Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Twelve Ways to Add Value to Open Source LMS Systems

I've been too wrapped up thinking about interactivity to pay attention to the pains learning managers must go through for making their Moodle implementations effective. So, when I sat down to talk with Dr Asheesh Choksi, technology consultant and architect, about Moodle, he gave me a 12-point program to add value to Moodle - which was quite an eye opener.

1. User Management
 User management is the starting point in making Moodle successful.  Here we deal with problems such as grade data privacy, activation and deactivation of users for business reasons, and protecting sensitive business information arising from learning systems from prying eyes.

2. Catalog Management
 What does the learner see on logging in? This is the province of content display and catalog management. Examples include news, events, calendar, assignments, course list etc.

Better structuring of information to be shown on landing page to facilitate users to quickly see needed updates and get access to other areas of the system

3. Business Reports
 How do you assess the effectiveness of a course delivered? What questions are learners failing consistently? Moodle captures most  of the data, but getting it out in meaningful reports needs some statistical analysis and design effort.

4. Student Reports
 How cool it will be if a student were to get a special personalized 'recommended for you' list of resources? How about showing a recap of  'your recent learning activity'? A well-customized Moodle can do that.

5. Offline capability
When your learners are always on the go, in far-flung parts of the world, internet connections vary from excellent to un-reliable and even non-existent sometimes. So you need to support offline learning capability. The learner should download the course, go and learn in offline mode, take tests and synchronize the results when net is connected back. This can be done using Google Gears to some extent, or with the Harbinger Offline Player all the way up to SCORM compatible tracking.

6. DRM Support
Worried that someone may copy proprietary content? You need to think about who can access, and what they can do with the courses you deliver. The solution needed is a custom course reader with several lockdown levels (machine access lockdown, copy disable lockdown).

7. Collaborative Annotation System
You want learners to share their annotations on courses. Of course, there could be multiple cohorts learning a course at the same time. Each cohort needs to have his/her own share of annotation space. You don’t want to burden Moodle with the task of managing annotations. The solution is a separate collaborative annotation server, such as TeemingPod.

8. Mobile Support
Learners are flocking to  iPads, iPhones and other tablets and smartphones. These devices are supported using MLE Moodle, an opens ource plugin for iOS and Android. This takes some coding but can be done, and well worth it. So your LMS has a mobile nexus with the learners.

9. Payment Gateway
Need to have learners pay using  PayPal or some other gateway? You can implement your own payment model such as bulk access, pay-as-you-go, pay-per-course etc. using payment gateway integration.

10. Performance Tuning and Scalability
A lot of times, training can be driven by organization-wide events and initiatives. So everyone wants to access the material at the same time. This results in  high user load, and slows down performance. This is when code optimization, caching and other expert solutions from Harbinger - ranging up to  cluster server deployment- come handy.

11. Video streaming
Moodle does not stream video effectively. For better streaming experience third party integration with services like YouTube, Kaltura and so on.

12. Virtual Class Room
Synchronous classrooms have the added advantage of a live instructor available at the time of learning. Open source platforms such as Open Meetings  or Big Blue Button can be integrated with Moodle to bring in this capability.

I know it's quite a handful, says Dr Choksi, but the effort is well worth it - take care of these points and you will end up with a state-of-the-art Moodle implementation that your learners and administrators will love, he adds.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Getting a Head Start with Mobile Interactions

When Raptivity released its first collection of mobile interactions for iPad and iPhone based eLearning, the path-breaking HTML5 Pack received several accolades. While it was a very useful collection of interactions, it mainly featured a bunch of memory aids such as flash cards. Clearly, there was a need for adding more interactions  to make it instructionally more useful and complete.

It is not easy to design HTML5 interactions from the ground up and make them behave exactly like their Flash counterparts. For example, in the iPad world, there is no mouse-over, so any interaction involving mouse-over has to use mouse clicks.

That's why I am excited about the new Raptivity HTML5 Starter Pack. With this new Raptivity extension, you don't have to spend hours thinking about how to emulate Flash-like interactions in HTML5.

Raptivity HTML5 Starter Pack

The new pack features interactions that let you jazz up your presentations. You can encourage exploration by learners. Then there are interactive quizzes that test knowledge and provide feedback. You can also provide ready reference materials for the people on the go. These interactions, together with memory aids available in the Raptivity HTML5 Turbopack released earlier, provide a rich variety of templates that suit a large number of instructional goals.

The following table summarizes the various interactions and their usage. Please note that (H5T) indicates the Raptivity HTML5 Turbopack, (H5S) indicates the Raptivity HTML5 Starter Pack.  

Jazz up presentation

Flip the Book
Present a fun page-turner with embedded video and other media (H5S)
Create interactive concentric circles with callouts (H5S)
Illustrate radial relationships with interactivity (H5S)
Slide show
Build image transitions with a soundtrack (H5T)

Encourage exploration

Create a step-by-step software simulation (H5S)
Illustrate the steps of a process in sequence, and show details (H5S)
Provide an easy way to access Frequently Asked Questions (H5S)
Buildup and Rollover
Gradually build up complex pictures and explain each part as you go (H5S)

Test Knowledge

Build a match-the-pair exercise with bells and whistles (H5S)
Allow the learner to build a tree structure illustrating relationships (H5S)
Branching Question
Implement a series of questions with adaptation based on learner’s answers (H5S)
Catch ‘em Fast
Create rapid-fire questions where speed is critical (H5T)

Provide ready reference

Build an easy look-up glossary (H5S)

Help memorize content

Flash Cards
Help reinforce and memorize study material on the go (H5T)
Study Card Deck
Help learners in a hurry who need an easy way look up study material using panning cards  (H5T)
Study Card Shuffle
Study cards with text, pictures and video get displayed in a sequence  (H5T)
Memory Aid Peeler
Let learners peel away virtual pages and discover additional content (H5T)

Try out this cutting-edge product by downloading it from the Raptivity website.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Future of e-Learning Content after Adobe Kills Flash on Mobile Devices

It is official. Adobe, in a written statement, announced that it will not support Flash in mobile browsers henceforth. As it is, iPhone and iPad don't play Flash content. It will be a matter of time before  new versions of other mobile devices (based on Android and other platforms) stop supporting Flash in browsers.

What does this mean for e-learning content? Well, Adobe continues to be committed to supporting Flash on the PC platform. Adobe also says that mobile content can be packaged using Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR) and delivered through app stores in the form of native apps. But these might be roundabout ways. Most e-learning developers may turn towards HTML5, in the hope that their content will play across browsers and platforms.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

mLearning in Africa

Recently I had a chance to talk to a speaker at e-Learning Africa 2011 in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. Vinod Ganjoo is an e-learning enthusiast who works as Senior Manager - e-learning Business Development at Harbinger. Vinod has traveled throughout the Middle-east, Africa and South Asia on business. He interacts with instructional designers and training managers in several countries regularly. 

What's the big excitement about m-Learning in Africa?
VG: The stage is set for m-Learning in Africa. Mobile devices penetration in Africa is expected to pass 50% during 2011. At least eight African countries will have broken the 100% mobile penetration barrier by the end of the year. Some African mobile markets are still growing at more than 100% per annum. African mobile market forecast to 2013 is impressive. Nigeria alone will have over 130M subscribers.

What are the major impediments for the spread of e-learning in Africa?
VG: Internet connectivity is a big challenge for e-learning, particularly in remote areas and in certain countries. Another major challenge is electricity. However, m-Learning is feasible because phone networks are ubiquitous, and you don't require continuous electricity for mobile phone operation.

What are the benefits of m-Learning in this market?
 VG: m-Learning is truly self paced, 24X7 learning. It can happen any time, anywhere. The learner does not have to brave a trek to the school, crossing rivers and hills. There are innovative interaction and engagement   opportunities. And best of all, there is no need for additional devices such as personal computers. You can reach the fringe student simply using a mobile phone.

What according to you is the biggest challenge in developing content for m-Learning?
 VG: I can name three challenges: One, interactivity is necessary. Two, Flash won't work on all phones. Three,  programming skills required to produce mobile learning are limited.

Don't rapid authoring tools solve these problems?
 VG: To an extent - yes. Many tools support both Flash and HTML5. Some of them even have interactivity - but it is limited to basic interactions such as multiple choice questions, drag-and-drop, click-and-reveal.

And why is that not enough for the African students?
VG: You need to engage students. They will get fatigued and bored with simple interactions. Those are fine for assessments. When the goal goes beyond assessment, you need a wider variety of interactions, such as the ones Raptivity provides.

How did the conference attendees respond to Raptivity?
VG: The response was very good. A lot of teachers and school representatives came and met me. They tried out the software and had a lot of questions. They pointed out to me that they could use Raptivity in classrooms as well, not only in m-Learning or e-Learning.

Thanks, and good luck.
VG: My pleasure.