Tin Can: Caution may make aggravated reading!

So what’s all the fuss about? You think I am going to tell you that you need a new management system or some expensive upgrade to the one you already have? No, actually I am not, unless of course you care about the work you are doing as a learning professional.

For all the years I have been involved with eLearning we have skirted around the truth, which is that the vendor has always failed to deliver what he promised. Before the web we had CBT and we told our clients that we had this fantastic system to deliver training at a fraction of the cost. No, not true. In those days, the cost was about $25-40k for an hour of learning.  Historically when we look back and see how many people actually attended this learning, and if we are honest to ask ourselves how many came away with a changed behaviour, we have to own up and say it was pretty expensive and the delegate did not have a very good time!  That early CBT was bordering on awful.

Since then we have seen many new promises with something new being offered with a latest buzzword every year or so. 15 years’ worth!

So why would I expect you to believe me when I tell you that the latest, newest, biggest, greatest, most spectacular thing to come out of eLearning is happening around you right now? Well, you believed all the other ideas, so why would you not!

But to be truthful, I am not a vendor, I have no product to offer and like you I have been duped too. However, this latest and greatest is so exciting I am struggling to contain myself.

For me it began back in about 1994, when I started to import the first systems we called authoring tools from the USA to Europe. I got screwed a couple of times on the way by greedy manufacturers and took the decision a few years ago to drop the sale of all product, to concentrate on being a knowledgeable consultant in the industry with many years of experience. I dedicated myself to the design of learning and helping other people understand how to create great learning. I made a name for myself along the way as one who is not scared to say it as I see it and who will work to break as many rules as possible to ensure success for the learner.  I think you may have already got that idea.

Once we moved online and the web learning we know became known as eLearning (C.2000), the new game in town was the management system. It was simple in the early days; it told us who did what and when, and if we gave them a test, we knew whether  they had passed or failed.

 So what happened? We gave it to the DOD and we created a behemoth of a system that tells us everything and nothing.  We actually can store who clicked what, how long it took, capture metatags of information including…..  Well. including what? If the truth be told, we still only care about who did what, and when, and if they passed or failed. By default we can tell who didn’t do what!! A whole set of useless numbers that gives us a history in metrics.

The challenge was, and is, how can we make this better? How can we get some data that tells us something we can use?  OK, I hear you screaming we can use these metrics, we can show our boss how well we did, that we got all 1500 staff through a course and we ticked the boxes. If this is you, please stop calling yourself a learning professional–you don’t deserve the title!

What we need is a way to see who does course B after being prompted to do so by course Z.  We need to watch where people go and the decisions they make, what prompted those decisions and the consequences of those decisions.  We need to see who goes where after our course, what makes them decide to do so. And we need to see if there are patterns of groups of employees all doing the same and decide if we need to change these patterns to create a change in behaviour.

 We need to create material not called a course–I call it an Environment–one that mimics our workplace where people can test their ideas in safe areas and see the consequences of their behaviour. We need to understand that courses go from A-Z and we need to discard that idea [which idea?] and replace it with a free-form flow [?] of information and decision-making. But to do this we need to be able to watch the paths the user takes, where they go, from which point to which and understand where they are likely to go next.

Pipe dream? No reality!  Hail ‘The Experience API’ project named Tin Can. Created by the very people who created the behemoth SCORM, but this time they got it right straight out of the gate. Here is a system with few rules, other than those you build. Databases that will collate whatever you throw at them and redesign themselves itself to suit. It’s just data; collate enough and you will have ‘Big Data’. Learn how to understand the data and the Holy Grail of learning takes a step closer to you.

How does this work? Well, ask 10 designers who understand XAPI and you will get 10 answers. But the bare bones are that at points decided by you, a set of data called a statement is sent to the database in XML. This data contains a set of verbs (that you designed) and the data that goes with them. Collate enough of these and you will begin to see patterns.  The term is Analytics.

Amazon is pretty good at recommending books and items to buy based of this type of analytics. Based on who you are and what you have done before, they can predict what you are likely to buy next. So, using the same type of data and based upon who you are, what your role is and what learning you already undertook and the decisions you made whilst doing that learning, we should be able to predict what you are going to next. If that prediction says you are about to make a mistake that is going to be costly to our organisation, we can intervene—

a good old intervention by a training professional who is going to create better value by changing your behaviour.

Simple to implement? No, not at all. To do so, you are going to need a new set of talents in designing learning content that creates the data you know you can use and want and need.  Reuben Tozman said, “SCORM technology tells us here is the data we collect and here’s how to build web content that spits that data into our buckets. Tin Can is, what data points do you want to create, how do you want to collect that data and you decide how that data is meaningful.”

If that is not an exciting prospect in the world of learning, then you are never going to hear one. This is not a pipe dream; it is real. During 2013 it will be at every conference you attend, you will find it in all the magazines and in all the blogs and forums.  Get on board early; understand what is coming and how the design of your learning is about to have the biggest shake up since you got that job.

Check out my sites http://www.neillasher.com http://www.thelearningcoach.com