I love innovation. It is what makes any product or service, aspire to new heights. I especially love it when it happens in the e-learning industry.

Our industry is made up into four camps

  • Innovators and Risk Takers – emerging technology integrated, new ideas, pushing the envelope in what is possible in e-learning/social learning/m-learning, coming up with something that has never been done before – risk takers
  • Steady as it Goes – with updates and new features – occasionally new innovations, but go to the next level..whoa, whoa
  • Gerbil in the Wheel Mentality - innovation? New concept. Product updates, some new features – but boring town.  They often rumble into the next camp
  • Lemming Syndrome – everyone is doing it, so I will too

The first camp exists and wow it is wonderful to see.  Sure, there are plenty of failures when you are in the “Innovators & Risk Takers” camp, but I’d rather take a spin on that product that stay along the course (no pun intended) with what everyone else is doing. Because, you know what?  When they hit stride, other vendors take notice and soon, the lemming revolution begins.

By that time, the innovators are pressing on.

Innovative Products

They are out there. A lot of them. Everywhere. Targeting different sectors too.

Here are a few that caught my eye and upon further investigation, I said to myself , ” very cool”.

Topyx Bolt - Beta, not live

Okay. You have already a LMS and you love it. You do not want to switch, but your current LMS, doesn’t have the social learning or any social learning features I need or want.

  • Attaches to your current Legacy LMS
  • Provides social learning features including shoutbox, photos, discussion boards, blogs, events, polls, articles
  • Works seemliness – end user has no idea it is actually another system attached to yours
  • Skinned to match the customer’s look in your system
  • Administration functions include ability to turn on all features or some features etc. for each community

Twist?

It is tied to a course. That is right a course. Thus each course, would have its own course community.  You have 20 courses? 20 course communities, each one separate from one another and each one with all those feature sets.   You have 15 courses but want only seven to have communities? Seven it is.

The concept is genius. Pure genius.  The product is still in beta, but the premise and possibilities are really there.  So far, I like what I see, but beta is beta. Live is live.  There is a difference. If it truly achieves its premise then it will be a game changer in the LMS space.

Pricing: Right now, $6,000 one time fee (unlimited courses)

OpenSesame – Live

An e-learning marketplace.

Here is how it works

  • You create your own courses – as you would normally do – this is not done in OpenSesame
  • You upload your courses into OpenSesame and now they are on the market
  • Anyone, anywhere in the world can buy your course
  • Before buying, you can read reviews of the courses – i.e. comments from others and preview
  • You, not OpenSesame, sets the price. That’s right – YOU.
  • Accepts any courses built in any content authoring tools that are SCORM & AICC compliant – so you can upload and sell your courses that you built in Articulate, Captivate, even open source authoring tools (but they must be standards compliant)

Twist?

OpenSesame is not a LMS. It’s a business marketplace for buyers and sellers.

Therefore, you can use your newly purchased courses in your current LMS, whatever that happens to be. This is what makes OpenSesame different than other marketplaces out there.  I love it.

A couple of clarity points here – this is your company, freelancers, etc. – creating courses and selling them. Not, some 3rd party aggregator like Skillsoft or Element K, where you can purchase courses from.

It is not a marketplace like Odijoo, where you are stuck within their platform after purchasing your courses, and having to use their system – or as it they pitch it, creating your own “campus or company center”.  Nor, a LMS vendor who enable their customers to sell their courses, but only people who have the same LMS vendor can buy and use them.

Just Brilliant!

Rapid SWFMaker – Live and available for purchase

One of my pet peeves are “sim” makers who tell people how easy it is to create a simulation to use in their courses.  Especially, when they are building the course in a rapid content authoring tool.

If they mean easy, because you have intermediate or advanced tech skill sets, then yes it is easy.  If you have limited or no tech skills, then no it is not easy. It is irritating and time consuming.  Worse, they expect you to read their documentation, which often is written in such a manner that unless you have two doctorate degrees you couldn’t figure it out.

I do not have the time to stick this widget wicky thing here and then morph this wacky tacky thing there and whalla, I made a trash like can thing. I think.

I want something that offers some oomph if I need it, but is easy to do and use. Something like my 3rd party content authoring tool.

Here is how it works

  • You open the product
  • Pick from 96 themes
  • Pick from 67 interactions, including games
  • Add audio, video, images if you want – even Flash

Then you save and download your new simulation file. It is automatically converted into a single .SWF file, so you can use it with any 3rd party authoring tool.

Twist?

Did I mention any 3rd party authoring tool. You are not stuck to using their own tool. Any 3rd party content authoring tool that enables you to add Flash files (and 99%) do, will work.

I have to tell you, I’ve seen a lot of these “sim” building products out there and tested them. Without a doubt, this is the easiest one out there. Simple, yet with a nice set of features. It clearly was created for everyday folks, not someone who is an instructional designer or content developer (but they could harness it too).

I was blown away. It is a perfect tool for those building in rapid content authoring tools, who want a sim builder without the pain and agony.

Kudos!

Pricing:  Based on the number of users, who will be creating the simulations. Pay per month, up to 25 users. Can see price points online.

Wimba Collaboration Suite 6.0 – Live

As you know, I’m a huge fan of social learning and I’m always on the lookout for something that offers a unique spin and a plethora of features. This suite hits it all in stride, without batting an eye.

It offers three solutions that come with it, and one of them – is truly breathtaking.

  • Classroom 6.1 – virtual classroom: VOIP, MP3 & MP4 downloads, breakout rooms, single and multi-way video, classroom management, including uploading content, polls, quizzes, surveys, follow the presenter, public and private chat, supports any web cam
  • Pronto –  app sharing including real time display, blended audio/video, help desk, online office hours

And in my mind, the Jewel of the solution

Voice 6.0

  • Create or upload your own podcasts
  • Voice discussion boards, presentations, authoring & emails
  • Reuse course content & comes with an integrated gradebook

With the discussion boards, instead of reading text, you can post and listen to voice messages. WOW.  E-mail capability within Voice 6.0, enables you to send and listen to voices via e-mail.

While the company sort of pitches this for benefit with learning languages and I can see why, I see it at a much, much bigger level.  Unlimited capabilities here, really – depending on the way they go, because emerging technology will continue to push the envelope for audio and equally video capabilities.

This is SAAS based, but sadly only for academia.  I wish they would offer Voice 6.0 as a standalone for any sector, not just academia.  Truly its a masterpiece in the making.

Pricing is not listed online.

thinkingcap lab - Live

For instructional designers  and developers who want to create content with multiple elements. Reminds me of the days of Authorware, but with less complexity and anger, plus with more features and usefulness for the developer.

Two tab options

  • Collaborate – Social Q/A at the end of the day. People post questions, others in the community respond, etc.
  • Create – Either via a pre-built model or custom – provides a significant library of elements to choose from and add

Lots of choices and options in the create section, which I like.

You do have to register first and then tabs are a tad funky (it should be create first, then the second tab collaborate, since when you click the link the first thing you see is “collaborate”)

Create Mode

  • Start with creating a RLT – Reusable Learning Type, then you are off and running
  • Choices include: Adding Content – lots of elements to choose from, Assessments – again a nice swath of choices, activities – basically game options, Social Media – blogs, twitter, etc., Custom
  • Add as much or little as you want
  • Tech skill – intermediate

One downside is figuring out how to add initially to the sequences. It is simple a drag and drop, but you have to drag and drop it at the sequence level and in some cases, I found that the element bounced back to the library, but did drop into the sequence.  A tad on the irritation side. However, once you figure it out, it is smooth sailing.

Pricing: Free

Bottom Line

The e-learning market is on an upswing.  As I have been watching the industry, early indicators are showing that unless there is some massive collapse or regression in the economies of the world (sans the on-going challenges in Greece, Iceland, etc.), 2011 will show profitable gains for a large portion of vendors across the sector.

A benefit to all of this, is it accelerates innovation, since competition will still be tight, and that in turns enhances products & solutions for online learning customers and clients.  It is a win-win for everyone.

Except maybe for the “Gerbil in the Wheel” vendors.

They can’t be bothered right now, after all, an old crusty piece of product and lack of ideas are still sitting in their cage.

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