Posted tagged ‘positives’

Reach for the clouds

4 June 2009

Earlier this week, Michael Bromley, Head of Online Services at Telstra Business, visited my workplace to provide me and my colleagues with an overview of cloud computing.

What is cloud computing?

Michael defines “cloud computing” as:

…common business applications, platforms or infrastructure that are hosted on the internet (i.e. in the cloud) and are accessed locally from a web browser, while the software and data are stored remotely on servers.

hong Kong building 5, courtesy of herman430, stock.xchngThis definition may be particularly relevant to the corporate sector, because it could reflect the typical corporation’s chronological journey into the cloud.

For example, Company X might dip its toes into the cloud by discontinuing local installations of their standard desktop software onto individual PCs, in favour of connecting to Google Docs.

Of course this is a far cry from migrating all of their data and IP into cloud-based infrastructure, but it’s a significant start.

Private clouds

The major barrier to wholesale upsourcing to the cloud, I feel, will be data security. I can’t imagine too many organisations rushing to shift their sensitive customer details onto unseen servers in foreign jurisdictions. It’s one thing to use an online word processor; it’s something else again to store names, residential addresses and social security numbers out there, somewhere.

I can also appreciate corporate hesitation with public clouds like YouTube; many companies won’t want to share their IP with their competitors. That’s where I think private clouds may prove useful. By restricting access to jealously guarded content, but managing it within the cloud infrastructure, the company might strike a balance between security and efficiency.

vpc1, courtesy of Michael Bromley

What does this mean for e-learning?

Local installations of specialised e-learning authoring software is notoriously difficult in hierarchical corporations.

Even after you have secured funding (which is a feat in itself), you need to secure managerial approval to use the software, then you need to justify to various IT people why you need it, then you wait for a technician with the necessary admin rights to install it, then after 14 days you realise he didn’t register it properly, then you have to call him back to re-register, then he tells you he can’t seem to register it for some reason… By the time it’s all set up, a new version is released.

OfComm Series - Collapsed, courtesy of rajsun22, stock.xchng

Wouldn’t it be nice to skip all that?

Wouldn’t it be more efficient to simply log into the software on the web?

If you need 20 licences now, you can subscribe and have them in an instant. If you need only 12 licences next month, you can drop the other 8. On the other hand, if you need 30 licences, you can subscribe for 10 more.

Sure, you’ll still require the necessary funding and approval, but already the flexibility of licensing is promising an attractive ROI. Add the fact that you don’t need to install or register anything, nor maintain it or upgrade it, and it looks even rosier.

Suffice to say I’m keeping an eye on Lectora Online.

But online course creation is only one aspect of e-learning. Consider also:

Happy Cloud, courtesy of ba1969, stock.xchng.•  YouTube channels
•  Podcast hosts
•  Blog platforms
•  Wiki spaces

The list goes on…

Just log in

2 May 2009

A little while ago, I attended an executive briefing about cloud computing, hosted by SMS Management & Technology and presented by Paul Slakey, Director of Americas & Asia Pacific at Google, and Peter Coffee, Director of Platform Research at Salesforce.com.

Laptop in the clouds

What is cloud computing?

The 2009 Horizon Report states:

2009 Horizon ReportThe cloud is the term for networked computers that distribute processing power, applications, and large systems among many machines. Applications like Flickr, Google, YouTube, and many others use the cloud as their platform, in the way that programs on a desktop computer use that single computer as a platform.

Cloud-based applications do not run on a single computer; instead they are spread over a distributed cluster, using storage space and computing resources from many available machines as needed. “The cloud” denotes any group of computers used in this way; it is not tied to a particular location or owner, though many companies have proprietary clouds. “Amazon’s cloud,” for instance, refers to the computers used to power Amazon.com; the capacity of those servers has been harnessed as the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and can be leased from Amazon for a variety of purposes.

So it’s a little bit techie, involving distributed computing power, extended data storage, and scalability.

But for the lay person, I would suggest the term “cloud computing” can boil down to everything is web-based.

Head in the clouds

According to Paul and Peter, it’s clear that cloud computing is a rising trend. With thorny issues such as connectivity, reliability and security improving over time, more and more organisations are moving their work “into the cloud”.

One of the key points from the briefing that I feel compelled to reiterate is that cloud computing isn’t just some far off abstraction – it’s here and now. Probably the best known example is Google Apps, which provides email, calendars, documents, spreadsheets and presentation software, among a range of other tools and services, all on the web.

Sun Burst, courtesy of ba1969, stock.xchng.And surely you’ve used TwitterFacebook, Flickr, Delicious or YouTube…? These are all in the cloud.

In fact, the 2009 Horizon Report maintains that cloud computing is likely enter mainstream use in learning-focused organisations within one year or less  – and that was written in December 2008!

The report also notes that the technology is already well established on many educational campuses (including K-12), with claims that more organisations have their plans in place.

Sky’s the limit

Imagine if the corporate sector fully embraced cloud computing…

Businessman working on laptop

We could access our word processor, spreadsheet, e‑learning authoring tools, CRM system, sales figures, productivity reports, in fact any data or software, all online.

We could finally embrace thin clients. All that our laptops would need is a browser and an Internet connection.

We could purchase only the licences we need right now, and scale up later when we need to.

We could centralise our files and content, and collaborate more easily.

You can use a Mac, I can use a PC. It doesn’t matter.

No more relying on a technician with administrative access.

No more downtime for upgrades.

Just log in.

Who's that? He's my thin client.

Rise of the smart cities

18 April 2009

I read a news article today about the announcement by the Queensland Government to provide wireless internet access to commuters on its Citytrain network. Other articles claim this service will be free.

Queensland is not the first government to offer free public wi-fi. Wikipedia lists dozens of cities around the world that have free municipal wireless networks.

Nonetheless, it got me thinking: what could a commuter do every morning and evening while travelling between Brisbane and the Gold Coast?

girl on bus -experimental, courtesy of nickobec, stock.xchng.

Sure, they could download the latest song by Britney Spears or peruse the latest gossip on the Perez Hilton blog. But they could also…

  • Catch the breaking news in their industry sector
  • Read blogs
  • Explore wikis
  • Exchange knowledge on Twitter
  • Watch vodcasts
  • Complete online courses
  • Participate in discussion forums

…the possibilities are endless for the savvy professional who wants to be a mobile learner.

Show me the money

While I applaud Queensland’s free wireless initiative, I must temper my view with the fact that similar initiatives have failed in the recent past.

For example, San Francisco cancelled its plans for free municipal wi-fi when the service provider refused to fund the construction of the network. Financial woes have also stymied attempts in Chicago, Philadelphia, and just over Queensland’s border in New South Wales.

money 4, courtesy of mainrc, stock.xchng.

On the other side of the coin, many corporate organisations are reluctant to buy into their own m‑learning. Think about it: how many companies would be willing to purchase an iPhone for each of its employees? Even if the ROI argument is plausible for the handset, the ongoing connectivity costs would probably be deemed prohibitive.

Alternatively, would an individual employee use their own service provider in conjunction with a company-supplied mobile device? Sure, you’ll always have your tech junkies who are more than happy to pay through the nose for the latest wizardry. But consider the average worker with 2.4 kids and a mortgage: are they really going to surf the mobile web for several hours every week, even though the handset is free? Or are they more likely to wait until they get into the office or back home.

As an aside, why is mobile connectivity generally more expensive via a cell phone than via a laptop dongle? Aren’t they essentially the same thing?

In any case, the proof of the pudding is in the eating: Ragan reported recently that only 10% of Americans use their cell phones to access the web daily. One reason must surely be cost.

Alignment

Having said that, I think Queensland’s free wireless initiative might just work!

Citytrain security camerasYou see, it isn’t just some political rhetoric that will never get implemented. It’s part of an upgrade to Queensland Rail’s security surveillance system that will enable CCTV to be transmitted to a central control room. So it is happening.

The availability of wireless connectivity for commuters is just a bonus.

Doing it right

My conclusion, then, is that cities should forget about establishing a free municipal wireless network per se as a gesture of goodwill. No one will want to fund it.

Instead, combine it with another public service or efficiency gain, and kill two birds with one stone.

When the smart company provides the mobile device and the smart city provides the connectivity, the world is their oyster.

Brisbane City Skyline At Sunset, courtesy of CraigPJ, stock.xchng.

Reflections of LearnX 2009 – Day 2

5 April 2009

LearnX 2009 Expo
Following on from my previous article, below I share some of the key messages that I drew from Day 2 at the LearnX Asia Pacific conference held recently in Sydney…

 
Personal Professional Development: I expected the keynote by Stephen Downes to be the standout session of the event, and I was not disappointed. Instead of focusing on supporting the learning of others, Stephen shifted his focus to how e‑learning professionals can support their own learning. His premise is, bluntly, if you don’t take care of your own career, you risk losing it. One of Stephen’s key principles for personal professional development is interaction, which he defines as participation in a learning community (or CoP). In fact, Stephen considers it so important, he elegantly expresses it as: “Interaction is breathing for the brain”. His point is: if you aren’t interacting with other people through media such as mailing lists, blogs, Twitter, discussion forums etc, then you are not developing professionally and you will eventually stagnate. Stephen offers the following tips: place yourself (not the content) at the centre of your own learning network; organise your knowledge (eg build your own CMS with Drupal); simplify your learning by summarising it; and accept the fact that you can’t read it all, so choose what you need now and let the rest of it go – if you need it again in the future, it will be on the Web somewhere. Stephen has kindly made the slides and audio from his session available on Stephen’s Web.

Teamwork 2, courtesy of svilen001, stock.xchng.Connecting Many Voices to Make a Difference: Anne Walsh and Brendan Revell from Fraynework Multimedia provided an overview of the e-learning support they are providing to The Sisters of Mercy. The Sisters are a religious order working to alleviate poverty in 47 countries around the world. They use web conferencing to facilitate large group meetings and also 1-to-1 meetings across geographical boundaries. Each Sister has the power to set up a web conference via their organisational CMS platform, which also provides access to their email, e-newsletters etc. Anne and Brendan are clearly proud of their work, given that the average age of the Sisterhood is over 65. The implementation of web conferencing has not only reduced travel costs significantly for the order, but has also given each member a voice that they otherwise would not have had. A practical tip that Anne and Brendan share for introducing web conferencing to those who are unfamiliar with it: facilitate several group conferences first to allow the audience to grow comfortable with the concept. As their confidence grows, they will start to set up their own meetings at their own pace without feeling like they are being railroaded into it.

computer 1, courtesy of tome213, stock.xchng.Training Remote Workers and Their Managers – Getting the People & Technology Right: Margaret Aspin, Director of Aspin Online Consulting, explored the challenges of managing and training teleworkers and virtual teams. Key drivers in our changing environment (eg tightening labour market, climate change, terrorism, work/life balance) are increasingly pushing workers to the virtual workplace. Margaret maintains that it takes about 6 months for office-based workers to feel comfortable transitioning into a fully virtual team space. This new paradigm demands proactive, transformational leadership from people managers. Margaret offers them the following tips: always be mindful of the remote worker/learner; train them to chunk their days into productive periods free from interruption; avoid information overload; and build social capital through social networking. Margaret also recommends the resources at Telework Australia and Knowledge Ability.

3d elevation bar graph, courtesy of wmagni, stock.xchng.Fusing eLearning and eMarketing Best Practices to Achieve Your Business Objectives: By applying principles of e-marketing, Faith Legendre, Senior Global Consultant at Cisco WebEx, explains how you can optimise the success of your online training. Faith umbrellas these principles under 7 steps: determine the goals of your training program; smooth out the technologies and systems you will use; plan who does what during delivery; promote the event; execute the training; follow-up the training after delivery; measure and report. Faith also offers practical tips to maximise attendance: survey your learners to identify the most appropriate delivery day and time for them (avoid Mondays and after 3pm); employ champions throughout the organisation to raise the profile the event; send out an engaging video clip to prospective attendees prior to delivery, and send out another video clip to the actual attendees post delivery as a “gift” for attending.

Raptivity screenshotThriving in the midst of a slowing economy: Invest in powerful rapid eLearning tools: Nachiket Khare, Sales Manager at Harbinger Knowledge Products, reminds us that while one of the consequences of cost-cutting during the GFC will be less interactivity in our e‑learningware, it’s an important aspect of learning. Nachiket used this concept as a segue to introduce his company’s tool, Raptivity, as a low-cost, yet powerful, rapid and easy-to-use interactivity builder. Caryl Oliver was on hand to demonstrate her use of Raptivity in building engaging, self-paced e-learning for the hospitality and transportation sectors. Despite the commercial overtones of this session, I happen to think that Raptivity is a wonderful product, and it certainly won plenty of awards at this year’s LearnX.

Imaginary city 1 3, courtesy of chrisjewis, stock.xchng.Animating E-Learning: Robb Reiner, CLO at Evolve Studios, informed us that static graphics are typically more effective than animations for conveying general information to learners. However, animations are superior when illustrating complex structural, functional and procedural relationships between objects and events. Robb demonstrated a few of the impressive works that his company has produced for various clients, including a mind-blowing 3D animation of the inner workings of a glock pistol for the Australian Police. Unfortunately I think that during the GFC, amazing resources like these are going to be beyond most non-government budgets.

Palmtop Series 1, courtesy of bizior, stock.xchng.Is m-learning just learning hype? Carolyn Barker, Managing Director of TheCyberInstitute, finalised the conference with a keynote about m-learning. Carolyn exploded the myth that m-learning is a passing fad; however, she maintains that it must be done right. In particular she recommends: restricting m-learning to “nanobites” of no more than 3 minutes in duration; covering only 1 or 2 key concepts per nanobite; using rich media where appropriate; and providing opportunities for collaboration (eg discussing photos uploaded to Flickr). Carolyn also made the point that m-learning should support other forms of learning. She maintains that “blended learning is king” – m-learning is just one of its inputs.

I hope you have learned something from my synopses of the conference, or at the very least they have provoked some creative ideas.

See you at LearnX 2010!

Reflections of LearnX 2009 – Day 1

3 April 2009

I attended the annual LearnX Asia Pacific conference this week at Sydney’s Darling Harbour.

Darling Harbour on a dreary April morning.

While the weather was dreary, I found the sessions topical and thought provoking. Below I’ve shared some of the key messages that I drew from Day 1…

5 pm 3, courtesy of getwired, stock.xchng.The Magic of Speed Thinking: Ken Hudson, Director of The Speed Thinking Zone, kicked off proceedings with a keynote address about working smarter, not harder. Ken’s central theme is that being able to think faster and better can help us unlock ideas and improve our productivity. Maintaining that “our brain works better when our bodies are moving”, Ken got everyone in the room to participate in a few ice-breaker activities involving coin catching and brainstorming answers to pop questions. I must admit, it lifted the energy of the room. Ken then introduced a 9-circle template with the question “In these tough economic times, why should we invest more into training?” – and asked us to list 9 possibilities in 2 minutes. The idea isn’t necessarily to achieve a full gamut of answers, but to get the party started quickly. I think Ken’s ideas have real potential for expediting meetings and stimulating brainstorming sessions, but I still think that careful thought and deep reflection are necessary follow-ups. For more information about speed thinking, visit Ken’s website and refer to his book The Idea Generator.

Teamwork 2, courtesy of svilen001, stock.xchng.Bringing Generations Together through Collaboration and Informal Learning: Faith Legendre, Senior Global Consultant at Cisco WebEx, provided the audience with a synopsis of our 4 major generations today (Generation Vet, Boomers, Gen Y & Gen X), and an overview of their changing learning styles over time (push to pull, formal to informal, comprehensive to nibblets, and physical classes to online). While Faith recognised that generational attributes are widely disputed (eg online habits are not defined by age but by exposure to emerging technology), her key message is that people across all generations are using technology today to bridge gaps and collaborate. Faith also highlighted the technology collaboration community at Cisco Community Central.

Business or education, courtesy of lockstockb, stock.xchng.How to capture evaluation data to prevent costly e-learning deployment failures: Susan Pepper, Managing Director of the ROI Institute of Australia, reinforced the need for rigorous evaluation to ensure the success of e‑learning. Susan adheres to 5 levels of feedback, comprising Kirkpatrick’s four levels of evaluation, plus the calculation of return on investment (ROI). Susan also recommends that evaluation data be collected not only post implementation, but also during implementation to remedy any problems as they arise. Another key message is that e-learning programs require thorough planning, particularly to determine the organisation’s need, which in turn should inform the objectives of the solution.

Palmtop Series 1, courtesy of bizior, stock.xchng.Learning without boundaries: Ben Saunders, Business Analyst Consultant at HCS, provided us with a comprehensive overview of m‑learning. While pointing out that m-learning started as far back as 3000BC when the Sumerians carved out text onto portable stone tablets, Ben recognises that the increasing sophistication and decreasing cost of mobile devices (eg smart phones) are making m-learning more relevant today. Ben categorises the limitations of m‑learning under three major banners: hardware (screen size, usability, information security), software (multiple operating systems, unsupported file formats, SCORM compliance) and culture (work/life balance and the digital divide). However, he also notes that learners are already using mobile technologies in their general day-to-day activities, leading them to expect to do likewise for education.

Talking2, courtesy of len-k-a, stock.xchng.Extending your reach: Learning at a distance: Glen Hansen, National L&D Manager at Employment Plus, shared his organisation’s experience of using web conferencing to transition from traditional face-to-face learning delivery to a blended model. While the transition period was challenging (learning curve, lost skills through staff turnover), Glen cites significant benefits, such as: enhanced collaboration, enablement of JIT learning, consistency of message and reduced single point sensitivity. Glen also shares some practical tips for webconferencing, such as: conduct a needs analysis before launching web conferencing, trial potential software prior to selection, enquire whether the provider includes training in their package, appoint a moderator to support the facilitator during sessions, freeze the webcam to save bandwidth, use plenty of graphics, and provide opportunities for the learners to interact with one another. Glen also recommends The eLearning Guild’s Handbook on Synchronous e‑Learning.

Shaking hands, courtesy of acerin, stock.xchng.Selling e-learning to your clients: A culture change approach: I must admit that I felt like I had walked into the wrong session, as Ingrid Karlaftis, National Account Executive at Catapult E-Learning, adopted the vendor’s perspective of selling an e-learning solution to an organisation. However, I think Ingrid’s key messages can help e-learning practitioners within organisations, especially when implementing a project or major initiative. For example: never over promise and under deliver, work hand-in-hand with your clients along the journey, identify the needs of each team across the business (they will be different!), promote the notion of “one community”, train the trainer, maintain your transparency, provide constant support, measure and report.

Singer 4, courtesy of scottsnyde, stock.xchng.Professional Audio – The Key to Effective E-Learning: This was a shameless sales pitch, but to be fair, the presenters didn’t pretend otherwise. Adam Morgan and his crew promoted the advantages of employing professional actors (rather than “Tim from Accounts”) to produce the voiceovers in your e-learning courseware. Why? Because actors are better skilled at engaging your audience. Adam has a point in that an outfit like Voiceoversonthenet can cater for different audiences through variables such as accent, tone, gender and pace. So should you use an actor? Well that’s up to you.

Learning Leaders Panel: The final session on Day 1 was a facilitated discussion about building talent and learning anytime, anywhere, at any pace. Among the topics discussed: Bob Spence observed that informal learning relies on trust that the material being learned is worthwhile; Rob Wilkins shared his view that the feudal management system of a typical corporation inhibits its use of social media for learning; Anne Moore suggested that organisations need to become more like Gen-Y’s to support the next generation of employees who will lead us beyond the GFC; John Clifford informed us that every Telstra field technician has a laptop and a mobile device to enable e-learning on the road; Ann Quach recommended that we focus on content, then its mode of delivery (avoid using a blog or wiki just because it’s the latest fad); and Wendy John reminded us to empower staff to learn when they need to, otherwise engagement will be low and the experience will be a waste of time.

Stay tuned for an overview of Day 2…!

A refreshing perspective of Web 2.0

12 February 2009

Today I watched this 6-minute video clip from MyRaganTV, in which Jim Davis, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of SAS, talks about that company’s approach to Web 2.0.

I think Jim maintains a refreshing perspective of Web 2.0 in the corporate sector. SAS doesn’t just talk about transparency, integrity and collaboration: they breathe life into these principles through their application and approach to internal blogs, customer blogs and external social media.

Shouldn’t more companies follow SAS’s lead?