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Building the infrastructure for Learning 2.0: how the technology of learning is changing (Part 1)

This post was written by Paul Brown and Ed Lines and first appeared on the LINE blog on 12th January 2011.

In the first of two installments, Paul Brown, LINE’s Technical Director, and Ed Lines survey the broad range of challenges taken on by LINE’s technology team in equipping clients with effective tools and systems for learning and communications.

The LINE technology team has been building innovative technical solutions for many years now, but over the past few years we’ve seen a real change in the type and sophistication of the challenges we are called on to address. Client organisations are maturing in their use of technology, and as they move onwards from straight like-for-like replacement of stand-up training with self-paced online courses for every occasion, they open the door to a much wider, more diverse range of technology tools and solutions.

At the same time, the technology landscape is undergoing continuous seismic change. You only have to look at the average smartphone on the market now to see this: just compare its gaming and graphic capabilities to the games console you might have used in your home only a few years ago – what you hold in your hand now is probably better. Organisations that have to cope with learner expectations conditioned by this sort of trajectory simply can’t afford to let their learning infrastructures fall behind the curve.

We’ll be dealing with mobile delivery and how that is affecting learning technology in a further post on this blog, but for now let’s focus on the basic building blocks of the learning infrastructure, LMS and Content Management. Though well established now in L&D departments, as you’ll see, they certainly aren’t standing still!

LMS: unique challenges call for unique solutions

As a recent customer satisfaction survey has shown, clients value our robust approach to solving problems with quick, pragmatic solutions. As a consequence, we frequently find ourselves involved in complex challenges ranging from gluing existing systems together in an unprecedented way, to building production portals to manage the delivery of hundreds of hours of training materials. Coping with issues of scale is a feature of this new landscape, where e-learning is becoming mainstream and first-generation implementations, often made for tactical reasons, may benefit from being looked at afresh in a more strategic light.

For a public sector client we recently managed the introduction of a new LMS across several related government bodies at large scale, providing a simple and seamless user experience and technology that ‘just works’.

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At the same time, those coming relatively late to the use of technology-enabled learning no longer tend to approach the whole thing in such a tentative way as their leading-and-bleeding precurors. Many find they need to scale up very quickly. Where such organisations have rapidly increasing content, finding a competent Learning Management System is not a quick fix solution. Installing the right one requires a good deal of research and many layers of internal procurement.

Leading agribusiness company Syngenta came to LINE with this predicament as it took its first steps into e-learning. We were able to offer our software as a service (SaaS) solution that enabled them to organise their e-learning material without requiring the internal processes that might be called for with a strategic LMS. As part of the package, we helped them create the Syngenta E-Learning Forum, which allows learners gain further understanding of the material by exchanging best practice ideas on the system.

Now, 20,000 of Syngenta’s global employees can take part in a whole suite of new technology-based and blended learning programmes. Its initial launch saw thousands of users registering each week, reaching a significant proportion of the organisation within nine weeks. They can also track their content in a cost effective and simple environment.

Elena Schoonis, Learning Services Lead at Syngenta said: “We are glad to be working with LINE because they have worked hard to understand our business and our larger learning strategy as well as founding the Syngenta E-Learning Forum where we can discuss and exchange best practice about technology-based and blended learning within Syngenta.”

We also worked with National Australia Bank to enable them to provide compliance training to all of their contractors without incurring the overhead of additional licensing of their internal strategic Learning Management System.

The system allows for various other modular possibilities too; including branding and multi-language, e-commerce provisioning, scalability, reporting via Google Analytics, enterprise integration and single sign-on, customisable course based reporting, course reminders, certification, user pre-registration and invitations and more!

Managing content effectively for learning and communications

Managing learners online is the source of one of the major headaches for L&D departments – the other being effective management of learning content.
LINE has developed an innovative content management system (CMS) to help dispel this particular headache, which allows for the delivery of content and resources using a decentralised administration approach – i.e. no one person is the administrator. This solution cuts the bottlenecks, and thus decreases the distance between the communicator and the receiver.

E-learning courses, white papers, presentations, etc. can all be interactively accessed by specified users. Unlike many LCMS systems that impose a predefined, and possibly alien, workflow on their users, we’ve made this system very flexible – so it can be used for all sorts of things from housing training material to presenting content for sales purposes. Clients can easily add, replace and renew content.

We’ve integrated the system for clients such as myProteus, Change First, a2om and Sapa. We use it too! If you’re an existing client of ours you may have seen it already – if not get in touch and we’ll happily show it to you.

We’ve also developed a communications portal in partnership with myProteus that provides a set of filtered and dynamic resources enabling project managers to keep track of best practice in the day to day running of their projects.

projects and programmes - technology within organisations

Organisations are increasingly reliant on projects to deliver their strategic intent. Indeed, many are endeavouring to establish ‘project management competence’ as a core strategic asset.

Additionally with numerous ‘project management experts’ seemingly available on the market, individuals need to be able to demonstrate that they are excellent project management practitioners and can stand out from the crowd.

This proposition draws on the existing knowledge, experience and wisdom of recognised experts in project management as well as the best practices from multiple blue chip organisations. Organisations can develop a level of Project Management maturity to meet their needs, become self sufficient in project management and reduce the need for external support. Individuals can develop their capabilities and through a skills progression, demonstrate that they are excellent PM practitioners and are up to date with the latest project management best practices.

If you’d like to see this development at first hand, it’s possible to take a free trial here.

Integration issues

Nearly one-in-six organisations rate technology incompatibility as their greatest issue with the services of technology-led learning suppliers. Organisations frequently have e-learning content or training resources spread over multiple areas within their IT infrastructures making material difficult to access and risks losing its original purpose.

The need to integrate different systems, involving knowledge of a wide range of both proprietary and open source software, has been an increasing feature of the landscape in recent years, and LINE is experienced at solving such problems for L&D. Using our own expert learning design, we help our clients to sift multiple sources into one homogenous user experience. We’ve helped restructure learning in this way within organisations including NHS, Bodyshop and the UK Ministry of Defence.

Moodle, a big hit in the public sector and is gaining ground in corporates, is the focus of many integration and customisation projects. Strictly speaking, Moodle is a virtual learning environment; but we’ve been known to bend it do all sorts of things! Other common systems we are very experienced at developing for are the increasingly popular (with corporates) Sharepoint, and open source CMS systems Joomla and Drupal.

End of part one

Understanding an organisation’s values and business objectives is key for us. The same market survey mentioned earlier showed that the greatest bugbear highlighted by organisations using technology-based learning, is the provider not understanding their business.

Though, as a team, we are principally technologists, we never forget that the technology is there to perform a human task; for learning or communication (or both), and that underlying that task is the client’s need to make a difference to performance, to people development or to the governance of the organisation. After all, to do something well, it always helps to know exactly why you are doing it!

Next time we’ll be discussing mobile and how we address some of the issues that arise for global organisations in providing learning at scale.