Apples and Oranges: How Tablets are Affecting E-Learning

For over 10 years,  I have been working with teams that develop interactive e-learning modules using Flash technology, and I am far from being the only one.

Recently, our clients have increasingly been acquiring tablets, and the majority of them have opted for the iPad. Of course, the common question that pops up is: “Why can I not view the e-learning modules on my iPad”.

The technical explanation is because Apple iPad decided not to support Adobe Flash on its device. We explain to our clients that this was a very controversial decision, but that it was defended by Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs who sees HTML5 as the future of the interactive Web.  At first, this was regarded as an unwise move on their part, but one which does not seem to have affected their sales. There have been attempts to create applications to allow Flash content to be viewed on iPads, but we have not tested this yet with our content.

We also explain that, for the moment, there are tablets that support the Flash Player. This list might not be up to date, as it doesn’t list the BlackBerry Playbook, which supports Flash. That said, we have not tested our courses on them all these tablets either, nor can we guarantee that the screen resolution is high enough for the modules. There are also opinions that Flash-based content is not really compatible with tablets.

This explanation, though technically sound and legitimate, does not address the issue that more and more of our clients are acquiring the iPad, as well as other tablets, and would like to view their e-learning modules on them.

Unfortunately, our clients, the learners, are the ones stuck in the middle of this technology battle.

For the last 10 years, the Web has been interactive in large part because of Flash. A huge portion of the interactive e-learning modules segment of the e-learning industry runs on it. Some of the authoring tools created applications in Java or other technology, but they have historically been a smaller segment of the market.

So much like our firm, the industry right now is wondering “What we are going to do in the future?”

And to complicate the issue, last week, our firm had a huge upset in regards to Flash. We received some technical alerts from clients who could not view their e-learning modules, regardless of all the troubleshooting tips we prepared for them. We were finally able to isolate the issue after  extensive research, which is that the latest update of Flash (Flash 10,3,183,5) does not work with our online modules. Adobe has been sending mass updates for its Flash Plug-in, our clients have been installing it and as a result, they cannot view their e-learning modules. We have been working with them to uninstall their Flash Players and revert to an earlier stable version. For most of our clients, this is disconcerting, time consuming, frustratring, and I can understand them.

This whole ordeal was a shock to us, as our Flash-based authoring tool  has been successfully creating e-learning content for over 5 years now. Some research on the Web proved we were not the only ones who pulled our hair out with this update. In fact, the bug reports are increasing on the Adobe forums. The irony in this whole situation is that this Flash Player update fixed a problem with Apple’s Mac Operating System. Ouch!

I am certain this will be resolved soon, as Adobe has no interest in losing its dedicated Flash user base. The future of the interactive Web, according to some experts, is HTML5, though not all experts are in agreement. My opinion is that Adobe Flash is a state of the art technology that not only enabled the Web to be interactive and in-motion, but has grown with the demands of the Web.  As our expert Flash guru and Creative Director Stéphane Richer of Noise Communications points out to us, we have not seen the end of Flash yet.

That said, 3 weeks ago, Adobe launched an HTML 5 Web animation tool, most likely a strategic move to not lose its market share of interactive Web applications.

So getting back to our problem, in the future, we are going to have to consider how we build e-learning applications if we want them to be accessible to our client base. Some online discussions focus on whether or not Adobe Flash is still the appropriate technology for developing e-learning applications.

We will also have to give serious thought in product updates, and if we convert our e-learning module players to HTML5 or create different versions for different platforms. This however means a significant financial investment and I’m sure our firm isn’t the only one facing this issue right now. The bottom line is, no matter what we do, if we do not adapt our technology to meet the client demand, we are not going to be ahead of the game.

Building the Argument for Changes in Enterprise Learning

Today Jay Cross posted his elevator speech on what he does in his post Enterprise learning:

Most of the businesses and governments live in the last century. They cling to industrial-age beliefs that the world is predictable, management has the answers, and workers are under their control. In the real world, no one has the answers, collective intelligence beats top-down decisions, and management’s task is to inspire people rather than tell them what to do.

Corporations need to replace traditional training, knowledge management, and in-house communications with something more informal, interactive, collaborative, self-service, impromptu, and flexible. Instead of pushing content, they need to be facilitating conversation. I try to help them get there.

So what do you do?

I think when Jay asked “what do you do?” he meant, “how do you define yourself”. I could actually steal Jay’s elevator speech because that it pretty much what I do. Or at least what I’d like to be doing more and more of. But I can’t sell a service that people won’t buy, right? So I’m going to interpret it another way. What I do is try not to get discouraged/feel frustrated by those who cling to the industrial-age beliefs and want me to implement top-down learning systems. Don’t get me wrong, I do have some break-throughs, but I find I face so much resistance.

I know there has been a lot of research on why there is so much resistance to change.

Sometimes I wonder if my argument for change is not solid enough.

Perhaps this might help. The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research recently released a report of their research on the use of social media by the Inc 500. I discovered this report via Ross Dawson who writes that “this is one of the first longitudinal studies, showing changes in adoption of social media tools from one year ago”.

In addition, a little over a month ago, Tony Karrer blogged about a Fortune Magazine interview with GE’s CIO who reports that their professional networking site gets 25 million hits per day and is “is becoming sort of a heartbeat of the company”.

There are definitely no lack of arguments for this change.

My concerns are the following:

  • I’ve found I’ve been able to implement change slowly: a little blog here, a little discussion forum there. But is this the most effective way to implement this kind of change?
  • Perhaps eventually they’ll think of a larger scale implementation, but I need to show the results and evaluation is a little trickier in this arena. What are the ways that we can concretely assess success with this type of learning?

I’m curious what kind of arguments and approaches have been successful in helping organizations change. I’d love some feedback.

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