Simplicity Is The Ultimate Sophistication

Explaining Why Simplicity Is The Ultimate Sophistication When It Comes To Corporate eLearning

The Experience API (xAPI), Learning Record Stores, Learning Experience Platforms (LXP/LEP),  the dreaded Blockchain Technology, AI-based Learning Management Systems. What do all these even mean?

All these mentioned above are the "latest" and "greatest" alleged trends in the eLearning world. Be it corporate eLearning or eLearning for academic purposes. At the risk of sounding contrarian and perhaps a tad bit controversial, do all these technologies (and by consequence the platforms implementing them) truly add value to the corporations implementing them? Yes, the terminology is exciting, and I am sure the technology behind all these is impressive but the question that corporations should ask themselves is: Are all these functionalities truly value-adding to the corporation's business use cases? I dare answer that in most cases, not really. Let us take a corporation decision on implementing a Learning Record Store and take advantage of it through the Experience API.

The Experience API

The xAPI allows tracking in-depth the activities of a learner, in particular activities which the learner does on their own time outside of the online eLearning activities. This means that the xAPI is able to track articles which are being read, sites which are being browsed and a plethora of other activities, which are then used to customize for a better eLearning experience for the user.

Where would the above scenario really add value in the corporate world? Is the corporation going to track learner activities outside of the work environment to "provide a better" office experience? Would that not even be considered perhaps an invasion of privacy? With the heated debate of Facebook, Apple and Google by some considering to be invading the privacy in our own home, are we ready to have our work environment do the same?

The answer is: Most likely not.

Sure, the xAPI can be used to provide additional, more detailed information of a learner as they go through an eLearning course. That is uncontested, but do companies really need to have that kind of a granular understanding of the learner's behaviour within a particular compliance course that a learner must take once or twice a year? Or a set of courses that an employee is encouraged to take in order to be offered an opportunity to advance in their career?

The answer here is also: Most likely not.

The Learning Management System market is indeed saturated with an incredible amount of solutions, generally dominated by a few players, which, in their attempt to differentiate themselves from each other and thus create a competitive edge, tend to add functionality upon functionality without really thinking what value does that functionality add to their corporate clients.

In most cases, the requirements of a corporation are very simple when it comes to online training of their employees:

  1. SCORM compliance
  2. Employee hierarchy management
  3. Learning pathways
  4. Stand-alone courses
  5. Course resources (images, document and video files)
  6. An intuitive dashboard with reports
  7. A notification system

Depending on the industry, you might have more advanced requirements such as an online course marketplace or video conferencing; but in most cases, the above 7 requirements will make the vast majority of the organizations really happy.

There is, of course, the concept of gamification which is a valid requirement, but in my belief only for certain use-cases. For example, if you have a team of sales people, which by definition thrives on competition, as part of a bonus policy a company could implement a gamification strategy to award additional rewards or track performance against peers in order to encourage taking courses by scoring points, receiving badges, etc... in most cases, however, believe me, employees don't care. In the past, I used to work for a multi-billion $ company, and I remember, we would take turns of one person taking a mandatory set of courses, capturing the screenshots, posting them on a shared-drive and sharing them with the teams that had to take those courses, so that folks would focus on getting their daily work-activity, mission-critical projects done rather than spend time doing the courses themselves.

Blockchain Tech

Another big one here is blockchain technology. A bit of a really high-level introduction to blockchain is in order at this time. There are two types of blockchains: the public and the private ones. The public ones are accessible to anyone without a single mitigating entity. The private ones are accessible only to a private network of users or entities. There is a discussion that perhaps it is worth storing course performance or certificates on the blockchain. After all, the blockchain is de-facto immutable and (in most cases) uncompromisable, although there are papers proving that as little as 33% of machines need to be compromised in order to break the system rather than the originally thought 51%. Assuming we are going to ignore this particular point against blockchains, let's see where would blockchains make sense.

Storing your course performance on a public blockchain would make sense if one is using a Learning Management System for commonly available certifications or college/university degrees. If you would like an Oracle certification than, in order for you not to fake that, institutions might want to implement the storage of your course performance on a public blockchain, but that also entails the verifying entity to have the technology in place to connect to said blockchain and verify that the "block chained" certificate/degree is actually real. In most cases, that is not even remotely in the process of being implemented.

Private blockchains, make even less sense to implement within a Learning Management System simply because most compliance courses or career pathway courses (learning pathways) generally result in a certificate which is stored in a corporate database that by definition is well protected from any outside access; and in all reality, who would care about faking a "compliance" course certificate and risk their job rather than take the course and spend 10-20 minutes on it?

If blockchain technologies would be massively adopted, an argument could be made to implement them within the realm of Learning Record Stores (xAPI) but here we go into the realm of what data would a corporation want to share with another corporation through an LRS and also the whole privacy point I mentioned above.

To Conclude

I believe that technological advances have their place. However, I believe that first and foremost what should drive corporate learning should be an in-depth analysis of what are the requirements of the corporation itself. What are the real value-adding functionalities of a Learning Management System? After all, it is in the corporation's best interests to pay only for what you need and what you use.

It is sometimes worthwhile to take a few steps back and think about what is truly needed. As Leonardo DaVinci, one of the greatest engineers in human history has put it so eloquently, and as Steve Jobs has done so as well by resurrecting his quote:

"Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication."