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Building the infrastructure for Learning 2.0: how the technology of learning is changing (Part 2)

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

We’ve been innovating technical solutions for many years. Our clients trust us for our robust approach to solving real problems, for real users with quick, pragmatic solutions. But as the use of technologies for learning and communications has become more mainstream, the type of problems that we’ve been called upon to address has changed. Many of the challenges we focus on now have to do with scale: the particular issues that large, geographically dispersed organisations find themselves grappling with as they move to apply technology-enabled learning innovation in a concerted way, as part of business-as-usual, across the enterprise.

Technology enabled learning - professionals using multi devices

Complex challenges that this focus on scale raises can range from gluing existing systems together in an unprecedented way to building production portals to manage the delivery of hundreds of hours of training materials (and all points in between). One of the biggest growth areas at the moment is the use of mobile devices and platforms as a way of giving greater reach for just-in-time learning, and pushing it out into the working environment.

Breaking down barriers with Mobile learning and communications

There is increasing demand from switched-on organisations for on-the-go learning. It’s a well-publicised Gartner statistic that if current trends continue, smartphones will overtake PC’s as the most common form of web access by 2013. LINE is well ahead of the curve in this respect: we’ve been developing content for the mobile market since 2001 when we delivered interactive scenarios and video content on the Palm Pre. Now that the processing power in mobile devices is vastly superior, the possibilities are far greater; but organisations wishing to use m-learning face a variety of devices, platforms and operating systems to choose between.

Our development capability has kept pace with the mobile market, and helps our clients to lead in the application of this exciting new technology to learning. Blackberry, iPhone, iPad, Windows Mobile and Google Android are just some of the mobile platforms for which we have created highly innovative training applications in recent years.

LINE was the first to design an iPad App for the UK MoD. The programme, Fire Control Orders, trains soldiers to handle fire missions on Afghan operations.

“The initial results have been absolutely fantastic”, said Major Rich Gill. “They’re picking up the iPad – they’re straight into the training material without very much input at all from the instructors.”

Sometimes the impact of innovation in m-learning is to lead us into very new areas for training. Ford of Britain wanted to test the possibility of using a mobile device not just as a learning tool, but as a sales tool, to be used within the customer interaction itself. Imagine going into a showroom and being shown the latest features of a Ford vehicle in a comprehensive short video, right by the vehicle itself. LINE worked closely with Ford to help pilot an innovative App for iPhones and iPods that enabled the sales executives to do exactly that.

The App features the Grand C-MAX vehicles. It contains a series of high quality 3D movies that explain how new technologies such as Blind Spot Information System and Speed Limiter work – using technology to explain technology. The application also ensures that a wealth of technical and sales data is available at the salesperson’s fingertips – there’s no need for them to leave the showroom floor or keep the customer waiting while they retrieve information.

This is indicative of a big change that can happen with just-in-time learning delivered on mobile: the device is not just a channel for knowledge transfer, but can provide on-the-job tools for use in the working situation, dissolving the boundaries, to some extent, that formerly separated the acquisition of knowledge from its application.

Dealing with global diversity

An increasing number of organisations today work at global scale. Where workforces numbers in the tens of thousands, dispersed across different parts of the planet, organisations must deal not only with languages, but with a wide diversity in learning cultures. The way people learn in one country isn’t necessarily the same in another. E-learning must be flexible enough to reflect this diversity, if it is to work at scale.

LINE recognises this and so our multi-language editing and reviewing tool has been designed with this particularly in mind. It allows e-learning courses to be easily translated and localised by users. Text from the pages of the master course language can be viewed alongside the modification fields for the new language. Editors require little by the way of technical expertise to use the tool and can preview their translations in a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) interface whilst they work. Client translators can make the language revisions themselves, saving expensive redevelopment costs.

The tool provides clients with the flexibility to tailor their courses to suit different cultures, as well as providing them with a cost-effective solution to traditional translation methods. Many of our clients have used the tool so far, including Ford of Europe, the EU Commission and BP Castrol.

Meeting the pace of change

The pace of modern business is unprecedented. Product cycles are shortening, and organisations feel themselves to be in a continuous process of upheaval and change. This speed of change can often leave learning content slightly high-and dry, as situations change and the relevance of learning content is put at risk. Similarly, with production deadlines for learning shortening, it is not always possible to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’: the call is for rapid, iterative releases.

LINE’s Rework Tool offers clients a way to easily update their e-learning content at anytime. The Tool gives the clients the ability to make revisions to the text in their e-learning courses after release and final sign-off – easily and by yourself. Because the clients can make the revisions themselves it saves them having to pay for expensive re-development.

With standard operating procedures continually changing in organisations, many of our clients have benefited from this service offering, including PwC and the UK Ministry of Defence.

Providing the infrastructure for 21st century learning

As the use of technology becomes more embedded within L&D departments they find themselves more and more reliant on the IT department. Learning technologies place particular requirements on the IT infrastructure, not all of which may be catered for within the CIO’s existing IT strategy – and increasing scale can raise the profile of these requirements. Hosting, in particular, is one area where L&D often feels it better to take an outsourced approach.

LINE offers a range of options, including secure hosting within our UK data centre, that can take away the headaches caused with IT teams, data security issues and problems of access. Our service is sophisticated enough to allow clients to operate a web application from our infrastructure.

To date we have hosted content for approximately 100 clients, ranging from small mobile video content distributed to smartphones, to fully redundant enterprise systems, and our hosting solutions have enabled clients to deliver hundreds of hours of material to tens-of-thousands of users around the globe.

Syngenta, Leonard Cheshire, Proteus, BP, National Disability Authority of Ireland, NAB and Credit Suisse are just some of the clients that have used this service.

Conclusion

These are just a few of the technical challenges that our clients rely on us to rise to. Learning technology is a fast-evolving field, and new challenges arise every day. In a highly pressured, competitive world, clients simply cannot allow their technical infrastructure for learning to fall behind. The technical team at LINE will continue to work to stay on the cutting edge of developments, and to provide LINE clients with the very best of what technology tools can offer to help in achieving real business results through innovation in learning and communications.

Senior Leaders use technology in meetings

This first appeared on the LINE website on March 4th 2011…