Interview with Trace Belcher, Training Specialist at TruTraining

Key points:

  • HTML 5 conformance should be mandated for content
  • Mobile learning is booming, must be supported – No Flash
  • Writes from different locations should be supported (no browser session required).

Shall we start with the points that you have brought up, that you wanted to discuss — HTML 5 integration, for one. Are you suggesting that content should be required to be HTML 5 or use HTML 5 features?

What Iʼm talking about, and generally we have a diverse learner population that donʼt all sit down in a training lab and log on to a certain website or LMS to do this. We have mobile users, remote users, so the reason I brought up the HTML 5, primarily, is that if we have someone who is on an iPad itʼs not going to run Flash, at all. And since Apple is jumping on the HTML 5 bandwagon, saying this is the new standard, at least for browsing capabilities and frames, or lack of frames, and all the rest of that, then SCORM or whatever is the next level learner interface standard should be able to comply with that. And not just tablets, Iʼm looking at mobile learning on your phone, on your Android, whether it be an Android phone or tablet, the Google OS on some little netbook somewhere. So Iʼm really looking beyond Flash, Java and frames.

Iʼm not an Apple cultist, I can tell you that. Flash is not going away. But then, when you consider that thereʼs a whole generation of learners, and I work in a pretty high tech field that, you have a dichotomy: either you have 60-year-old engineers who are used to using, I kid you not, a slide rule for calculations, and then you have this — it skips 30 years and you have these 20-year-old guys just out of college who canʼt add because theyʼre so used to using an Excel spreadsheet to do that for them. And then also, they donʼt own records or tapes, itʼs all on iTunes, whatever is their mobile device of choice. So once we get into this area of mobile learning, where not only are you not chained to a classroom, youʼre not even chained to a desktop. While you are sitting somewhere waiting for a bus or the train, the subway, youʼre stuck in traffic, you can whip out your phone, your iPad, your tablet, whatever you have, Palm, Windows Mobile, you can take lessons then. But with that, I know Palm and Android and I believe Windows Mobile allow Flash, of course it uses up batteries, but iPad or Apple has basically said weʼre not going to do that because it eats up the battery. They are at least mandating if itʼs going to work with their app store, then it needs to comply with HTML 5 restrictions. So thatʼs what Iʼm talking about. E-learning is becoming, for lack of a better term, M-learning, mobile learning, on your phone, on your tablet, in the cloud somewhere.

You’re saying we have to take mobile into account in terms of this learning experience API, and weʼre absolutely seeing that and getting that feedback very strongly from a number of people. When it specifically comes down to no Flash, it seems like that is something that is most likely going to have to be left up to content. It seems from the way the requirements were going that, with this sort of thing, we want to make sure that the use-case can be supported, and then in some ways, get out of the way of the content and let it work.

And one danger though, is jumping too quickly inside a walled garden, like Appleʼs, when it looks like now theyʼre the ones to beat, they own the crown and they run the when up until three years ago, there wasn’t even a garden, much less a wall around it, for there to be a king.

The Android or Windows Mobile or some other mobile operating system that does run Flash may wind up being the eventual victor. Theyʼll have an uphill battle on their hands, but still, in the consumer solution Apple can win, I donʼt care. But in the enterprise solution, in the business market, when you restrict this whole universe of Flash elements outside of what can run in your browser, itʼs difficult to work around that. And that was the major point I was wanting to make; if HTML 5 compatibility or capability can be mandated, thatʼs all well and good, because it is a step up, but then, the emphasis I think you need to put, at least a flavor of the newest API model to be able to be mobile compatible. If you can even have a desktop version of Tin Can versus a mobile version of Tin Can that has to be scaled down and lighter, for lack of a better word.

Or there could be one version, but then the content developers know that if you want your stuff to run on mobile devices, then there are certain things you have to do. At the moment with the JavaScript API, you have to have the browser session open. So especially with the intermittent connection in terms of mobile users, it doesn’t work very well to say, Oh you can use a mobile browser and get this even if you did support Flash, you want some awareness of the fact that people can be offline temporarily. If that happens, and you lose that session with the web server and you have to re-authenticate that, you may have trouble posting back your results.

That would be very bad.

What about the the security and authentication issues you mentioned?

So with that, itʼs a matter of having these calls write to different locations and being able to say okay, you can bookmark it to be able to say, Okay, I got to page five of twenty, and then it wrote to this location, and I sat down at a desktop to do that. But then, say, the next time Iʼm logging in remotely, and I may not have that same write access on the call — that authenticate — so at one point I was on this desktop that has a dedicated mainline into the server, but now Iʼm in a hotel in Ohio, logging in using a secure card, and itʼs just — Iʼm just thinking about those APIs, or the calls going out and saying, Okay, youʼre taking this but you canʼt write to the server because you donʼt have that level of access from where you are. The course should be able to write to the LMS from wherever, regardless of the userʼs authentication, it should have its own level of authentication to write from wherever.

Yes, so thereʼs a couple of — thereʼs two issues there: one is being able to have authentication thatʼs not based on a browser session, and the other is the security concern that we shouldn’t be able to, just because you have this browser session, you shouldn’t be able to write whatever you want to the server because you know Java script.

So itʼs getting more access but also correct access, not just anybodyʼs able to do it. And those are my three specific topics.

What new and innovative things you are you trying to incorporate in your training?

The place where Iʼm working now, is doing audio and video, and interactivity where depending on what your choice is youʼll see a different video. Itʼs like a choose-your-own-adventure book, remember those? So if youʼre going through the model, and you branch here, you may get this answer-video. It won’t be the same training for everyone because depending on what they answer youʼre going to guide them back to the correct answer and then move on, but it will be a customized experience based on learner interaction. So, thatʼs the divergent experience inside of the LMS. Also, audio/video, and at least some remote access capabilities now, that theyʼre excited about, that they donʼt have to come into the lab to take their lessons.

So remote access just in terms of desktops, or is that going back to the mobile–

No, this would be on desktops. Not on tablets or phones, or anything. From their home PC they can log onto our LMS, which Iʼm sure people have been doing for five or six years now, but itʼs new to us.

And mobile access is where youʼd like to be going?

Iʼd like to be. Weʼre nowhere near that yet. Itʼll take me a year and a half, maybe two, to get the security in place, the interface in place to do mobile. But itʼs going to happen.

Okay. With the branching you were talking about a moment ago, is that — are you doing that with multiple SCOs or different packages, is that within your LMS, or youʼre trying to do it more directly within the content, or even one SCO that just reports differently–

Right now itʼs driven in the content. If this, then this, if not, then this, sort of a planned walk-through. Were using different SCOs and pointing — weʼre wanting to guide the user into making the right response. Itʼs like using one of those choose-your-own-adventure books, and you choose every one that you die. You donʼt want to do that — you want to do, Oh you live and now youʼre King Arthur with the sword. So weʼre using a guided approach, and with different models to say, Shouldn’t you do this, because blah-blah-blah, are you sure you want to accept that? Our content creator is our tool for that.

What do you think will change in the e-learning field in the next five or ten years, and what should?

Sort of what we were talking about before, I think there will be a pretty big shift to mobile. Somebody might mention 3-D and holograms, but I donʼt think weʼre anywhere near that yet. Truly, a mobile-diverse platform — I donʼt care if you call it cloud or distributed, or what have you — but the whole idea of people sitting down to a desktop to take a lesson, I think, will be anathema to people graduating college in five years. What I canʼt do this on my phone? I got to sit down in one place and do this? It would be weird to them.

  • This really hit all my pain points and couldn’t say it better myself:

    1) HTLM 5 (really, open standards utilizing JUST the browser)
    2) Mobile, mobile, mobile…I personally don’t think phones are conducive to a great learning experience, but certainly tablets will fill this space…
    3) Offline access

    One pain that I didn’t see here though was the use of an API in regards to 3rd party training sites.

    For instance, we use for our Office training and would LOVE for that training to auto-magically be registered as completed back in our LMS….what a dream that would be!