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cmi5

Today we’re excited to announce support for a new specification in SCORM Cloud- cmi5, which is something that doesn’t happen all that often in its history. Along with making cmi5 support readily available in SCORM Cloud, we’ve also added support for cmi5 to some of our other products including SCORM Engine and SCORM Driver.

Obviously, supporting a variety of specifications is a huge part of what we do well at Rustici Software. More than anything, though, I think it’s important for us to be conscious of, and to explain well to all of you, when and why we add support for a particular specification.

So, what is cmi5?

cmi5 is technically a profile of xAPI which means it piggy backs on top of things already well defined in xAPI, but adds specificity in others. For cmi5, this means that certain xAPI statements are required, and launch is handled in a very specific way.

For me, it’s the launch piece that’s so important. From xAPI’s advent years ago, there have been issues with launching content. In the earliest days, we at Rustici Software defined a very simple launch specification that several content vendors picked up on. It was good enough for the time being, but it wasn’t really good enough in practice.

So, over the last couple of years, many people including Bill McDonald (as Chair of the working group) and Art Werkenthin and others at RISC have put a lot of energy into considering how their AICC work could be applied to launch in the xAPI world. The result is that we have a good solution for launching content via xAPI.

Why it matters

Years ago, as we at Rustici Software and others around us started evangelizing xAPI, we made some mistakes. We talked about all of the things that could be enabled by xAPI, the things for which it was necessary but not sufficient. Over the last year or two, we’ve really started to fill in the gaps to make it sufficient as well. And while launch isn’t the dreamiest of capabilities for which xAPI is a solution, it is absolutely fundamental.

If content launch is ultimately going to transition from SCORM to xAPI, cmi5’s support for launch will be a requirement. And further, so many other activities actually benefit from having a well defined, implemented, and adopted specification for launch. So for now, we’re excited to share that Cloud now offers vendors and others a great place to test cmi5 based launchable activities. We hope this helps spur the development of many xAPI/cmi5 adopters.

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Here at Rustici Software, we’ve been spending a lot of time lately hosting SCORM Engine and Content Controller installations on behalf of our clients. And we have learned a lot of interesting lessons from the experience. I’ll be talking about hosting SCORM Engine here, but all of this stuff applies directly to Content Controller as well.

We started hosting things for folks because we realized several things all at once:

Our clients are having to spend way too much time and money to host our products themselves. We kept seeing integrations falter because of delays in provisioning infrastructure and cost issues. Finding dev/ops folks that can deploy and manage web applications is really difficult and really expensive, and so a lot of our clients were settling for inadequate deployments that didn’t scale and didn’t hold up well under pressure

Hosting web applications well is really hard. It’s not too hard to stand up a server and run Engine on it. It’s a lot harder to build a secure, highly available Engine environment that can hold up under heavy traffic spikes, scale to meet demand, and not cost a fortune.

We are really good at hosting web applications. Our experience building SCORM Cloud taught us that we’re actually really, really good at hosting web applications at scale, and it felt like we were in a great position to provide a useful service that saved our clients time, money, and hassle.

What’s a user? How many can we support?

When folks are integrating with SCORM Engine, two questions always come up: “how do I build a system that can serve X number of users?” and “I’m not really sure how many users I have, how do I spec a system based on a wild guess?”

We thought about this a great length, and decided that there are two numbers that really matter:

Concurrent Users – The number of users that the system can serve at once.
System Population – The system’s ability to serve a given annual user base.

System Population, in particular, is a number that we thought about a lot. Engine installations very rarely have every registered user of the system engaged at once. But sometimes (like right before a deadline) they all pile on at once, so we designed our Managed environments to be able to grow and shrink so that they can meet peak demand without costing the Earth.

Once we figured that out, we went and locked ourselves in a dungeon laboratory*  for a few weeks and ran load tests against every kind of setup we could think of. We came out of that with a set of system specs that we could look at and say, “yup, this will do the job for X Concurrent Users and Y System Population, and here’s what it will cost to make it go.”

Value

When we looked at the economics of our clients hosting a robust, production-quality web application, it was clear that the cost of the computer hardware wasn’t the problem. Nor was datacenter space, bandwidth, storage, or any technical bits. It was the human beings and human intelligence needed to build and maintain that were our client’ greatest cost and most scarce resource.

When you add it all up, the annual costs for hosting a production-quality web application that is going to serve a population of 50,000 users quickly goes north of $150,000. That’s too much. Way too much.

Fortunately, we’ve got a lot of people here at Rustici that do this kind of thing all day long and are really good at it, which lets us provide Galaxy-class Managed Hosting of our products at a fraction of what it would cost our clients to host themselves. We can provide a production quality, geographically redundant, highly secure, zero-touch Managed environment for under $35k annually. That’s a huge savings in time, money, and effort. To get an idea of what it might cost using our services to host your instance of Engine or Content Controller, check out our fee schedule.

So, when considering Engine or Content Controller, remember that you have options when it comes to who handles the deployment. We’re here to help. Just ask.

 

 

*Well, it was more like a nice sunny office with hot coffee, snacks, and ping-pong, but a dungeon sounds way cooler.  

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The parallels between television and elearning are abundant. I mean, who doesn’t love sitting down on a Friday night to watch the best elearning they couldn’t get to all week?

Really, though, there are plenty of legitimate parallels, and one of the things I like is watching elearning evolve in similar ways to television/movies, albeit a few years behind.

One fashion in which that evolution has occurred is the actual delivery mechanisms.

1. Video Industry

1. Elearning Industry

film-reel
“Let’s go to the movies!”

People gathered together in a movie theater to see the film of the day. It was a compelling shared experience, and allowed each participant to see something they hadn’t before. For the studio, this provided scale that far exceeded that of a stage play. For many attendees, though, this meant that seeing the movie was incredibly expensive or completely impossible. And one crying baby could ruin the experience for everyone.
instructor-lead-training
In Person Training

Like the movies, people gathered in a single location to learn together. Unfortunately, this meant that everyone had to be gathered together in the same place, at the same time, and probably at great expense to the company providing the training. Rather than teaching each person individually, the subject matter expert could teach several people at once. For many learners, though, this meant that the training was either inaccessible or hugely inconvenient. And one cry baby could ruin the experience for everyone.

2. Video Industry

2. Elearning Industry

vhs
“Blockbuster”

“I want to watch Goonies tonight. At 7:45pm. And eat pizza. On a couch.” It required a trip to something called a “video store”, wherein you hoped to find the specific movie in stock that you wanted to watch. And that was a real risk. The beauty of it, though, is that if they had your movie, you were in control. Start time? That’s up to you. Location? Your choice as well. And the world was your oyster as far as what you were eating and drinking and sitting on. Several beloved standards helped this work. VHS, Betamax, Laserdisc, DVD… these standards allowed us to buy machines for home that knew how to play whatever movie we brought home.
scorm
SCORM Package Delivery

Yes, learners could now watch content in an LMS when and where they wanted. This was a big leap. Barriers of travel and cost were substantially reduced. But getting a specific piece of content into your system wasn’t really possible until SCORM allowed for it in the early 2000s. With the advent of SCORM, learners were now able to consume widely varied content from their desk at work or at home. And subject matter expertise was available at a scale that was inconceivable in the instructor led training world.

3. Video Industry

3. Elearning Industry

itunes
iTunes

One online store with all the movies and tv shows and all I have to do is click a button!? When streaming became a reality, we no longer had to leave the house to acquire the content, and we didn’t have to worry about whether someone else had claimed that movie first. There were just so. many. options. And finding a movie to watch became less of a problem. Instead, finding the right movie to watch was a challenge. How do you curate an massive pile of movies?!

content-consolidator
Content Consolidator

Companies like Skillsoft and Mindleaders before, and Open Sesame today, have collected massive libraries of content from which companies and learners can choose. Finding a relevant piece of content gets easier all the time, and it can be procured at a known price in a matter of minutes. Compatibility has become less of a concern (although Skillsoft’s OLSA standard isn’t exactly that). Learners and companies alike have access to great quantities of quality content, and subject matter experts have a easy and convenient way to get it to them.

4. Video Industry

4. Elearning Industry

netflix
Netflix

Today’s Netflix is fundamentally different from prior delivery models in several ways:

Netflix’s “all you can consume” model allows a customer to pay one price per month and watch lots of varied content at their leisure. Viewers can try a show with no risk, move amongst them freely, and watch as much as they want. Shows can be released in their entirety on a given day, rather than strung out over months. Advertisement is no longer a part of the equation.
Netflix also provides their own content. They are creators as well as distributors. Shows like House of Cards, Bloodlines, and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt show a care and crafting that isn’t necessarily present in commodities acquired from other providers. Netflix has a clear incentive to create groundbreaking content. If they build remarkable content, then their customers will stay and new ones will join in.
Netflix has every reason to make their user experience better. If their app is easier to use than NBC’s, then Netflix benefits, and they get more viewers, customers, and money.
content-controller
Content Controller

Invested content providers who can centralize their content have distinct opportunities from other providers.

They can correct, analyze, and assess their content in a way that others can’t. By centralizing the content, they can see how it’s being used across clients. They can assess questions and their efficacy, they can discover and correct mistakes, and they can evolve content directly.
Providers can manage versions and deployments much more effectively.
Providers can explore possibilities like offering a subject matter expert to multiple clients via online chat or something similar.
More than anything, though, it puts the content provider in a closer relationship with the learner and the customer. Rather than throwing a piece of content to the wind and hoping, the content provider has visibility and a manner in which they can affect the relationship.

Content Controller is the next-generation method of delivering content. It’s the elearning equivalent of what Netflix is to the video industry, and we’d love to talk to you about it. Learn more at the Content Controller web page, and get in touch with us if you have questions.

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Back in January, Mike and I sold Rustici Software to a British company called LTG. One thing I “learned” in that process is that recurring revenue is very valuable to a company (or its owners). As a business, we sell several products on term licenses, either through our Cloud offering, which is SaaS, or our on premise products which require term licenses as well. Our recurring revenue and high retention rates meant that LTG had to pay a premium over what they would have for a services business.

Take a look at the impacts of aaS on the valuations of several software businesses.

This valuation premium that SaaS gets can be seen more precisely, when we compare cloud software companies to the more traditional on-premise software providers. SaaS companies get higher valuations at all levels of revenue growth rates. For example, looking at the charts below, the median revenue multiple for on-premise software companies that grew their annual revenue 30-40% is 5.1x, while the same multiple for a SaaS companies that grew revenue at that same 30-40% rate is 9.2x.

From https://blog.intercom.io/a-closer-look-at-saas-valuations/

This group of companies was worth 80% more than their non SaaS brethren.

We’ll talk more about Netflix in a subsequent blog post, but they’re a perfect example of a Content as a Service business from outside the elearning world. And they are recognized for their ability to generate recurring revenue and retain customers.

It’s time for elearning providers to do the same. Find a customer, serve them well, provide updates, control the content. And if they do it well over a period of time, both the company’s revenue and value will rise.

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I can’t think of a single LMS that handles language support elegantly. Yes, many of them have a setting whereby a person who speaks another language can reconfigure the interface to reflect their preferred language. But very few LMSs allow a learner to switch the courses offered to them from a default language to their own. Some allow an administrator to make efforts to manage this, but it is incredibly difficult as reports don’t understand that “Basic HR Training (French)” earns the same credit as “Basic HR Training (English)”.

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 11.50.30 AM

LMSs often assume that the content itself can handle this, and some pieces of content do. They embed multiple voiceover tracks, or language resources, and allow the learner to make a choice from within each course, switching to their preferred language. But this is hard to do in a single piece of content, and the reality is that almost no content vendors bother.

Truthfully, this is the kind of thing that content providers are better suited to than LMSs and their administrators. Content providers are invested in learners’ ability to grasp the material. Content providers have reason to make their content better than their competitors, whereas LMSs have less incentive to do so.

These are my beliefs:

  • LMSs should not have to understand that different courses in different languages fulfill the same requirement.
  • Learners should be allowed to take their training in the language with which they are most comfortable.
  • Content providers care more about content and its applicability than LMS vendors.
  • Content providers need to be able to use their preferred authoring environments and tools.

We built Content Controller to accommodate these beliefs. When a learner launches a course from their own LMS, Content Controller offers the learner the choice amongst the supported languages for that course. Their LMS knows nothing about the fact that there are multiple supported languages, just that it needs to launch the course.This means that the content provider can create the course using whatever tools they wish. Then, they create an equivalent in Content Controller that relates all the language variations of a course with the respective languages. The learner makes a choice during their initial launch, which can be persisted in the application, and that choice determines which variation of the course is delivered to them. The magic here is the LMS never knows any of this is happening, just that the learner has fulfilled the requirement. Meanwhile, the content provider can guarantee for their customers that their learners are taking courses in the language they understand best.

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 11.50.55 AM

This capability in Content Controller has shifted the responsibility for learner-course/language association from the LMS, which never does it well, to the content provider, who has the ability to offer multiple languages of the same course and manage it effectively. Better for the learner, better for the LMS administrator, and better for the content provider.

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