Archive for August 2013

Omni Awards

ICS Learning Group Wins Two 2012 Omni Intermedia Awards

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – JULY, 2012

ICS Learning Group, a leading provider of eLearning solutions, has been awarded both silver and bronze 2012 Omni Intermedia Awards for exceptional graphics and educational content. The award-winning, interactive ‘Environmental 101’ courseware was developed for a major construction and services firm.

ICS was hired by the industry- leading construction giant to develop an eLearning course focused on environmental protection issues for training construction crews and foremen in both their US and Canadian operations. The SCORM-compliant courseware consists of an interactive 3D simulation where learners first gather information and are then tested on knowledge of the Clean Air Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and Clean Water Act – all of which are compliance requirements for employees within the firm.

The organization has an extensive relationship with ICS Learning Group in development and maintenance of their eLearning courseware. This industry-leader requires constant and current training on safety and corporate compliance, construction operations and processes, as well as informational projects reinforcing the company’s history and corporate culture.

The semi-annual Omni Intermedia Awards are presented to exceptional initiatives in the fields of Film & Video, Animation & Effects, and Website Design. For ICS, the Omni awards are the latest industry recognition for the company’s commitment to provide highly effective eLearning solutions to meet the critical training needs of today’s workforce.

ICS Learning Group

ICS Learning Group, established in 1998, is a leading provider of custom training solutions and the Inquisiq R3 learning Management System. The company, headquartered in Pasadena, Maryland, serves several markets including software, manufacturing, health care, financial services, pharmaceutical, and government clients. With an emphasis and expertise in instructional design, ICS Learning Group develops customized software simulation training, corporate communications applications and computer-based training solutions.

Categories : Uncategorized

Omni Intermedia Awards

ICS Learning Group Wins Three 2013 Omni Intermedia Awards

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – JUNE, 2013

ICS Learning Group, a leading provider of custom eLearning training solutions, has been awarded three Omni Intermedia Awards for 2013, marking the fifth consecutive win for the company’s Courseware Development team. The Omni Awards endeavor “to recognize outstanding media productions that engage, empower and enlighten.”

ICS was recognized for the following custom eLearning projects in 2013:

“NanoFab Facility Overview and Lab Safety”: A course developed for the Center of Nanoscale Science and Technology at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The second 508-compliant course in a three-course series on check-in and safety procedures for a government nanofabrication facility. Using 3D animation, video, and scenario-based evaluations, this web-based course provides an overview of the facility to new users as well as specific safety instruction for the external laboratories.

Entry category: Government

“Foundations of Effective Leadership”: A eLearning course built for community fellowship programs providing participants with leadership knowledge, skills, and strategies to help implement community-based substance abuse prevention initiatives. The course combines a video, interactive strategies, and gamification techniques to maximize knowledge transfer and user engagement.

Entry category: Education

“Medical Practice Management 101”: Even with a limited budget, effective training can be produced. This course integrated a mix of Level 1 and Level 2 components and strategies to teach doctors ways to keep their waiting rooms safe, their patients happy, and insurance rates low.

Entry category: Medical

The eLearning courses blended a mix of 3D visualizations, interactive scenarios, simulated environments, video, and other graphics and multimedia that are custom designed to meet the required objectives for the specific learner demographic. ICS works with multiple companies to produce custom training courseware in industries including Healthcare and Life Sciences, Business Skills and Compliance training, Technical and IT Training, Manufacturing and Industrial, and Sales and Retail.

The semi-annual Omni Intermedia Awards are evaluated for overall excellence in a specific genre. For ICS, the Omni awards are the latest industry recognition for the company’s commitment to provide highly effective eLearning solutions to meet the critical training needs of today’s workforce.

For more information about ICS: http://www.icslearninggroup.com

Information about the Omni Intermedia Awards program:www.omniawards.com

Making The Jump Into eLearning

Monday, August 26th, 2013

This whitepaper assists you in understanding the pieces involved with the eLearning puzzle, from the basic requirements to the pros and cons of various options.

While many larger companies have already transitioned into e-Learning and embrace it as a vital component of their overall training efforts, many mid-size and smaller companies have been waiting on the sidelines observing how the technology, methods, and costs evolve. As with any relatively new industry, things have indeed changed and evolved. Many new products and technologies are available and, in general, the industry has matured. These new options have made e-Learning much more achievable for smaller companies with limited resources and budgets.

However, with the new choices come complexity and the need to understand how the pieces all fit together. The purpose of this article is to assist you in understanding what the pieces of the solution are, along with the associated choices that you will have to make. While there are many new possibilities, there are also many potential pitfalls that if not understood, can cause delay, frustration, increased costs, and disappointing results.

The key to success is in understanding what the possibilities are and how they map into your needs and requirements. This article is a roadmap of the decisions that you need to make along with the pros and cons of the different options that should be considered.
Content versus System

To begin with, it is important to realize that any on-line training solution should be divided into two key components. First, there is the content which consists of your lessons, courseware, quizzes etc. Secondly, there is the infrastructure or system that you will use to deliver the content. The system will perform all of the management, tracking, reporting, and administrative functionality. The system that provides this infrastructure is generically called a Learning Management System (LMS) and is a software program or web application that you will either develop or purchase. The key point to make is that these two components, content and system, are separate and should be addressed individually.
The SCORM Specification

So, we have these two pieces – the instructional content (or “courseware”) and the LMS. The key to allowing these two components to be separate is providing a framework for them to work and communicate with each other.

An analogy would be a CD and a CD-Player. You can be fairly confident that if you purchase a new audio CD and go home to play it, that it will work regardless of the brand of player that you have. The manufacturers of both the CDs and the CD players developed a common specification that allows for this type of plug and play interoperability.

The e-Learning industry has developed several specifications of its own whose goal is to allow courseware to be “plugged” into any LMS so that it can be properly launched and tracked. While there is some history behind the evolution of the specification, it is generally accepted that the prevailing industry standard is the Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) specification that was developed by the Advanced Distributed Learning (www.adlnet.gov) organization.

In laymen’s terms, it is this SCORM standard that allows courseware or Sharable Content Objects (SCOs) of all types to be loaded into any SCORM-compatible LMS. The LMS will be able to launch the SCO and communicate with it, so that things like status and quiz scores are passed from the SCO back to the LMS and recorded as part of the student’s records. The development of the SCORM specification is essentially what has allowed the e-Learning industry to make a clean division between LMS solutions and content/authoring solutions. This development has allowed for and encouraged the many new options with regard to purchasing:

Previously developed “off-the-shelf” SCORM content
New SCORM compliant content authoring tools
SCORM compliant Learning Management Systems

Developing your Instructional Content

We will first discuss some of the options regarding how you can obtain your instructional content. This involves determining whether or not you can purchase your content or whether you should develop it yourself. If you develop it yourself, there are many issues to consider regarding the necessary skill sets, tools & technology, and outsourcing and teaming with experienced vendors.
“Make” versus “Buy”

The first determination you will need to make is whether you will purchase your training content or attempt to development it yourself. It is likely that some of your training requirements will be common enough that a market already exists for the content. This enables you to purchase standard “off-the-shelf” products. Doing so will allow you to obtain better quality for a substantially lower cost than that of developing it yourself. So, if you have training needs that you feel are fairly standard such as basic IT skills, accounting skills, sexual harassment prevention training, safety training, or office productivity training, you should perform a search to find out what is already available for purchase.

The other advantage to this approach, beyond cost and quality, is time. You can purchase the product and load it into your LMS in a matter of days. Custom development will usually take weeks or months.
Options and Strategies for Creating your Own Training Content

So, while some of your training needs may be satisfied with off-the-shelf training products, it is probable that not all of them can be. Most companies have training needs that are unique to their company and, therefore, can’t be purchased as pre-packaged products. In this case, you will need to create your own instructional content. The approach you take will largely be dictated by the resources that you have available to you – both in terms of capabilities and availability. Of course, the classic three parameters; quality, cost, and schedule will also play a determining role.
Developing the Content In-house

There are many books dedicated to the design of engaging and effective on-line training and getting into the details of good design is beyond the scope of this article. Regardless of specific design and instructional approaches, there are many decisions that need to be made as to how you will create custom courseware.

If you have available in-house resources with the proper skill set, then you are in a good position to do it internally. This will probably cost less than hiring an outside vendor and may give you more control over the project. However, the skill set to create quality custom training is diverse and may be difficult to obtain. For example you will need a team with the following capabilities:

Subject Matter Experts (SME) – the people who are the experts in what needs to be taught
Instructional Designers and Technical Writers – are experts in knowing how to convert your SMEs knowledge into quality computer based instruction
Graphic and Interface Designers and Production Staff
Animation, Video, and Audio Production Staff
Multimedia Programmers – that also understand SCORM and your LMS
Project Managers – that have experience in developing e-Learning content

The other very important topic to discuss with regards to “do-it-yourself” e-Learning development is that there are many good authoring tools now on the market. These tools allow you to rapidly produce content and are much easier to use than what was once available.

For example, it used to be that on-line content would be developed using powerful but fairly complex tools such as Adobe Flash. While Flash is still a preferred tool for most professional developers, it is too complex for most non-developers to master. Newer tools may not allow as much creativity and flexibility as Flash, but they are much easier to use and quicker to learn. Additionally, most of these new authoring tools will automatically handle a lot of the behind the scenes programming such as SCORM communication or quiz engine functionality.

These tools can range significantly in their cost and capabilities, so it is important to understand what each tool can do and what its strengths and weaknesses are. You will find that, in general, the tools are designed for a very specific type of content and are very limiting beyond the original design intention. For example, some tools are good at creating training for software applications, while others are designed to convert Microsoft PowerPoint presentations into SCORM-compliant training modules.

Typically, the more flexible and powerful the tool, the more complex it will be to learn, and likely, the more expensive to purchase. The cost for all the tools may pale in comparison to the potential time and energy they could save. Most of these tools are relatively easy to learn and can be mastered by non-developers in a matter of a few days to a couple of weeks.

A word of caution however; while these tools lower the technical barriers and experience necessary to create SCORM-compliant training content, they do not provide any of the other design and production skills necessary in creating quality instructional content. The strength of these tools is typically to enable non-technical staff to rapidly create SCORM content. To create high quality content, there is still a need for skilled designers and production staff. Also, it should be mentioned that highly interactive content typically cannot be created with many of these basic tools.
Outsourcing the Development

In many cases, it may not be possible to assemble a complete team with only internal resources. The alternative option would then be to outsource the development to a vendor that specializes in e-Learning development. To successfully outsource a project to a vendor takes some special knowledge and skills of its own. These skills are primarily related to project management, the most important of which is the knowledge and skill necessary to prepare a good request for proposal (RFP). Unfortunately, custom training development projects are sometimes hard to define in terms that allow you to get accurate and comparable bids – especially before any of the detailed design work has been performed. It is equivalent to asking a builder to quote on the construction of a house before an architect has created any plans. It can only be done in very general terms and is, therefore, not very accurate.

This inaccuracy or vagueness must be avoided in your RFP if you want good competitive bids. One approach: if you do not have the experience to prepare an accurate RFP, hire a consultant or a development vendor specifically to help you prepare the RFP. It can be a situation of “not knowing what you don’t know”, and having the help of an experienced developer in preparing the RFP will allow you to avoid scope creep and misunderstood expectations.

In working with outside vendors, the other approach to consider is using an experienced developer as a way to augment your internal team. This can be a very effective method for optimizing the use of your internal resources, while bringing in the specialized talent and knowledge that a vendor may have. For example, you may decide to team your internal subject matter experts and some of your experienced training and IT staff with the specialized instructional design skills and production skills that a vendor can provide. Most vendors are very happy to team with you and realize that it is in their best interest to provide you with the best quality in the most cost efficient manner. The vendor often brings a wealth of experience in terms of best practices, as well as their own existing technology which can be used to more efficiently and rapidly create your content.
Choosing a Learning Management System

There are many LMS solutions on the market, all with a variety of capabilities offered over a surprisingly wide range of costs. While providing different capabilities, most LMS products fundamentally provide the following functions:

User Access to the instructional content – students will login and launch the training modules that they have been enrolled in
Enrollment Functionality – students need to be enrolled in courses either automatically, through self-enrollment (browsing a course catalog), or individually by a supervisor or administrator
Content Configuration – the ability to upload and manage all content and training events. This would include uploading the SCOs into the LMS, establishing Instructor Lead Training events, and creating Course Catalogs and Curriculums
Administration and User Management – setting up and managing all user accounts, managing permissions, and group management
Tracking and Reporting – the LMS will record all student activity and provide ways to run reports on that activity
Miscellaneous – functionality such as creating and granting certificates, e-commerce if you are selling access to your content, content authoring, employee evaluation, gap analysis and curriculum planning are all examples of features and capabilities that many LMS systems can provide.

So, how do you find the best system for you? The starting point is identifying your needs. You should prioritize your requirements into the “must have” and “nice to have” categories. You will find that as your list of needs gets larger and larger, the LMS that satisfies all of those requirements likely becomes exponentially more expensive. Additionally, it is not just cost that becomes an issue; the more complex systems will also take much more time to implement and the “user friendliness” of such systems can be seriously compromised.

It stands to reason that unnecessary complexity is a bad thing. The key is to get the LMS that truly satisfies your basic needs. Don’t be lured to a system having so many bells and whistles that it ultimately costs a lot of extra money, and ends up being under utilized because of the associated complexities.

In sum, there are a variety of approaches one can take to transition into e-Learning for their company; from developing the LMS and content in-house, outsourcing either requirement, or a combined approach. Brandon-Hall has a good review of many LMS products on their website (http://www.brandon-hall.com) which may be a helpful place to start. Otherwise, one key approach to a successful e-Learning implementation is finding an experienced company who can help guide you through the process.

For more information on ICS Learning Group or how we can help you develop and integrate your online training program, visit us on the web at http://www.icslearninggroup.com or give us a call: (410) 975-9440.

Categories : Whitepapers

 

The Building Blocks of a Successful e-Training Program

 

By Ed Gipple

An authoritative whitepaper on how to plan, implement, and evaluate an e-learning program for your business.

Download PDF

 

Introduction

 

The design, creation and implementation of corporate training solutions, especially ones that are highly reliant on technology, are very complex projects with many aspects to consider. The objective of this white paper is to provide guidance related to the planning of e-learning solutions as well as to present a survey of the many instructional and technological building blocks that should be considered as part of your solution. Skillfully blending these elements together will ultimately give you the most effective training and the best results for your company.
Successful corporate training solutions can vary greatly from each other; however, they all have some common elements that make them successful. The most important components of success are:

 

  • A sound plan with a well defined mission and objectives.
  • Appropriate technological infrastructure and implementation strategy.
  • Good course design that contains well-written and engaging content.

 

A good plan is the starting point. Like any corporate initiative, the training program should have a stated mission and a set of business objectives that are well defined. The plan will also need to include a business analysis that identifies the costs and benefits of the training program. This will help bring the project into focus and provide solid grounding on which your many decisions will be based.

 

Once the big picture is in focus, it is time to create the implementation strategy and plan. This will start with a thorough assessment of many aspects including such considerations as specific training needs, current and planned technology, corporate culture and trainee demographics. Your complete implementation plan will include a proposed curriculum and a description of training methods along with a delivery infrastructure.

 

Ultimately, a good plan and implementation strategy is meaningless if the courses and training content are not properly designed or are ineffective. A sound design process begins with a thorough analysis of the training needs and a determination of the learning objectives. The next step is to design the instruction necessary to accomplish the teaching objectives and create an assessment structure to assure that the objectives have been met. It is also important to realize that despite a thorough analysis and well-formulated learning objectives, the quality of the instructional content is still critical. The instructional content must be relevant to the student and presented in a way that is engaging and memorable. The use of interactive multimedia, if well done, can make the instruction much more interesting and effective.

 

The Plan

 

Training solutions can range from being focused on a specific problem to being very broad, touching many aspects of a company’s operation. Regardless, before you design and implement your training solution, you need to do some planning.

 

The initial plan will include a basic top down analysis that identifies the key elements of a sound and successful training program. It is critically important to understand that your training solution is ultimately a solution to help achieve business goals. For example, your ultimate goal is to increase sales, raise the level of customer service, reduce manufacturing costs due to human error or increase employee moral and their overall wellbeing. Therefore, to ensure your training solution is successful, you must define it and plan for it much like any other business project. Finally, the training solution must be economically viable and the desired outcome clearly defined so that the benefits can be continuously evaluated. Your initial plan should include the following:

 

  1. Identify and define the business goals. The fundamental business goal(s) must be clearly identified. This is a basic step but critically important because it is the driving force behind the training. All training will ultimately map back to achieving specific business goals and solving business problems. It is a very good idea to document these objectives in the form of a mission statement that can be reviewed and approved by the project stakeholders.
  2. Develop a solution to the problem. Presumably, on analysis of the business goal or problem, it has been determined that at least part of the solution involves a change in human behavior or performance. Developing a training solution to address these issues will require specifying the details of the training needed to bring about the desired changes.
    The training should be defined in terms of its desired outcome, specific objectives, amount or scope and necessary content. Also, remember that training, regardless of how well it is designed, is not effective unless the employees are properly motivated to take it. Part of the solution should therefore include the proper communications to motivate and engage the trainees. Motivation is also a key element that should be considered in the design of the instructional content.
  3. Develop a strategy for implementing the solution. Given the general scope and objectives of the training, an implementation strategy will need to be developed. The implementation strategy will include two fundamental components. First, it will include a curriculum based on the identified training needs. Secondly, you will need an infrastructure and delivery plan. The infrastructure plan includes identifying all training and information delivery methods and technology. The implementation strategy will likely be a phased plan requiring evaluation and refinement. Additionally, the plan should identify the implementation team and their responsibilities. Good strategies strive for early measurable success, are flexible and scalable and take into consideration the corporate culture and politics of the situation.
  4. Prepare a business case for the training program. Given that a training solution to a business goal has been identified and an implementation strategy developed, you must now analyze its economic viability. This translates to quantifying the costs and the benefits of the training. This analysis, both initial and ongoing, will be the fuel that drives the training initiative forward.
    With a well-defined implementation strategy, the investment or expense side of the equation is usually pretty straightforward. The problem is that, initially, the scope and many of the details of the implementation strategy will not be defined precisely enough to give you an accurate development cost. This may warrant an investment in the preparation of a detailed implementation plan. This process is equivalent to hiring an architect to design the house and develop a detailed set of blueprints. Once you have this detailed implementation plan, you should be in a position to accurately estimate the development cost and project schedules. It is also important to estimate ongoing costs for new courses, maintenance, updates and new technology.
    The other side of the equation is quantifying the benefits. This process is more complex and should include both the direct and indirect benefits of the training program. Sometimes, the benefit is a clear cost savings or gained efficiency. Other times, it is a matter of projecting benefits based on new capabilities. The indirect benefits are much harder to quantify and may include such things as improved employee morale and wellbeing.
    For a more detailed treatment on this topic, please also see the ICS Learning Group’s white paper titled “Is e-Learning Worth It.”
  5. Develop a set of metrics. Metrics are measurable performance parameters that can be used as feedback to evaluate the training results, to help refine the implementation strategy and to keep the training initiatives on track. Training solutions need to be constantly evaluated and refined. Make sure that the metrics are closely correlated to the fundamental business goals that are being addressed.

 

Keeping your training solution in this framework will allow you to keep the big picture in mind and will help you keep the project on track. If the analysis is performed carefully and honestly, it will result in a logical plan that advances the mission of the company in a cost-effective manner. It will also be an essential element in engaging the support of all stakeholders including senior management, the development team and participating employees.

 

Project Management – The above plan is a starting point that ensures that the business objectives have been properly stated, a solution has been identified and a business case for that solution has been presented and approved. The next step will be to create a detailed project plan for the design and implementation of the solution.

 

You have many important decisions that need to be made ranging from issues related to the use of technology to required facilities to instructional design to software development and media production. For this reason, training projects and specifically e-learning projects are inherently complex and require the integration and coordination of many different disciplines. It is important that the project manager be aware of the many facets to these projects and understands the interrelationships of all of the required tasks. A typical e-Learning project team will include the following types of professionals who must all work together for the common goal:

 

  • Project managers
  • Instructional designers and technical writers
  • Subject matter experts
  • IT professionals including network engineers, software developers, database engineers and technical support staff
  • Facilities personnel
  • Multimedia developers including graphics production specialists, multimedia programmers, computer animators and video/audio production personnel
  • Art director, graphic designers and interface designers
  • Quality control and assurance personnel

 

E-learning projects are complex and need to be broken down into logical phases or subprojects. Each phase results in a deliverable to the client and is a transition point to the next phase. These deliverables are critical and must be carefully evaluated by the project team and client. They must be approved before moving on to the next phase.

 

The typical phases of an e-learning development project include:

Phase 1: Analysis
Phase 2: Design
Phase 3: Content Production
Phase 4: Software Development
Phase 5: Implementation
Phase 6: Evaluation

 

Phase 1. Analysis: The objective of this phase is to gain a complete understanding of the goals and constraints of your training project. The analysis phase will require the gathering of many different types of information. The deliverable of this phase is the Analysis Report and may include one or more of the following:

  • Audience/Needs Analysis
  • Environmental (hardware, software, bandwidth, etc.) Analysis
  • Content Analysis
  • Task Analysis
  • Problem/Risk Analysis

The analysis phase will provide you with the information you need to properly define the scope of the training and will be the primary input into the design phase.

 

Phase 2. Design: The design phase takes into consideration all that has been learned in the analysis phase and creates a total solution that meets the training requirements. The design process will address all of the instructional needs as well as the infrastructure and technical requirements. The design phase will usually consist of several sub-phases that allow for progressive refinement. This is very important because it allows the designers to take a top down approach and get approval by the project sponsors before moving down into more detail. This phased design approach helps keep the project on target and minimizes the potential for mistakes and rework. The deliverables of the design phase will typically include:

  1. Design Document – will identify objectives and goals, instructional approach, implementation strategies, detailed curriculum, content outlines for all instruction and will establish all design standards.
  2. Storyboards – are a screen by screen treatment of the instructional content. This will include all of the text content that appears on screen, all audio narrative and the identification and description of all multimedia content and interactivity for the instruction.
  3. Functional Design Specification (for Software Applications) – For computer and web-based training delivery, the solution may frequently include the development or modification of software applications. The design of this software is usually addressed separately from the training content. This document defines all of the applications functionality, user interface, system interfaces and data formats.
  4. Prototypes – are the step after the paper design but before the programming or production phase is started. Prototypes are a very useful way to mockup the software interface and typical instructional content to allow the design team and project sponsors a way to evaluate how the training and software application is going to look and work. Evaluation of the prototype will frequently reveal subtle but necessary design changes that were not apparent in the paper design documents.

 

Phase 3. Training Content Development (Production Phase): This phase includes graphic, video, audio and multimedia production. The production team will use the storyboards to create all of the content that makes up the instruction. This is a very labor-intensive and expensive part of the job which is why it is so very critical that the storyboards be carefully reviewed and approved by the SME and client.

 

Phase 4. Software Development: Using the software functional specification document and the prototype, the programmers will create the training software application. Like the content production phase, this phase also includes a lot of work and thus it is critical that the design documents and prototype have been carefully reviewed and approved by the client.

 

Phase 5. Implementation: After the production is complete and the training system is finished, the implementation phase addresses the details with final delivery, installation and the final testing/acceptance by the client.

 

In some cases this final phase can be very involved and require a lot of interaction with the IT personnel so that the software can be installed, configured and properly tested. This is especially true for web-based applications that are to be installed on the client’s web server.

 

In addition to the issues involved with the deployment of the technology and the acceptance by the client, there are also issues surrounding transition of ownership and control. For example, it is important that proper training and documentation exist. Depending on the nature of the training system, ongoing technical support should also be considered and planned for.

 

Phase 6. Evaluation: Although evaluation is a very important part of the design process, it must also be continued after the training is in use. It is this evaluation that can determine if the objectives of the training have been met. Evaluation can drive the continuous improvement of the training for better and better results.

 

What are the Instructional and Technological building blocks?

 

These days, you have many options with regard to developing and delivering your training solutions. Each option has its strengths and weaknesses and must be strategically used to optimally achieve your goals. Typically, a blended approach works best, where you can combine a variety of techniques to get the most effective training. For example, traditional instructor-led training is still one of the most successful methods of teaching, but it has drawbacks. It requires physical classrooms and everyone must gather in one place at one time. For a company with a national or worldwide workforce, this can be a time consuming and expensive proposition. On the other hand, there is a lot of benefit in getting your people together and perhaps the training is being combined with other efforts that require physical presence. The optimum solution may then be to reduce the required instructor-led training through the use of on-line (asynchronous) prep courses. This solution could result in more effective training at less expense.

 

Another issue you might face is how to handle the spontaneous training needs of a distributed work force? For example: getting new product information and training out to a large distributed sales force. A viable solution might be on-line, live (synchronous) instructor-led training combined with an easily updateable on-line reference library of sales support material and current promotional materials.

 

The possible combinations are endless and must be crafted together to give you the best overall solution for your situation. The following descriptions of the fundamental instructional and infrastructure components are the building blocks that can be used to implement your training solutions. Your business needs and environment will ultimately dictate the details of how these techniques are combined and utilized.

 

Instructor-Led Classroom Training

 

The traditional approach to training, instructor-led classroom training, is still one of the most effective ways to teach. Studies show that instructor-led training routinely outperforms other methods. Unfortunately, instructor-led training has some practical limitations related to the cost of employee downtime, travel expenses and training facility costs. Another serious drawback to instructor-led classroom training is the limited “training bandwidth” that can be achieved. If you have a situation where you need to train many people relatively quickly, the instructor classroom model may become a bottleneck.

 

Traditional Training Media

Print and video training materials are the core assets of many traditional training programs. They have the advantages of being very portable and familiar to people. On the other hand, they have disadvantages related to their duplication and distribution expenses as well as being inherently difficult to update and maintain. Once printed materials or videotapes have been distributed, they cannot be easily changed and must frequently be reprinted and distributed.

 

Synchronous e-Learning

This method allows an instructor and students to participate in an on-line virtual classroom. It is called synchronous in that it is a live event where everyone logs into the web-based virtual class at a specific time. The training sessions emulate the traditional classroom approach in that an instructor controls the delivery of content and students have opportunities to ask questions or engage in discussions. Usually, the instructor can deliver just about any type of web-based content along with their voice. These systems will typically also have collaboration tools such as whiteboard functionality and application sharing capabilities.

 

The whiteboard functionality is very much like a traditional chalkboard. The instructor can draw on it or type in text. You can also load in previously prepared graphics and annotate them. If granted permission by the instructor, students can also take control of the whiteboard.
The application sharing is very useful for collaborative discussion of a document or other electronic media or for demonstrating how certain software programs work.

 

Most synchronous e-learning systems also provide methods for the instructor to implement assessments or gather feedback from the students by either receiving messages or polling.

 

The strength of synchronous e-learning systems is that they are a natural extension of traditional instructor led classroom training. This means that training that is currently delivered by traditional methods can fairly quickly be adapted for the on-line version. The repurposing of existing training material can usually be done quickly and efficiently. Like traditional training, the instructor can control the pace and direction of the instruction based on feedback and interactions from the students. Also, like a classroom, questions can be answered as they arise and the instructor can promote discussions. Synchronous e-learning maintains many of the positive attributes of traditional instructor-led training while reducing cost and making training more convenient. A group of people can convene on-line to take a course without being collocated. This means no travel costs, a minimum of employee down time and no facility expenses.

 

It should also be pointed out that it is possible to include video as part of the synchronous e-learning environment. Video can come in two forms. First, prerecorded video can be delivered by using video streaming technology. This is relatively straightforward and, assuming the network bandwidth is available, can be integrated into most systems just like any other web-based content. The second type of video is live video and is more complicated to implement. Live video requires cameras and the necessary hardware and software to compress, encode and transmit a live video signal.

 

More traditional video conferencing systems have been available for many years and provide a convenient alternative to face-to-face meetings. However, many of these systems were not designed to be e-learning platforms and therefore lack many of the needs associated with the delivery of corporate training. However, if a company already has a video conferencing capability, it should be factored into the plan for implementing the corporate training program.

 

The drawbacks to synchronous e-learning are similar to traditional instructor-led training in that it still requires everyone to meet at a specific time and thus lacks the flexibility to accommodate different and conflicting schedules. Synchronous e-learning can also place extra demands on the instructor. They must become very familiar and comfortable with the delivery tools (although many solutions include meeting facilitators that handle the technology) and it is also that much harder to teach when you are not in the same room with the students.

 

Asynchronous e-Learning

 

Asynchronous e-learning includes courses and training materials that can be accessed by the student at any time. It is self-paced and typically independent from an instructor or other students. However, many good asynchronous courses do provide access to forums and threaded discussion groups to give the student the ability to ask questions or have non-real time discussions.

 

This independence from the instructor and classroom environment can be a great convenience to the student because the course can be taken any time and at a pace controlled completely by the student. This, however, puts additional demands and requirements on the asynchronous training content, as it is responsible for 100% of the training and must keep the student engaged. Consequently, asynchronous courses take more planning and are more difficult to create than synchronous courses. One of the primary advantages of an asynchronous course is that, once created, they can be deployed at a very large scale and become completely automated. For this reason, asynchronous courses are usually best suited for situations where the audience is large and dispersed.

 

Simulation

 

Simulation training methods, a subset of asynchronous training, teach by presenting the trainee with real world scenarios and allow them to practice procedures or solve problems by making decisions and interacting with the simulation software. A very important part of learning is the application and practicing of new knowledge. Simulations are one method of providing a safe, controlled and convenient way to practice these newly acquired skills. It can also be a very effective assessment tool to find out if new information and skills are being properly applied.

 

Simulation training software was classically used to model physical processes and equipment interfaces such as airplane simulators and the like. These types of simulators are very effective ways to train operators on the usage of equipment by allowing them to practice in a safe and controlled environment. Additionally, you can simulate problem scenarios that can teach users how to overcome adverse situations that, in real life, may be either very dangerous or expensive when mistakes are made. Today, however, the term simulation is frequently extended to describe any training software that “simulates” a scenario or problem and gives the user a way to make decisions to create a desired outcome. For example, simulations can also be used to teach soft skills such as closing a sale, management skills and even, for attorneys, how to cross-examine a witness.

 

For simulations to be effective, however, they must adequately replicate the desired scenario and give the user enough options and interactivity to provide realistic and effective practice. This gets harder to do as the training scenarios become more complicated and the necessary user actions and skills diverge from what can be translated to a computer interface.

 

Simulations almost always need to be combined with other methods of training to teach all the prerequisite skills. Simulation is a valuable teaching method because it allows a user to apply what they have been taught and experience the application of this knowledge. For example, simulation is very effective right after a lesson that has taught basic skills. It is also important that the simulation has teaching resources built into it. For example, the simulation should have the ability for the user to access a hint or help system, access reference materials or even jump back to other lessons. In this way, knowledge gaps that are realized by the user can immediately be filled. This bi-directional back-and-forth process of applying learned knowledge and then discovering knowledge gaps and seeking the information that is needed, is a very powerful way of teaching.

 

For several reasons, implementing training simulations usually require more computing resources than your typical training software. First, because you are always trying to mimic a realistic work situation, it is usually desirable to include multimedia and visually rich environments and interfaces. Secondly, as you are usually trying to create highly interactive environments, the simulation will necessitate a more sophisticated user interface. Finally, because simulations frequently need to perform many calculations and are tracking a multitude of variables, they can be more computationally intensive than most training applications. For these reasons, training simulations were historically run on multimedia enabled PCs or workstations. Today, because of increased bandwidth and web programming tools such as Macromedia Flash, it is possible to implement many training simulations on the web.

 

Learning Management Systems

 

A Learning Management System (LMS) will provide all of the administrative functionality behind a web-based training system. LMS can range greatly in their capabilities and specific features but, basically, they handle all issues related to providing access to the content, delivery of the content and student performance tracking/reporting. This translates to capabilities such as:

 

  • Student registration and course access.
  • Assigning instructional responsibilities and access.
  • Course setup and curriculum planning.
  • Delivery of tests/assessment.
  • Tracking and reporting of student progress and performance.
  • Providing certifications and regulatory compliance reports.

 

Some LMS also include capabilities such as course authoring tools that may allow instructors to load their course content or assessments into the system. This type of capability is usually more commonly delivered through a content management system as discussed later in this paper.
Note that LMS are not only used for computer delivered content. Like any well-rounded training program, you will likely have some traditional training as well. The LMS can or should be able to record an employee’s entire training history including live training events. Some systems will also manage the use of training resources such as meeting rooms and presentation equipment.

 

Many LMS will also have abilities to interface with other applications such as HR and ERP systems to share data and facilitate tracking and reporting.
The LMS can be a very important part of your system, especially if your training program is large and has many students and many courses that need to be managed. Originally, LMS were very complex and therefore expensive and time consuming to implement. However, more recently many basic LMS are available at costs much less expensive than their predecessors.

 

Learning Content Management and Authoring Systems

 

The Learning Content Management System (LCMS) is another core piece of the training system infrastructure. The previously described LMS provides all of the administrative and delivery functionality, while the LCMS provides capabilities more directly related to the storing and management of the learning content itself. Frequently, Learning Content Management Systems will also have authoring capabilities in which case they are called a Learning Content and Authoring Management System or LCAMS. The LCAMS will make it possible to:

 

  • More easily enter, update and edit the training content.
  • Centralize the storage and management of content.
  • Facilitate a workflow process related to the authoring, review and approval of training content.

 

The fundamental concept behind a LCAMS is the separation of the content from the presentation of the content. The raw content is stored in a database where it can be accessed independently of the presentation. This independence opens up many possibilities. For one, the content can now be entered into the database by an authoring application, which allows someone to easily enter or edit the content without being involved in the details of how to implement the presentation. Secondly, now that the content is independent, it can be used or presented in a variety of ways or media. A perfect example of this is content that is going to be used for both an asynchronously delivered on-line course and a printed manual. The two media are quite dissimilar and the information will need to be presented and formatted differently in each case. The LCAMS now makes it possible to easily update the content in a single place. The different presentations that access the content will then automatically be kept current.

 

Knowledge Management System

Knowledge management within an organization is defined in two parts. First, it is the systematic process of finding, selecting, organizing, distilling and presenting information. Second, employees and managers must utilize that knowledge for such things as problem solving, dynamic learning, strategic planning and decision making.

 

A common problem is “knowledge attrition.” People leave an organization and the valuable information in their heads goes with them. In order to preserve and grow knowledge within an organization, a cultural bias must exist which, at the very least, promotes the transfer of knowledge from one person to another. In large organizations, cultural bias is not a practical Knowledge Management System, since this method does not necessarily span geographical and political boundaries.

 

Enter technology. A technology based Knowledge Management System helps to transcend geographical boundaries and to centralize the knowledge of an organization. Technology solutions must be evaluated for compatibility with an organization’s culture, objectives and with existing or planned systems.

 

Performance Support Systems

Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSS) are computer programs that are structured to provide immediate individualized access to information, software, assistance, data, images and tools required to perform one’s job. They support the concept of just-in-time training. They are, by their nature, typically focused on defined tasks or processes.

 

An EPSS can be very useful to complement training, especially when used as job aids to provide step-by-step procedures that explain, demonstrate and show users how to perform complex tasks. An EPSS can minimize classroom time and can serve as a valuable reference tool after training is completed.

 

It can also empower an employee to perform tasks with a minimum amount of external intervention, resulting in an increase in general productivity.

 

Open Standards

Standards are important to the extent that systems need to be interoperable, easily maintained and scalable. There are really two basic standards issues. First, it is important that the programming languages, databases and other technology being used are consistent with the rest of your information technology. These integration issues will affect, for example, your own IT staff’s ability to maintain and scale the system.

 

The second issue is regarding the development of course content for your e-learning system. For example, different groups such as the Aircraft Industry CBT Committee (AICC), Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, (IEEE), IMS Global Learning Consortium and the Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative (ADL) have developed specifications for the packaging and delivery of training content so that it is more independent and transportable. This promotes greater flexibility and reusability of the course content.

 

The Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) is an evolving set of guidelines and specifications developed by the ADL that is becoming a widely accepted standard. SCORM compliant courses are designed to be:

 

  • Reusable – easily modified and reused for other training efforts.
  • Accessible – can be made widely available to a general audience.
  • Interoperable – less dependant on specific hardware and software platforms.
  • Durable –upwardly compatible with new versions of system software.

The SCORM specification has three main components. The first is a set of course packaging requirements. This defines all the course content resources and navigation. The second is a set of run-time requirements that define how the course must communicate with the LMS. The third component is a specification for course and student meta-data. The course meta-data is essentially a formatted description of the course and its content. The student meta-data is a description of the specific student data that can be tracked by the LMS.

 

Course Design & Content

Ultimately, the most important element of your training program will be the courses and content that make them up. Some deficiencies can be worked around or compensated for, but poorly designed courses that do not meet their objectives, or content that does not effectively teach, will negate all of your efforts.

 

First, it is helpful to realize that your training needs can roughly be divided into two categories. There is the training that is fairly universal and can likely be purchased as “off-the-shelf” training. For common training needs such as learning popular software applications, basic IT training or common soft skills, the demand is high enough to warrant their development. Using off-the-shelf training is obviously going to be less expensive and quicker than developing the courses on your own.

 

The second category is training that is unique to your specific needs and must be custom developed. If you need to develop your own training, you will need a team that consists of subject matter experts, instructional designers, content developers and the appropriate programming and integration talent.

 

Course design and the creation of effective content is a subject that goes beyond the scope of this paper, although there are fundamental elements that can help guide the way. The Instructional System Design (ISD) process is a commonly used method to develop corporate training. ISD is a learner centered approach that is driven by the needs of the learner, as opposed to the instructor or institution. It is also characterized by a very methodical approach that determines the specific learning objectives of the training and designs the training around achieving those objectives. It also acknowledges that the design is an iterative process that should incorporate evaluation and feedback to refine the instruction. The key phases to this approach are:

 

  • Analysis
  • Design
  • Development
  • Evaluation

 

The analysis phase identifies the training needs of the learner by defining the desired outcome along with the learner’s current state of knowledge, skills and attitude. The analysis phase will allow you to define the overall scope of the training in terms of necessary content and the amount of instruction.

 

The design phase first takes into consideration the needs identified in the analysis phase and then develops a specific set of learning objectives. The instruction content and sequencing is designed to best accomplish the learning objectives.

 

The development phase is the creation of the learning content.
The evaluation phase is used to collect feedback and assess whether or not the desired learning outcomes are being achieved. If not, then the feedback is used to refine the instruction.

 

Conclusion

 

The development and deployment of a corporate e-learning system can appear to be a risky and daunting task. However, the risk can be minimized by developing and following an implementation plan which takes this very large and complex task and breaks it down into a methodical step-by-step process. ICS Learning Group has years of experience in all phases of this process, from initial needs assessment to the development of computer-based and web-based training software to the creation of training content.

 

For more information on ICS Learning Group or how we can help you develop and integrate your online training program, visit us on the web at http://www.icslearninggroup.com or give us a call: (410) 975-9440.

Categories : Whitepapers

Got SCORM?

Monday, August 26th, 2013

 

Got SCORM? A Brief Technical Overview That Answers the Question “What is SCORM?”

 

By Brian Kleeman

Download PDF (110KB)

 

Introduction

When I started researching SCORM in preparation for developing content and implementing an LMS, what I remember most was my frustration at the lack of any concise, hands-on information that was available about SCORM. Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) has the complete specification (all 400+ pages of it) readily available on their site, but I was looking for a quick, “get your hands dirty” explanation that skipped all the mumbo-jumbo and would let me dive in and start trying things out. Hopefully, you’ve found this whitepaper early in your search and avoided that frustration. My purpose is to give you a “real world” explanation of SCORM that you can actually use to begin understanding the details of what you’ll find in the specification itself. I’ll skip the e-learning history, theory and other vague ramblings as I’m sure you can find an abundance of it elsewhere with relative ease.

 

Overview

The SCORM specification, developed by Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL – http://www.adlnet.org), is a set of rules that learning management systems (LMS) and learning content follow in order to be compatible with each other. This theoretically allows the content to be loaded into, launched and tracked by any learning management system using a common rule set. Imagine your typical kitchen toaster and its electric plug that you plug-in to your wall socket. That same wall socket can have a blender, electric can opener or coffee maker plugged into it because all those appliances, along with the socket itself, comply with a set of rules dictating plugs and sockets. Things such as the number of prongs, shape and dimensions of the prongs, polarity and voltage have been published as a standard that manufacturers follow to insure that their plugs and sockets all work together. The SCORM specification is no different. Your learning management system is the wall socket. Your content is the toaster, blender, coffee maker or whatever else you plug into that socket.

 

Introducing the SCO…

E-Learning content is delivered as a single unit called a Sharable Content Object or SCO. SCOs are independent, self-contained, transportable packages that represent the lowest level of granularity that is tracked by a learning management system. In other words, SCOs are mini-applications that when launched from an LMS report, among other things, one score and pass/fail status. Your SCOs should contain all the necessary files required to function, have or require no knowledge of any other SCO or external information, and as a matter of design, should remain relatively small such that they can be easily reused.

 

We generally design our SCOs (which we also refer to as lessons) to be able to be completed by a learner in less than 15 minutes. We’ve found that this avoids information overload and gives the learner well spaced stopping points.

 

And since the spec indicates that SCOs shall be transportable, you could infer that they should also be platform independent, although this is not explicitly stated. Server dependencies such as Coldfusion, Perl, ASP or server-based databases are problematic as a particular LMS might be running on a server that does not have those services available. So unless you are working in a tightly controlled internal environment, your SCOs should only be using client-side technologies such as HTML, Flash and Javascript.

 

…and the Content Package

Now before we get into the details of the SCO, realize that we must to be able to transport it – even if that only means getting it from our desktop computer where we created it to the server where our LMS is hosted. To do so, we use a Content Package. Going back to our wall socket analogy, imagine that the content package is the box in which the toaster is packed and transported. In reality, it is simply a single compressed file containing all the files (html, images, flash swf, etc) necessary for the SCO to function. The content package may contain more than one SCO (a toaster and coffee-maker perhaps) and a single manifest file which describes the contents of the package. The LMS will use the manifest file to properly find and import each of the SCOs.

 

Web-Based and Script Enabled

While there is no specific requirement that learning management systems be web-based, SCOs must be. This requirement gives developers a common platform (the web browser) to design and develop their content to function within, thereby removing unnecessary barriers to compatibility and transportability. Of course, even with the current maturity of web-browsers, they are not all created equal and SCORM makes no mention of a specification to be followed to ensure web-browser compatibility. Compliance with the latest W3C standards however, is a safe course of action to ensure compatibility with a wide range of current web-browsers. And in order for a SCO to communicate data to and from the LMS as well as potentially provide interactivity and quizzing functionality, it’s going to require more than just client-side HTML. SCORM specifies that SCOs use an ECMA Standards compliant scripting language to communicate with the LMS. The most notable ECMA compliant language is one you’ve probably heard of – JavaScript.

 

SCO and Content Package Summary

So what we’ve covered regarding Sharable Content Objects can be summarized as follows: SCOs are mini-applications containing the content itself. SCOs are self-contained and transportable – all required files are included and compressed into a single content package. Content packages contain a single manifest file and may contain more than one SCO. SCOs are web-based and script-enabled – consisting of HTML, Javascript and any other client-side technology (images, Macromedia Flash, etc). SCOs are the smallest level of granularity tracked by an LMS – they report, among other things, only one score and status.

 

The Details

Now that you understand some of the high-level layout, we’ll explore the fundamental details to understanding SCORM. Realize that this is by no means an exhaustive exploration, but it should provide a good foundation of knowledge. Be sure to download and read the complete SCORM specification as there are many details that will not be mentioned here.

 

The Content Package and Manifest File

As I have mentioned, for a SCO to be uploaded to the LMS, it must be contained in a Content Package – a single compressed file conforming to the Process Interchange Format (PIF) specification. In most cases, this is simply a .ZIP file and may contain multiple SCOs.

 

The Content Package must also contain a Manifest File – an XML file containing information about the included SCOs and their organization. By reading the manifest file, the LMS can gather information about the SCOs that are contained in the package and will be able to launch them when appropriate.

 

The Manifest File must be located in the root of the Content Package and named ‘imsmanifest.xml’. The remaining file structure of the content package is completely up to you, even when including multiple SCOs, as long as the references contained in the manifest file correctly identify the location of the launching files, metadata files or any other files that the LMS might need to find within the package.

 

Here’s an example of a very basic, yet fully compliant “hello world” manifest file. Note that a fair amount of optional information not covered here is usually included in a typical manifest file. For complete details be sure to refer to Section 3, Content Package Conformance Requirements of the SCORM 2004 (1.3) Conformance Requirements (CR).

 

Notice that the basic structure is a manifest node containing a metadata node, an organizations node and a resources node.

 

The Metadata Node

The required elements of this node that we have included specify the schema and schema version. Our example indicates that this content package uses the ADL SCORM schema and is compliant to the Content Aggregation Model of the SCORM 2004 (1.3) specification. Optionally, this node may also contain metadata containing extensive information about the content package including keywords, copyright information and more. This optional metadata may be included using a lom node or in an external XML file whose location would be referenced by an adlcp:location node. In either case, the lom or adlcp:location node would be located within the metadata node.

 

The meta-data structure, whether in-line or external is defined in Section 5 of the SCORM 2004 (1.3) Conformance Requirements (CR). Note that several other areas of the manifest also use this setup for referencing meta-data.

 

The Organizations Node

The primary layout and relationship of the contents of our package is contained in the organizations node. Notice however, that information about the assets themselves such as file location are not included here.

 

You’ll notice a single organization in this node, although any number is allowed. Each organization that is listed in this node can be thought of as a course once it’s uploaded into the LMS.

 

The SCORM specifications does not require that an LMS recognize and import the organization structure itself – only that it be able to import and launch SCOs and assets that are defined within the resource node and referenced by item nodes within the organizations node.

 

Each organization listed must contain a title node to indicate the title of the organization or course.

 

We have titled our sample course “Hello World Course.” Once imported, the LMS will use this as the display title of the course.

 

Each organization may contain any number of item nodes which, in turn, may also contain any number of item nodes. There is no limit to the nesting of these nodes. The lowest level of item nodes represents the SCOs or assets contained in the content package and will each include an attribute identifierref.

 

An asset is simply a file or group of files that can be launched by the LMS. Assets differ from SCOs in that they do not communicate with the LMS in any way.

 

Our sample’s identifierref value is “sco_hello_ref” which references a resource node that we will discuss shortly. An individual resource node may be referenced by more than one item node throughout the organizations node, even from within different organizations. When this occurs, the identifierref attribute for all instances should be the same.

 

When present, upper layers of the item node nesting represent groupings or modules within the organization as shown by this example not contained in our sample:

 

Most manifest files that you see coming from authoring programs such as Macromedia Captivate and Articulate Presenter will not nest the item nodes into modules, but rather contain only one item node (representing the SCO) within the organization.

 

Each item node representing our SCOs and assets must contain a title node to indicate the title of the resource itself.

 

We have titled our SCO “Hello World Lesson” and the LMS will use this as the displayed title of the lesson once imported.

 

The Resource Node

Whereas the organizations node defined the layout and relationship of the content, the resources node is where the actual content information is located. Each SCO or Asset that is contained within the content package will have a corresponding resource node within this node.

 

The identifier attribute of our resource contains the value “sco_hello_ref”, which will correspond to the identifierref’s value in our item node that is in the organizations node above.

 

The href attribute lets the LMS know where the launch file for this resource is located and the adlcp:scormtype attribute indicates that this resource is a SCO rather than simply an Asset. So in our sample, the index.htm file located in the root of the content package as indicated here, is the launch file for the SCO that is titled “Hello World Lesson” as listed in the organizations node and referenced using the “sco_hello_ref” identifier.

 

The result of all of this is that when an LMS imports a content package containing our sample manifest it will, at a minimum, create a new lesson, title it “Hello World Lesson” and upon launch execute the file “index.htm” that is located in the root of the content package. Optionally, the LMS may also create a new course, title it “Hello World Course” and include our “Hello World Lesson” in it. In either case, our LMS has successfully imported our SCO and has the capability to launch it.

 

For a complete explanation of the structure and elements included in the manifest, refer to Section 3 of the SCORM 2004 (1.3) Conformance Requirements (CR).

 

A Communications Channel – The API

Once it’s been launched, a SCO and the LMS need a communication channel through which to pass data. This is done through an object known as an API (Application Programming Interface) that is the conduit for all of the SCO to LMS and LMS to SCO communication.

 

The technology that the LMS vendor chooses to implement the API is completely up to them – no recommendations are made within the SCORM specification as long as the API is exposed to the SCO correctly and implements the methods and data structure required. We have seen APIs developed using Java applets, ActiveX controls and even pure JavaScript.

 

The SCO will be opened by the LMS in either a new browser window or framed within a page in the LMS browser window. Before communication can occur, the SCO must find the API and make contact.

 

In most cases, the API is visible in the HTML code of the LMS window as an object, embed or applet tag.

 

The SCORM specification indicates locations where the SCO should look for the API, requires that the LMS expose the API in one of those locations and that it be a Document Object Model (DOM) object named “API_1484_11? or “API” depending on the SCORM version you are following. Since the SCO is launched in either a new browser window or a frame within the LMS window, it will use a very simple process such as: look in my parent window (if framed) or in the window that opened me (if a new window) and see if there is an object named “API_1484_11? (or “API”). If the API is not found, the SCO can expand its search by looking in the parent of the window that opened it, the parent of its parent, and so on according to the spec.

 

Section 3.2.1 of the SCORM 2004 (1.3) Run Time Environment (RTE) outlines the locations and process that the SCO should use to find the API.

 

Once the SCO finds the API, it can invoke methods of the API to send data to and receive data from the LMS. If the API is not found, the SCO should alert the user that the connection to the LMS failed and no communication will occur.

 

The ADL has made an “API wrapper” publicly available for use when developing SCOs. This wrapper is a file that you can include with your SCO that contains pre-written javascript functions for finding and accessing the API as well as for sending and receiving data. The wrapper is available on the ADL’s website at http://adlnet.org/

 

Data Transfer

Once the SCO has found the API, they must both speak the same language if any communication is to occur. The SCORM specification has defined a small set of methods that must exist in the API and be available for the SCO to use. The methods are accessed by the SCO via JavaScript code with the syntax of objectname.methodname(argument(s)) where objectname references the API itself, methodname is the method being used (the API methods are explained below) and argument(s) are the data passed to the method. In all cases, the SCO initiates interactions and data transfer by invoking these methods.

 

SCORM 2004 (1.3) API Methods:

Initialize – Initializes communication with the LMS. No other API methods should be called by the SCO until Initialize has been successfully called.

 

When completed, the resulting returnValue will contain “true” if the method was successful, “false” if it was not.

 

Terminate – Terminates communication with the LMS. No other API methods should be called by the SCO after Terminate has been successfully called.

 

When completed, the resulting returnValue will contain “true” if the method was successful, “false” if it was not.

 

Commit – Saves the data that has been sent to the LMS via SetValue calls. If a SCO exits without invoking Commit, none of the learner’s data is saved to the LMS. Commit is implicitly invoked by the API when Terminate is called.

 

When completed, the resulting returnValue will contain “true” if the method was successful, “false” if it was not.

 

GetValue – Retrieves data from the LMS for use in the SCO. The SCO must pass the data element that it is requesting as an argument.

 

When completed, the resulting returnValue will contain the score that is retrieved from the LMS.

 

SetValue – Passes data from the SCO to the LMS. The data is retained and may be retrieved during the user session, but is not saved to the LMS until Commit is invoked. The SCO must indicate the data element and its value that is to be saved as arguments.

 

When completed, the resulting returnValue will contain “true” if the method was successful, “false” if it was not.

 

GetLastError – Retrieves the last numeric error code that occurred in the API as a result of invoking these methods.

 

When completed, the resulting returnValue will contain the code corresponding to the last error that occurred. GetErrorString – Retrieves the text description corresponding to the error code priveded.

 

When completed in either case, the resulting returnValue will contain a text description of the error corresponding to the errorCode that was provided.

 

GetDiagnostic – Exists for LMS specific use. Returns a diagnostic text description based on the parameter that is passed as an argument.

 

When completed, the resulting returnValue will contain the text of the diagnostic information.

 

Using the GetValue and SetValue methods, the SCO is able to send and retrieve all the necessary data for effective tracking to and from the LMS. Some commonly used data elements include learner_id, learner_name, score, completion_status and suspend data. The example that follows will demonstrate proper usage of a few of these elements.

 

An Example

So what you will find when looking at the code of a SCO is some process that is executed at launch, usually found in the onLoad event of the body tag, that finds and initializes the API. In some cases the SCO will then request and load basic information using GetValue, such as the learner’s name and id. Additionally, the SCO may attempt to load previous session data such as score, progress status or learner responses that may be necessary to continue the learner’s interaction with the SCO. From that point, SCO interactivity and functionality such as navigation and quizzing will likely operate independently of any SCORM-related functions. At certain points though, result data is passed to the LMS (using SetValue and possibly Commit) and upon completion of the SCO, perhaps within the functionality of an Exit button, the Terminate method is called.

 

Let’s take a look at the following HTML and Javascript code as an example. Note that the getAPI function used in the doLMSInitialize function would be included in the apiwrapper.js script file that is referenced by the script tag in the header. This function would follow the process discussed earlier to search for and return the API from the opener window or parent frames. While this process is too detailed to completely explain here, the api wrapper that is available from the ADL contains this functionality so it is not necessary to develop your own from scratch.

 

Let’s briefly step through this code to see what is actually happening. On page load, the doLMSInitialize function is called which uses the getAPI function to search for and return the API. The API is initialized, the learner’s name is retrieved and a welcome message is displayed in the div element whose id is “welcome.”

 

The question is displayed using a standard HTML form. Upon clicking the Submit button, the learner’s response is passed to the postAnswer function.

 

The postAnswer function evaluates the response, alerts the learner and sets the appropriate SCORM values using the API’s SetValue method.

 

Finally, the learner clicks the Exit button which invokes the API’s Terminate method.

 

What this example should illustrate for you is that a SCO is coded very much like any other interactive lesson with the occasional addition of method calls to the API when data is required or ready to be posted.

 

You can download this SCO and content package including the example manifest file at http://www.icslearninggroup.com/sharedResources/SCORM Packages/helloworld.zip. This package is a functional SCORM 1.3 (2004) package that can be imported into a SCORM compliant learning management system.

 

Conclusion

So we’ve examined the SCO and its general operation, the API and how it provides the communications portal between the LMS and the SCO and the manifest file and how it facilitates the importation of the SCO into the LMS. In other words, we’ve only scratched the surface. To fully understand SCORM and its functionality, you should download the full specification from the ADL’s website and get familiar with it. Begin working with our sample content package and study as many other SCORM compliant SCOs as you can. The code is all client-side, so you will be able to open it with a basic text editor such as Notepad.

 

For more information on SCORM, learning management systems, SCORM compliant authoring tools, or to sign up for a free trial of Inquisiq Learning Management System where you can upload and test your SCORM compliant SCOs, visit us on the web at http://www.icslearninggroup.com.

Categories : Whitepapers

 

Going Global? The Importance of Language and Cultural Context in the Development of e-Learning

 

By James Gipple

Download PDF (207KB)

 

Introduction

As a relatively new discipline, e-learning is broadly understood as education through technology. It may have initially been true that the latter of those two principles attracted the majority of attention as the burgeoning industry focused on technological innovations. However, the ability to develop custom, high quality e-learning content is fast becoming the priority and therefore educational innovations must keep up with those of technological importance. Understanding e-learning beyond technology is an essential component of program development. Cultural, psychological, and linguistic nuances are no longer a superfluous “add-on” of e-learning design, rather a necessity in a rapidly globalizing world.

Business and industry professionals alike have recognized the need to develop strategies for improving learner enrollments, completion rates, and satisfaction with the latest training delivery methods. These objectives are all measures of quality. A key aspect of quality is relevance and, in turn, a vital component of relevance is the cultural context of a target demographic. Varying degrees of context are the reason that implementation and solutions must evolve. This paper will address four key components of context that are pivotal in effective e-learning development: (1) Language Complexities; (2) Cultural and Social Norms; (3) Cultural Use of Technology; and (4) Cultural Learning Models. In combination with these four principles this paper will include several examples and a comprehensive break down of a sample problem and solution.

 

Language Complexities

Language structures have an immense influence on education and the impact of teaching principals of any kind; however the importance of language is arguably magnified through an instructional medium such as an e-learning platform where face-to-face contact is rare. There exist a number of grammatical problems that arise in cross-language translation such as the misuse of symbols, characters, or definitions. Perhaps more abstract and difficult to identify are those aspects that blur the line between language and culture. Language is not a static entity; rather its meaning is deeply rooted in cultural context. This is a major hurdle that an e-learning design team must overcome. It is not a simple word-for-word translation but a translation of meaning, association and behavior. “A language cannot be entirely stripped of its cultural background without striking its native speakers as strange or disconcerting.”[1]

 

It is essential for the translator to do some research on the lexical content and syntax of the target language along with the ideologies, value systems and ways of life in a given culture. Take for example the expression, “in the red”. In western culture this phrase indicates financial woe and is based on traditional bookkeeping practices of using red ink to denote debt or losses on financial statements. This was most likely true because red is associated with warning or danger in western culture. Now imagine one was to translate this phrase into Chinese, where the cultural connotation to the color red is luck.[2] The phrase loses all of its intended meaning.

 

Cultural and Social Norms

A broad understanding of cultural differences and social expectations is necessary in the process of design. Considering these influences allows the learner to develop a quasi-relationship with the content on the basis of relevance and the ability of the subject matter to relate to the individual. This includes an understanding and proper representation of “roles and relationships, cultural expectations of gender, the balance between rules and value, legality concerns, differing concepts of time, effect of enculturation, the influence of the socio-economic status, political instabilities of the learners’ country, and even humor.”[3] This list is not meant to be a panacea to cultural design hurdles; instead it represents a potential jumping off point. The intricacy of a culture is limitless and will require detailed attention depending on the subject-matter being taught and the demographic of people involved.

 

For example, one can delve into the social protocols of Tonga (a small island country in the Asia Pacific), particularly those relating to courtesies involved with greetings, especially those dealing with people of high rank. Through an exploratory research project into cross-cultural delivery of online instruction, administered by researchers at Brigham Young University, it was discovered that in the presence of the royal family no Tongan’s head is allowed to be above that of the royalty’s. This turned out to be an incredibly influential observation in that the Crown Prince of Tonga was interested in participating in the online distance learning initiative. Failure to recognize this unforeseen cultural difference could have easily resulted in dismantling the entire project.[4]

 

Perhaps not as specific as a cultural expectation directed at a single person (as was the case in Tonga) there are broader social norms that can heavily direct e-learning design. One such observation made by author Steve McCarty in his article, Cultural, disciplinary and temporal contexts of e-learning and English as a foreign language, relates simply to gender roles in education. Take, for example, a health outreach project; one in which it is ideal to match male and female students to role play scenarios and create simulations, an approach that is not uncommon in the US. One can imagine the difficulties of implementing a project designed this way in Saudi Arabia where male teachers cannot even enter a classroom with females.[5]

 

Cultural Use of Technology

The applicability of technology has an incredible amount of variation among different peoples and cultures. First, one must dismiss western assumptions and account for accessibility and dependability of technology infrastructure. While technology development remains an exploding industry, designers may overlook the availability and subsequent affordability of technology. Assuming the audience has the appropriate technology available, a designer must further delve into the cultural use of this technology, exploring the familiarity, intention, and willingness the learner exhibits.

 

Finnish researcher Teppo Turkki illustrates this point through examining the differences in Internet infrastructure of Finland, South Korea, and Japan. Based on his findings, Koreans tended to see the internet as a platform for games while Fins saw it more as a practical tool.[6] It is also vital to outline the connection between cultural identity and technology. The Japanese tended to use information technology to enter a fantasy world, the anonymity that many Japanese seek in the real world, for example, has its counterpart in the virtual world, where Japanese prefer aliases.[7] There one can live his or her inner feelings much more deeply. Not so in Korea, where people use their real names. And the emotional attachment to IT that Asians show more broadly is not seen in Finland. These cultural insights into the use of technology are immensely important in developing effective content.

 

Cultural Learning Models

Rooted in the expectations and perceived outcomes of e-learning initiatives is the influence of educational models and learning techniques specific to varying cultural contexts. These principles are generally demonstrated through the creation of course material and the process of instruction. “Ideal classroom environment, activities engaged in, assessment types, categorization and structuring of knowledge” all illustrate evolving auspices to developing custom, culturally-relevant teaching material.[8]

 

Analyzing educational systems of the First Nation or aboriginal peoples of Canada demonstrate this principle perfectly. Respect for elders as well as high levels of spirituality are primary factors involved in native education; so much so that every formal meeting with a band or tribal council begins with a prayer, said by one of the elders at the meeting. Educational content is framed very much in the context of spirituality, something that Western academics are simply not attuned to.[9]

 

Sample Problem

The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations of the Australian Government is currently developing an extensive outreach initiative under the National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Economic Participation. This agreement is aimed at improving employment and business opportunities for indigenous people in both the public and private sector. A team of project managers, designers and programmers have been tasked with developing a program aimed at providing indigenous small scale producers with leadership, financial, and business training to strengthen market linkages and increase local employment rates. The training material provided by the Australian Government has proved successful in other low-income areas; however, success rates are markedly lower in high-density indigenous areas. Evaluation and revision reports indicate disinterest, low attendance and limited comprehension among indigenous participants.

 

Solution

This particular example allows us to analyze as well as affirm the importance of each previously discussed component of cultural context. Through this examination, albeit brief, it becomes increasingly clear how vital cultural competence can be and how quickly a project can deteriorate if not given specific cultural attention. The solutions are designed to show the cultural insights that the program team should account for when redesigning the content to reverse the trend and gain positive feedback. While the scenario is artificially created, organizations and legislation are real, as is the information and cultural insights used in the solutions. All are derived from a series of professional and academic case studies.

 

Let us first explore broader cultural themes and social norms throughout the Australian indigenous demographic. It is vital to look at these cultural factors as the lens through which the audience is viewing the content. If not adjusted correctly and culturally applicable the audience will not fully absorb the information presented. Research shows that the target demographic, in this case indigenous groups plagued by unemployment, often experience a sense of social exclusion in the form of high rates of arrests and police harassment as well as low levels of social capital and civic engagement. From this, a sense of fatalism is cultivated by sustained unemployment.[10] This insight is vital in an approach to combat unemployment and build interest and participation in the community. Understanding the value of respect and how aboriginal notions of respect differ from Western views is also critical. Appropriate ways to dress, talk, and use body language must be integrated into program design when visiting traditional communities.[11] Therefore, this cultural observation allows designers to comprehensively address unemployment and business practices accounting for the importance of social inclusion.

 

Secondly, a vital component to the success of this project is a very unique language component specific to Aboriginal peoples. That is, there is no written tradition in Australian indigenous culture, the concept of language in this context of literacy and numeracy is hardly defined. Thus, the ‘written language’ is an entirely artificial concept.[12] Overlooking this detail could not only complicate training but render content virtually useless. From this understanding, developers can implement training that is largely visual with a heavy emphasis on spoken dialogue and oral explanation.

 

The third component specific to this problem is recognition of the culturally constructed learning preferences of Aboriginal peoples. Psychology research of indigenous populations in Australia denotes a strong desire for learning by imitation and observation, and relating on a practical rather than an abstract level.[13] This information indicates that training examples should focus more on a situational or physical context. Explanation of content has a markedly higher chance of success if instructors appeal to the everyday life and emotions of the audience rather than hypothetical or metaphorical examples.

 

The final category of revision is indigenous use of technology. There is a significant digital divide between the indigenous and non-indigenous populations. Indigenous people are only half as likely as non-indigenous people to use the internet at home. Previous research has demonstrated that there are two key factors in determining ICT use in Australia; income and education level.[14] It comes as no surprise that there is clearly a positive relationship between income and ICT use as well as education and ICT use. This allows one to draw comparisons between the relative low use of IT in indigenous communities and the resulting disparity in income and education. The ability of designers and content managers to recognize: first, indigenous access to computers; and second, the correlation between lack of access and employment opportunities, is vital in engaging the community.

 

Conclusion

In summation, these cultural, social, and language considerations should be an integral part of the choices, design and implementation of any project team. Through this simple example one can infer the effects and possibilities of cultural inclusion into a varying degree of e-learning projects. “While differentiating a fuller range of learning opportunities an approach should go beyond surface meanings and fixed or absolutistic definitions to approach the complete picture of disciplinary, cultural, temporal, and other contexts in which specialized fields and concepts are embedded. In education there is a cultural context in all scenes of instruction making each unique.”[15]

 

[1] Cultural, disciplinary and temporal contexts of e-learning and English as a foreign language

[2] Lost in Translation – interacting with other cultures

[3] Exploration Research into the Delivery of Online Instruction Cross-Culturally

[4] Exploration Research into the Delivery of Online Instruction Cross-Culturally

[5] Cultural, disciplinary and temporal contexts of e-learning and English as a foreign language

[6] Cultural, disciplinary and temporal contexts of e-learning and English as a foreign language

[7] Cultural, disciplinary and temporal contexts of e-learning and English as a foreign language

[8] Exploration Research into the Delivery of Online Instruction Cross-Culturally

[9] Exploration Research into the Delivery of Online Instruction Cross-Culturally

[10] Indigenous Social Inclusion/Exclusion

[11] Bridging Cultures: Psychologists Working with Aboriginal Clients

[12] Exploration Research into the Delivery of Online Instruction Cross-Culturally

[13] Bridging Cultures: Psychologists Working with Aboriginal Clients

[14] Australia’s Digital Divide

[15] Cultural, disciplinary and temporal contexts of e-learning and English as a foreign language

Categories : Whitepapers

 

CBT and WBT Levels: A Discussion to Help Determine the Cost of eLearning

 

By Erik Lord

Download PDF (348KB)

 

Classifying the level of training is a flexible metric. It is important to have a general framework for such levels, however, so both the project sponsor and the developer have a standard reference point to ensure scope and requirements are aligned. For example, when a company requests a bid on an eLearning project, everyone should have the same point of reference to determine what is being requested – resulting in pricing that is accurate and comparable.

 

We therefore need fairly strict definitions of what the levels are, or else they are not of any practical value. One such attempt is known as “CBT Levels”, a term reflecting its age since ‘CBT’ is somewhat dated terminology these days. So while perhaps better titled “Levels of eLearning” (or “Levels of e-Learning”, depending on your hyphenated preference), the concept remains the same: how can training be classified for purposes of style, presentation, depth and, perhaps most importantly, cost?

 

As applied to eLearning, such classifications are impacted by general complexity, range and richness of multimedia, and – perhaps most dramatically – the depth of interactivity. Of course, defining “interactivity” can be a nebulous quest in itself! Clicking on a ‘Next button’ requires the user to interact with the lesson, but that’s a pretty tame definition. On the other hand, it is generally accepted that the more interactive the module, the more effective it will be in achieving the objectives.

 

Interestingly, the actual levels defined within this class are somewhat arbitrary. Some sources suggest there are three levels of interactivity, others say four, and still other specify five! For customers looking to work with our group of eLearning experts, we’ve settled on a simple 3-level definition focused on the interactive complexity as well as the range of potential media, from simple images and photography to video and complex 3D animation.

 

Level 1:

 

What are commonly referred to as ‘page-turners’, purists grumble that such courseware shouldn’t even be considered ‘eLearning’ as its efficacy is questionable. However, in our experience, such modules can be effective for communicating simple concepts and rules, and are indeed relatively inexpensive to develop. Most current ‘authoring tools’ publish these (Level 1) types of modules by default – commonly through simple PowerPoint conversions – though how truly effective they are depends on the author, the presentation, and the content. Overall, such Level 1 eLearning titles offer very little interactivity beyond ‘clicking Next’ and basic quiz questions, and simple media elements like stock images, transitions, and general narration.

 

Level 2:

 

At this level, courseware starts to get a bit more complex with a moderate level of interactivity and multimedia assets (such as audio, video, and animation). Often the objectives are geared more toward more involved concepts, single-path simulation, and procedural tasks. Many customers shoot for Level 2 courseware as a compromise providing an effective course at a moderate cost. Aside from some content-related interaction, the lesson navigation expands to menus, submenus, branching, glossaries, and links to outside resources. The actual learning content within these lessons is somewhat static, aside simple transitions and animation, and often accompanied by simple exercises (i.e. drag-and-drop, matching, and identification components) and professional narration. Multilingual versions of the courseware are also a consideration at this level.

 

Level 3:

 

Level 3 eLearning courseware includes sophisticated exercises, such as software or hardware simulation, a variety of ‘branching’ to reflect and provide feedback at decision points, and serious games. These highly-interactive modules may include very complex simulation with multiple response and feedback pathways, and most certainly include a liberal assembly of multimedia assets from pre-recorded or live video to interactive 3D objects, and perhaps the use of digital ‘avatars’. Such courseware could be defined as a ‘serious game’. The oft-referenced ‘flight simulator’ remains a good example of Level 3 training.

 

Those three levels generally suffice as general guidelines, but variations are easily configured. A ‘Level 1’ page-turner could quickly reach the ‘Level 3’ price-point with addition of custom video. A ‘Level 3’ piece with complex navigation could have a lower cost by using simple stock art resources. As noted above, content, style, presentation, images, animation, audio, video, and overall instructional design – all are crucial factors in creating ‘good’ training material, as well as factors that will affect the development effort (cost) of the courseware.

 

With so many potential components of an eLearning courseware, it can be difficult to estimate the pricing for such development; the more that is known up-front on the style, media, presentation, and interactive components of the desired modules, the more accurate the cost estimate will be. As mentioned, while the levels of e-Learning provide solid guidelines for initial approach and pricing, each level can contain its own set of variation, requiring a clear definition of the project.

 

Splitting the project’s development into two phases facilitates this process. The first Instructional Design analysis phase helps to identify the style, audience, content, media, etc. of the desired courseware – not only making the final development costs more accurate, but also identifying key objectives and processes that may be enhanced through multimedia and interactivity. The results are generally detailed in a Design Document deliverable, including the scope, tasks, and pricing for the subsequent Development phase.

 

While the goal of this paper is to better define the levels of eLearning, other considerations must be considered in defining the project’s scope and timeline, such as:

 

  • Availability of subject matter experts (SMEs); can the customer provide the SME or should the developer find and price an outside party into the project?
  • What is the customer’s expected response time for discussions and product review?
  • Is a project site required to manage the assets and deliverables?
  • What are the overall ‘seat time’ minimum or maximum requirements?
  • Are government requirements, such as Section 508 specifications, a factor?
  • How will the courseware be delivered – via CD, Kiosk, web, or a SCORM-compliant learning management system (LMS)?
  • Does the delivery method impose any restrictions on the types of preferred media or the development approach?

 

Understanding these factors, along with the overall required ‘level’ of your eLearning courseware will assure accurate pricing, a streamlined design and development process, and an effective training product. With over a decade in the eLearning field and extensive experience with custom content design, development, and SCORM implementations, ICS Learning Group can assists with all these components. Contact us for discussion, industry resources, and reference papers to help quantify your project.

Categories : Uncategorized

testing

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

test 2. Bug: I have a page which displays a portfolio gallery. The “+ Category Selection” button is positioned top right. When I hover on my parent menu option I get my list of 30 sub-menus. These display over the “+Category Selection” button. As I move down the sub-menus and reach the position where the “+Category Selection” button is, that grabs the mouse focus and my menu vanishes.
As a workaround I have had to move the menu to another position so i can scroll down it. See attached screenshot to get an idea what I mean. The “Drug Information” menu was where “Recovery Guide” is.

 

Categories : showbiz