Thursday, November 14, 2013

How to Become an eLearning Professional - a free eBook

The prolific Christopher Pappas of initiated the idea of a free eBook on “How to become an eLearning Professional” that has now been published at It consists of tips by 23 professionals in the eLearning business about becoming an eLearning pro.  Since it was published in October, 2013, it has proven very popular with thousands of hits.
Here is my small contribution:

  1. Instructional design is even more important in eLearning than it is in classroom learning. eLearning can reach far more people and sticks around for a while. Do your analysis and evaluation. Don’t just jump in with two feet.
  2. What qualifications do you need to become an eLearning Pro? Does a degree or certificate help? Probably, but experience is most important. My Ph.D. has helped get my foot in the door in numerous situations, but it is job performance that really matters.
  3. Learn from your audience, ask them what they need, get some of them to test it before you go live and get feedback afterwards. Be prepared to make changes. You may discover that you are completely off-track or that your audience just doesn’t relate to the material you created.
  4. Be prepared for “failure”. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, clients will want things done their way. Even though you know it isn’t ideal, you may just have to do it. I have had the experience of working with people who wanted to do it themselves, rather than have it contracted out. I just had to swallow my pride and do it their way.
  5. eLearning is a team effort. Collaborate with your clients, learners, graphic designers, video and audio producers, etc.
  6. Don't forget quality. Learners will not be happy trying to read text that is too small or watching poor quality videos. Do everything you can to maximize the technical quality of your product. Do-it-yourself video (for example) is not usually a good idea. Consult with the professionals.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Reverse Theory of Education

The reverse theory of education – one of the great ironies.

All levels of education from elementary to graduate school have the objective of creating independent learners and yet we systematically move people away from independent learning.

Very young children learn to walk and talk without being "taught".  They are truly independent learners.  Elementary school teachers are first teachers and not subject matter specialists.  They are great learning facilitators and are not hung up with subject matter or "covering the content."

As we move to high school, teachers become subject matter experts – language, mathematics, science, music, etc. and tend to become more concerned with the content than the learning.  There is a shift to more lecturing and covering the content.

At university, professors are even more specialized and concerned about the content and lecturing is king.  

We have perhaps unwittingly but systematically moved people from the wonderful independent learners they were in their first two years to become more and more dependent on the subject matter expert.  Is this what we really want to happen?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Learning Management Systems Industry Consolidation

Is consolidation in the LMS business really happening?  There certainly have been some significant acquisitions lately.  Here are some examples:

  • Oracle purchased Taleo (an HR/Talent Management provider) for $1.9 billion.  Taleo had previously purchased (one of the top 10 LMS's) for $125 million.
  • SAP bought SuccessFactors (another HR/Talent Management provider) for $1.9 billion (interesting how these numbers line up).  SuccessFactors had previously purchased Plateau (another of the top 10 LMS's) for $290 million.
  • IBM bought Kenexa for about 1.3 billion and Kenexa had previously purchased Outstart (another top 10 LMS) for $38.9 million.

These major technology corporations are moving into the HR software business that is now seen to include talent and learning management.  Oracle got into the HR software business when they purchased PeopleSoft years ago but they were probably looking for something more up-to-date. SAP has always touted itself as the ultimate ERP but it was built from the financial side and was always a little weak on the HR side so they are clearly looking to enhance their capability.

  • SumTotal Systems (probably the top corporate LMS) bought GeoLearning (another top 10 LMS) for an undisclosed amount.  Bersin estimates that this increases SumTotal's share of the $1 Billion market from 9.5% to 12.5%.  SumTotal Systems is an LMS that has expanded into the talent management market and its purchase of Geolearning was the elimination of a competitor. 

Bersin by Deloitte estimates that the total LMS market is about $1 billion and that none of the top ten LMS's had more than $150 million in revenue.

Here are two links to some discussion about these acquisitions:


It is interesting that Microsoft has not made a strong effort to enter the LMS or the online education world.  They do offer a number of tools which are well hidden on their website.  They offered the earliest online meeting tool Netmeeting many years ago but then dropped it.  They purchased Placeware several years ago and now call it Microsoft Live meeting.  It is more suitable for business meetings than for webinars.  They just don’t seem interested.

Google has made some tentative steps into it.  Of course, the Google search engine and YouTube are probably the most used tools in education.  They offer Google CloudCourse, Apps for Education and numerous other tools.

Apple has long positioned itself as the choice for graphic arts and education and now offer Apple and iBooks author but have not ventured into the LMS market.

In the education market, mainly Blackboard and Pearson have been buying other companies. 

  • Blackboard bought WebCT quite a few years ago, then Angel, then Elluminate (a virtual classroom/web conferencing tool) and Wimba, then Edline, and then MoodleRooms and NetSpot (Moodle support companies). 
  • Pearson has recently purchased eCollege, Fronter, Intellipro, TutorVista - an online tutoring service, Connections Learning/Education, Embanet-Compass Knowledge Group, and Exam Design. They purchased their Equella LCMS from The Learning Edge in Australia.  It is interesting that the large publishers who were late off the market still have the capitalization to buy an entry into the online world.

Blackboard is the dominant LMS in the education market with perhaps 75% of the commercial LMS market share.  Moodle (open source) has more users - it shows over 70 million users on its website and this may be a low estimate because of the open source nature of the product.  Desire2Learn is probably third.

Consolidation is happening but it is largely at the high end of the market. There are still 100’s of smaller LMS’s that come and go on a regular basis.  I list a total of nearly 700 at

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

What has brain science proven?

What has brain science proven?

A lot of educators today are claiming that brain science – recent discoveries about how the brain works through MRI’s and neuroscience and physiological studies – have proven that we can now design learning more effectively.

My view is that, as valuable as this brain science is, it has only demonstrated the validity of what educators have known for decades – even going back more than a century to John Dewey.

We have long known that learners learn most effectively through active engagement and practice of actual skills rather than sitting passively in a classroom.  We simply haven’t been applying what we already knew effectively or often enough.

We need to be more careful about how we use the word “prove”. I don’t believe that it is possible to “prove” anything beyond a mathematical theorem and even those “proofs” are based on assumptions.  In social science, we can only demonstrate that, in certain situations, we can say that a particular approach works well for many learners.  Perhaps I am being too literal but I believe that term “proof” is used far too loosely.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013



MOOC's are Massively Open Online Courses - largely free university level courses offered by sites like EdX, Coursera, Udacity, Codecademy, Skillshare, Udemy, P2PU, openlearning, SchooX

There is a lot of wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth by universities wondering what their future looks like in the face of this recent disruptive technology.  As, indeed, there should be.  Partly because it challenges the dominance of the dreaded lecture - a technology that was invented a thousand years ago before books became widely available.

MOOC's are criticized for several reasons – lack of interaction in the classroom, high drop-out rates in online courses, lack of university credit, etc.

The idea of interactivity in on-campus university lectures is a myth.  In a class of 100, for example, how well does a lecturer get to know individual students?  Perhaps five of the more aggressive students will have any real interaction with the professor either during class or afterwards.

As long as the online "lectures" are interactive with student quizzes and exercises rather than just canned one-hour lectures, the quality of the interaction will be much richer on-line because every student will need to do the exercises and complete the quizzes.  Ironically, they can't hide as they can in a "real" classroom.

MOOC's have attracted some of the best teachers.  Unfortunately, most university professors are not good teachers.  Ph.D.'s are trained researchers, not teachers.  They choose a university career primarily to enable them to do their research.  Teaching is viewed as a necessary evil to keep their jobs and many do it reluctantly.  I worked for many years in a university setting to help improve the quality of teachers.  There were a few amazing and brilliant teachers but they were a small minority.

On-campus classes work for some learners who need the direct social interaction with people to keep them motivated and on track.  Self-directed learners can benefit greatly from on-line courses.  The universities need to recognize that both are valid and address the needs of different learners.

The universities criticize the low completion rates but why is this even an issue?  Many learners may just want to try it out and, although they may not finish a particular course, it may have opened up new possibilities for them.  Other people may not be able to commit the time or need to address other life priorities.  If students were paying for credit, the completion rate would increase markedly.

Society and our learning institutions have long had the approach of “weeding-out” or eliminating people.  Universities only accept people who have already proven they can learn.  They call this “maintaining standards”.  “Standards” should be based on how much they learned rather than how much they already knew when they entered.  Most students allowed admission to universities would have succeeded with or without them.

How many of us have experienced the first lecture at a university in which a smug professor proudly says, “Only one in three of you will finish this program.” Education should be about helping people learn and not eliminating everyone except those who already know how to learn. 

As for lack of credit, is it possible that some people just want to learn?  What a concept!

Many or even most people cannot afford the cost of an on-campus university education.  MOOC’s help democratize education and make it available to far more people.

See the article at  The ePortfolio is a tool that can help address some of the questions but it is only part of the solution.