Interview with David Kohen, Jason Stutt (Product Managers), Naag Chandrashekar, Prakash Doodeja, at Saba

Key Points

  • A big question is: how to associate the social graph with learner experience?
  • “The primary mechanism that the learner would want to have tracked, is how their performance was improved based on some sort of coaching or mentoring”
  • “The tracking service needs to be able to associate, at a hierarchical fashion, the certified or formal components, and then the relationship with those formal components to the informal components”
  • Mobile: tracking must be lightweight
  • Gaming: applications must be able to track
  • Self-directed learning, relates to profile problem: what is viewable, and relevant, to who, and how can tracking data be shared appropriately.
  • API should not be browser based. It should be simple.
  • Governance of informal learning is important, tricky
    • How many times was a piece of content submitted, after a threshold, it could be promoted to “certified”
    • If it’s rated, could be rules on volume or quality of ratings
    • What are rules to be promoted to the catalog?
  • In the next couple years, premise that people learn best when they play
  • Should be able to launch content, such as a video or XBox game outside the LMS, and then track it in the LMS
  • We’re here to be of service to our customers — there is a “chicken and egg” problem with new standards. If it’s not “the way”, we’re not going to go out and fight that battle
  • “The reality is, it’s becoming a collaborative experience where divorcing formal aspects from informal aspects is going to be evaporated. Formal is going to be one part of a larger ecosystem of Web 2.0 tool sets that are broadened by virtual classroom, expertise identification and coaching, and sort of what we call harnessing of global learning, which is the ability the learner to become a steward of the informal assets across the organization, to bring those to bear on, as a shepherd for a learning organization. Mobile becomes de facto, we expert learning to inflect, the way the internet will inflect in the next four to five years, so access via mobile will be mission critical, etc.”

 

David: I’m now Product Manager at Saba, but back in the day at TailWind we were looking at licensing the Rustici run-time player. Been almost a decade! I do product strategy at Saba now and been there a little over a year, working on releasing Saba Social Learning, looking hard at mobile, at gaming, at analytics, so, we’re trying to make sure the set model of content goes away and that new, more flexible models can be standardized so that systems can continue to play standardized content, but in more interesting ways.

TinCan: Those are all areas we’re very much interested in taking a deeper dive into.

Jason: I’m Jason, I’m a copycat of David in a lot of ways. We share the same role at Saba and I’ve been doing this for about fifteen years now. I’ve been around the whole content place for a number of years, and I’m very interested in this conversation.

Prakash: This is Prakash, and I’ve worked with Jason and David at Saba, on the engineering side. New to the learning space, but have been in the technology space for the last fifteen or sixteen years. I’m very interested in APIs, I believe are my first level on the technology side, so very interested in this effort.

TinCan: What new features are you currently adding, related to communication? The stuff you brought up, David, the social learning, mobile, gaming, analytics, etc.

David: In the social learning context you’ll want, the learner himself will want to know, in relationship to any formal learning that’s going on, he’s going to also want to learn, or understand the relationship of his learning to his social context. So how the content standard manages to capture that learner’s discussions and who they are with, that learner’s contributions, user-generated contributions to that formal experience, what sort of — who they have worked with or been mentored by or connected to in relationship to that former element. There’s a broader social graph that will be associated with in a social context that can’t be decoupled. The assumption is that anyone who is enrolled in a piece of learning will be part of a group of people that will be learning the same thing, so how we manage to associate that social graph with learner experience is a big question for us. So do you have any questions about the social context before I go any further?

TinCan: Have you talked about social learning and the context of a formal learning environment course, or whatever you want to call it; do you see requirements for any kind of tracking of social learning or informal learning outside the context of a formal learning experience?

David: Absolutely, so there’s going to be a variety of use-cases, anything from what might be typically considered on-the-job training, all the way to this learner has read an article and contributed and once it was contributed, it was considered valid as a prerequisite for something else so now that learner, once they’ve made that contribution, needs to move that contribution to some sort of acquired status. So rather than it be an administratively loaded object, a user-loaded object, meets the prerequisite for moving on to something. So how do you track the informal elements that are contributed by a learner. Quantity may come into play in some cases, quality comes into play, so there are some questions there. There’s also, how does one track the coaching and mentoring one does or one gets? Ultimately the intention is to somehow figure out how to track what’s important to the learner experience and we know that coaching and mentoring is actually the most effective way to accelerate the learner’s effectiveness. If ‘s true, then the primary mechanism that the learner would want to have tracked, is how their performance was improved based on some sort of coaching or mentoring. And that can be done primarily done informally. So how does that somehow get handled?

TinCan: I agree. So taking the premise that coaching and mentoring is the best way to learn, what does your business requirement, or your customer’s business requirement, for tracking that — is that still in the context of a formal learning program, or is that kind of a talent development issue? And do you want to, do your customers want to get to the point where they are really tracking that in detail, in an unstructured context?

David: Think about it — your question is, in an informal context, what do we want to track? And what we want to know is, for a learner, what is it that they are sort of taking formally, but also, who are they connecting to in a order to succeed around that learning experience, what objects are they contributing or what objects that others have contributed are they consuming so that we get a full picture of the learner experience as consumed in this social context? So trying to partition it into, this is talent, this is content, this is administrative — that kind of is going away, so that at some level, the tracking service needs to be able to associate, at a hierarchical fashion, the certified or formal components, and then the relationship with those formal components to the informal components. For example: the ability to track how many conversations I’ve had with a particular mentor in relation to a particular piece of sales training, will ultimately impact my effectiveness in the deal and how I create deals and how I close deals. So are a couple thoughts off the top of my head.

How to do that is a question I can’t answer today. I just know that it’s coming. And it’s coming in this way: I mentioned mobile, which means there needs to be some lightweight way to do this work, I mentioned gaming, which means there needs to be some way for applications to report this kind of information back to tracking services, and I mentioned analytics, which correlates all of this data in aggregate back to overall impact on the organization. So there is a method to my madness in trying to set up a framework for your thinking. Does that make sense?

TinCan: Going back a little more into the first part of the conversation, then we can dive in to where your transitioning to: I was trying to steer you into the formal context versus informal context, and I want to ask a more specific question: you were giving your examples kind of in the context of this particular piece of sales training, that “Joe” may have gone to these mentors and gone through these formal training programs and then gone and coached this other person. Those are all things that are really relevant to his sales training development; the topic, if you will. Now there’s also a bit of learning that Joe does that he wants to go learn about website development so that he can add some marketing cred to his sales cred. Is there a need to go track things that we’ll call miscellaneous or unrelated to the formally directed programs of making Joe a better salesperson?

David: In our world, the formal aspects of learning aren’t going away. There’s a seat at the table for every vendor. But what’s transforming the workforce is the ability for the to be self-directed in their learning, so in our world, this is something called self-directed learning. This is where someone, either within the framework of their own role and desire to be a better salesperson, or to add issues to that marketing credential, to their transcript, this is self-directed learning.

TinCan: So there’s self-directed learning, where I choose to go learn about marketing — I’m just going to keep pushing into other areas here, and see where the line gets drawn in your mind, and so now, I’m Joe, and I’ve gone on and mastered sales, I’ve dabbled in marketing which is another program at my company, but also, I coach my daughter’s soccer team. So I went out and read some more about how to be a really great soccer coach, and I want that to go on my transcript because I think it’s really important for people to know I’m a good soccer coach, but really my company doesn’t give a hoot if I can coach soccer or not. Are there things like that where the learners are creating their own topics of exploration that should then be tracked that are relevant, or do things always relate into specific tracks that the organization cares about?

David: There’s two elements there; bottom line is, there’s what you have to learn, and what you want to learn, full stop. In addition to that, there are different cases of your learning, that ultimately relate to the profile problem. And the profile problem is indeed a portability problem. We think of the portability problem in the following ways — if I take training at organization A, and then I move to organization B, does that cred come with me? While I’m at organization B, if I take soccer coach training C, who and where should that learning be exposed to, and who controls who exposes it? So there’s this bi-attribute layer of I want this exposed, the organization wants it exposed, we both want it exposed, it should be exposed. I want this exposed, this organization doesn’t want it exposed, it doesn’t get exposed. The organization says I can expose anything I want, in some cases, but I chose not to expose my coaching credentials to the organization, but I do want it exposed when my profile is exposed in my community profile. It’s what I call a profile problem, a data portability problem. And who owns each of those transcript items, that move from organization to organization. In some cases, organization A will say that you can take this credential with you, in a formal sense, and in some cases it will say I can’t. That I have to informally report it to my next organization. Correspondingly, the next organization may or may not accept the credential, formal or informal, from the previous organization. So at some level, I own all of my learning, but to what degree it’s been certified, ratified, and goes with me, relative to the informal aspects of it as well, is an interesting problem for us.

Naag: [joins] I listened to most of the call, but is it okay if ask you a question Mike? I think, and I probably can’t speak for David or Prakash, but whatever we do with this project here, we should consider a couple things, that we don’t want it to be tied to the browser anymore, we need dependency outside the browser for doing SCORM. And whatever we need to do, it should be something relatively simple. What we have found with most of our customers is SCORM 2004 remains much less adopted because of it’s complexity, so clearly, I know exactly what you guys are doing there and how to use it, but the popularity of 1.2 remains extremely high because of it’s simplicity.

TinCan: That’s something being echoed loud and clear by the community. The interesting thing we’ll be getting into in the next couple of months, if you look at these conversations and input that’s come in on the Tin Can site, is that there are dueling requests: people who want lots of complexity, and people who want to keep it simple.

The other related point I’m trying to keep in mind, is that if you are trying to achieve something simple, the complicated use-cases shouldn’t get in your way, you shouldn’t have to understand them to achieve that simple thing.

David: I actually think that Naag and I are in sync, in terms of trying to keep it simple, and keeping it out of the browser, but that doesn’t mean it can’t handle some of the use- cases we’ve been talking about. I think some of the ways we’ve been thinking about the web services model being basic and extensible, that will allow for very simple implementations without thinking, but allow for more granular implementation in a standardized way. But again, I think that’s where your challenge is.

TinCan: We very much want to find that sweet spot, and maybe we’ll come back and talk about that in a little bit more depth as well. One thing that’s striking to us is that many people request to do things with SCORM that are already possible, but hard or complex to find and implement; we need to fix documentation.

Jason: I kind of view this space, if I could quickly — I break it down to a couple different parameters, if you will. One is governance, I think governance is a very interesting topic right now as we start to get into the world of, and I believe go viral, with informal learning. I think this topic with governance is very interesting. I’ve sat across the table from customers and they are scared about the possibility, that they know they need to go informal, but that scares them. They can’t control content when they create it, let alone when everyone else creates it. So I think governance is a very interesting topic. I think  device intelligence of content is going to be a very interesting one in the coming little bit and it’s right on the cusp right now for us, I think. I think a third thing is learning to play with some of the new content modalities that we’re seeing out there, either today or that we anticipate in the future, to be able to do it in a way that still can be tracked and recorded, and things like video is a huge space and having that play correctly, etc., with gaming, that’s a huge area for the future. Maybe not right away, but it’s in the coming couple of years with the premise that people learn best when they play. So I kind of break it down into those kind of chunks, if you will, but I think those are all kind of branches of it.

TinCan: So let’s pick one of those chunks and ask, what requirements are there for that space that aren’t currently met by SCORM and what additional needs do you have for interoperability to make those things work well?

Jason: I think if we take video as an example, video is binary, right? What we’re interested in is having a granular track of video progress, the ability to play a video outside of a standard player and still get run-time tracking. Things like that, so in the case of a video, we’d be interested in hearing what others have offered up.

TinCan: This is coming into a great example — I want to dive in, and maybe this isn’t worth it for this call, why can’t you do this with SCORM right now? I’d invite you to go to, we haven’t released this yet, but you can preview it if you go to http://scotube.scorm.com when you get a chance

David: Does it rely on the browser, a browser plug-in, for tracking?

TinCan: Just whatever YouTube does, Flash, I think. Maybe they’re even using HTML 5 stuff. So do I hear you saying you that you think the browser plug-ins are an issue for delivering video or do you want to even completely decouple it so you don’t have to launch it through the LMS, but what are the issues you are seeing there now?

David: Exactly, so what if I wanted to launch it, outside the LMS, and still track it in the LMS?

TinCan: So that gets into the requirements, that’s one thing the LETSI RTWS solves: I want to have something — I don’t want to have to launch through the LMS to track stuff, and that also then relates into something we’re calling “out of browser experiences:” I want to be able to play a game on my Xbox and have that track in the LMS.

David: Exactly. That’s for us a very interesting use-case.

TinCan: And that’s going to be key to any sort of informal learning tracking, too, because if you’re not going to launch mentoring through the LMS, etc., I guess you could assign it, but that sort of thing, where you’d be able to go in and have a way to track that something occurred, and the LMS won’t have initiated it.

David: Exactly. Now your head is kind of where we are at, in terms of yeah, you can do it today with SCORM, but the use-cases that we’re thinking about are one-step beyond that in terms of when these things are happening or taking place, you may not have front-loaded the LMS as the backboard against which all the tracking would take place.

TinCan: That brings up a second use-case then, that the content doesn’t need to be pre- imported. When I encounter a YouTube video that has good sales training, I want to watch it and then hit “submit to LMS” and the LMS then needs to create that content item, essentially, on the fly.

And then, and this goes to governance, I suppose depending on the way the LMS is configured, you may just get some sort of credit for it based on your own say-so and it might be spot-checked later, or maybe it’s just stuck in your profile, for reference purposes, or maybe you would want to have an LMS admin take a look at it before it really goes on your transcript.

And maybe you get some social learning credit for sharing that with the rest of your organization or contributing to the discussion on the YouTube comments page. What else? What are we missing in that use-case?

David: I can go very deep there; I’m just not sure how far you want to go. But you can think about all the services that are associated with that contribution in terms of how many times it was contributed by a group of people, which could then reach a threshold, which could then promote it automatically to being acceptable or certified. You can think about if it’s being rated, the volumes of the ratings and the quality of those ratings. You can think about how the services that are associated with that contribution have sort of two impacts, one on my transcript and one on the catalog itself; what are the rules by it gets promoted to catalog. I don’t want to go too deep there. We’ve done a lot of thinking about that use-case in the social context, some of which I mentioned. For example, if something is tagged externally, and that object then carries with it those tags from an external system to my informal record of it as well as the formal system’s record of it, how are those tags handled and considered and associated to other tags that might be in the system and/or the learner’s analytics of what gets tagged for that individual learner as well as an aggregate across all learners. So there’s more there. There’s definitely more there.

TinCan: You have also brought up mobile, gaming, and analytics, you want to expand on any of those areas at all?

David: Let’s start on mobile: Hey, Naag, do you want to talk a little more about our conversation on simple tracking for mobile, and how that could potentially fit into this model?

Naag: I think it’s pulling a lot of similar threads, there. We need to not necessarily be tied to a browser. The way we look at mobile is basically an ability to consume certain kinds of content that are created specific for mobile devices. Not everything is going to be suitable, so what we might end up doing is to tag certain content as mobile-aware, for example, when we put it in the system, let’s assume a use-case where some of the content is already their in the LMS. So you need to have a way to tag that content so that when you search for it from your mobile device you get those content that are specific to be consumed on the device then you start consuming it, clearly what we want is a model somewhat similar to many offline players out there where you have a certain amount of cacheing, because that’s clearly the case that resonates the most in mobile devices, but then you want it to be really simple. To say, Okay, I took this piece of content, I viewed this Word file, then do acknowledge that I consumed it versus necessarily going through multiple modules and having a table of contents, etc. So you want to start off at that point, but then let’s see how the rest of the technology progresses there. So clearly, we want some kind of communication that is not specific to the browser, so we probably have this service as one that would be more preferable at that point.

David: Maybe the ability to mark “complete” in a lightweight fashion, something thrown, a web service, as opposed to a browser, would satisfy much of our need for tracking on mobile. But right now there’s no standard that really gets us there.

Prakash: So in other words, I’m looking for a way — I don’t want to have to have a SCORM engine or sequencing engine sitting on the device.

TinCan: When you say there’s no standard that gets you there, is that considering LETSI RTWS?

David: We’re a big fan of LETSI run-time web services, but I think you’ve probably picked up on the direction we think is going to be most possible for Saba, and we were excited by everything that RTWS was doing, what LETSI is doing with RTWS, and we talked about it at our summit, but again, one of the critical issues for Saba is that once something becomes a standard, the level of adoption will dictate our adoption. We’re not here to create market, we’re here to be of service to our customers, so there’s a little bit of chicken and egg here, where we may love the hell out of what LETSI is doing with run- time web-services, but if it’s not “the way,” we’re not going to go out and fight that battle. We’re here to serve the needs of our customers. So sure, we’re definitely out there communicating what we think is best for our customers, because we understand systems, we’re definitely in the conversation with our buyers who are interested in the same things we are talking about, but if LETSI isn’t the markets’ choice, we can’t force that on the market.

Naag: The one thing I’ll say, and I think Prakash can jump in here, but I would like to see, whatever implementation comes out of this project, to use, especially, what’s already available in the standard; I’ve looked at the run-time web services, have looked into it in detail, I think that’s a pretty good starting point. Maybe use like things that are already there, like use REST or JSON as a standard for doing it, so that we don’t have to have yet another protocol that we need to worry about.

Prakash: I do agree that if we use the standard like web standards, like REST, and the payload should support JSON and things like that, that would be very useful.

TinCan: But because SOAP is necessarily heavy-weight?

Prakash: Exactly. Let’s keep it simple. A PHP developer or Ruby on Rails developer that wouldn’t know anything about SOAP actually, but JSON, they would immediately get it. So it is useful for us to support that.

TinCan: What do you think will change in e-learning in the next 5 – 10 years or what should?

David: That’s a long answer for all of us! We have about 5 webinars on 7 different topics you are welcome to attend.

The reality is, it’s becoming a collaborative experience where divorcing formal aspects from informal aspects is going to be evaporated. Formal is going to be one part of a larger ecosystem of Web 2.0 tool sets that are broadened by virtual classroom, expertise identification and coaching, and sort of what we call harnessing of global learning, which is the ability the learner to become a steward of the informal assets across the organization, to bring those to bear on, as a shepherd for a learning organization. Mobile becomes de facto, we expert learning to inflect, the way the internet will inflect in the next four to five years, so access via mobile will be mission critical, etc.


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