Friday, 25 May 2012

This SCORM thing

So I work in e-learning of course (hard to believe sometimes I guess with the rubbish I go on about) and I know what SCORM is. Well.. Actually that's not one hundred percent true. Firstly I'm calling it S because it's easier to type, particularly on an iPad late at night. I know what S is in a sort of layman's terms. That brings me to the point of this blog today.. You'd be amazed at how many people involved in this little world of ours don't seem to have the slightest idea about what S is, how to make it work or when they should or should not be adhering to the standards.

So for the purists out there please excuse me as I start to tell you what S is from that layman's perspective. First and foremost it reminds me of the SI units back at school in England. The UK is funny in the way we apparently hate the French but use System Internationale as our units (the French version). The French like the rest of Europe of course use something different, the far more widely accepted but technically inferior metric system. The US of course in a further twist of irony use the British Imperial system that the Brits dropped to pick up the French one. At this point most of you are probably doubting the existence of SI and wondering where I'm going (unless your in the US where none of that modern stuff makes any sense and miles and gallons work fine for you and I can't say I disagree unless I actually have to do some sort of mathematical calculation). The key difference lies in the use of centi in metric but not in SI. In SI you have mm and ml and mg but you don't have cm, cl, or cg. Centi is a bit ugly you see in that it's based on ten to the power of -2 whereas every other unit is based upon 3 or -3 or multiples thereof. Eg milli (-3), micro (-6), kilo (3), nano (-9) etc. (and if you don't believe me buy a can of Coke in the UK and any other European country and check out the volume on the can).

So what's the point here eh? The point is that it kind of reminds me of our beloved S. Make sure your e-learning is S compliant you'll hear and for good reason. Now S stands for shareable content object reference model, that obviously seemed like a good idea at the time but hardly rolls off the tongue, still it's what we've got to go with, I like to call it S for short if you hadn't already guessed. I then think the key part of S is that it kind of stands for Sharing Standards (yes purists I know). I guess technically that would be SS but that's an acronym I don't care for particularly so S it is. S may be a model technically but we want in the e-learning world is a set of simple standards that you have to use to make your content work on more than one LMS. The issue is that whilst the metric system (S) exists it has a few variants, we could call one SI which is essentially S1 or SCORM 1.1 or AICC or earlier. This is something that simply doesn't get used on modern material outside of Coke can learning in the UK. It's just old and no longer used so move on, it will probably work on your LMS but don't even think about selecting it as an option moving forward. Cool, got that out the way so that must make it pretty simple right? Not really, that leaves us with two big systems remaining. S1.2 logically follows on from S1.0 and 1.1 and is as close to the standard as it gets. For most people this is still the preferred method for sharing your content and making it compatible with the vast majority of the systems. Thing is though, they went one better and created S1.3, except it doesn't exist any more as that. It was a change in direction and branched (ironically enough) into new territory so much so that it seemed over complicated and was resisted by the vast majority of producers and adopters. Whilst technically the new 'standard' allowed for more options and better and more complex tracking, it just wasn't as easy to get to grips with, it was a bit like living in a world of feet and inches and suddenly finding out that you had to talk in metres which were too big or too small so people thought of it as just over three feet (one too many for most people). So much so that the name was changed to disassociate it from S1.2 and it became known as S2004, that was the year the fork essentially occurred. So that means you have two real choices? Maybe.. Most e-learning is set to S1.2. Reason being that it's simpler and less open to interpretation than S2004. Lots of LMSs will still only fully function with S1.2 and few people actually know enough about S2004 and even less care.

So that's us done. If only, there's still some room for wiggle in the model unfortunately, and today I was given a package someone was having trouble moving between one LMS and another despite it being S compliant apparently. This is not something that is that rare because despite the model being quite prescriptive you should never underestimate the ingenuity of fools when claiming something to be fool proof. So some developers cut corners from time to time and cheat to make things work for the system they are writing for and sometimes they assume things like the case of the file names won't matter to anyone. But they do. Linux based systems like Moodle and Totara LMS will run such packages fine when hosted on Windows but will spit the dummy when hosted on the better performing and preferred Linux system (such was the ultimate cause of my headache today).

Simple solution would be to use a system that produces the S for you surely? Articulate, Storyline or Captivate will automatically produce S compliant content, but even that you can break by your actual content and a clever mix of options that people will play with! Especially some of the older versions which were rather insistent on only sending back scores if you clicked the right button at the end rather than exiting in the normal manner, or my personal favorite where they can't seem to generate a new attempt.
One could think from all of this that S itself was completely pointless if you don't want to change your LMS and to a certain extent you'd be right. That said I've changed a few big corporate LMSs to Totara recently and moving courses that aren't S compliant is always a lot of work, not to mention the records that are associated. Also if you use those rapid tools to produce content and particularly assessments you really want your LMS to track them and unless you have someone creating all your content in a way to talk to your LMS then S1.2 seems like the best way to go. As a Moodle and Totara fan I still tend to opt for the quiz interaction in Moodle itself as you get greater analysis beyond basic S data, but to each his own.
The one thing that's definitely true is that you need to make sure your e-learning developer truly understands what S is beyond the basic and ALWAYS get your source files. If they won't give them to you drop me a line :)

Finally if you want to get all technical then go to to find out all the real clever stuff about S and how it has nothing to do with the metric system and no one but no one calls it S, these guys came up with it so they should know!

As always all the opinions here are mine.. Feel free to drop me a line at or follow me on @nigelkineo on Twitter.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:New Zealand

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Relaunching, Revamping or Replacing Your LMS

Your LMS has been in place two years and the shine has gone off it a bit eh?  Remember when you first put it in place and the buzz and excitement that surrounded the new and gleaming product.  How fresh the pages looked and how inviting the courses were?  Or maybe it wasn't like that at all with your LMS.  Maybe it was like that in the pre-talks but the reality was and is that your LMS is somewhat of a ghost town? Maybe your LMS is nothing like either of those but just needs to generate more interest or more content to get things going?  Okay, whatever your angle here it seems like if you have an LMS for more than 12 months you'll want to schedule a make-over for it some time soon..
 I'm one of those guys that likes to reorganise a bit.  I set up my living room the way I like it and all is well and good for a while.  Then one day it needs to change, it has to change and that's because there is definitely a better way of arranging things.  Actually that's not quite it, it doesn't have to be better sometimes it has to be 'new'.  The simple truth is I have a short attention span (hence the rambling blog pieces) and need constant visual stimuli in my life from my lounge to my LMS.  When I've rearranged the lounge it all feels a bit different but that's part of the attraction, I have to rediscover things - sometimes these things are annoying and you realise it was better before you meddled, but often as not you introduce new things and they make you realise you were suffering before!  (now I can see the TV from the kitchen, hey that's great, I love cooking!)
So my living room is a great example on a personal scale, if I need to change it I do and if it works that's great.  The family have a say but I'm clearly the head of the house.. okay, that bit may not be true, but I've got nearly equal say and definitely as much as the kids and more than Milo (that's the dog you remember from Loving and Letting Go..).  But when your family is your organisation and you really are a few rungs from the top of the ladder (if not a few rungs short of a ladder) then does this change your ability to make changes at will?  I guess it does, it certainly means that we're at our first step:

Getting authority to change it
You may already have this but I guess that depends on the level of change you're looking at.  If you're trying to get a new LMS in place because your old corporate LMS is costing tens of thousands more than a better performing Open Source LMS like Totara then you should have great motivation to take to the powers that be but you'll still need a business case and proper scoping.  If you're looking to improve functionality on the current platform again this could come down to money and you'll need the all important sign-off (have I mentioned Open Source to you yet?).  A facelift maybe something you can do yourself, but many LMSs don't allow you to change the look dramatically without paying out for it.  If it's just about content then you've missed part of the picture.  That's like me buying a new TV and just putting it in my living room where the old one was.  Unless the TV is significantly bigger than the last you still wont see it from the kitchen at my place unless you rearrange and let people know.  I've over-waffled this bit, but the short truth is if it costs then make sure you can afford/justify it before committing to the change.

Plan it out
I guess it almost goes without saying but don't just wade in there and find that there's no power socket for your new TV where you planned to move it or the aerial won't make it.  In LMS terms that means making sure that you're not breaking links or removing functionality unintentionally.  Early in the piece you want to be putting together your communication plan to ensure everyone knows what is happening.

Revisit or get new champions
So you had these champions when you launched, how much have you spoken to them since?  Re-engage with the people who put time and effort in to promoting the LMS first time round (not the ones who didn't help or even hurt).  You'll also need to find new people to help - that leads me to the next point..

Take on some new challenges and fresh ideas
If you really want to get people interested again in their e-learning then look to engage a new area of the business with some keen people who can provide you with something fresh and new.  Bring these people in and get them enthused by what they're going to bring in. I think a challenge here is important if you're trying to reinvigorate.  Challenge the new team to do more than is already in place or stretch their own capabilities.

Celebrate success
Just like with your initial launch, celebrate every success and make sure everyone knows about it! 

Use some of those 'locked down' features
It's all well and good having all those nifty web 2.0 tools but isn't it about time you actually used something beyond the single forum you currently have in place?  Perhaps look at releasing or encouraging greater usage of these types of tools; forums are a great start but what about a live chat session or voting or even a wiki to try and get people interested?  You can also start to spread the love a little more by giving more people a higher involvement.

Expand your content
Oh that's an easy thing to say but how do we actually go about adding more content to our LMS?  Chances are if you're actively adding content it's happening in one of three ways; external help (bespoke, custom or off the shelf content), internally produced trainer content (rapid e-learning tools or LMS tools) or you have your own e-learning development team.  If the answer is the latter.. err.. well.. firstly you're in the minority and secondly use them quickly before they vanish into thin air.  If you're using LMS tools consider investing in some rapid development tools.  My pick here has always been between Adobe Captivate and Articulate Studio; be aware of the new kid on the block Articulate Storyline - some are calling it a game changer and I think it certainly tips the balance towards Articulate being the weapon of choice for the rapid developer.  If you're going external look at seeing if your provider is interested in a partnership type production where you do some of the work rather than all them - it's a great approach, really cost effective and often a better end product as you have more internal investment.  If they don't do that sort of thing drop me a line and I'll get someone from Kineo to talk to you :)

Communicate it..
This is the easiest but most important way to invigorate your LMS but most often missed out.  Get out there, get the message across, involve others, present, send newsletters and updates on your intranet; but don't let all your hard work go unnoticed.  Blokes know about this, it's why we (rarely) empty the dishwasher or clean (anything).  We want the recognition and make sure our better halves know about it; same is true here, make sure people know that your LMS is back and better than ever (even if it never went away)!  Walk the walk too.  Use the tools in your organisation and the LMS itself and involve as many key people and enthusiasts you can.

Okay, that's enough for this episode, I've got to go and cook dinner and watch TV at the same time.  Actually that's only a partial truth, I'm gonna watch the NBA playoffs on my iPad whilst I cook; maybe I didn't need to move that TV in the first place?

As usual all opinions expressed are entirely my own and not representative of what anyone would probably say if they stopped and thought about it.  I'd love to hear what you have to say so either place feedback or hit me directly through twitter @NigelKineo or linked in Nigel Young or email :)