EPISODE 44 – TOPIC SUMMARY AND GUEST:
Please join me in welcoming back our most frequent guest, Tamer Ali, Co-Founder and Director of Authentic Learning Labs. There’s a good reason why our door is always open to Tamer. He is a successful learning systems entrepreneur who is always thinking ahead of the online learning innovation curve. Most notably, about eight years ago he founded Crowd Wisdom, one of the first pure extended enterprise learning management systems.
More recently, he founded Authentic Learning Labs. This hybrid software and services provider adds value to some of the world’s most sophisticated learning ecosystems with a growing portfolio of intelligent learning application modules.
Today, I sit down with Tamer for an update on what he sees every day on the cutting edge of instructional design and technology.
- After the pandemic forced training providers to go online literally overnight, many are investing in next-stage digital improvements to solve issues of scale, delivery and tracking.
- High-end online learning businesses already have fairly robust ecosystems. So rather than focusing on replacing everything, many prefer incremental enhancements that fit into their existing infrastructure.
- To pinpoint and fill critical gaps, top online learning providers need access to specialized expertise. When in-house resources are limited, innovators are turning to cost-effective service providers who can raise the bar without disrupting their ecosystem.
Tamer, how would you define the high end of the learning market? Those who would rate themselves a “10” in online learning program complexity and sophistication?
Well generally, these organizations have determined that learning is a critical component of their business. For example:
- We work with companies where learning is the business – such as publishers that have focused on creating instructional content for a decade or more. They already have considerable expertise in this domain.
- Also, some non-profit and for-profit organizations derive a critical portion of revenue from delivering education to a concentrated audience. That audience could be in a professional field or it could be tied to a product or a series of products.
So, for clients we serve, learning isn’t about HR-oriented employee training. Those needs are already handled well by other vendors.
However, our clients are not looking for one solution to fit everything they do. They have a global focus. And they already have a learning ecosystem in place.
Typically, they have gone through 2 or 3 generations of learning platforms and technology, so they’re well-versed in how they want things to work. In fact, for many, things are already running in a way that can sustain the business.
Nevertheless, for some reason, these organizations have reached a limit. And because their online learning business model is so important to them, they want to take another step up. Now they’re looking for even more scale, or a better user experience or deeper insights from their data.
Does that limit tend to involve learning content, platform, integration, or all three?
I’d say all three. But content usually isn’t a direct problem. More often, it’s about the delivery experience.
These organizations are leading voices in their industry. They have strong brands, strong expertise and strong content. But the user experience is lacking in some way that involves content. It could be caused by issues with site navigation, portability, data communication, overall integration or a combination.
Also, the platform may be a problem. Most likely, it’s OK at delivering content. But there are often deficiencies in how a platform supports user experience, navigation, data or some combination of those.
Similarly, with integration, the system may work. It may be fine at delivering content in a sustainable way at its current level. But if the business wants to scale, the current integration scheme isn’t viable for the future.
So the problem isn’t one specific authoring tool or anything like that. It’s usually much more complex.
Obviously, these high-end online learning providers can’t rely on an employee LMS, because those solutions aren’t designed for external use. Do they go custom and build their own?
It’s definitely not just off-the-shelf. But usually, there are foundational elements in platforms they need for online learning business stability. Those might be third-party LMS platforms and authoring tools.
But in the vast majority of cases, there’s a layer that represents a custom mindset, where companies say, “We want to introduce our own portal experience, web presence or mobile apps on top of this.”
So they’re making significant investments in learning infrastructure, just as they would with e-commerce or any other business-critical digital solution.
For example, a client may start with an open-source or commercial LMS. On top of that, they build their own navigation and web pages for a highly customized front-end. And then they’ll complement that foundation with learning engines that are not available out-of-the-box in their LMS.
For instance, they may add immersive elements from third-party experts in VR or some other specialty.
So, think of these solutions as more of a developed experience. And as you can imagine, delivering that requires more significant resources, internally and externally. It’s much more complex.
So, what’s the best way for organizations to bring all those pieces together?
Well, we find that large and small organizations, alike, often struggle to find internal resources available to do this. They may have expert resources, but those people are likely to be overbooked.
So, many organizations manage these projects with supplemental resources. It may be freelancers and consultants. Or it may make sense to choose an agency model like ours because we can bring in an experienced team that truly enjoys this craft.
And, as learning systems practitioners, we may say, “OK. We have tools to help with certain aspects of your requirements and we’ll marry those tools seamlessly with your ecosystem.”
But we’re not trying to just sell software. Instead, we want to understand each client’s business challenge and resolve those issues in a smart, efficient way.
OK. So let’s take a step back to bring our listeners up-to-date with your business mission and model.
Sure. Authentic Learning Labs provides learning software engines that address critical technology gaps. Also, we’re a consulting and resources provider that helps clients in various stages of the learning solutions lifecycle.
For example, our services include things like content migration for organizations that are modernizing their learning library. A lot of training publishers are in that situation, where they need to solve both technical and personnel challenges.
We also offer cost-efficient portability services for clients who want to syndicate their content from any portal or group of portals without relinquishing the related data.
There are only a few providers who can do this, but those options are somewhat cost-prohibitive and the experience is inferior.
So, in addition to services, you also offer tools that you snap on, agnostically, to enhance any learning environment?
Yes. We offer three distinct platforms. And depending on a client’s need, they can work individually or in any combination:
- Songbird is our flagship product. This is a full learning analytics suite with dedicated, pre-built data visualization report views. Plus it provides the ability to create meaningful custom views, as well.
- Shuttle is designed to address the demand for more meaningful video learning experiences. It helps even novices quickly build interactivity into video captured with a smartphone or another digital device. This makes it easy to transform static videos into engaging courses that automatically track participation and xAPI data.
- Simpatico is an LXP with pre-built learning content layouts that include their own navigation and tracking capabilities, along with an engine that can launch content from any LMS or as a standalone experience. Think of it as a delivery wrapper.
Interesting. So tell us more. How are these tools being applied at the high end of the online learning market?…