Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Losing and Winning with Technology

In my role a bit of travel is necessary and often that means a quick trip across the Tasman like last Friday where I was working with the excellent people at Toll Group on their Totara LMS upgrade and launch.  The day started early - a 6.30am flight usually means a 3.30am get up and that may not be the strongest point of my day!  Anyway, when you get to the airport and find out the 'computer's down' it's usually a bad sign and Friday was no different.  I was there early and skipped through (the advantage of frequent flyers) without too much hassle but the queue was already backing up and needless to say the flight got delayed two hours.

A great meeting (albeit with a slightly delayed start) was derailed slightly (another mixing of transport metaphors) upon leaving the taxi.  I left the taxi but my iPhone 5 did not.  Instead it decided to continue to circle around Melbourne before going permanently into a state of hiding that I have little hope it will come out of.  Amazingly I still managed to check in and (after another delay of course) got my flight and eventually got home a mere 22 hours or so after I started.  The reliance on technology for both airlines and business users has become immense - but even in the face of delays and frustrations I have to ask is this a bad thing?

Firstly, the 'manual way' of checking every passenger on to a flight is extremely time consuming and this was clearly proved on Friday for me.  To get everyone through in the same amount of time as normal would have taken about three times as many staff.  In this sense the technology to achieve this wins hands down, but it does emphasise one of the ways in which we win or lose in technology; have a backup.  This isn't just for technology of course, but in the learning technology world it pays to plan for the worst and hope for the best and not just rely on lady luck.  For example, if I'm giving a keynote or presenting I'll have more than one delivery method raring to go - so perhaps your learning has the same type of fall back.  One way we achieve this with an LMS is to make sure that we only host with top notch providers like Catalyst IT or Andragogic - their systems 'go down' like everyone elses but they always have backups, redundancy and the type of 'up-time' that doesn't leave you stranded.

My phone was a different kind of loss though.  My initial reaction was one of panic that I suggest most modern smartphone users can relate to - we have come to rely on them so heavily for everything from my Air New Zealand mPass ap (no the flight out was with another airline I'll not mention... although you'd think it was their first time) to my calendar, email, Skype and even notes.  The great news was that I sat down and opened my MacBook Air (yes, bit of an Apple fan, you can substitute some Android and even Windows type thing if it works for you) and went online and things started to get better.  I click on the 'find my iphone' ap and I'm already registering it lost with the appropriate notifications if someone's daft enough to try and use it.  I make phone calls through Skype to the police, taxi company and boss!  I can even send text messages on the phone that is no longer in my possession (iMessage).  I tell Telecom to bar my phone (although the security on it should do that anyway) and I'm already feeling a bit more in control.

The next day I grab a new sim card for the paltry sum of $5 and slip it into my old iPhone 4 (yeah, that hurt a bit) and connect to my computer and restore what my phone was like give or take a faster processor and a bit more screen size!  Okay two more phone calls to Telecom to help them understand their own un-barring process and here I am fully back up and running and waiting for the okay to buy the latest model to replace the one I gifted someone else.

The point?  Again it's not just the initial reliance on technology at play here, but the technology that I lost as easily as I could have lost any personal organiser (remember the Filofax?) was essentially replaced almost immediately.  Again it's a backup plan - don't put all your eggs in one technological basket and risk a scrambled mess.  Ideally you'll have other forms of communication that will allow you to overcome loss of your phone and notify people, but what about system issues or learning objects that won't work?  I like the way in Totara I can let people in 'courses' know what's going on, backup and restore data and even get time machine working (another technological error earlier in the year) on the database to bring me back to where I was.

Don't underestimate the usefulness of Cloud based computing either.  Once upon a time if your computer crashed or your floppy drive (yay, remember them!) corrupted you felt damn near suicidal - now there's almost no excuses for relying on the hardware in your office/home.  I use Cloud based back-ups and sync to make sure that the notes I was making in Friday's meeting on both computer and phone could be retrieved not only from them, but any internet ready machine with the passwords.  One of my personal favourite tools is the ever-so-simple Evernote - but I also like simple cloud based storage like Box or Dropbox.  I use Box (the company says so) with a background sync - what that means in simple terms is I save everything locally and then it saves it in the cloud for me.  That way I get the best of both worlds in a system that has everything immediately at hand and doesn't rely on internet connection when I'm out and about, but keeps everything safe and up-to-date.

Bringing this all back to learning and the advantages of having your LMS cloud based are obvious.  Client-end LMS's are hopefully fairly well done for as they simply place too much reliance on physically being in a certain place (and that's kind of against what an LMS is for isn't it?).  But saying your LMS is cloud based is only half the story - your content should be too - and if your servers have redundancy built in you'll be able to access learning even when the worst occurs.

Now... at least I see the 5s is out now :)