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The Rise of the Web Page for e-Learning

I had not heard from one of my favorite clients in over a year. He had taken a new position in Philadelphia and I was still in Chicago. The virtual office revolution was still very young. “Hey Jim, do you know of any tools for making CBT (computer-based training) with PowerPoint?” It was 2001 and I did not. I was using Visual Basic and other tools to create highly-customized learning, as well as just getting into HTML web pages for learning delivery over that new thing called the Internet.

I checked in with him the next year and he had found a way to add quizzes to PowerPoint decks, and that was just fine with him. He was more than happy to move away from highly-customized online training and add quizzes to decks he created with PowerPoint. Why? He could do it himself without specialized skills. More importantly, it was crazy easy.

While I was not a fan of online learning being boiled down to quizzes and bullet points, I did take away one revelation from my conversations with this client. The slide was going to win as the basis for e-Learning. You need to understand that during this period, that was very much in doubt. The e-Learning page paradigm could have evolved into the tabbed help file or the screen recorded movie or one scrolling web page or the highly-branched Hypercard stack or any number of paradigms being used. But I knew it would be the PowerPoint slide. It was crazy easy and most everybody already used PowerPoint.

Here comes mobile

Fast forward about 10 years to 2010. The slide as e-Learning basis was quite mature and great tools had been created to make the slide highly interactive. However, there was a huge issue looming. A few years back, smartphones started being released, and now practically everyone was walking around with a computer and Internet connection in their pockets. The slide as basis for e-Learning does not look good on those small devices.

Therefore, I set out on the task of making a tool that would work on these small devices. By 2013, I had cobbled together enough open source content management (CMS) functionality and learning widgets to have a pretty good solution. The best thing is that it was free. This could be my contribution to the profession. I traveled to the Mobile Learning conference in San Jose to show what I had. After much publicity effort on my part, I had three people show up to my introduction of using a free, mobile solution for e-Learning. I did not feel so bad after I was one of only five people that attended the Tin Can API tool demo. I spent the rest of the conference talking to participants in small groups and one-on-one about what I could do better next time. I received great feedback and I walked away with two overriding impressions. First, 2013 was still early for mobile learning. Second, whenever the industry was ready to move learning onto small devices, it would need to be crazy easy.

Articulate Rise

Fast forward to 2017 and I had spent the last few years enjoying taking my mobile toolset to several clients and using variations of that solution. During various ad hoc projects, I used the popular e-Learning tools as well and enjoyed watching learning technology get so much better than that PowerPoint plug-in that my client used to make quizzes back in 2002.

 That plug-in quiz maker, of course, was Articulate, and in 2017 they released Rise as a part of their Articulate 360 subscription suite of tools. As most tool makers were creating ways to handle device display variations within their slide-based tools, Articulate decided to create a separate tool to handle the issue. What Articulate created was a tool that creates great e-Learning for optimal display on any device. And … it is crazy easy. I just spent the last two months putting together a 35-module curriculum for the hot topic of predictive analytics. The whole development effort went off without a hitch and it looks fantastic. It’s not without irony that the company that cemented the slide as the basis for learning technology delivery will be the one to change that to the web page. You see Rise has moved away from slide-based development and uses the web page as its paradigm. In general, web page development for learning solutions is done through making rows of content that respond to the device display through fluid rendering of the content. (I promise not to get more technical than that!)

Here are some statistics about Rise (as of March 2018)

  • 7 pre-built lesson types that include:
    • Quizzes (of course!)
    • Process
    • Timeline
    • Labeled graphic
    • Sorted activity
  • Row-based custom-built pages (called blocks) that include:
    • 20 different ways to include text and bullet lists
    • 8 ways to include images, including text overlay
    • Audio/video widgets
    • Pre-built accordions, tabs, flip cards and button links
  • Storyline inclusion
    • Of course, you can include a Storyline-created interaction

All of this is done while ensuring everything just works on all devices. For example, if you add more tabs than can be displayed across your portrait-based phone display, you can swipe to see remaining tabs. In the sorting activity, Rise will not let you add more sorting categories (four) than can be displayed on small devices. When you answer a question in a quiz, the display will be auto-scrolled to the feedback, so you don’t have to go hunting for it. This is intelligent design and UX (user experience) that has not been commonly encountered in learning technology over the past two decades. Because Articulate is setting a new quality standard, they are ensuring that from this point forward, the web page will evolve into the new basis for e-Learning development.

I’m not saying this is a change that will happen overnight.  One issue with web page paradigm adoption is changing the hearts and minds of the tool users. Training folks can be very set in their ways and most really like to dabble in screen design and UX. While it’s a topic for another time, learning personnel should really stick to their expertise and leave building user interfaces (UI) to experts. Articulate knows that and has pre-baked great UI into Rise. Some will want Articulate to add more flexibility into this arena, and I trust Articulate to keep UI development for the experts within the Rise development team.

Web page paradigm evolution will happen, though. Here’s how I know. The basis for most slide tools is going away. Adobe announced it will stop updating Flash in 2020. Flash is how most slide-based tools delivered their output over the past 15 years. Most importantly, keyboards and mice, input devices, that have been a part of our computers since forever it seems, are going away. In the future, you will only input data or navigate via your touch, voice and sight. Most learning will be done through tap and swipe gestures in the not so distant future. Our tools must change accordingly.

Because technology changes, how we deliver training must change. We will always follow what is crazy easy. Tablets have made life easier for slide delivery. Tools that try to squish the slide content into various device sizes make life easier. But not crazy easy. It’s time for me to touch base with my old client and tell him welcome to the Rise of the web page as the basis for e-Learning.

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The Society of Actuaries (SOA) e-Learning program is both unique and successful from the perspectives of a wide variety of stakeholders -- from the board of directors to the candidate learners and their employers.  We value Jim's consulting, work and partnership in making highly regarded e-Learning at the SOA a reality!

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Jim Hicks

Bloomington, IN
Chicago, IL
Milwaukee, WI