Welcome! Anyone who tells you that 105 is uncomfortable, I am here to say, yeah, probably, unless you are like me and grew up in the Southwest (in the U.S.), then it is refreshing. Especially with a pool.
Anyway, I am coming to you from the Tucson area of Arizona. Think desert and mountains, and you have Tucson, well the part I am in.
Why you ask, am I telling you such information, well, it is because it is from this area, that I will be announcing the debut Best 3rd Party Content Awards, from TCWG (The Craig Weiss Group). I felt that having awards only for learning systems, wasn’t enough, because off-the-shelf content plays a huge role. After all, without content what do you have? Nothing I tell, you nothing (Runaway Jury quote). In all seriousness, without content you wouldn’t need a learning system of any sort, just give folks binders of paper (like the old days).
Before jumpining into the awards, it likely will make sense to discuss a few tidbits.
The awards are for off-the-shelf content, this is content that a 3rd party provider builds and sells to the client (business, orgs, companies, government, education, associations, etc.) who then offer it to their employees, customers, members, students or all of sum. The learner audience doesn’t buy it or pay for it. You will see this type of content with a chunk of learning systems, regardless of type, either in a visible marketplace (uh, the client sees it) or via the phone. Other examples of this type of content can be found in what I refer to as content aggregators – where it is a platform of sorts, that has partnership agreements with multiple 3rd party providers (min of two).
These awards are not for custom developers, where you can go, pay $$ and get a properitary course (this is specifically based on whatever materials you provide them – maybe Widget Sales – How to Ripoff People) and they build it. In the industry, we refer to these folks as custom development shops or boutique shops.
There are a few points to remember about off-the-shelf content.
- The industry refers to it as either off-the-shelf content, off-the-shelf 3rd party content, off-the-shelf 3rd party providers, content partners, or they just say content (with the assumption that you know it is built by another provider). Some just say the name of the provider thinking you will automatically know it, or just push the topic/subject, again thinking you will know that it is not made by them (which leads me too..)
- Everyone pitches micro-learning content, which means short – but short is ambigious – because it assumes that you are watching/taking/ in a linear fashion as in ABCDEF, rather than jumping around (which is why online learning was created in the first place, because ILT is linear), and that everyone has the same learning style or learns the same way and can acquire the information in that specific time frame. In other words, some vendors say our content is micro and each piece is three minutes long. Others pull the spin, and say it is micro, but the module is 45 minutes long with 15 sub-modules or topics or chapters or sadly “lessons” – as though you are in a schoolhouse from 1892. Anyway, those chapters range from five to 10 minutes – you know, micro. As such, micro-learning is not an award category.
- Micro-Learning by the way, doesn’t mean it is any good, just “short” as defined by the content provider.
- Attachments – Some off the shelf providers include an attachment with their content (in whatever format they have), others do not. Again, an attachment may be of value or it may not. Never make your decision on buying content based on whether the content comes with it or not. A lot of it isn’t instructional design quality, and many is something you could create on your own – actually, most of it is.
- With vendors pushing micro-content you rarely see a TOC (Table of Contents), which is very doable, and honestly better for the learner. But too many people think that the content has to be like YouTube or learning nuggets (a couple of pages of text) as though this will show them off as “edgy and with the times,” – respectfully I disagree.
Best of Content Awards
The debut received over 100 entrants, which is really quite nice, for just something brand new out of the gate. They had to provide several items, including catalog of content, types of content, what is their most popular titles/subjects of their content, where are their developers located (i.e. at the company, or on Mars, etc.), type of content they produce, and a few other items.
They had to provide two pieces of content in SCORM files. A couple only provided them in AICC, which was converted, and some provided only MP4s or similar video formats. The content could be any length, in any format – i.e. video, course approach, etc. Ideally it should be in two different subject areas, but if the vendor only provides compliance for example, that was acceptable and did not put them at any disadvantage.
The content they provided had to be representative of their catalog, but they could select any two they wanted.
We (the judges) looked at multiple sets of factors and judged each of them on a point scale 1 to 5, with one being the worst, and five being the best.
Obviously, the content had to be instructional design sound. This played an important role, because if it isn’t, then you just have flashy content without if following any ID processes or approaches. Which is not effective for any learner.
- Video – Only played a role – i.e. point wise if it was the content. In other words, if it wasn’t a course that was purely video OR the course/content didn’t have any video parts in it, it was excluded in the judging criteria for that vendor. This ensured that everything was equal. So, if your course is 100% animation, you didn’t get a zero for video, it was just left blank by the judges and did not impact overall total score – since everything was weighted accordingly.
- Animation – Similar to above (i.e. video) piece.
- Audio Quality – Similar to above -in that if your course did not have any audio to it, you did not receive a zero. Nowadays most of the 3rd party content has an audio overlay or what is referred to as a V/O (voice-over).
One that is very important, but way too many vendors lacked it…
- ADA508 or similar (depending on the country, but most countries have it) support. This by far, was the most disappointing. A lot of content our judges felt, lacked ADA508 support. It got to the point, that when calculating it was extracted and placed into a separate area, and not counted for/against any provider. I will identify who we felt did the best at supporting ADA508 (and the UK for example, follows the ADA508 similar with their own term). I created a course in 2002, that supported ADA508, trust me, it isn’t that difficult.
Played a bigger role than the above categories – when weighted
- Usefulness – How useful would this be to the learner? Tied clearly to the subject/topic at hand. Honestly, this should be a top priority to anyone looking at content. Just because it might be game like, doesn’t mean it will be useful to them for say upskilling or an acquirement of knowledge.
- Interactivity (Quality and Usability)- This should be a mainstay in every piece of content anyone wants to buy. Without interactiviy, you have boring static content. This isn’t something new, people were doing it with CBT in the 90s, and even WBT in the late 90s. Learners of all ages want interactivity, otherwise just scan a piece of notebook paper with some text and give it to them.
- Engagment – Another mainstay and a must when you are looking at buying content. It has to be targeted to your audience, has to be compelling to engage the learner in wanting to acquire, retain, and snythesis the information. Every piece of content IMO, should include a real-world scenario that applies to what people are learning – this will push the higher level of engagement, interactivity and usefulness. Seriously, do not buy content that does not hit the trifecta here, but I know most people will just ignore – and as a result will complain later on, that their learners are not going back and re-taking it, or even taking it. Oh, and with Compliance you can have the trifecta (UIE).
- Scenarios (if applicable) – Seriously, how hard is it to come up with one real world scenario that someone can take what they are learning and apply it to a situational experience? I did it back in 2002. Trust me, it is nost a challenge. Yet, so many providers do not offer it. I will hear no one is asking for it, which is utter nonsense. I thought you were the expert in effective instructional design, not them, and who just wants an assessment at the end of each chapter? That tells me nothing, expect you know how to memorize or guess.
Two other Essentials that were weighted higher
Description – Did the content include a description? This you would think would be a no-brainer, but guess what, a lot of providers didn’t have one. How would I know what this is about? Rely on the title?
Objectives – This is ID and honestly learning and training 101. Heck, even in education this is standard. Again, many vendors did not have it. Weird.
What was excluded
- Assessments – Not relevant here, I know I will get a lot of pushback, but again, see the memorize or guess angle. We in L&D and Training spend way too much time and effort pushing assessment, when there is so much data/research out there that shows it is not effective in learning synthesis, that people can fail due to anxiety, that there is no correlation between doing well on a test and actually retaining for a long period and thus synthesize. I never in all my years of providing online training (e-learning) ever had an assessment at the end of a course. What did I have? Scenarios.
Even with certification content, you do not need to do an assessment, but I know most folks do. That’s your choice, I just respectfully disagree.
And Now the Awards
BEST Off the Shelf Content (OVERALL)
Seven Dimensions – Go to Video/Courses in the header.
- Scored high across the board, with usefulness, engagement, and interactivity doing well. Every course has objectives and a description. Even with video they did a very nice job. For attachment fans, the content we viewed had it and was effective. Likely many will not know the, showing proof that there is amazing content out there. Oh, and they won another award (to be noted shortly).
Intellezy – They presented two courses in technology, both of which were very good. In fact so good, they won the “best content for Technology”.
Scored high across the board, especially with usefulness. One judge scored them the highest across the board with seven dimensions just slightly behind them, two other judges gave them lower scores due to interactivty and engagment which fell a little short in their opinion. Still we all found them to be worthy and deserving of #2 in the Best Content Overall Awards. They are very good for tech-focused content.
Video Arts Another strong across the board, with judges giving them perfect marks for video content, scenarios and quality.
Usefulness and Interactivity was a slight point below (4/5) and objectives/description a slight point or two.
The Top 10 – Best Content Overall
Subject/Topic Award Winners
And the winner is
Traliant – Outstanding. Strong in Usefulness (okay the best for compliance), outstanding in scenarios, engagement and quality. Objectives quite good. We had numerous participants for Compliance, Traliant crushed them all.
And the winner is
Intellezy – Another win. As noted earlier, their technology content just rocked.
And the winner is, wait.. winners – That’s right a TIE
Skill Pill – Very good content in the business skills area, with a different way than you will find with other providers. They include workbooks, flash cards, and other supporting materials as part of their course and content design.
Seven Dimensions – You see that correctly, the overall Best Content Award Winner for 2020, achieves another award with their business skills content, which the judges found with one course could easily slide into personal and professional development (depending on your how you view it, yourselves). But at the end of the day, the judges felt it was more suited for business skills.
And the winner is…wait – Another TIE
Cegos – Only one of five vendors who achieved a perfect score with video, objectives were fantastic, interactivity, usefulness and quality were exceptional.
Video Arts – Two-time award winner. The #3 best overall content winner, scored perfect with their video content, outstanding with the content tied around personal and professional development, and just did a very nice job.
And the winner is…
Biz Library – Interactivity, Scenarios and Usefulness including quality is where they really shine. Video is quite good.
This category is based on four key components
- Video – Quality, content, overall experience, talent level (if applicable) – Played the biggest role here, obviously
- Interactivity a level that can exist in video, more so than you might think
The winner is
Seven Dimensions – Yes, a three-time award winner.
A very close second (by one point) is Intellezy and then only three points behind them is Video Arts.
While there isn’t any award given out to the vendor whose content achieved excellence with ADA508 (and similar on other countries) in their content, here are the three providers who scored the highest in the category.
- SAP Litmos
- Skill Pill
Congratulations to all the winners and thank you for participating in this year’s debut awards.
The Judges for the competition are Peter Phillips, former CEO of Unicorn Training, a pioneer in instructional design for WBT, and even with CBT; he is currently CEO of Amuzo, a game-based learning company (makes awesome content). Spencer Thorton, SVP of Curation for Open Sesame, and yours truly, Craig Weiss.
Lastly, a huge thank you to D2L for setting up a sandbox and helping us in so many ways, so that we could test the content using an LMS, to ensure that it was fair to everyone.
Note: Two vendors of note who declined to submit (they were offered to do so) were Skillsoft and LinkedIn Learning. IMO and that even of the Judges, Skillsoft would not have even hit the top five. Most of the content is dated, linear in style and format, and sadly, underwhelming. They do create new content, but the quality, seems to have dropped off. LinkedIn Learning, on the other hand – and this is just my perspective because I see the content a lot, and have it as part of my review (coming in early Sept of the system) is mainly made up of the Lynda.com content, which to me, just isn’t that good. Some of the newer stuff is better, but still, it has challenges.
One vendor, that I still like for compliance is the Access Group. There were some challenges that befell their entry, which is why they were not one of the finalists in the end. But, because I see their content all the time, I do believe they would have been a strong contender in the compliance field. That said, Traliant still would be the winner. Their content is just better.
Finally, I never charge a fee for an award submission nor application to do so. This applies to all my awards including those for learning systems (in case you are wondering).