2012 – a year of learning technology failures

It’s that time of year when all the movers and shakers attempt to predict what will be big in 2013. Well there are no such predictions here. However, they do say you can predict the future by learning lessons from the past, so I’m going look back over the past year instead and ask: what was crap about 2012? (I should reiterate that these views are, of course, entirely my own…)

  1. The elearning content industry awoke from its long sleep and FINALLY embraced mobile. The mobile is now the main way of accessing the internet yet many elearning content producers were caught napping. Figures released by the ITU back in 2011 showed there were a staggering 6 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide for a population of 7 billion people, putting mobile penetration at 87% globally. Did e-learning vendors think that mobile learning wasn’t going to catch on or something? Early adopters like Epic and Line moved in on mobile 18-24 months ago, striking while the iron was hot. Most other vendors have followed on since then and the remaining laggards emerged in 2012 with their own offerings and a whole lot of ground to make up. Overall, the industry showed a disappointingly sluggish response to a game changing technology.
  2. The amount of LMS vendors who still don’t do mobile is shocking. I was involved in an LMS selection project for a customer recently which involved trawling through over 200 products. Mobile was a critical feature for getting short listed and about 75% of products failed on that alone. The industry is looking backwards by developing for desktop first. Google adopted a “mobile first” approach to web and application design way back in 2010. People EXPECT mobile compatibility now. The LMS world needs to wake up to this.
  3. Elearning content vendors are putting ENTIRE elearning courses on smartphones and calling it mobile learning. These vendors are completely missing the point.The research is piling up about what people do on their smartphones and tablets, see The New Multi-Screen World by Google and this great infographic from Online Degrees. Full courses on tablets work fine. But use smartphones to enhance and embellish your course, not replicate it. Learners just won’t use a smartphone for that long. Do us a favour: buy Clark Quinns book, then try again.
  4. A number of authoring tool vendors STILL produce Flash-only output. Change or die, people. Flash Player has never been supported on iOS and is no longer support on Android either. You’ve got to design for mobile first, so for Flash-only vendors the game is up. Will the last Flash e-learning developer to leave please turn out the lights?
  5. Some content providers remain stuck in the dark ages and STILL develop elearning that requires the Java Runtime Environment to run! It simply defies belief that at least one major e-learning vendor remains firmly stuck in the 1990’s. Fortunately the market is wisening up to this, and 2012 saw an increasing number of customers issuing Requests for Proposals with the words ‘must not require plugins’, which was music to my ears.
  6. Established LMS vendors have done little to solve their long-standing usability problems. This one has been around for years, yet time and again the market research lists user interface design as a major problem with LMS products. Did the old-timers do anything to rectify that this year? Of course not. LMS vendors have gone after feature bloat instead and are building out talent management features to make a play for the HR market. This has left the door wide open for a new generation of LMS vendors differentiating themselves with modern design, highly focused features and instant provisioning. One such player, Docebo Cloud, has signed up 5,000 organisations in three months!
  7. Talking of cloud: lots of people still don’t get it. Usage of the word ‘cloud’ has become so watered down by marketing departments over the last few years that it has almost become pointless trying to educate people. If an LMS vendor says they do cloud, ask them a few simple questions. Does it do instant sign up and metered usage? Good. If it requires manual setup and a delay of days or even weeks to setup, then that’s good old fashioned hosting. Let’s not pretend hosted app = cloud, please?
  8. LMS vendors stuck a bar chart on their reports and called it Learning Analytics. This is one of the buzzwords of 2012 but it’s a highly specialized academic field with its roots in Educational Data Mining. The objective – and this is VERY simplified – is to use learner activity logs to predict performance and thus adapt their learning path appropriately to give them the best chance of achieving a successful learning outcome. Reporting is the other big area that LMS products regularly fail on in the market research reports. Improve your reports by all means, but please don’t call it learning analytics if it clearly is not.
  9. Blackboard shocked the Moodle world by acquiring the biggest Moodle vendors in Australia and North America. I’m not sure that this really belongs in this list, however it upset a LOT of people in the Moodle community so warrants a mention. There’s a lot of distrust of BB within the Moodle world, and the wider LMS world following BB’s patent lawsuit against Desire2Learn a few years back. Having said that, we are 9 months in and there have been no further shockwaves following the acquisitions so it all seems to be panning out ok so far. Time will tell.
  10. And talking of patents: software patents continued to suck the life blood from technical innovation. This isn’t specifically related to learning technologies as such, however it certainly impacts us. It’s a wonder anyone brings any software innovations to market these days. Apple, Samsung and Google are engaged in a mobile technology cold war and it’s giving the whole tech business a bad name. Even the New York Times ran a front page story on the dysfunctional patent system. Redhat’s legal expert Rob Tiller blogged that Apple and Google both spent more last year on patent litigation and patent purchases than on research and development. We live in sad times indeed, however the case for obolishing software patents is thankfully growing.

So that’s my roundup of 2012. Will we learn from any of this? I certainly hope so. The industry as a whole is in good health despite the recession, so it’s onwards and upwards towards 2013. Happy New Year, folks!

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