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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Content Management, Eedo, and the Philosophy of Web 2.0

This article is one of a series that explores examples of companies using Web 2.0 approaches in their solutions. Since its origin, Eedo Knowledgeware has been dedicated to creating learning solutions and content management that capture the spirit of Web 2.0, and employ its power.

Audio / podcast.

Web 2.0 may bring to mind a wild and woolly world of anonymous role-playing (Second Life), obsessive social networking (MySpace), proliferations of "reaction videos" (YouTube), and an endless array of PHP-based relational web applications and mashups that "almost" work as intended. This is not altogether a positive thing when one contemplates Web 2.0 in the learning organization, whether it be a university or a corporation.

Nevertheless, the basic functions of the Web 2.0 applications and their underlying philosophy are invaluable, and the companies that are able to employ the underlying architecture and philosophy of user-generated content, modification, sharing, and deployment will have significant success. This is the case not only because their solutions are effective and cost-efficient, but also because their employees, especially those who are a part of the "gamer" generation, are comfortable with Web 2.0 approaches to computing and communicating.

An example of this is Eedo Knowledgeware, a provider of learning and knowledge management systems. Eedo's approach has been in direct contrast with the course management systems such as Blackboard and the early WebCT solutions which originated in the old "Web Course in A Box" environment of the 1990s when elearning was evolving from lab and CD-ROM-deployed computer-based learning. Certainly Blackboard has tried to make itself open enough to be integrated with relational databases and content management solutions, but, as any IT director can tell you, doing so has not been pretty.

Eedo allows companies to develop in-house online training solutions which can be developed, modified, and deployed in many sets of circumstances and situations.

For the most part, the online training environment is not an open one. Most often, the material is hosted on an intranet, rather than the internet, which can be accessed from outside computers, but only if they have the proper type of software (generally a "thin client" solution).

The fact that the training programs and employee information must be kept on secure servers in an intranet may confuse some individuals who have not been exposed to the new ways in which the positive aspects of Web 2.0 can be built into the solution.

Built for Controlled Flow and Managed Growth.

Eedo Knowledgeware has largely avoided the "in a box" problem because their solution was built for sharing from the very beginning. The core solution comes in the form of Eedo's flagship product, its ForceTen learning and content management solution.

Web-browser based: Perhaps the first thing that sets ForceTen apart is the fact that it is web-browser based. The collaborative authoring function is consequently accessible anywhere, anytime, with no need for plug-ins.

Collaborative, with Version Control: While most learning platforms allow multiple people to have authoring rights to a course, instead of creating a harmonious work environment, what often happens is that people author over each other, and the end result is something more like a free-for-all wiki than a smoothly functioning virtual factory, with clear workflow and quality assurance. Eedo's Workflow capability allows multiple individuals to author content and add it to a course. The sequence is clearly defined, with version control. Further, there are points along the way for sign-offs and quality assurance. In this manner, quality assurance can occur as a formative process, rather than a summative evaluation long after the fact. Subject matter experts, e-learning instructional designers and IT specialists will understand immediately how valuable is Eedo's Workflow engine within ForceTen. Workspace is a web-based collaborative development and project management facility available in ForceTen that builds on, but goes beyond, mere workflow management. Project managers can establish roles, security, content distribution and workflow related to a specific project within a particular “workspace.” Workspace is the basis for supporting the inherently multi-disciplinary and collaborative nature of learning content development.

Content Management In A Controlled, Secure Environment: One of the most exciting aspects of ForceTen is its content management system which can be used by developers and by end-users (students) alike. In the past, objects and content had to be copied and placed into each section of the course. As a result, content was often out of date, which, in the case of training that involved time-sensitive information, could be disastrous. ForceTen's content management system uses a Web 2.0 approach, which is to say that the applications are integrated and they pull from a central repository, rather than being duplicated and housed in individual course shells. Items are assembled dynamically. Eedo's content management function even integrates well with open-source learning management solutions such as Moodle.

Scalable: The fact that individuals can contribute to a single, centralized content management system, and that ForceTen allows reusing templates, modules, and other aspects of the architecture, means that courses can be created and added easily. More importantly, the object-oriented, dynamically assembled content means that adding users and course sections is a simple task. Companies that find themselves faced with the task of quickly training a large number of new employees or team-members are able to accomplish this task efficiently.

User-Generated Content Across the Organization. Using the Storyboard function, team members (users) can create user-generated content, modify the content of others, integrate new designs and templates, and incorporate information from corporate databases. Not only does this save time, it also allows an object-oriented approach, in which content can be reused.

The "Viral Video" Energy in a Controlled Environment. Web 2.0 is an exciting environment where ideas and images rapidly disseminate. This type of enthusiastic buzz is often completely lost in the rigid environment of the typical learning management system. However, Eedo's Workflow and Storyboard encourage innovation and sharing. Team members can send each other notices and updates -- they are instantaneous. A sense of excitement and esprit de corps can quickly flare up and help create true "authoring communities" which transcend barriers of culture, language, and distance. Working in such an environment creates a strong sense of affiliation and helps in the long run develop a solidly shared vision and sense of mission.

Success Stories.

Not surprisingly, Eedo Knowledgeware has a host of success stories and satisfied users, which is, frankly, quite unusual in today's environment in which corporate and organizational change manage to sabotage even the most well-meaning learning management system provider or content solution provider.

Eedo Knowledgeware is being used successfully by large corporations (banks, manufacturing, service providers), by colleges and universities (graduate programs, training providers), government entities (military, social services), and more.

Challenges and Opportunities.

Needless to say, with every wonderful solution come a few possible stumbling blocks. Eedo's ease of use and ability to incorporate distributed users (authoring, quality assurance, etc.) may require a bit more leadership from the company, and a clearly defined vision in order to make sure that the workflows are well-organized.

At the same time, the opportunities to improve processes within an organization using Eedo products are significant.

Temptation to repurpose and reuse bad content. How many times do companies decide to digitize old training tapes and make them available through their online training? It's a shortcut that seems good at the time, but it can put a halt to real learning, as students become passive. However, Eedo can solve the problem for clients who will take the time to really review the objects in their learning object repository. Eedo's Workflow allows for quality control.

Temptation to eliminate solid instructional design. Eedo makes it easy for corporations to produce content. However, they may be tempted to take shortcuts and avoid solid instructional design. This problem can be avoided, however, by using Eedo’s reusable cluster templates.

Over-reliance on storyboarding, animated powerpoints, and simulations. Simulations and animated powerpoints are effective in moderation. However, they must be designed well, and punctuated by assessment and learning reviews. Otherwise, there is no assurance whatsoever that learning is taking place. The training provider needs to be sure to not stop once the content is developed. Assessment and evaluation tools (which Eedo provides) and reporting should be incorporated in the course.

Discussion boards as learning occasions overlooked. Corporate training seems to shy away from collaborative learning, even easy-to-implement asynchronous means such as discussion boards. Eedo could provide guided solutions for effective asynchronous collaborative learning. Eedo has an answer in the works and has recently added a digital portfolio which allows for collaboration.

Corporations need learning program evaluation. Colleges and universities are often forced to do self-studies and self-review in order to obtain and retain accreditation. Training programs have no such pressure, usually. As a result, they may be working in a vacuum. This represents an opportunity for the learning organization.

A survey capability has been built into Forceten to collect end-user feedback, or feedback from trainees’ supervisors or managers. Also, there is a toolset to create assessments using a wide variety of item formats, and it is possible to manage tests and test item pools, and evaluate tests.

Sadly, few organizations avail themselves of these features and specialist knowledge is still needed to interpret the analyses ForceTen can provide. Failure to evaluate the quality of learning assessments is common across organizations. Consequently, it is possible to be mistaken about what learners are actually taking away from a course or training program.

Web 2.0 is a Philosophy

One can argue that the Web 2.0 philosophy has been around since the inception of intranets. Technical limitations and human perversity created an openness backlash after the crash and the proliferation of hackers, con artists, and people behaving badly under assumed identities. However, the benefits of openness, information sharing, networking, and collaboration have always outweighed the bad, and Eedo, dedicated to an "enlightened path," represents that type of company that will simultaneously pioneer and guide organizations in a way that fully utilizes the tools available now and in the future.

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