BPO: Managing Services & Association eLearning
Associations love their members. Members love professional development opportunities. So, associations strive to provide those opportunities to their members. Sounds like a match made in heaven!
However, many associations are starting to recognize that while members are central to their functions, the deployment of professional development is not an association’s core business. This is particularly true for learning provided over the Internet. As such, associations are beginning to look outside their own organization for help with service management, or outsourcing the business process (BPO).
Companies such as Accenture, GP Strategies and Web Courseworks offer external consulting and implementation solutions to businesses with needs ranging from IT services, training, and recruitment. These companies help other organizations maximize processes in terms of efficiency and quality.
How does that work for associations?
Essentially, an association identifies a need that it lacks the expertise to fulfill in various ways. Let’s say they need to deliver eLearning to thousands of members. So, the association hires experts to provide the services to fill that need. The key change is that associations are looking to hire external services for managing these processes rather than relying completely on internal resources.
This is BPO at work. It allows companies and associations to “let go” of frustrating issues and organizational headaches and instead focus on more important matters such as marketing, building your brand, and growing revenue.
What service management needs might an association “outsource” for eLearning?
As noted previously, it is not the central function of an association to deliver online professional development. This is, instead, one of many services they provide to their members. Many processes go into providing that service, processes that should not cause an association’s time or resources to spiral out of control. Which processes of eLearning, therefore, can and should be handed off to the experts to worry about?
The education side of professional development has always been relatively easy for associations to tackle. However, due to the explosion of eLearning in the past 15 years, education staff members need to have new areas of expertise, particularly in IT-related processes.
SCORM, Flash, HTML5, 508 compliance, etc… The rapid pace of change and innovation for eLearning is making the lack of synergy between education expertise and IT expertise more apparent. This is problematic for associations hoping to successfully and effectively provide quality online learning for their members while minimizing hiring costs and interdepartmental issues.
More associations will consider utilizing BPO to maximize their eLearning and IT processes in a variety of ways. Don’t think about it as giving up cold turkey on an entire eLearning, training, or support department. At its extreme, yes, an association could go that route. Most of the time, however, it would be more likely that management will strike a balance upon determining which functions and responsibilities should remain more internal and to what degree others can be transferred to or shared with highly capable external teams.
An association with eLearning needs, for example, can hire an external company to administer a variety of functions necessary to create, host, deliver, and/or assess the eLearning and the systems that enable those processes. For instance, the external company takes over administration of the association’s learning management system. Compare this to the association itself spending months and money to find a qualified team who satisfy both the educational understanding and IT expertise needed for the job. The BPO company would still work with the association to ensure their needs for the system are met, and the association focuses on more important aspects like their brand and relationship with members. This is what we like to call a win-win situation!
Ranging from simple to more complex, these needs may include:
- Hosting software (SAAS)
- LMS administration
- Support/help desk
- Content management
- Project management
- Subject matter expertise
- Live training workshops
What makes an association an ideal candidate for using BPO with eLearning?
In general, associations looking to minimize expenses and maximize revenue would benefit from considering this method of managing their services. However, the decision also depends on the capabilities of any departments involved, as well as the availability of resources to be able to make that success happen. Read more…
This post is gonna party like it’s January 1, 2014
The new year is still so—well, new during the first month. It’s still trying to get its footing. Find a sense of purpose. Point the way. Tread the waters a bit. We gave January the room to accomplish these things. As such, we had a 31 day opportunity to really mull over what we think will make 2014 a great year for e-Learning. What’s in store for the remaining 334 days? We have four “M” trends to keep an eye on!
1. Mobile compatibility
Adapting e-Learning for a variety of desktop browsers continues to be important for content providers, but we predict that 2014 will be the year that “m-Learning” really gets a significant look from associations. Rather than focusing solely on browser compatibility, m-Learning seeks to offer quality learning opportunities across devices such as tablets or smartphones. Is there any chance we will be using these devices less in the coming year? Not very likely.
According to Comscore, “multi-platform users will evolve from being a simple majority to a dominant majority, while an increasing percentage of consumers will access the web from all three leading digital media platforms.” Clearly, it is in e-Learning companies’ best interests to consider investing in making their products compatible across multiple devices and platforms in 2014. By creating a responsive design for accommodating different screen sizes and user interface capabilities, associations can deliver their e-Learning to a wider range of clients and keep them engaged in learning rather than engaged in trying to zoom in and out and click tiny buttons on a touch screen. To accomplish this, companies may consider investing more heavily in HTML5 development, or the use of the standards such as Experience API (Tin Can) that particularly support portable, compatible data.
2. Mo-mo-mo-more MOOCs
In the last couple of years, Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) have been the poster child example for globalizing education and increasing your average Joe/Josephine’s access to previously exclusive academic content. A quick glance at MOOC List, an aggregation site for the thousands of MOOCs in existence, will reveal that while many of these courses appear to be more academic in nature (Crash Course Biology or Introduction to International Criminal Law, there are certainly many contenders that additionally fall under the categories of life-long learning or professional development. In fact, in 2014, it is easy to argue that the line between academic content and professional content is extremely gray, perhaps even useless to some.
We predict that more e-Learning companies and professional associations will work together in 2014 to provide a MOOC-like experience for their employees and their members. Associations may not be ready to release theses courses into the wild with tens of thousands of users like true MOOCs might have, but it is possible for associations to create a MOOC-like experience for professional development and other learning opportunities. Many companies who offer learning programs already host these resources online, or “in the cloud” so that users from anywhere, at anytime, can access the information through any Internet-connected device.
To increase the MOOC-like experience for these courses, associations would focus on utilizing technology (such as a corporate Learning Management System) to promote synchronous collaboration. Social learning and blended learning structures are becoming more popular, and MOOCs revolve around those concepts as opposed to the traditional asynchronous page-turning used in many online association learning resources.
Check out our blog post here to learn how we recommend getting started building your own MOOC-like experience for your users!
3. Miniaturizing Content
One purpose of e-Learning is to make content more accessible to learners. Often, the focus of this purpose is connected to the e part of the word, and less so on the learning portion. Copying and pasting mass amounts of content from one context into another is not enough.
In 2004, the term micro-learning was introduced. In 2006, nano-learners were given voice. Now, content chunking is a widely recognized best practice for breaking up lengthy content and keeping a more manageable scope on what information is valuable enough to be assessed. The majority of learners process information best in smaller amounts, and there are many ways to provide this type of instruction.
ISD experts have been recommending this technique for years in regards to both in-person and online educational opportunities. It’s likely that 2014 will continue to champion this educational practice for the increasing numbers of online learners. We predict more variations of this technique, such as using learning objective modules rather than courses, or microcredentials (see below). The emphasis on making content meaningful will continue to be a mission for instructional designers everywhere.
Who doesn’t love getting an award recognizing their hard work and achievements? Yahoo! Sports, Xbox, Netflix, and other major companies are hopping on the microcredential train, offering small achievement-based awards for their users. Did you against all odds successfully demolish your #1 ranked opponent this week? There’s a medal for that! Did you accidentally watch ten episodes in a row of that one TV show, or finally watch your first TED talk? There’s an Achievement badge for that! Even Mozilla, the makers of the Firefox browser, are promoting badges for their users.
The reward and the accompanying feeling of encouragement is what appeals to users, whether they are binge watching on Netflix or learning about astrophysics through a series of TED talks. This aspect of gamification is quickly expanding its frequency and usefulness in the worlds of e-Learning and social media.
Tagoras’ Association Learning + Technology Report 2014 demonstrates that while microcredentials are currently offered by only 9.3 percent of associations utilizing e-Learning currently, it is really “natural territory” for these groups and will thus continue to grow. Associations want to reward members for acquiring new knowledge or improving skill sets.
While digital badges may lag behind the traditional accreditation or certification process for some companies, the “micro” part could very likely be on the rise for many learners in 2014. Having smaller, trackable assessments within your e-Learning structure not only satisfies the best practice of content chunking, but success with those assessments can more easily and more often be recognized and rewarded. The learner remains engaged and keeps on learning! Ultimately, as microcredentials continue to pick up speed, they will provide associations with a fuller picture of the learner and their achievements—a picture that we hope will come into better focus in 2014.
Managing e-learning is written by the Blog team at Web Courseworks which includes Jon Aleckson and Meri Tunison. Ideas and concepts are originated and final copy reviewed by Jon Aleckson.
A Research Review
“…we abandoned the term e-learning entirely.”
Wow! Bold words grace the second paragraph of the latest research done by Tagoras founders Jeff Cobb and Celisa Steele. In their freshly published (and free to download!) research, Association Learning & Technology 2014, Cobb and Steele analyze how 200 associations report using technology to “enable and enhance learning.”
The authors certainly waste no time in dispensing of e-learning as a term, which may perplex many in the educational technology industry. However, after reading the report on their research, it is clear that Cobb and Steele subscribe to a broader vision of learning, one that may be enhanced or delivered by technology but that ultimately relies on one other thing to be successful: strategy.
Yep, e-learning is out (at least, for now from the Tagoras vernacular). What’s in? Technology-enabled learning. Technology-enhanced learning. Notice that learning remains prominent. Technology remains prominent. However, these terms are meant to highlight the strategy rather than the technology tools themselves. In other words, particular tools are indispensable for enabling and enhancing learning, and a wide variety of options exist for associations to employ in educating their members. While these tools are key, however, they must be planned and used in meaningful and productive ways for associations to successfully educate their members. This means strategy.
Markers of Success
A solid strategy leads associations to success in terms of education. The research shows a “steady increase” in associations’ use of technology for learning. Are all associations experiencing the same amount of success in this area? If not, why not? Cobb and Steele use their research to illuminate the importance of strategy in helping associations become “more focused,” “more professional,” and “more significant.”
Eighty percent of associations responded that they were very satisfied (24.7 percent) or somewhat satisfied (55.3 percent) with the overall performance of their current learning initiatives with technology. That’s excellent news, right? And in fact, it is, until we look closer at the areas of dissatisfaction identified in the research.
- Cost – The financial investment needed to create the materials.
- Time – The investment by staff needed to create the materials.
- Revenue – The profits/return netted by these associations from offering the materials.
All three areas above hovered around 50 percent for the number of respondents reporting levels of satisfaction. Considering the importance of these areas for any association, it is surprising that the number of respondents feeling satisfied overall is a good thirty percent higher.
Certainly costs, time, and revenue are key components of any corporate strategy. Education is not excluded from this aspect. Cobb and Steele determined several markers of success from their research that can assist associations in improving their satisfaction with these three areas. And, no surprise here—all these markers come back to building a strategy.
To achieve success, and thus to increase satisfaction in terms of revenue, costs, and time, Cobb and Steele’s research emphasizes several steps. Here’s our take on the top 3 ways to proactively increase your association’s chances of success and levels of satisfaction.
“Have a formal, documented strategy for their use of technology for learning.”
As the report notes, associations know that education is a source of revenue—it is a part of doing business. By providing information and services to their members, associations can make money and grow in order to improve those offerings. Education is a key part of that corporate plan for most associations. Just slightly over 88 percent of respondents reported that their organizations “currently offer technology-enabled or technology-enhanced learning.” And, 10.6 percent plan to begin doing so in the next year. These associations hope to generate revenue from these offerings.
Currently, just over half of the associations in this report increased their organization’s net revenue due to education efforts. However, nearly 70 percent of associations who reported having a strategy for technology and learning also reported increased net revenues from that strategy. In comparison, only 45 percent of associations without a strategy reported increased revenues.
For example, part of such a strategy may be to ensure a quality product. Over 63 percent of organizations with a strategy use professional instructional designers, compared to 33.3 percent of those without a strategy. While admittedly hiring these professionals is easier for larger associations to budget for, it is possible (and necessary) for any strategy to include building and delivering quality to members.
Ultimately, this saves on cost, revenue, and time by being proactive rather than reactive. Documenting that strategy makes improvements easier to note and implement, as well as identifying areas of success that need to be continued.
“Offer facilitated online courses, gamified learning, virtual conferences, and at least some mobile learning—in general, be more innovative and forward-thinking.”
Variety is the spice of life. No technology tool should be used simply for the sake of using it, however. Part of having success is to strategize which types of tools are going to be most useful to your association’s educational goals—but also being open to trying new tools that could prove to be more effective and engaging.
There are numerous studies and ideas circulating on how to build these opportunities, so they do not need to be addressed in detail here. However, a couple of findings in Cobb and Steele’s research are important to note:
- Webinars and webcasts are offered by about 80 percent of the responding associations. The only other content delivery tools to command a majority of use are “self-paced online courses, tutorials, and presentations” coming in at 65.5 percent. Clearly, these particular options are very popular and arguably perhaps the easiest to implement in general.
- Mobile content is supported by almost 37 percent of associations in this study. In the 2010 study by Tagoras, the research showed a mere 9 percent. As Cobb and Steele excitedly note for 2014: “Add in those planning to offer a mobile version in the next 12 months, and we’re on track for a majority of associations to make m-learning part of their offerings in the future.”
- Of the four emerging types of learning specifically asked about by Cobb and Steele (MOOCs, flipped classes, gamified learning, and microcredentials), none have yet to reach above a 10 percent rate of adoption. Though still “fringe” offerings, the authors are optimistic that these will continue as trends that often may come naturally for associations’ strategies.
Using tools such as these to enhance and enable your association’s educational offerings will help generate engagement for your members, thus leading to improved satisfaction levels by members. Satisfied members are more likely to continue to learn, thus potentially increasing your association’s revenue from education. Additionally, trying new approaches can open up new and more effective possibilities that were not possible previously. Assessing the costs and uses of all tools will also improve the budgeting for these efforts, both in monetary value and time value.
“Use a learning content management system (LCMS).”
“While Webinars are often seen as a relatively easy, low-risk way to enter the technology-based learning market, implementation of an LMS is usually a sign that an organization has made the decision to invest significantly in technology to support its learning— presumably because it sees the potential for a positive return on that investment.” (Cobb & Steele, p. 14, 2013).
A key part to developing a strategy is to determine how to deliver and track your educational products for your members—and nearly 70 percent of companies with a technology-enhanced learning strategy use a Learning Management System (LMS), and just under 30 percent use a learning content management system (CMS or LCMS) either in tandem with an LMS or separately. Without a strategy, that percentage significantly drops to 44 percent of associations that use such a platform.
The report accurately points out that the use of an LMS may be closely related to the budgeting capacity of the responding associations. Though, it is likely that if an association currently could not afford an LMS, part of their strategy could easily include that as a future, viable goal for supporting their “overall learning initiative.” In the meantime, other means of delivering and managing content are available, though may be lacking the powerful data analysis capabilities of an LMS or LCMS.
Improving your management of content, data, and credentials for your members’ education will lead to more effective ways of determining areas of success and needs for improvement. Your product offerings will benefit from this as well, which will more likely translate to higher revenue and better allocation of costs and time.
 Ideas discussed in this post are based on the blog team’s reading of the Tagoras report. Quotes are taken directly from the report, though their application is paraphrased and adapted from the original recommendations, to emphasize what the blog team feels is important for e-Learning (technology enabled learning) management. Percentages with decimals have been rounded to the nearest whole number where appropriate.
Managing eLearning is written by the Blog team at Web Courseworks which includes Jon Aleckson and Meri Tunison. Ideas and concepts are originated and final copy reviewed by Jon Aleckson.
Web Courseworks team members were thrilled to visit the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) annual conference this week. CHEST 2013 showcased ACCP’s dedication to provide high-tech and high quality continuing education opportunities for their members.
As demonstrated at the conference, ACCP uses Coursestage (Web Courseworks’ LMS platform) in effective ways:
- share online content to members
- facilitate hands-on learning
- assess performances
- grant continuing medical education credits (CMEs)
Excited to see eLearning in action at CHEST, Web Courseworks CEO Jon Aleckson joined Jason Jensen (Executive VP of Sales & Marketing) and Andy Hicken (Product Innovation Specialist) on the journey to Chicago. Check out some great pictures from their visit!
ACCP members on the eLearning “midway.”
Hands-On Training and Live Assessments
Web Courseworks Celebrates Halloween In Style
Our e-learning team here at Web Courseworks wishes you all a very Happy Halloween! Today the office is full of our cast of characters, hamming it up in honor of the holiday spirit.
Managing eLearning is written by the Blog team at Web Courseworks which includes Jon Aleckson and Meri Tunison. Ideas and concepts are originated and final copy reviewed by Jon Aleckson.
An Internet Resources Review
There are a lot of exciting things happening with Experience API this year, making our prediction for 2013 starting to potentially ring true—this new open source standard for eLearning interoperability is certainly gaining steam. Colloquially known as Tin Can, the standard makes big promises for the mobility and flexibility of data gathering and analysis. With those big promises, however, come big challenges.
What is lying underneath the fluff and sparkle of Tin Can’s promises? What is noteworthy in terms of achievements so far, and what is still floating around with no answers yet? We dove head-first into the “junk”—the vast array of resources and reviews—looking for treasures. The search yielded some great up-to-date information along with lingering concerns about Tin Can.
What is Experience API (Tin Can) hoping to do?
Mainly, it hopes to appeal to the eLearning masses by offering a simpler, cleaner, and more thorough record of learning activities, both formal and informal. SCORM—Tin Can’s parent standard—still reigns as the widely-used standard for publishing and sharing online educational content. However, Tin Can offers the opportunity to do more, and to do it better as well:
- better portability for content and data
- better analytics of a user’s learning experiences
- more mobile and offline access for learning
- more tracking of real-world activities
- recording formal learning activity and informal learning activity
Due to these promises, Tin Can has gained attention from eLearning providers and application companies. Rustici Software helped coordinate programming efforts and compliance for the standard’s code. The company’s President, Mike Rustici, has high hopes for Tin Can’s potential to support “K-12, teachers, mobile developers, web developers, universities, government, education technology, MOOCs, games, and an array of real-world use cases we can’t even imagine yet.”
As it is still a relatively new standard, however, it is still a long way from having the sheer amount and variety of adopters that SCORM has. Tin Can’s promises may be challenging to deliver this early in the process. Currently, some questions remain about Tin Can’s implementation and the implications it has for eLearning.
Why revisit this now?
Almost a year ago, Web Courseworks CEO Jon Aleckson interviewed Michael Rochelle of Brandon Hall and Aaron Silvers of ADL about their excitement towards Experience API/Tin Can. The news of an emerging standard that could improve and surprass SCORM functionality was intriguing to us as an eLearning company. However, at the start of 2013, our team was split on how effective Tin Can would be in delivering on its promises while balancing the costs of implementation.
Version 1.0 was officially released this past April, an exciting landmark for the early adopters who were involved in implementing the early codes and sharing their experiences. The Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative (ADL), Rustici Software, and a host of contributors from the eLearning community all played an integral role in producing, tweaking, and testing the new standard. This year has brought more examples and information to light due to the efforts of early adopters, but many questions still remain that will be important for programmers, eLearning managers, and others to consider.
Here are four questions that help us get a picture of where things are at for the Experience API/Tin Can standard. Looking through current online literature and videos on Tin Can, the answers seem to be bubbling right below the surface. As adoption of the new standard continues, hopefully more information about these questions will be shared.
How will Tin Can change learning design?
Since Tin Can’s goals support multiple formats of learning, how will best practices for eLearning instructional design be impacted? Epic Learning Group, an early adopter of Tin Can, believes that instructional designers will be free to “think creatively outside of what was previously possible with SCORM.” In theory, that does sound pretty great! There are some underlying questions that need to still be considered in terms of learning design.
“Real-world activities” can be tracked with Tin Can, which may lessen the amount of control an eLearning team will have over the design of the activity environment. Will internal learning design be drastically changed if most activities are external? For example, a content writer/designer may need to focus more on how to lead learners to different external resources and then back again to the module, rather than focusing on how to incorporate content into the module. This could include directing the user out to YouTube to watch a video, and tracking the user’s interactions on YouTube itself to view similar videos before the user returns to the content package. Additionally, the eLearning team has no control over how content is displayed on YouTube or any other external source. How will that impact the design of eLearning modules?
YouTube videos are a popular example of how Tin Can could track informal learning activities. However, efforts to “Tin Cannify” external content platforms such as YouTube are still underway in terms of coding and implementing. This reveals another challenge that could affect learning design—as well as programming efforts. At the very least, this may require the relationship between programmers and the instructional design team to change. Supporting this, eLearning enthusiasts David Kelly and Kevin Thorn note that most of the discussions so far on Tin Can are very technical still. They question, “If the Experience API is the future of learning and performance, and it requires the ability to actually write code, how does it impact the vast majority of instructional designers who do not have coding skills?”
In a broader sense, some questions have been raised about the emphasis of tracking gaining precedence over the emphasis on learning. Learning design should focus on the needs of the audience, rather than the needs of data collecting. Will Tin Can strike that magical balance between the two? Are we “obsessing over the ability to track everything we learn,” as eLearning blogger Mark Aberdour asks, or will this truly lead to a “future of personalised, adaptive, just-in-time learning” as promised?