Make me content

Make me content

Little, Bob

Bob Little reports on the debate over learning content management (LCM) at the eLearning Network.

Views were divided at a recent meeting of the elearning Network (ELN), on the value of learning content management (LCM). LogicaCMG’s Adam Woods introduced the topic by asking: “Is content management another piece of e-hype, which did this industry a lot of damage, or are we going to have to take to notice of it?”

LCM is a process by which an organisation collects, organises, approves and makes available all the content related to an online, self-paced course or other electronic learning resource. LCM includes bespoke courseware, such as Flash and Dreamweaver; learning content management systems (LCMS) and third party authorised content.

“LCM becomes important when manual content management approaches become unwieldy,” said Bruce Duff of Pathlore. “That can happen when there are too many courses, too many learning objectives, multiple authors of learning materials, complex review and approval processes and ongoing course maintenance and renewal. LCM is also important where learning content can’t be easily used and repurposed through the organisation; where there is no ability to find and retrieve the work of others, and where content can’t be easily secured and shared.”

“An LMS manages learners, keeping track of their progress and performance across various training activities,” he added. “An LCMS manages content or learning objects with a view to serving them to the right people and at the right time. An enterprise content management system (ECMS) provides the ability to access and manage all types of content created by a variety of authors and publish the most appropriate content to the right user at the right time.”

Currently, there are 26 LCMS vendors across the world. All of these vendors’ systems claim to be interoperable with third party LMS; 81 per cent claim LMS functionality as part of their system, but only 54 per cent have successfully gone through interoperability tests with the leading LMS products. The major LCMS in the world today are:

* SumTotal Enterprise Suite (from SumTotal)

* Generation 21 Enterprise (from Generation 21) which is sold exclusively in the US

* ForceTen (from Eedo Knowledgeware Corporation)

* Evolution/ Trainersoft (products from OutStart)

* Performance (from the Online Courseware Factory)

* Intellinex Learning Technologies (from Intellinex, a spin-off from the consulting firm Ernst & Young)

Typically, an LCMS uses a proprietary multi-user authoring technology. It can create a ‘silo’ – a place where there is lots of information but no one knows what is in there or can get it out – within the training department. Moreover, LCMS have the reputation of being expensive and benefiting relatively few people within an organisation.

An alternative to the LCMS is an enterprise content management system (ECMS). Market analysts Meta Group suggest that the ECMS market is currently worth £1.3bn in software and £4bn in services. Meta Group has also revealed that the ECMS industry is growing at some 15 per cent per year and its market leaders are Documentum, IBM and FileNet.

An ECMS concentrates on content. This includes structured content (such as spreadsheets); semistructured content (such as e-mail, which has some common data – such as who sent and received the message, but also data that it is harder to categorise, such as the contents of each message), and unstructured content – which comprises over 80 per cent of information within a typical enterprise.

“An ECMS has a lot of ‘boxes covered’. You can do everything with an authoring tool, LMS and ECIVIS,” said Duff. “You don’t need an LCMS.”

“An LMS is key when complex LCMS needs exist and there is no ECMS option available,” he added. “As both content and industry regulations increase, compliance officers will demand single repository platforms to reduce risk – because this will provide consistency, efficiency, accuracy and so on.”

Steven Shaw, chief learning officer of Eedo Knowledgeware Corporation – a LCMS company based in the US but with offices in Canada and sales offices in Germany and the UK – believes that the current low degree of adoption of LCMS is due to:

* A lack of awareness of LCMS technology.

* Failure to understand the benefits of an LCMS.

* The prevailing pricing model, which suggests that only organisations with large scale business problems can justify the cost of an LCMS.

“The market tends to see buying and applying ‘technology’ as the solution to its needs,” said Shaw. “In reality, it doesn’t work that way. You need to develop a strategy and develop metadata that allows you to search for data before you think about using an LCMS.”

Shaw offered some examples of business problems where an LCMS could be of benefit:

* Where the time and cost to develop and deploy new content or revise existing content is too high, in terms of ‘time to market’ or ‘knowledge gaps’.

* Where content is not localised to the requirements of different audiences.

* Where there is no support for the distributed nature of development (Shaw pointed out that developing training materials is a collaborative process where all involved have to communicate yet, typically, authoring tools are ‘stand alone’ pieces of software. An LCMS not only allows people to communicate but also manages their work to help it achieve a higher quality).

* Where it is necessary to manage complex intellectual property or regulatory issues (Shaw said that manual processes are costly and error-prone, while the cost of non-compliance is prohibitive.).

* Where there are problems associated with the participation of multiple teams or vendors in content development.

* Where there is a need for ‘bridge training’ – that is, having produced a course to train a group of people, that course is updated and used to train new recruits. However, there is also a need to identify and then re-train those who underwent the original course.

* Where there is a lack of association between competencies and the resources for learning (Shaw said that, typically, HR systems concentrate on ‘competencies’, while LCMS typically look at learning resources.).

* Where there is no relationship between business goals and individuals/organisational performance (Shaw said that training is almost always seen as a cost – thus the decision to use an LCMS is based on its cost rather than the benefits it can bring. The problem is that no relationships have ever been established between business goals and the performance of individuals and organisations, he added.).

“An LCMS is only an ‘enabler technology’,” said Shaw. “A successful LCM strategy should take account of the existing technology infrastructure, architecture, standards and policies. It should also take account of the organisation’s culture and history; identify risks; consider the business’ goals and the current operating environment, as well as various business models.”

Delegates to the ELN meeting also saw demonstrations of LCMS from Dr Kevin Palmer, director of Salford City Learning Centre (CLCNet) who was helped by Dan Sivak and Darren Wallace of CDSM Interactive Solutions and Steve Walmsley, project director for the High Level Skills for Industry (HLSI) Project. The HLSI Project – based in the Yorkshire & Humberside region but now with links throughout the UK – has pioneered the use of a digital repository and authoring tools to enable subject specialists, lecturers, trainers and teachers to create digital learning content, targeted to meet demand-led learning.

Mike Alcock, of Atlantic Link demonstrated how his company’s customers, including Next Directory and Sainsbury’s Bank, are using content management tools contained in the Microsoft .Net framework. Alcock said: “This framework is changing the way online content can be created, accessed, delivered and content managed. With the Microsoft .Net framework, it is now possible to develop ‘intelligent’ Windows clients that connect directly to an e-learning server via web services. This architecture turns the traditional e-learning production model on its head, allowing courses to be published and amended from any PC and web browser anywhere in the world.”

The eLearning Network is a non-profit making organisation run by learning professionals.

See www.elearningnetwork.org

Copyright Bizmedia Ltd. Mar 2005

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