the blog describing yourself and your personal life, rather than sharing information that is relevant to your audience. Again, your personal life may be of more interest when you are a big dog in an industry, rather than a smaller guy. Your thoughts?


SCORM: The basics

Understanding the basics about SCORM is essential to both the eLearning development community as well as for customers who would like to deploy content on a learning management system (LMS). I will start off with a quick overview of SCORM and then I will touch on some of the challenges of developing and implementing the SCORM standard over the next couple of weeks.

Ok, so let’s start with the basics. SCORM stands for Sharable Content Object Reference Model. In essence SCORM is a suite of technical standards developed by the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) as an initiative to develop common specifications and standards for technology-based learning deployed over the internet. These standards enable web-based learning and content management systems to find, import, share, reuse, and export learning content in a consistent manner. In addition, using the SCORM standard allows user tracking and reports to be generated based on learning objectives. Essentially, SCORM standardized the method of communication between eLearning courses and SCORM conformant learning and content management systems.

SCORM currently includes the following ‘elements’:
1) An Application Programming Interface (API) for communicating information about a learner’s interaction with content objects.
2) A defined data model for representing this information.
3) A content packaging specification that enables interoperability of learning content.
4) A standard set of metadata elements that can be used to describe learning content and a set of standard sequencing rules which can be applied to the organization of the learning content.

The objectives of developing SCORM can be summarized by six key words namely Accessibility, Adaptability, Affordability, Durability, Interoperability and Reusability. Let’s touch on these five concepts as they relate to the SCORM standard really quickly.

1) Accessibility -eLearning content should be easy to find based on the classification of the content. Users should be able to locate and access instructional components from one remote location and deliver to other locations.
2) Adaptability -The ability to tailor instruction to individual and organizational needs. Content managers should be able to add new content without much effort or excessive cost.
3) Affordability - The ability to increase efficiency and productivity by reducing the time and costs involved in delivering instructional content.
4) Durability - eLearning content should be durable, regardless of changes or evolutions in technology. This means that new content should be added to existing content without costly redesign, reconfiguration or recoding.
5) Interoperability - SCORM requires that courses can run on different learning and content management systems. This means that instructional components developed in one location can be used or combined with another set of tools or platform in another location.
6) Reusability - Content developers and learners should be able to extract relevant eLearning content such as modules from different courses and reassemble them into a new course, application or context.

The next couple of posts will address more detailed information about SCORM and more importantly I will address some of the technical challenges related to the SCORM standard. Although SCORM is a wonderful idea it is NOT a silver bullet for developing eLearning content over the internet. I hope to highlight some of these SCORM development and implementation challenges over the next couple of weeks.


Speed dating for business

SBA Business Matchmaking, Ft. Lauderdale
I attended the small business administration’s (SBA) business matchmaking event last week and the best way to describe it is speed dating for business. The one day event was held down in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and sponsored by the small business administration and Hewlett-Packard. The format of the business matchmaking event was very similar to speed dating. Buyers and sellers provided information prior to the event and were then matched up. The seller was then provided with all their matches and they could make appointments based on the buyer's availability. Prior to the event, I was fortunate enough to set 10 meetings with potential buyers.

The event was held on the 16th of November and it was extremely successful, not only identifying potential leads but also networking with other small businesses. As a marketing and sales professional it was refreshing to spend some time with 'real' people. All sales people can identify with the frustration of trying to get a real person on the phone or sending out a myriad of emails to potential clients with no results. It was great spending a day with potential buyers from across the country chatting about your specific solutions and networking with other motivated small business execs.

I would highly recommend these events to both buyers and sellers. The schedule of upcoming
events for next year will be published at the beginning of 2007 and I will definitely be checking it out as soon as the registration opens.


eLearning risk & SCORM

Why are people important in developing CBT programs?

Each eLearning project is different. Each project is different in terms of scope, objectives, audience, method of deployment, infrastructure, size of customer’s company, eLearning elements included in the program, budget etc. What does stay constant is that people are involved in all aspects of the project. My intention with the last couple of blog entries has not been to detail every risk associated with developing an eLearning project. Quite contrary, I think that many of the risks can be mediated by selecting a vendor that is interested in working with you. Make sure that the company has a strong track record, dealing with various different projects. In addition, make sure that the vendor has a strong focus on project management. Much like any other project in business, developing a computer based training program requires a cross functional team working towards a common goal. Your eLearning vendor should be able to assist and guide you with dealing with your local computer infrastructure, computer setup, testing procedures and more. Ultimately eLearning vendor selection is the first and most important step towards having a positive experience with developing a training solution that meets your specific needs. Each eLearning project is different and the solution should meet those needs.

Moving to SCORM

Over the next few weeks I will be looking into SCORM. I will give you some introductory resources as well as looking at some shortfalls with the standard.


eLearning risk article

I found a great article that addresses some of the risks associated with eLearning development. The article also provides an overview of risk paradigms and mitigation strategies. Interestingly the authors point to the fact that most risk assessment studies focus on IT/software projects and very little research has been conducted on eLearning projects. The authors cite several studies that highlight the importance of social/cultural obstacles to successful eLearning development.


Can anyone provide me with studies that specifically deal with eLearning cases?
Any idea why these studies are not more numerous considering the depth of computer based training programs?


eLearning: The intersection between people and technology

eLearning is not developed in a vacuum, nor is it implemented in a vacuum. In other words, technology is not people independent. This may seem like a very basic statement, but in my experience the intersection between people and technology is generally the point of breakdown for many computer based programs.

Obviously there are basic cases where eLearning programs are so marred by bad coding that the program doesn’t work at all. This can easily be avoided by doing some homework on the vendor prior to using their services. Furthermore, the customer should force the vendor to outline a vigorous quality assurance/testing process. Using rapid prototyping also allows the customer to test as the program develops, thereby avoiding major flaws being discovered during Beta testing.

Let’s assume that the majority of eLearning failures are not represented by the above case. What other issues could be causing failures? From a developer’s perspective the answer is pretty straight forward: people. People are involved in the development process, deployment process, testing process and support process. This means that you will need to draw on many resources within your company as well as within your vendor’s company to be successful.

The simpler your deployment platform the less issues you should experience. Deploying a program on CD is a lot easier and less complicated than deploying a program that requires interaction with network drive databases, learning or content management systems. The more moving parts your program has, the higher the risk of issues occurring. In other words the more complicated the program is the more moving parts you have and as a result the higher your rate of failure may be. Complicated programs also require the involvement of more people.

If you’re disheartened don’t be. Implementing an eLearning program can be complicated. The easiest way to avoid massive failures is to start with a small project. If this is the first time you’re using a computer program to train people then you need to start small. You need to develop and test your infrastructure before going bigger. Your company needs to build the necessary social and technological infrastructure and a small program is a great way to start. If you have existing computer based training programs then your people and technology network may be pretty effective already. Any eLearning program requires a strategy to deal with development, implementation, testing and maintenance. Select a vendor with experience and a willingness to work with your people. Ultimately any technology is only as good as the people that developed, deployed and supported it. eLearning is not developed in a vacuum, nor is it implemented in a vacuum.


Why focus on eLearning risk?

Why focus on eLearning risk rather than success?

It may seem interesting to many that I have decided to focus my early eLearning blog entries on the topic of risk and more specifically the risk of developing new eLearning projects. You may be asking yourself why I decided to tackle such a controversial topic. Why focus on risk rather than reward? Why not focus on all the positives related to eLearning development?

There are two main reasons for focusing on risk. The first one is a personal objective. I would like to see if I can get you (the readers) to share your experiences with me. Our company (Cyber Media Creations) has an exceedingly good track record with the development of new computer based programs and I will share my thoughts on why this is the case with you over the next couple of months. By focusing on this topic I am hoping to get your thoughts and your stories as I would like to see whether the common pitfalls and challenges that we have identified and remedied hold true across the board. I have written
several white papers on Vendor selection, eLearning development and the implementation of eLearning standards such as SCORM, which I think are important to a successful development process. However, having a blog affords me the opportunity to ask you what your experience with eLearning has been. Was your project successful? Was it delivered on time? What the positives and negatives? I would like to learn from your experiences and hopefully I can share my thoughts with you.

The second reason for focusing on risk is related to the way that many organizations still view eLearning. It is true that many large corporations have existing learning management systems (LMS), but in my experience many large and medium companies are only now moving into the eLearning sphere. One of the reasons for this is probably because eLearning was initially seen by any as the answer to all their training needs. Many companies jumped in and got burnt early and the horror stories related to these experiences are still being told. My second reason for focusing on risk is to discuss the risks related to eLearning development and to demonstrate to the skeptics that eLearning is not the double headed dragon that many make it out to be. On the flip side it is also not the answer to all your training needs. Not to sound too clich├ęd, but eLearning is what you make of it. If you approach the development of a new eLearning program with caution and realistic objectives in mind you will succeed. To do this, you need insight into some of the most common pitfalls. I hope you will join me as we begin this process of discovery. and I look forward to your comments and suggestions.

----------- Empowering People Through Knowledge -----------


eLearning: A risky business?

How risky is current eLearning development?

So how risky is it to develop a new eLearning program? Considering that eLearning has been around for some time it should be pretty straight forward, right? Let’s consider the history of the software industry and then we’ll contemplate the current situation.

For the sake of discussion I am going to use some stats regarding software development. In order to avoid a lengthy debate about the relationship between eLearning and software development I am going to concede that not all software development is related to eLearning. The universe of the software development industry is extremely diverse involving a myriad of software solutions. Having said that, let’s look at what the stats say about software development failures, which eLearning is definitely a part of.

One of the most widely cited and staggering studies was The Chaos Report published by The Standish Group in 1995. The Standish group estimated that a staggering $250 billion was spent each year on the development of software applications. Surprisingly the price tag of $250 billion is not the most astonishing part of their report. The shocking part of the report was the fact that “31.1% of projects will be cancelled before they ever get completed. Further results indicate 52.7% of projects will cost 189% of their original estimates. The cost of these failures and overruns are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The lost opportunity costs are not measurable, but could easily be in the trillions of dollars.”

If this is the bad news, what’s the up side? Based on their research a miniscule 16.2% of all software projects are completed on time and within the specified budget. These “successful” projects are further marred by the fact that many of them were a ‘mere shadow of their original specification requirements’.

Based on current research; The Robbins-Gioia Survey (2001), The conference Board Survey (2001), The KPMG Canada Survey (1997); the success rates for software programs remain bleak. I can’t help but wonder whether these studies exaggerate the failure rates. It appears that current failure estimates are still in the range of 40-45%. Can this still be a reality? What could account for these astronomical failure rates? How do potential eLearning customers ensure that they don’t fall into this failure trap? These are the questions that I would like to discuss over the next couple of months with you. I firmly believe that unless we address the failures of the past they will continue to happen. Although many things change in business, the fundamentals remain the same. Based on this assumption, there must be fundamental mistakes that are being made and that have been made well before The Chaos report. Surely, if we can identify and address these fundamental errors we can begin determine where the risk factors are in developing software. More specifically, we should be able to determine how risky it is to development a new eLearning project.