I’ve been watching. Checking out the nooks and crannies. Looking into everything that is e-learning and I’ve seen a lot. Some great. Some bad and yes even a few that are downright frightening to the buyer.

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Social Learning Platform

Just last week, I saw the best social learning platform ever. Seriously, awesome. Best of all, even if you choose not to use it, the product is available to the public as a new social media site.

From a social learning standpoint

  • Built by NetExam and thus comes with the platform
  • Can be also a standalone and/or interfaced with any learning management system or learning platform
  • Focuses on the push and pull of information based on interests on relevant topics to the end users
  • Comes with analytical graph
  • Includes badges, ratings, comments, leader-board and peers
  • Reminds me of part Pinterest, part StumbleUpon, part Scoop it! and part very cool
  • Although it says “beta” it is live
  • Product name is Ensemba

Just a few screen shots

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Learning Management Systems

  • Built-in help desk – It is on the rise and I expect it to continue into 2013. With systems it comes in many flavors – with the most common being a ticket issue system that is tied into the end user side. End user has issue, submits ticket, receives update notifications until it is resolved. Can equally be used on the admin side, but the power is end user.

Benefit: Reduces calls to administrator and training/learning person who oversees the system and department. Reduces costs to vendor, which is big because everyone knows that support inc. tech support is costly to a company.

  • Personalization – Appearing in multiple ways but the super size winners are those that enable each end user to select their own language, own widgets/gadgets and move block around. Learners like flexibility and what is better than having something flexible for their learning?

Benefit: Tailoring has always been a key to successful training and learning. Just because you purchase an out of the box system doesn’t mean that you stop at skinning and branding. In just the past few months this feature is exploding. Expect it to continue.

  • Online/offline synchronization for mobile learning with tablets – The number one request I receive from my consumer clients is whether they system has a m-learning app that works with tablets and online/offline synchronization. Considering that my consumer clients range from small companies to those over 125,000 users, I’d say that is relevant. I’m also hearing it from folks in general.

While many vendors pitch mobile learning they seem to be stuck on the idea that people are not interested in online/offline synchronization. A couple of vendors told me they think it will be a fad. Apparently they are not reading what is taking place in the consumer market – worldwide.

Yes many forecasters are saying that 4G will be a huge factor in tablet use, but anyone who has purchased a tablet knows that data plans are not cheap and that multimedia being streamed or viewed eats up data, which in turn increases your bill.

Wi-Fi still dominates the market and people who use tablets tend to use “apps” that are self-contained. While everyone concedes (at least those who follow apps and tech) that the future will be HTML5 apps over native apps, they will still be self-contained.

Benefit: People are demanding it. Every month you waste debating if your system should include, someone else – i.e. your competitors are using it. From the LMS standpoint, this will be a hot ticket item in 2013. If you choose to sit it out for a bit, you will make a monster mistake.

  • Dashboards for learners and administrators – One of the key reasons Absorb is so successful (IMO) is the power of its administration dashboard. It was one of the first ones to have a graphs and a quick overview.

Why do dashboards matter? Well let me put it to you this way – when you have to go to your boss (who could be the COO, CEO or another high level senior exec) and want to provide an overview on where things stand – what do you give them? Lots of reports or a quick dashboard will key data points and a couple of graphs? My guess is the latter.

Administrators often have another role within a company/organization, etc., and as a result time is crucial. People like right to the point data and information, and there is nothing worse then having to go find it then generate a report that contains an overview on where things stand.

The same can be said for learners. They like a dashboard which could include recommended courses, status of courses using graphical images, immediate information that is relevant to them.

Benefit: Places relevant information in front the learner’s eyes the moment they enter the system. Too many systems seem to focus on the administrator angle and not the learner angle. Why can’t you do both?

While this is moving upward, the biggest swing is in an overhaul of user interface. As I have noted in the past, I know of many vendors who are working behind the scenes to change their UI. Folks like crisp and clean.

Video Learning Platforms

The next wave to hit the e-learning scene and in less than six months has become bigger than social learning platforms in the last four years. Heck I would even say mobile learning specific platforms as well. Key players are

Pricing

You would think that with the economic downturn, albeit it is starting to grow, e-learning vendors as a whole including LMSs would get it.

Sadly that is not happening. Yeah there are a few who can deliver strong feature sets with a new price point but there are others who still believe that charging outrageous pricing on optional components, let alone their system themselves is the way to go.

One vendor charges 10K for SSO and 5K per each additional language. Are you kidding me? Outrageous.

Another vendor who is trying to penetrate the corporate space makes some of the Big Dog vendors look like a bargain.

Let’s not forget the uber cost of some setup fees. No offense but why does someone have to drop over 15K for a SaaS system? And with data migration fees I’ve seen some realistic pricing but some vendors have no problem charging over 5K for records.

A couple of vendors quoted me plus 10K for less than 500 records. No offense here, but if the end user can download their own data file (which they can) and upload it into their new system (which they can), why would they want to pay over 5K to do so?

Vendors love to pitch time and effort but give me a break.

What time? I don’t care if it is 100,000 records or 250 records, it doesn’t take that long to pull the data file and shove it into the new system, unless the person who is doing it is Thomas Jefferson back from the dead.

The only amount of time is the time to populate the new system – less records less time, more records more time – oh automatically mind you.

Oh and as aforementioned in last week’s post, some authoring tool vendors think that everyone can drop over $1,400, heck over $2,500 for an authoring tool (for 1 license). Some web conferencing vendors (and you know who you are) believe it is still 2006 with their pricing.

Multiple Editions of the same system

Compared to the Exorcist, Sinister, The Shining and for folks that grew up in the 50′s (Psycho – or so I have been told), this angle is right up there in terms of shock and fright.

Most of the time it is the exact same system with a fewer bells or whistles or a couple of add-ons to give it the feel of “different version”.

The real downside to this is that many vendors fail to realize that they are competing with themselves when they offer say a corporate edition, e-commerce edition and alike. Heck I’ve seen vendors who offer a K-12 and Higher Ed editions that were virtually identical.

Bottom Line

I really believe that some e-learning vendors would prefer to have their clients become zombies, accepting the product as it is – and as it was – with just a couple of tasty treats to make them come back for more.

Yet other vendors are sensing what is coming and making the changes now, rather than later.

They are busting up the Svengali spin with a commitments to break away that has not been seen in years.

The trends I’m seeing are backing up the break up.

But just in case the lemmings reappear as Zombies, I’ll have my Zombie Apocalypse preparedness plan to review.

And I will be watching out. Looking around and keeping an eye on it.

It being the e-learning industry.

E-Learning 24/7

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