Friday, January 11, 2013

Meet Patrick of On Learning Point

On Learning Point is a website with free and useful information about online teaching and learning and the use of technology in online education. The training technology manager who runs On Learning Point, Patrick has a passion for training and training technology and has implemented and migrated several enterprise systems as well as small start-up sites; he specializes in creating cloud-based learning solutions that give the best training impact to the business.

1. What motivated you to start On Learning Point?

Our Learning Point is primarily an informational site about learning and e-learning and e-learning technology. I realized after being in the industry for 10 years that I had a lot of information and tribal knowledge that would be good to share and put out there to help others. And so, I created the site primarily as a resource site for people who are actually practitioners of implementing a learning solution, as well as to offer suggestions for solving everyday problems that people face.  

A lot of times, people face the same exact problems and ask me the same types of questions. Usually once a year, I get the same set of questions. These include: How do I set up a certification exam, if the requirements are "x"? Or, how many people can be included in this audience? What audience should be set up? It can be even simpler than that. Other questions include: How do I define my audience?  How do I build a training platform that I can use to deliver all kinds of different things?  

Some of the other things that I try to explore on the site are more the complexity of building an entire software stack, such as a platform as a service. This means that you'd have several different platforms all working together to provide a seamless experience. For example, with learning solutions, you may have a video delivery platform, a document delivery platform, as well as the LMS (learning management system), which does the tracking and the backend functions.  

That's primarily the focus of the site. It was an idea that I had been toying around with for many years, dating all the way back to 2003 when I was starting to get really heavy into the learning process.  

Back then, Moodle and some of the other open source LMSs were very immature. They had a multitude of issues. The issues were not being addressed particularly well. They were being addressed in a community manner, obviously, since this was sort of a side project for a lot of people. However, all of that changed in 2011 when they adopted a more formal development and a break fix model where people could actually pay for commercial support, as well as getting commercial grade fixes for the LMS when something broke. And this was a paradigm shift in the open source LMS market.  

There are other companies who did something similar, and they may have said that they were open source, but if you tried to access their code, you wouldn't have been able to do so. I think that's one of the major differences between an open source LMS provider and someone who's not. Technically, that's not part of the GPL license, that you have to provide the code on your website, but it really seems to be an indicator of whether the product is open source or not.

Some of those other products claim that they are open source, but if you were to go to their website, you can't find one piece of code. To me, that's not really an open source product when even though technically you are licensed, as you can't get a hold of the code, which means you can't fork it. It means you can't own it. It means you can't support it. You can't create derivative works from it. It's not an open source. It is a completely a whole different area of philosophy.  

The other thing that is really neat about the way learning management systems have come and the direction that they're going nowadays is the whole introduction of the cloud systems. Now you can create, without actually having to purchase a lot of heavy end equipment, products that are located right in the cloud and they can come and go and may have very short shelf life--maybe only one hour.  

You can spin up one instance and then deliver your training and then spin it back down. It'd be a strange scenario where you would want to do that, but there may be specific reasons for it, so it's a very interesting paramount change in the way things are now being done.  

2. What's the current role of technology when it comes to education/training programs?

The role of technology in training is ever-changing and ever-evolving. Right now, we're at a paradigm shift in the way training is being taught to everyone: everyone from high schools, preschoolers, and all the way up through post-secondary education, as well as corporate training as well. The ability to create video and deliver it anywhere ambiguously on any device is changing everything. Pretty soon, and you're already starting to see this, you will be able to do a little search for content and, on the spot, you will be able to learn anything that you need to know about anything, whether it is air conditioning repair, how to diagnose your car trouble, or how to apply for college credits.

It doesn't matter what it is. A lot of the institutions are realizing that as well, and so they've gone to a global learning reach where they've defined their audience as everybody in the world. Obviously, there are some language barriers with doing it this way, but the fact that you can actually deliver your learning content to any corner of the globe at any time, at any instance, is completely changing the way we do business.

Now, the similar technology needs to catch up and be able to track these types of delivering mechanisms, but at its simplest form. If you were to click on this website, I can track that you've launched the content. I don’t know if you finished the content, but I know that you clicked onto it and so I can track that click. The other thing I can do from a technology standpoint is that I can assess your knowledge very easily as well by creating quizzes after the fact.

So, whether or not you consume that content with me or you consume the content with some other provider, it doesn't really matter to me. The content most likely will be available to you, although maybe not always and then, by virtue of me assessing your knowledge and skill level, I can now say that indeed that you are certified. I can feel comfortable with certifying you remotely, without even having even seen you. This is great for me because I can charge you money to do so. And this is great for you because you may live in a rural area where these schools are not available except online.

The other thing that is quite revolutionary when it comes to learning is the use of video cameras and webcams. Through different services and virtual classrooms like Skype or Big Blue Button, you can now have a face-to-face meeting with one person or an entire class. And so you can take that traditional classroom environment and actually deliver it virtually anywhere in the world.

There are some technical limitations as far as bandwidth goes and you have to make sure that your video and audio is synced up, but that is becoming more and more ubiquitous. Some of the technology is going to need to catch up as far as tracking and recording as well.

But, at some point, there is no reason why anybody can't become an instructor. If you know something or you have a certain skill set or you have a certain knowledge area, you should be able to share that with the world and be able to resell that information. This is whether it's a recording or if it's actually a live class.

Some people start with doing a live class and, once they've done it a couple of times, and they feel like they've gotten good at it, they'll take that and actually record it. Once the recording is done, now you can sell that and repackage it as you want. Add a quiz and now you can certify someone: after someone reviews your content, heor she may be able to pass a quiz and now you have certification.

So, technology is changing everything by making everyone connected via the Internet.

3. How is mobile technology changing both learning and teaching?

To summarize, it's video and the ability to get that video anywhere. Anyone can learn and anyone can tach right from their mobile device, because let's not forget, they are all just little tiny computers. And they are perfect platforms to broadcast from.

It's an exciting time where things are really just spinning up and soon you will be able to learn things right at the point of needing to learn them. As an instructor taking a mobile device to the field will let you narrate and show the item being talked about. You can then wrap up the whole thing by making an assessment in the end and you will then have a full training module.

4. What is the cloud, and how is it affecting online learning?

Most people have heard of cloud computing by now, but just to reiterate, cloud computing is a shared computing platform that can be used to host and store learning content.

You can create a whole virtual machine or a server right in the cloud, using shared resources and you don't need to worry about any of the underlying infrastructure like:

Physical servers

All that stuff has been virtualized, so you just create an instance of your Moodle sites by going in through Amazon web services, create the server, and set it up, load your content and then you are in business. It can take as little as 5 minutes to get everything set up.  

This is incredible because this is a paramount shift in the way the speed of things can go to market in which you can bring things.  

Also, there is the ability to store items in the cloud, either as a student or as an instructor: if you have videos that you would like to store, if you have audio files, word documents, all your content can be stored up there on the servers, which are actually located in a secure location somewhere other than yours that can be accessed by any Internet-capable device.  

From a standpoint of creating content and hosting it and tracking it, it's never been an easier time in order to get that done.

It used to be, in the old days that you had to get a server.  

You had to size that server correctly, based on the amount of traffic that you were expecting.  

And then, perhaps you had to put a load balancer in front of it, and basically have to worry about a lot of different technical details such as:

What IP addresses you have.  
What are your DNS settings?  
How do you set all that stuff up?  
Do you run your own DNS server?  
Do you setup your own mail server?  

Anyway, all of that is not really an issue anymore thanks to cloud computing.  

There is one down side and thats privacy. You may lose the ability to have your items private--but anything that's out on the web, it's probably not going to be private anyway. So, unless it's secret content, it's probably going to be okay to have it on that server there in the cloud.  

5. What would you recommend to an entrepreneur without experience in new learning technologies who wants to start utilizing the online environment to offer trainings, seminars, and other interactive products?

I think, if you're an entrepreneur and you’re starting out today it's really a 3-step process.

1. The first thing you'd want to do is just create a base outline of the different courses that you're going to be offering.  

2. Next, you need to create that offering and start with the easiest thing you can start out with. So, whether it is a small, short PDF or a short video recording, you can start with that and get everything in place and start offering courses to people.

3. Set it up in the LMS, because it's so much easier to get started: you can be up and running the same day that the content is ready.

Often, it seems that people get stuck on the technology, and it becomes more and more this huge, great big thing.  

If you kind of have an outline of how you think it's going to look when it's done, start that vision and then break it down into little pieces and turn each one into an individual PDF.  

Sometimes people just get stuck on just creating that first PDF and when that happens, they find it hard to implement because it seems so massive.  

With each LMS that I've been involved with, they all started in the same place. They started with loading a single document, testing the ability to serve that document to other people and making sure that it was recorded and that the student had basic access to the content. It doesn't need to be any more complicated than that.  

The great thing is what you can do today:

You can very quickly create your content, and then very quickly set up in just an instance a learning site, and then launch it very quickly and get it out to the market, often within the same day of completing your content.  

So, there is no reason to make it overly complicated.  

One other problem area is that people will try to go through a whole LMS selection process trying to figure out which one is best. Most of the ones that are out there today generally do the same thing, just in slightly different ways, and so, depending upon what your goals are, it's probably pretty easy for you to achieve that goal.  

Get that content out there and start charging for it today. Validate that your business model is good and that the content is something that people would pay for before you invest many, many hours into the project.  

The other thing you can also do is you can use PLR content (Private Label Content), which is content that's already been written. You can take that content and rewrite it and put it up into your LMS immediately, making it a very fast turn-around.  

Depending on what area you're actually working in, you can get the LMS and the content pre-built for you and you can use that to turn-around your business model very quickly.  

Online webinars are also a great way to push content out quickly to the large groups of people. Software such as Big Blue Button and WebEx lets you talk and share your screen. Hold a monthly webinar, which is great for connecting to people and finding out exactly what the market needs.

To learn more about e-learning platforms, please visit On Learning Point. On Learning Point is a site dedicated to helping everyone learn about e-learning platforms and e-learning technology.

Thanks, Patrick!

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