Video or SCORM?

SCORM or VideoIn case you may have missed it e-learning, or online learning as I prefer to call it these days, has gone mainstream. From YouTube to Lynda, from iTunesU to MOOCs everyone is learning online. But one surprising aspect of this frenzy of online learning activity is the simple fact that almost none of it uses SCORM. If you don’t know what SCORM is this probably won’t bother you, but if you’ve been involved in designing, building or buying conventional e-learning then you will know that SCORM is key to making e-learning work. If you build an e-learning module in a tool like Articulate Storyline and want it to work on your LMS it had better be published as a SCORM package. So if SCORM is so important how are LMSs like iTunesU or Udemy ignoring it completely?

To answer this we need to remind ourselves just what SCORM is. SCORM (Shareable Content Object Reference Model) was developed back in 2000 by the US Department of Defense as a way to standardise the way e-learning objects were built so that they could be shared on various platforms (LMS) and combined to create courses. Hence the shareable content object in the name.┬áIn practice, outside of very large organisations learning objects are rarely re-used. However the portability and interoperability was useful since there are many tools and ways to build e-learning and lots of LMS’ to put it on so what was particularly useful about SCORM was its role as a ‘connector’ technology. In practice this role is performed by the SCORM run time environment (RTE).

Link: SCORM Run Time Environment (RTE)

So why does the content need to connect or communicate with the LMS? Well there are two reasons. Firstly to track progress through the content and secondly to record a test score. The SCORM RTE uses JavaScript to handle this communication.

So back to our video. Is this able to communicate progress? No. is there a score recorded? No. Video has none of this functionality built in.

The other aspect of a typical SCORM e-learning module that is missing from video is learner interaction. Most e-learning is built using either Flash or HTML5 and is designed for interactivity. This isn’t a feature of SCORM but of Flash and HTML but it adds an extra dimension to content that isn’t available with video. Video is essentially a passive medium. As a learner you just watch it.

So why are iTunesU, Udemy and most MOOC platforms going with video and not supporting SCORM? There are two reasons. Firstly SCORM adds complexity. Secondly, and probably more significantly, SCORM is much less likely to run on mobile devices. Actually it’s not the SCORM that’s the issue but the interaction environment. Mobile devices don’t support Flash and they don’t always support HTML5 reliably either. Videos on the other hand will happily run on pretty much any device.

As a learning designer video’s lack of interactivity makes it a second rate choice compared to a SCORM module (what I call an iLesson these days). However if it’s combined with other learner activities such as assignments, discussions or quizzes then it can play a useful role within a course. And we are going to see a lot more innovation in video with interactivity already featuring on some platforms.

So does this mean that the days of SCORM are numbered? Yes it does, but it will probably take a while to die and it will be replaced by another very different middleware technology known as the Experience API (formerly TinCan) but that’s a subject for another article.


Video of the Week: The OU on Economics

Video is becoming increasingly popular in e-learning. It’s an engaging medium and one that everyone is familiar with considering we spend so much time in front of our TVs and our multimedia devices. Video is also mobile device friendly – videos will run on pretty much all devices and are particularly suited to smartphones with a reasonable size screen. But can you actually learn from watching a video or a documentary on TV? (For more on this : Can you learn from watching a video? ). This video from the Open University teaches us about how the economy works (or doesn’t); pretty topical I think. It also uses humour – something which is sadly lacking from most e-learning programmes (but don’t blame me – clients almost always remove any that I try to sneak in).

YouTube Learners

There is a ‘perceived wisdom’ among many of my clients and potential clients that younger workers need a different type of e-learning to other workers. These ‘digital natives’ are characterised by having a short attention span and valuing form over function, and because many of them have grown up playing computer games it’s assumed that their learning needs to be more game like in order for them to be motivated to do it. In reality the situation is more complex than this – these learner’s are awash with information – the problem they have is about relevance. With so much to learn, about so much, they need learning experiences that build capability quickly and which are appropriate for ‘here and now’ – not some future point in time. Motivation isn’t the problem – relevance is. This video sums up the issue from an educator’s viewpoint:

I love the segment from 21s to 29s. Enjoy and learn.

TED-Ed Launches

TED launched their new education orientated series of short films today. Called TED-Ed the formula appears to be:

  1. Identify a cool topic (e.g. How do Dolphins Communicate?)
  2. Find a brilliant teacher (e.g. Miss Hogarth from Anytown High)
  3. Put 1 and 2 together with some ‘pro-animators’ (volunteers wanted)
  4. Create a 10 min video and share with the world.

It’s a nice idea, and of course it will all be free to share but I can’t help thinking that we are in danger of turning learning into ‘videobites’.

Learning Technologies 2012 Show Review

Learning Technologies 2012

I’m always so late with my post event blogs, but then they say that you should always leave some distance between the experience and your reflection on it. This one is especially late because my website was hacked via some rogue WordPress plug-ins.

I have been attending the Learning Technologies Show (I’m not describing the conference here) almost since it started back in 1999. In the early days it was dominated by learning platforms and systems – primarily LMS’ but also KM and Talent Management systems. Since then it has re-balanced somewhat in favour of content, and these days even the technologies are so much more accessible (and affordable). In particular, the rise of DIY authoring tools and learner friendly LMS’ combined with the focus on learning content has resulted in an event that is as much about learning (or at least learning content) as it is about technology.

I spent two days at the show with a part of each day on the WillowDNA stand. I managed to see some of the free seminars on the floor of the show but didn’t get the chance to participate in the conference. Last year there was some criticism that the conference and the show were out of step but then this is a problem with all conference/show combinations. Emergent ideas don’t productise very well – there needs to be healthy signs of an emerging market before savvy entrepreneurs will risk their cash.

Here are some of my reflections of the show.

e-Learning Content

All the key bespoke content developers were there including Kineo, Epic, Brightwave, Line, Saffron and IMC. Sponge were also there with a refreshed stand and the same yummy sponge cakes. A new player on the content development front was Purple Media – the stand was modelled on the cabin of an airliner – it looked good but suffered a little from putting form before function (just like their painfully slow Flash driven website – which degrades ungracefully on an iPad). Information Transfer had the most elegant stand complete with tulips and a sort of fung-shui feel in the midst of the chaos going on all around.

Off the shelf vendors included SkillSoft and Jenison. SkillSoft were a little cagey on whether their massive back catalogue would work successfully on mobile devices but Jenison’s categorisation of their content into Shapers, Express, Pathways etc. was a useful attempt to direct buyers to content that would be appropriate for different learning contexts and form factors (see my recent article on m-learning).

LMS’ and Platforms

On the LMS front there was a return for the two old boys – Saba and SumTotal. Certpoint were there as were Upside, NetDimensions, Kallidus and Coloni. Most encouragingly there were a variety of flavours of Moodle on show from Kineo, Epic, Webanywhere, Aardpress and Traineasy. I have always liked Moodle for its trainer centric approach so it’s great to see it finally coming of age in the non-education sector. Willow’s Pathway product is actually a sort of ‘Moodle lite’ aimed at the non-education market. So far it’s been really popular with developers of continuous professional development programmes (CPD)

Authoring Tools

Don Freda demonstrates Articulate Storyline

Don Freda demonstrates Articulate Storyline

As far as tools go the usual favourites were there including Adobe, Lectora, Seminar, Zenler, Luminosity and this year Articulate had their own stand manned by Don Freda and Gabe Anderson. They were demonstrating Storyline which as expected was creating a real buzz. They were handing out a Storyline brochure which includes a URL to download a FREE 30 day trial but also when I tried it you only get to register your interest. I’m guessing that Storyline will be available very soon though. The update to Studio is also in the pipeline but I got the impression that we won’t see that until Q4 2012. Kaplan ran mini-classroom sessions taking people through STT Trainer and Content Point (Atlantic Link) but these didn’t seem particularly busy. I just sense that now Mike Alcock has left the business Atlantic Link is going nowhere quickly.

I did a quick demo of Zenler with Rakesh Vallil. Zenler is a really good alternative to Articulate if you have limited budgets. I’m going to evaluate the latest version soon and write an accompanying blog post.

Mobile Learning

Of course mobile learning was high on lots of people’s agendas with mobile authoring solutions from a wide range of vendors but the solution that most impressed me was Epic’s GoMo. This authoring tool takes a straightforward approach to authoring for mobile devices. Articulate’s Storyline is also going to be able to publish content to mobile devices but it will do so on the iOS platform via the special Articulate app. I am on the Storyline beta programme but we have yet to see the ‘publish to HTML5′ option in the beta release. It’s not clear yet whether all the functionality that is available via Flash (Articulate’s standard publishing format) will be available on iOS and whether if publishing for a Flash enabled tablet whether Flash will still be recommended over HTML5.

Video for Learning

The rise of video as a ‘learning channel’ was also apparent at Learning Technologies with the biggest splash made by Fusion with their impressive mini-theatre focussing on 70/20/10 and informal learning through the medium of video. Fusion is the brainchild of ex Fuel CEO Steve Dineen and their ‘informal learning’ platform offers a refreshing change to the standard SCORM centric LMS.

Live Online Learning

Redtray are a custom content developer but their stand this year was majoring on CloudRooms – their own virtual classroom product. Clearly Redtray are confident that 2012 is going to the year that live online learning takes off!

Social Learning

There was some talk of this new ‘paradigm’ in the show but little evidence that any vendor had really developed anything approaching a full social learning solution. I guess that the interpretation of social learning is still a little vague in many people’s eyes so it’s difficult to pin down what features a social learning platform might provide. At LT2012 Fusion were probably closest to the mark with their Fuse product and I’m keen to investigate this, and the whole concept of social learning, more closely in 2012.

Fusion Universal is the first company to design a performance and support solution that addresses the whole 100% of learning. Up until now, nearly all learning suppliers have focused on only one component of the 70/20/10 principle – usually the 10% formal course part.

Of course the proponents of social and informal learning approaches will hate the idea that the concept could be ‘productised’ along the lines of a traditional LMS or KM type system but there is definitely a gap for a ‘learning sharing’ platform that really combines the best of formal and informal learning approaches.

Follow-up articles planned:

Review of Epic’s GoMo m-learning authoring tool

Evaluation of Zenler authoring software

Social Learning Unconfused


Twitter stats for #LT12uk

Learning Technologies 2012 Show Video Tour

Can you learn from watching a video?

The definition of e-learning has always been vague but in my view one of the tests of proper e-learning is the inclusion of learning interactions.

But in the last year I have seen increasing use of video positioned as e-learning. Whole platforms like Videojug or Learnable rely on video as the sole vehicle for learning and a lot of m-learning is also adopting the ‘learn by watching a video’ approach. But can we really learn simply by watching a video?

A couple of years ago I delivered a seminar at Learning Technologies with the Sponge team where we looked at whether or not we could learn from watching a documentary on TV. We didn’t have a definitive answer – it was done more to provoke some thinking on how we use video and in particular documentary techniques when building e-learning programmes.

I guess that when we watch a documentary most of us will say that we have learned something new – but that learning is quite shallow. Watch a documentary tonight on ‘Global Warming’ and in the morning we will be able to reel off some interesting facts but one week later the forgetting curve has kicked in and we will struggle to be able to recall anything other than the fact that it was a ‘good documentary’. As for actually changing our behaviour – in other words applying the learning – well the chance of that is pretty minimal.

Of course true learning is best seen as a path or a cycle:

  • You are exposed to something new
  • You then interpret the new information
  • You then try out what you have learned
  • Finally you reflect on how it all went
Simple Learning Cycle

In Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle this roughly equates to the four phases of watching, thinking, doing, and feeling.

Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping experience and transforming it. David Kolb

Watching a video may fulfil the first two stages but won’t help much with Stages 3 and 4. In many ways a lot of so-called learning actually only makes it to Stage 2 – but good learning online or offline completes all four stages.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the immediacy that video brings to e-learning programmes, but video alone will not deliver the full learning experience. It needs to be supported by a range of learning interactions preferably both online and offline.

Try it for yourself. Here are some examples of video used for learning. Which works best for you?


Authentic e-Learning

I’m currently working with a client on developing an online programme that is partly about a key business process and partly about a software application that supports that business process. We are using WillowDNA’s Pathway platform to deliver a mix of learning activities organised as a ‘learning pathway’. The interactive bits are developed in Articulate and we are using Camtasia for software walkthroughs. We are also using lots of short videos produced in house featuring key people in the business (including the CEO) and also stories from users in the field from across the worldwide business.

In the last couple of years the use of video in e-learning has grown significantly. In the old days video was way too bandwidth hungry for corporate networks and it was also very expensive to produce. The bandwidth restrictions are now much less stringent and suddenly there are devices all around us that will capture high quality video and tools that will allow us to publish that video simply and quickly.

This morning I reviewed a 30 minute video which contained some ‘to camera’ pieces from the leadership team. The footage was completely unedited and so contains practice runs, people looking away from the camera, asking the cameraman questions and even joking with the camera team about the mistakes they are all making. Now I know that our task is to remove all the mistakes and end up with a something that looks professional (the way the BBC would do it) but it dawned on me that by taking out the less professional bits we also lose a lot of the humanity. The unedited video made me smile – I warmed to the CEO making mistakes and joking about it. I know that the final edits will get across the message succinctly but will the whole thing feel authentic?

For me this feeling of authenticity is critical for successful learning experiences and sadly it’s one of the things that almost always gets edited out in e-learning programmes. When I deliver a face to face workshop there are lots of authentic bits included – by accident more than by design. We may tell a joke or share a story or just laugh about something that has come up in a Q&A session. I think it’s important that we strive to keep this authenticity in online learning as well. When it comes to video, speaking ‘off the cuff’ to the camera is so much better that using a script. It may feel a bit scary and there will be some pauses and moments of imperfection but overall it will feel much more authentic.

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