Monday, February 28, 2011

Interview with John Alonso, OutStart: Innovators in E-Learning Series // Corgi Big Bark Award

Mobile learning continues to evolve quickly as mobile devices, access, and connectivity speeds continue to improve. The potential to leverage social networking in order to create a robust social learning environment, with reliable outcomes-based assessment represents a dramatic step forward, as does the "multi-screen" approach. Welcome to an interview with John Alonso, CTO of Outstart.

E-Learning Queen is happy to announce that Outstart is the recipient of an E-Learning Queen Corgi Big Bark Award for forward thinking and a commitment to innovative approaches to e-learning.

1. What is your name and your relation to e-learning?
My name is John Alonso – I’m the CTO and one of the Founders of OutStart. I evolved into eLearning about 16 years ago. I started as a software developer, worked in multiple industries and in the mid 1990’s found myself in front of the classroom as a teacher. I did that for several years and learned a great deal. I became a video star , doing a several DVD based learning courses. This led to working on CBT’s as an author and subject matter expert, which led to eLearning. In 1999, I and a few others started OutStart. Our focus and goals where to create a company that would focus on learning and specifically on learning content. We didn’t want to be a content provider, we wanted to be enablers, to provide tools and technologies that would make it easier, faster and cheaper to create content.

2. What is the name of your company and what are its main products?

OutStart Inc.
OutStart LCMS
OutStart LCMS is the leading Learning Content Management System (LCMS) for automating the development, management, maintenance, delivery, and publishing of modular and personalized learning to enhance both learning and development teams and learner effectiveness. Available SaaS or On-Premise.

Participate
Participate is social business software that integrates social networking, collaboration, and knowledge sharing technologies, enabling organizations to more effectively collaborate, contribute and share knowledge. Available SAAS.

Hot Lava Mobile
Hot Lava Mobile is mobile platform to develop content, deliver and immediately analyze results in support of corporate communications and mobile learning. SaaS offering.

TrainingEdge.com LMS
Full-featured, configurable learning management system to administrate, document, track, report, and deliver learning in support of classroom, online, and mobile learning. SaaS offering.
TrainingEdge.com
TrainingEdge.com is an integrated suite combining LMS, LCMS, Social Business Software and Mobile to meet the breadth of learning and knowledge needs of an organization. Available via SaaS.

3. How has the popularity of tablets changed your product line?
Our product philosophy of single-sourcing, which at its core is about isolating presentation from content, makes supporting Tablets easy. While I’d like to claim that we foresaw Tablets in 1999, the reality is that we could not foresee what future technology trends would arrive. That being the case, we wanted to protect the investment that people made in content. Our OutStart LCMS platform allows for the creation and management of content without having to declare what the output format needs to be. This allows us to transform the content to whatever delivery device we choose. Our viewers, which are really the plug-ins that we use for transforming the content, allow us to deliver to almost any target device. A specific viewer can easily be created for different platforms, for iOS, Android, or WebOS. We also can create viewers that generate HTML5 allowing us to target modern browsers on mobile devices.

4. What do you see as the next directions with respect to tablets and elearning?
I believe that Tablets are here to stay, unlike Netbooks, which seemed new, but in essence was an inexpensive laptop with many compromises; Tablets are a whole new thing. They are the ultimate device for consuming content, they are highly portable, rugged, work for a long time between charges and have almost ubiquitous connectivity … and their interface is truly intuitive. I expect that Tablets will evolve to provide more consistent capabilities, making it easier and cheaper to target multiple devices, instead of having to build for each tablet out there. I think that tablets will become the primary device that we will consume content with, and that laptops and desktops will be relegated more to content creation devices and “power-user” devices. I do not believe that tablets will replace the pc, but they will be the key device that we see people carrying and using. This will force content developers to think of tablets as the primary target, instead of it as an afterthought or add on. I also believe that the gap between tablet capabilities and laptop capabilities will become very small. The choice will be more made on the form factor and use case, not on capabilities.

5. Does OutStart incorporate simulations and serious games?
We and our platform view serious games and simulations as a logical extension of the learning experience… a natural evolution of what can be done with rich media. 15 years ago, the state of rich media was audio for eLearning, 8 yrs ago video was becoming more common place and expected, within the next 2-3 years, consumer will come to expect much more interactive and intelligent interaction with their content. The technical challenge of incorporating simulations and serious games has been met, we have several examples of solving those problems. Unfortunately, the cost for creating these rich experiences and the skills needed to create them is the largest roadblock. While many want these things, few understand the cost of building them and the cost of maintaining them. In our current economic climate, it has been very hard to justify the expense for these things for most developers.
We have some customers who are using simulations and serious games today, leveraging their investment in them throughout their curriculum.

6. What is your philosophy of growth for tablet-based and smartphone-based elearning? Which areas turned out to be dead ends? Which areas evolved in ways that you did not expect?
I think that today we are in the middle of a hype cycle … mobile, mobile, mobile … mobile is cool, mobile is hot, mobile is the future. Yes, yes, and yes … but I believe that we are focusing on the wrong things today. The key to mobile is not the technology, it isn’t the features and it isn’t the devices … to me, and I think of the importance to the learning community, mobile is really about always having a device on you, regardless of what that device is. This is the fundamental change, and this is what will make significant changes in learning and performance support. As mobile devices mature, we will not be talking about what they can do or are capable of, we will be talking about how we have changed the way we design content. If you can count that a person always has a device on them, you can design content very differently. You start to realize that what is important is understanding context and delivering the right content for a given contextual situation.

Unfortunately, today we are focused on mobile being something different. We think that creating content for iOS, RIM or Android is the important part, yet we seem to fail to realize that the technology is evolving incredibly quickly and that creating for a given device will have a very short lifespan. I think that in 2 yrs we will look back and question why we invested in building content for a specific device.

This is also the thing that I am surprised by the most … as an industry we do not seem to learn from history or previous experiences. I see us committing the same mistakes we made 12 yrs ago when we chose to focus on specific browsers. Many people spent great deals of money building content for Netscape, only to have it made obsolete 3 years later and their content unusable. I understand that this is somewhat of a natural evolution, steps we must go through to learn and move forward … but we should be studying history and learning from it. We should really question whether assuming that all content will always be consumed by a specific device (say BlackBerry) is realistic? Will RIM be here in 5 yrs? Will their platform look the same?

7. Please recommend a book that inspired you.
I’m not a big book reader, although I am a voracious reader. I have many varied interests which means my reading list is very broad. I read many blogs on a daily basis, I’ve probably been most inspired in the last year by;

Setsail.com – a boat related site, an accomplished yacht designer and his wife share their experiences, the writing and the approach is inspiring. Things are clearly explain, data is provided and conclusions are always supported.

Yankodesign.com – is very different subject matter, I’m constantly inspired by the ideas of others, the different viewpoints they bring and the concepts I never considered.

IKEAhackers.com – yet another subject matter, yet similar to the design example, truly inspiring to see how people are solving problems, cheaply and effectively.


Friday, February 25, 2011

The Petroleum Geology of Libya

The turbulence in Libya makes one mindful of the petroleum resources and what is at stake. Presented here are articles and presentations on the geology of Libya that you might find of interest.

The Petroleum Geology of Libya (Hassan Salem Hassan):

LIBYA: PETROLEUM POTENTIAL OF THE UNDEREXPLORED BASIN CENTERS—A TWENTY-FIRST-CENTURY CHALLENGE
Donald C. Rusk

Total Petroleum Systems of the Pelagian Province, Tunisia, Libya, Italy, and Malta—The Bou Dabbous– Tertiary and Jurassic-Cretaceous Composite
T.R. Klett

Central Sirte Carbonates

SARIR FIELD SIRTE BASIN, LIBYA
Desert Surprise Then -- and Now Some Keys to Revisit of Libya
Compiled by Jingyao Gong, AAPG Data Systems

Pore Pressure Prediction Based on High Resolution Velocity Inversion in Carbonate Rocks, Offshore
Sirte Basin Libya, Robert M. Gruenwald1, Javier Buitrago2, Jack Dessay2, Alan Huffman3, Carlos Moreno3, Jose Maria Gonzalez Munoz2, Carlos
Diaz2 and Khaeri Segayer Tawengi

Background on Libya
Libya is a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the country's economy relies heavily on hydrocarbon exports.

Framework for the Exploration of Libya: An Illustrated Summary
Jingyao Gong

Recent discoveries:
Waha JV wildcat makes discovery in Libya's Sirte Basin

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Interview with Learnable: Innovators in E-Learning Series

Online courses in health, fitness, weight loss, and personal improvement are now more feasible than ever with new approaches to enhanced e-learning, which involves a flexible array "you choose" delivery modes and technologies. Multiple screens are the norm as people work with smartphones, mobile devices of all kinds, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers. You may find yourself taking a personal improvement course through a university's outreach programs, through a community college's lifelong learning branches, or a career college's certificate program. You might even take courses directly from the experts in the field. The flexibility is made possible through innovative course delivery systems that allow instructors and institutions to host their courses in the Cloud, and to take advantage of a flexible content and learning management system. An example of this is Learnable, based in Melbourne, Australia. (Is Melbourne where Lycos originated?)

1. What is your name and your relation to elearning?
Our name is Learnable.

We're a website that helps students learn about a range of topics through online courses that are created by a range of everyday experts in their fields. Our online courses are therefore non-formal in nature, sitting between the more structured institutional learning and unstructured self guided learning. They allow people to gain tangible skills and knowledge in a semi-structured online environment that guides and facilitates their learning.


2. What is Learnable?
Learnable is a web site where anyone can learn online about a range of topics that interest them. This is delivered through asynchronous online courses that allow students to learn in bite-sized chunks, at their own pace and in their own time. It’s also gives knowledge experts the chance to become instructors, and share their expertise by creating and selling their own online courses. At Learnable you can be a student, an instructor, or both!

So in a sentence - Learnable is where anyone can discover or deliver an online course.


3. How does it work? Why was it established?
Learnable is based around an online course creation tool that packages and delivers courses for students to take online.

Students pay for these courses online, and then gain unlimited access to the course. Courses are all structured around a series of lessons, articles, online videos, and other downloadable resources, as well as a very smart tool we like to call our social Q&A. The Q&A tool allows students to ask as many questions as they like, get answers from instructors, as well as learning from all the previously answered questions from other students. They can even ask questions of fellow students.

This means courses are broken down into a series of easy-to-follow steps that students can then work through at their own pace, as well as having access to personalised support from instructors throughout.


Instructors on the other hand, have the ability to share their knowledge or skills by creating and delivering their own courses on Learnable. They do this by using our super easy-to-use course builder that helps organise, package and turn their knowledge into online courses that they can then sell on Learnable.

Based in Melbourne, Australia, Learnable began as a series of online courses about web development on www.sitepoint.com, one of the largest online communities of web designers and developers. It was established as a way to build on SitePoint’s existing online courses, and to then share this online learning platform with the world.

4. How can it work with respect to health and fitness? how can the courses be used for diet / fitness / nutrition courses?
There is no limit to the topics and courses that can be created on Learnable.

So someone interested in health and fitness would find it easy to create a course that could share their insights, ideas and thoughts on how to live a healthier, happier life, and with a worldwide audience. Students of the course could take the course in the comfort and privacy of their own homes, any time throughout the day, whilst still having the support of the instructor through the interactive Q&A system.


We like to think Learnable will be a fantastic resource for instructors and teachers in this field.

5. What are your goals?
Our goal is to be the largest marketplace for online courses in the world, and we believe that we have the opportunity to fundamentally transform education for the better. We’d like to achieve this by making non-formal learning easy, and in so doing empower knowledge sharing between students and instructors.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Professional development and training is evolving quickly to meet the needs of busy professionals who want to implement micro-learning. In addition, the need to make learning modules accessible via multiple devices is also driving innovation. Welcome to an interview with Julie Ogilvie, vice president for Skillsoft, a provider of integrated learning solutions in a wide array of subject areas.

1. What is your name and your relation to elearning?
Julie Ogilvie. I’m the vice president of corporate marketing for SkillSoft – an e-learning provider.


2. What kinds of elearning does Skillsoft offer?
SkillSoft is primarily known for its vast collection of off-the-shelf e-learning content which serves a broad range of business needs such as needs such as compliance, IT, business (soft) skills, project management, leadership development, desktop application and customer service. Our content takes many forms – courses, online books, videos and simulations and also comes in 19 languages. Customers can use the content as-is or customize it using tools that we offer. Many of our customers have adopted our products because they just have so many needs, they simply can’t keep up with the demand. Off-the-shelf learning products are a great fit for today’s overburdened training professionals who are simply swamped by the constantly changing and growing needs of their global learner populations.



We also provide the technology to deliver, manage and track learning. Our SkillPort platform is a SaaS solution used by over 2,000 customers and 7 million end users. We also work with many clients who use third party learning management systems – and often our customers have a hybrid environment.

What is most important is finding a way to deliver learning that makes it easy for the employee to access and apply the learning – so in the last several years we’ve been developing products that are geared around helping employees get to the learning and find what they need quickly - things like our KnowledgeCenters which are learning portals that focus on a particular topic and bring together all of the formal and informal learning resources in one location.


3. What are the ways in which Skillsoft offers mobile learning / training?
What is your view of assessment in mobile learning? Currently, most of our customers are looking for mobile learning solutions that are geared more toward “performance support” than “formal training.” As such, they are looking to deliver information that employees need to answer questions and solve problems when they are away from their desks. Our Books24x7 On The Go platform is designed specifically for this; it allows users to search for answers from the thousands of business and technical titles contained in our Books24x7 collections. They can even view our Leadership Development Channel QuickTalks on their phones…this has been very popular with field-based populations such as sales reps and executives.

We do recognize that as the mobile options continue to grow, so will the demand for mobile learning solutions, including formal training that requires assessments. We are actively working with customers to support these needs right now.



4. How is Skillsoft responding to new eLearning trends? What are the trends you see the most promising in the next 12 - 18 months?
E-learning trends are a by-product of the overall work environment. All of us are being asked to do more work, get things done in shorter timeframes and wear more hats. For learning professionals, these effects have been especially acute. Many of our customers are struggling to deliver high-quality learning experiences with limited budget and resources. They have had to take a new view of their work – shifting from the viewpoint of “instructor” to more of a supply-chain expert – looking for ways to ensure a smooth flow of current, consistent, quality resources to meet skill demands of hundreds of job roles.



In our world this has translated into customers asking for a more modular approach to e-learning – “bite-sized” learning that can fit into busy schedules. So today many of our learning experiences are designed to be consumed in less than 5 minutes. Even formal training courses are now often designed for use in an hour rather than 2-3 hours, which used to be the standard.

Learner expectations are also driving changes in e-learning. They want rich learning experiences that engage them in the topic. In recent years that has led SkillSoft down a path of increasing the availability of video, gaming techniques and other rich media. Our customers have found that their learners react very positively to these approaches, and it increases the likelihood that learners will be pro-actively seek out additional learning on their own.


The other trend in the workplace is that now when learners have question or a problem they think “Google it!” We see more and more that even the assets we have designed for “formal learning” are being used in a just-in-time, informal way. The importance of an effective search engine cannot be overstated. Many companies have recognized that time spent searching for answers is a productivity drain, and on top of that, the “answers” available on the Internet aren’t always the right ones. This is leading to a greater appreciation of the need for vetted, expert content in combination with a search function that can quickly pinpoint the most relevant passages.




5. How are training needs changing in today's workplace?
Training needs are expanding but the time available for training is contracting. Today’s workforce is under pressure. Many companies have needed to downsize in the past couple of years, which means employees need to do more work in more different areas. They have needed to learn new skills, and they have had less time to devote to doing it! These are the trends that are producing greater demand for all kinds of online learning that can be accessed during the “in between” times in the work day.


6. Please recommend two books you've recently read.
Here is a book that I would recommend to everyone - The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work by Shawn Achor. Shawn spoke at our user conference last year, and I have to say it was a life-altering event for me! So I dashed out to get his book when it became available. What you will find compelling in this book is that the ideas expressed are backed up by research on how the brain works. As learning people we can appreciate this. The book is full of wit and insight that you will think about and use in your life (at least I have in mine).

Another book I would recommend is The Daily Drucker: 366 Days of Insight and Motivation for Getting the Right Things Done. I happened to pick this up because an executive in our company was speaking at the annual Drucker Symposium in Vienna this past year. I knew about Peter Drucker – “the father of management” – but I didn’t realize how vast his influence has been on our way of working and thinking. Drucker believes that continuous learning is essential to creating a culture of innovation – and this is something that learning professionals should take to the bank! This little book is good way to get into Drucker in nice bite-sized chunks.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Snowbound: A Change of Pace...

Podcast: http://www.beyondutopia.net/podcasts/snowbound.mp3

In honor of the amazing weather most of the country has experienced over the last week, I thought I'd post something a bit different -- a mystery, of sorts. Enjoy! (from Gizmo, the Corgi)

Last week, they found a woman’s body buried in a neighbor’s backyard. Granted, it was not a next-door neighbor, and it’s true I did not know her. Yet, I felt a grip of sadness blended with revulsion. Her children said they never liked the woman’s boyfriend. The woman’s mother said she knew her daughter loved the man who eventually killed her. The four-bedroom, three-bathroom red brick house in the once expensive neighborhood did not look like one where you’d find a body – it’s a mere mile away from multimillion dollar homes. But, that particular house (on a nice corner lot) had been sitting vacant for 8 months, and the ex-con killer was a “friend” of the owner of the house. Some friend. There had to be more to the story than met the eye.

When the huge ice storm rolled in, it came accompanied with thunder and lightning. Ice fell from the sky as flashes of light and loud cracks of thunder made an unsettling prelude to the foot of snow and inches of ice that would soon coat the entire countryside.

Electric ice.

The guys at the office building refused to clear the snow while it was still loose and fluffy; consequently it turned into an ice brick at least four inches deep in front of the doors, on the steps, walkways, and the porch.

Ah yes, and I was reminded of how much I love / hate snow and ice; it’s so lovely to see it pile up, and it’s nice when it’s so cold your nose burns when you inhale. Snowboundedness has its charm. It’s interesting to see how your mind goes into different nooks and crannies when you’re feeling contemplative, thoughtful, uninterrupted except by your compulsions to raid the refrigerator one more time and to run through the array of movies you can stream on hulu.com and the latest youtube videos. It’s also nice to lose oneself in podcasts, especially the ones that tell us people’s stories. Revelations, confessions, unveilings: it feels as though it’s happening to me – I’m crawling through the dark, wet basements of my own heart. And still, the ice beats against the window.

We’re getting used to these rough storms.

We need a new narrative for the twenty-first century. The old political and economic narratives are just not working.

Could we say the same thing about the psychological and sociological narratives? Oh yes, I believe so.

The connectedness we claim that occurs with social networks is really disconnectedness. Don’t you see it?

Yes? No?

You read this and you think you’re connected to me, and I hope and pray I’m connected to you, but I’m really just connected to thoughts I throw out there to the cloud, to be (I hope!) ever-present, ever accessible. And yet, it means that they’re always out there intensely ephemeral and I’ll never really take possession of my own thoughts, my own essence – and I’ll never really touch you. I’ve lost that ability. All I have is the ability to envision the concept of touching. But you’re not really able to get into my heart the way you once were able to, and I’m not able to crawl deep into your nerve endings.

We just aren’t that raw any more. We have the soft armor of “the cloud” which keeps everything nicely phantasmic (isn’t that what we should, by rights, call the images we see, the noises we hear, and yet can’t really embrace … can’t ever really put our arms around their vital, beating hearts – all we get is this nice, infinitely echoing simulacra).



But there are some narratives that seem to be utterly timeless, even though we would prefer them not to be –the apocalyptic narrative, for one.

I was once loose and fluffy but somewhere along the way, started to melt, refreeze, then melt again.

The cold draft curls itself around the floor, the walls, the sliding glass door, which is surprisingly clear considering it’s 2 below zero out there in the cold, dark Tulsa night.

If I say I have real feelings -- I still remember -- what will you say?

I used to look at life in one way; then started to look at in an utterly different manner. What changed? All that empty space in the sky? I’m not entirely sure.

Emotional freefall.

I used to let myself leap off various intellectual cliffs, with little or no regard to the fact I might not ever come down. Groundedness was not something I particularly desired – to be weighted down without those soaring thoughts that took me out to distant planets seemed to be one of the saddest facts of consciousness one could possibly imagine.

There are still things I won’t tell anyone. I won’t share the night panics, the dark fears in the middle of the night, the refusal to let anyone ever enter my home or my apartment unless it was to clean, repair, or to go with me as I grabbed my keys, purse, and computer on the way to a road trip of the mind.



It was cold tonight when I made my way across the frozen street. I had almost forgotten the way that snow crunches when it approaches 0 degrees Fahrenheit. You take the chance to walk across the street with nothing but your wits and your ability to slide on wet, uneven ice that grips the asphalt.

This morning, I saw a man walking down the snow-packed side street, relief flowing through his eyes and his entire face. He had a 12-pack of Budweiser still in the plastic bag from QuikTrip. Did the blizzard have the unintended consequence of propelling addicts and alcoholics into unwelcome detox? I could only imagine the discomfort of cramps and hallucinations in the 3 degree pre-dawn hours.

Breathe in deeply even though the cold air burns your nose.

It takes courage to do what you’ve done all your life. You’ve examined your own thoughts with the idea of developing the ultimate “urtext” to knit together all those distant hot suns that twinkle like cold little nightlight stars in my heart and my mind.

You’re letting yourself think your own thoughts, listen to your own mind.

I’m not there any more. I prefer to let the workplace exigencies dominate my own narratives; in other words, I’ve become an approval seeker, and I have substituted the security of a predictable cause-effect relationship (customers want a product, I deliver it, they reward me with a pat on the back, and I happily eat the treat tossed my way) for the randomness and unpredictability of thoughts / emotions. I’ve learned to discipline my mind. I have learned to marshal my emotions. I’ve learned to manufacture “bliss.” And, I’ve forgotten how to be a human being.



In the early twentieth century, the possibility that we’d build robots that would eventually supplant and rule us was a terrifying possibility. We were, as factory workers, quite inferior to machines. Later, androids become not just more physically predictable but also more cognitively agile.

Then came the bionic men and women of the popular imagination.

Now, with our tools, we are already bionic. We don’t even need genetic engineering and medically engineered implants and parts.

It’s easy to think of ourselves as invulnerable as long as we’re on the inside looking out to drifts of snow and cold, dark skies.

But then, the frailties kick in. We get bronchitis. We get the flu. We pull tendons and we aren’t able to assert ourselves in the same way. Do we get kicked out of The Cloud? Do we become invisible, except for the false self that gets the most hits?

I’m not sure how to ask you these questions. You asked me if I’d come apart if you left me (died), and we both know the answer is “yes.” Is the fear of loss any reason to avoid being together? Yes, of course. That’s how it is these days. If things can’t be perfect, we’ll just stay in our web-surfing haze.

Obviously we need to learn how to enjoy the pain of our own humanity. I’m not very brave. So we must enjoy our lives now, no matter how trite that sentiment might seem. That’s what it means to be brave.

Despite the permanence and impermanence of The Cloud, you and I are neither permanent nor impermanent. We just run, run, run trying to outdistance the awareness of our existential condition.

And, well, I feel sadness for the poor woman whose body was buried in the backyard of a soon-to-be foreclosed house.

(note: graphics by susan smith nash)

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