Towards the latter part of last year, we started to hear how the LMSs were near death.  That smartphones were the answer to mobile learning. Tablets? Who is using those things? Vendors were saying, lets “wait on those” or “our customers are not requesting them,  so we are holding off”.

Social learning? If they were doing it, Facebook like page, a crummy blog that looks nothing like a real blog, a Twitter like feed, maybe RSS, text chat and YouTube functions and upload/download angle.

Emerging Technology?  Ha. Again, our customers aren’t asking for it, so we are just doing enough to appear that we are cutting edge.

Well, guess what.  Apparently, the potential customers and even clients are speaking and those vendors are listening. Not just a few vendors, the industry as a whole.  Some, still are not listening, but no surprise there, arrogance doesn’t change over night.  Change though is happening and for all of us, that is a great thing.

Oh, for those who were ready to put the LMS into the ground and cover it with dirt?  I have an announcement: You are DEAD wrong!

5 Early Indicators

#1  LMSs

Data tells it all, so without further adieu

  • A significant number of vendors, reported higher revenue and sales numbers in 2010, then in 2009
  • A calling to a large number of vendors (small, medium and big), are all reporting strong numbers in January, with many saying that January 2011, was their best month – numbers and business wise, in the last few years
  • A stronger interest in either adding an extended enterprise option, or in some cases moving to an extended enterprise approach (albeit, they still offer across the board, but really are focusing on EE)
  • Some are moving to “unlimited users” and free “tech/customer support”, which the latter being a really nice and new concept for the industry
  • More vendors entering the “Lite” LMS space which incorporates the “month to month” pricing structure and includes “storage”.  I’m glad to report that Litmos, a Lite LMS vendor, has dropped any additional cost for more storage, if you go over your included storage. Kudos!
  • A number of vendors whose real focus is the Talent Management/Performance Management market. While they still offer the LMS as we all know it, and its “learning” approach, they are really driving into the TM space
  • Greater number of vendors switching to only SAAS or “in the cloud” rather than self-hosted
  • Continued growth for open source solutions; Moodle is still the king; especially in education, although it is slowly starting to appear in the business and government side

#2  Mobile Learning

For the longest time, it was all about smartphones. Then in some circles it was the smartphones and the power of social learning with said smartphones. Tablets were never even a consideration, and I’m talking in 2010. The iPad? You could count on your hand the number of vendors even looking at it, and I’m not just talking LMSs/Learning Portals, but content authoring tools and other products.

I recall speaking in November on a webinar panel and being somewhat chided over the fact that I kept repeating the importance of mobile learning and tablets. It was as though, I was somewhere on Saturn.

When I spoke to numerous vendors on tablets, I kept hearing the same song, “we aren’t hearing it from our customers, OR we are looking in the future OR perhaps in 2012″.

It was smartphones, you silly man.  Funny, thing about those vendors, either their entire consumer base rose up and screamed we want tablets, or perhaps – and I know – it never happens in any industry – just perhaps, they looked again and said, “I see money in those tablets”.

  • Vendors who told me they were holding off or that their customers were not requesting m-learning on tablets, are or in the process of offering m-learning on tablets, with primary focus being the iPad
  • A couple of rapid content authoring tool vendors are incorporating HTML5 features in their tool, which can be used on tablets, and of course the iPad
  • According to a person I spoke with last week at the Articulate booth at Tech Knowledge 2011, Articulate is expecting to roll out HTML5 functionality in their product in Q4 2011 or Q1 2012
  • Two Products I saw last week at TK11, showed the real power of mobile learning and tablets; one in my opinion if there was an award for “Best Product Debut at TK11″ would have won it

Product A  -  Upside2Go

  • From the makers of Upside Learning
  • 100% pure mobile learning platform for tablets and smartphones – accepts them all, they plan to launch an app for the iPad to harness its full capabilities soon
  • Upside2Go goes not to their current LMS, but to a separate LMS specifically for the product, thus as mentioned 100% mobile learning platform;  other products in the LMS market – that offer a mobile learning solution like this – tie back into their current LMS, thus not a pure m-learning platform
  • Offers offline/online synch
  • To read more, click my mini-review on Upside2Go

Product B – Knowledge Tango aka K-Tango

  • from CERTPOINT, not yet launched
  • Truly a revolutionary product from the extended enterprise – which it is for – 100% POS (Point of Sale) focused
  • Harnesses the power of Tablets, including the Ipad (which I viewed it on)
  • Is a standalone solution, not tied to their LMS
  • 100% mobile

Tablet Data in General

  • According to the latest projections, the number of tablets to be launched by the end of 2011, is between 80 to 85, with the exception of a small few, they will all accept Flash and HTML5
  • The latest market share report is Apple 75%, Android 23%, 2% Other, early projections expect Apple to increase share once the iPad2 is launched
  • New vendors hitting the market include Motorola, HP, Vizio, Toshiba, Dell; LG is going to launch sometime mid-year the G-Slate, which incorporates 3D, but you have to wear 3D glasses to see it;  all offer video cams and cameras

In my opinion, mobile learning with tablets is the real growth of this industry; and mobile learning will be the big player this year, above social learning.

#3  Social Learning

Still moving forward, with vendors adding some new functionality, and yes, some still in the “gerbil in the wheel”.

  • Vendors are adding more “comments” and voting i.e. yes or no or thumbs up/thumbs down features
  • An increase in Social Q/A or some call it “Ask an Expert” or some other nomenclature; basically a person asks a question, then a subject matter expert responds; in some cases, other end users can also respond to or follow up
  • An increase in enabling video upload with comments, number of times seen and date stamp
  • Forums and discussion boards are making a comeback (why?)
  • Chat rooms – text chat no less, also appearing – (wow, this is soo early 90′s)
  • Real Time collaborative tools, such as integration with Google Docs or desktop sharing, slowly starting to appear

Why haven’t we seen

  • Real Time video group chat
  • With the exception of one vendor, voice discussion boards, but adding “video” – which the vendor does not offer
  • More real time collaborative tools – project management, group tools, CRM, extended enterprise solutions
  • End user lists on favorites this or that, with video as an option or mp3 for example with sites, with other end users commenting, ratings, etc
  • Integration with Skype (again, one vendor does this), so you can make calls from within to other Skype end users who are within the system, text messages too
  • SMS
  • Live casting
  • Peer to Peer Sharing of  files or business spreadsheets, or product videos, etc. between end users, whether via groups or not
  • Slideshare presentation functionality
  • Greater use of APIs and Mashups that add new social learning functionality, whatever you think up

#4 Rapid Content Authoring Tools

  • A continuing and growing market, more vendors
  • Call to numerous vendors in the space, report strong business in January, really good numbers
  • Based on feedback, comments and interest from end users, this is a hot market
  • Some solutions really becoming a turnkey PowerPoint to Flash product with minimal features or very basic
  • A slow but steady growth of vendors adding advanced features targeting higher tech skills, such as adding CSS
  • Simulation tools that are aiming for the rapid content authoring tool audience, easy to use,  some features, but not overly robust; are appearing
  • SAAS based growing, with a few vendors – equally growing – enabling people to see the courses and add feedback, while it is being developed
  • High number of vendors who have no support community for their end users; or offer a quick reference card for end users (one vendor has a PDF containing over 50 pages. Who is going to read that?)
  • Very few vendors have an immediate multilingual functionality, so with one pull down click, the program will switch to another language. I still do not understand, why everyone thinks the entire world prefers and wants to use only English, rather than their native language.

Emerging Technology

I’m still surprised at the number of vendors who are not truly understanding what “integration” with APIs or Mashups truly means from the end user perspective.  Really it is quite simple.

The end user creates on their own or goes and locates APIs and Mashups (two or more APIs) and can integrate them into your system. Either you can do this or you cannot. Simple, yes or no.

I’m glad to report that there is an increase in the ability of vendors to enable this to happen, but it is still very slow and I’m not sure why. Especially when from the vendor side, they already are accepting APIs, just not yours.  So, the argument they cannot do it – frankly it bogus.

I’d love to tell you that a mass number of vendors are incorporating emerging technology into their products, but alas it is not to be. Oh, sure there is a sprinkle, the aforementioned vendor with the voice capability in their product geared towards higher education; another who has added the ability to add social learning functionality into a CMS, with video off initial live streaming  and metadata too, but it is few and far between.

But for the most part, most have not.  I surmise they are just waiting or being ignorant, which for some, is a combination of both.

When it comes down to it, emerging technology ties into all of the above four indicators in one way or another. The key is seeing what is possible, what is right now appearing to be impossible and then going forward it.

After all, there is a vendor who said to themselves, that everyone’s’ blog in their system, looks nothing like a real blog. So, they went out, grabbed the WordPress component, stuck that into their system. Now, when people use it, it actually looks like a real blog; plus what the end users type, appears to everyone in the real world, because the blog is live.

We need more of that.  So, here to those who are getting it.

Because change is coming, and if the world has shown us anything these past few weeks, you cannot stop the movement once it begins.

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