When you view the painting “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” – “this is not a pipe”, you would think to yourself  “how could this be”?

After all, you are looking at a pipe, therefore a contradiction has taken place. If you are seeing a pipe, it therefore must be a pipe.

But it isn’t.  What you are viewing is an image of a pipe, not the pipe itself.

This same contradiction is now happening in the e-learning world at a frightening pace.   While many items appear to be one thing, in reality they are something completely different.

The people who suffer the most from this contradiction are the consumers and a vast majority of vendors.

HTML5 or is it?

While mobile learning is moving at an incredible speed, faster than anticipated by some of my colleagues, it does not come without a cost.

That cost is in the pitch of HTML5

If you listen to content authoring tool vendors who have added the capability of HTML5 it is easy to misunderstand what some are saying is not what you assume to be true.

The assumption is that the product can output to HTML5, yet this is hardly true for the vast majority of authoring tools.

What is true is that you can view the courses you have created on any mobile device that supports HTML5 including the iPad series. 

This can be via

  • Your mobile web browser
  • An app that goes to the SaaS authoring tool – but uses a url to get there
  • A native app that enables you view the courses on your mobile device with online/offline synch. Even if the product is a desktop product all you need to do is upload the course to your own web server, use the vendor’s web server or via a LMS.

A few vendors are bending the pitch a tad further by saying you can view and take the courses on an iPad which you then assume the course is in HTML5, but in reality it is in HTML which can be viewed on any tablet.

It reminds of of an article I read yesterday in the SF Chronicle. The article’s content was about tour brochures.

People who read that they will “view” the famous area, believe that they will actually visit the area and go into the area or location. This is erroneous.  What it means is you will be able to take a photo on the outside of the location, but not actually go in and take a tour.

However, if the brochure says “visit” than it means you enter the building or whatever.

Is it bending the truth?

I think not, is it however creating an assumption one would think would mean view and visit are the same thing, just as one would assume that HTML5 means that you can output the course in HTML5 (which only a few vendors at this time offer the ability to do s0).

Online/Offline synch

Regardless of whatever e-learning product you are using that states the ability to view and take assessments, courses, etc. on a mobile device unless you can re-synch it, I find it useless.

After all you can do this today with a significant number of vendor products who are in the cloud, via your mobile web browser. 

The key is online/offline synch since this truly offers the person on the go to take courses or assessments offline and then when they have access to an internet connection, a synching occurs pulling the data from the device back into the learning platform.

Yet as in the HTML5 case, online/offline synch is not able for the vast majority of learning platforms – especially in the LMS space.

It will change once TinCan rolls out, however the speed of which to integrate TinCan will be slow.  The vendors who are testing TinCan will roll it out first and quickly at that, but the others I believe will follow to modes of operandi:

  • Wait and see – most often used by vendors anytime a new capability or technology appears in the space
  • Hold until the following years – using the pitch that their current clients have not asked for it, therefore they are not doing it – again, extremely common
  • Move forward – not at the speed which you want because it takes time to learn TinCan, make sure it works and then implement it into their system

For those who are not familar with TinCan, in a nutshell it

  • Enables the ability to communicate instances between a mobile device and a LMS or any product that is SaaS based – i.e. authoring tools for example
  • Utilizes a self-contained native app which the vendor will create for a mobile device, ideally a tablet (for right now it will be the iPad series, since they know it will work with iOS devices)
  • Provides the ability for online/offline synch – which is huge
  • In theory, down the road be able to communicate instances with whatever device, such as an Xbox or Smart TV – with the online/offline synch functionality

Talent/Performance Management

Unless you have been sleeping like Rip Van Winkle, there is a heavy push to offer talent/performance management features within LMSs.

For the consumer is seeking such capabilities (and not everyone is) the need as such is so great, that what you assume it not always the case.

When a system offers performance management or talent management features (which IMO is now the same) two spins occur

  • It is included in the system at no charge
  • It is extra or can be a standalone – some vendors offer this capability

The included component can be the huge “it is not a” angle. Many times a vendor will show you a demo that has all the features activated including talent management. Thus it is easy to believe that it is included in the product.

Unless you specifically ask if this is the case, some vendors (in my experience more than you think) will not openly state as such.

They allow you to believe what you want to believe. Then when you buy the system a rude awakening shows up, much to the disappointment of the new client.

For vendors who offer compensation, payroll, job capabilities and other similar human resource functions, it is easy to assume that this is the standard bearer for all TM systems.

Again it is not.

What it is though is a human capital management system which is a fast growing market. For those who believe that the commitment on part of the vendor is a LMS they are already caught in the web of perception.

Let me be clear on this

  • If the “hot” features a HCM and the product as a whole is advertised as a HCM or TM, than the LMS is secondary, not the primary
  • If their product line is 3/4 TM/HCM, than their focus is on the space

Two vendors who pulled this “perception” is not reality come to mind.

In 2009, a well known and highly respected vendor was advertising on their site that their focus was their LMS, yet behind the scenes told me that they perceived their system as a performance management system.

In fact they told me that 63% of their customers were using the system as a TM/PM and not as a LMS.

In 2011, another well respected vendor had the gall to tell me that they were committed to the LMS market and had poured money into this endeavor and yet when you viewed their site it clearly focused on TM/PM.

When you view their system it is heavily geared toward HCM. Sure they offer a LMS, but unless you believe in Santa Claus (and who doesn’t), their main focus IMO is on the HCM.

I’m not saying that all HCM or even TM systems are pulling the “rabbit out of the hat” trick, rather what I am saying is if your primary focus is a LMS and not a HCM or TM system, it would be extremely wise to really take a deep dive on the vendor’s web site, marketing materials and even the salesperson.

Bottom Line

We all fall into the trap of assuming “what you see” is “what it is”, but in today’s e-learning world this may not be the case.

Unless you are willing to ask the hard questions and probe more than you have in the past, it is easy to be caught into hype.

Today we are in a greater hurry to find something quickly, rather than explore.

We shoot out RFPs without taking time to drill down and do due diligence.

As a result, we are adding to the spin.

Because what we see is not always what it is.

And that my friends is the pudding in the pie.

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