EPISODE 26 – TOPIC SUMMARY AND GUEST:
Online learning has evolved so much over the years – it’s always eye-opening to talk with someone whose career has spanned all those phases. That’s exactly why I enjoyed comparing notes with today’s guest, Troy Gorostiza, President & CEO of Knowledge Stream and Co-Founder of Course Container. Troy is a “triple threat” learning innovator with deep expertise as a content development practitioner, solutions consultant and technology vendor. And today’s interview is especially interesting because we discuss a common issue that inspired Troy’s most recent venture – the need to improve learning content availability.
- Organizational boundaries are rapidly expanding to include customers, partners, contractors and other external constituents. These broader business ecosystems naturally bring opportunities to offer extended online training.
- Until recently, several significant content availability obstacles limited the external reach of online training providers.
- New tools are emerging that promise to overcome key content availability issues without requiring organizations to abandon or replace existing learning systems.
Welcome, Troy. Before we dive into what you’re doing with remote learning content tools, could you talk a bit about your background?
Sure. I’ve worked with training content and delivery systems since 1998. Initially, I focused on content development. But over time, I became involved with more complex projects for companies in a variety of industries.
As requirements for these solutions grew more sophisticated and clients increasingly served outward-facing audiences, I started specializing in how to make training available across extended enterprise environments. And I’ve remained focused on that space since 2001.
So you would describe yourself as a learning technologist?
Although my degree is in instructional systems design, I’ve operated more like a learning architect.
But I like to say I’m a puzzle maker. I help clients define their vision, then I help them put the right puzzle pieces together. Simple, isn’t it?
Right! Well, you’re definitely in the right place to talk about extended enterprise learning, because that’s our world here at Talented Learning.
But as you know, extended enterprise training providers face huge content availability challenges.
Organizations may want to buy your content but they may not want to send their learners to your LMS for access to that content. They may have their own LMS. Or they may buy content from 20 sources. But sending learners to a different vendor LMS for each course makes no sense.
You’ve hit the nail on the head, John. These issues are increasingly common. That’s why online learning providers need to make content available to users outside of their existing ecosystem.
In today’s economy, businesses must depend on partners, resellers, contractors and other external constituents to create value. And with that comes the need to build partner programs. Those programs can be a source of new revenue streams with training that leverages your existing content assets.
At the end of the day, making your learning content more widely available is important because it builds brand recognition and strengthens strategic relationships. So this kind of extended enterprise content solution is a hybrid. It’s a training solution. It’s a learning solution. And it’s a marketing solution.
So what if an organization wants your content, but for whatever reason doesn’t want to send learners to your LMS?
The market definitely wants content to be more portable. Most organizations now have access to a learning platform of some sort, or they’re moving to a central system-of-record.
Business and HR leaders want to offer their learners a simple, streamlined training experience. And they want a single, turnkey environment for administration and reporting. These goals are now technically achievable.
But for extended enterprise content providers, these advances pose a significant threat. Customers are no longer willing to go to their site and log-in to their system to consume content.
That’s why providers are looking for an easy way to repackage and deliver their content, so it can exist outside of their system. They really just need a new marketing, sales and delivery channel that opens content to a broader audience.
Are we there yet?
Well, there are three primary concerns:
- Who controls usage data?
As a training provider, you don’t want to hand over your content to someone else. When you pass a content packet over the fence, you may lose access to reporting data. So how do you track training completions? This can have a direct impact on your financial performance, especially if you have a revenue sharing or cost-per-course agreement with content customers.
- How do you update content?
When you offer training to external audiences – whether it’s free or you’re charging for access – the most up-to-date version of your content must be available at all times to all learners, wherever they choose to consume it. An automated process can handle versions and updates much more efficiently and effectively than a manual approach.
- What about security?
These days, for obvious reasons, digital content must be secure. Also, training increasingly relies on high-fidelity video for things like animations and virtual reality. As you open up video-based content for access across your extended enterprise, you need to be sure this content will play well in any customer system.
So if you have an LMS, why can’t you just share a course-specific URL? Seems like external learners could just point to that URL and launch your content. That’s how the web works…
I agree. I wish it was as easy as putting in a URL and everything would work correctly. That’s what happens today in WordPress and Drupal and commercial content management systems. You embed a video link and the video works just fine.
But we really need to track specific data for training and business purposes. And that involves SCORM.
Right. So, where does SCORM fit in?
As we all know, SCORM has been around for quite a long time as a data standard. But SCORM doesn’t make it easy to deal with cross-domain issues.
So let’s say your content is located in your LMS on one server. Access to that content is a problem for people using a different LMS on another server. That’s one of the main reasons why you can’t just point to a course-specific URL.
Plus there may be problems with legacy web browsers. Today, people mostly rely on Chrome, Safari and Firefox. But someone may be using an older version of Internet Explorer. What then? A standard is a standard, and for content to work, a learning management system must communicate with a piece of content in a very specific way.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you offer an “LMS Consulting 101” course that exists in your LMS at TalentedLearning.com. The SCORM standard won’t let your customers view the 101 course just by pointing to that content on your server.
Instead, that piece of training must be authored in a way that allows what we call the manifest of the index files of that course package to be loaded into your customer’s LMS, so their learners can pull up the content remotely, from another server.
In our world, we call this the relay or dispatch package. And as a content provider, you can do this today with industry tools and good SCORM programmers.
However, this only solves one of the three challenges I mentioned earlier. It only makes it possible for content to play in another LMS. It doesn’t address updates, reporting or licensing. And if you want to make training content highly available in a remote content world, you need to address all these key issues.
Interesting. So you could give a customer a SCORM package to put in their LMS. That SCORM package doesn’t contain any content, but it would point back to your LMS course?
And then you would have to manage updates, reporting and licensing on a course-by-course and update-by-update basis?
How about xAPI? That’s supposed to track anything from anywhere. Is that a solution for remote access to training content?
That’s a good question. There are three key training content standards:
- SCORM – which represents 90% of today’s learning content
- AICC – which many legacy content providers use for cross-system content sharing
- xAPI – which focuses on extracting data from content with statements that can be sent to a system.
Although xAPI is highly secure, additional tools (learning record stores) are required for communication between systems in the network. So that approach isn’t easy or scalable if you want to offer content broadly to various external organizations using different types of systems.
Wow. That doesn’t sound easy.
No. From this perspective, xAPI actually is more complicated than SCORM for making remote content available.
So you’re simplifying all of this with Course Container?
Yes. We launched Course Container in 2018 as a solution to the various content sharing problems we’ve discussed.
It’s a secure, central platform that makes it easy for anyone to deploy, version and license online content, regardless of their learning platform. And it’s designed for the individual content creator, as well as for organizations with thousands of pieces of content. But the concept is the same for all.
Think of it as a utility that works side-by-side with existing systems. It’s a niche solution. We don’t want to try to do everything.
Cool. So how does Course Container work?
You upload one or more pieces of content into a SaaS or white-label branded solution. Next, you create a deployment. This is when you specify licensing parameters. For example:
- How many users should have access to this content? (1? 100? 1000?)
- How many times can those users launch this content? (1x? 10x? 100x?)
- What is the timeframe for content availability? (Say you want 10 users to be able to launch the content up to 100 times by the end of the year.)
You can set-up any or all of these parameters at this level. This is also where you specify reporting access. For example, you may give access to Company A, B and C or to none of them.
Then you upload the content into the system – either through the front-end user interface or through the back-end via a secure FTP protocol we developed for large organizations with hundreds of thousands of pieces of content.
At the end of the day, the deployment is created. A small relay/dispatch package is sent to each customer, and they upload the package into their learning system.
To illustrate, let’s go back to your 101 course. You upload it into Course Container. Then you create a deployment and you pass that to 100 different customers, each with their own LMS with its own thousands of users.
With just one piece of content going to all these different locations, you’re able to track usage of that content across the entire ecosystem – who’s launching it, when they launch it and which domain they use to launch it. In other words, you get all the standard SCORM data you need to run your business.
Wow. So, what if I have 100,000 pieces of content? Does each of these 100 customers have to upload a package to their LMS 100,000 times? Or does it depend on their LMS?…