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Friday, February 20, 2004

Integrate Process-Model Support and Enterprise LMS

by Gary J. Dickelman, May 2005

Integrating a process model-driven toolset into the content development arsenal of an LMS or LCMS provides manifold benefits.

A process model-driven (workflow) toolset based on business process capture improves business and human performance in the context of computer-mediated work. This is precisely what enables Workflow Learning. Such toolsets include a range of commercially available products, from low-end simulation generators (Macromedia Captivate, Global Knowledge’s Firefly, OnDemand Software’s Personal Navigator, Epiplex’s epiSimDoc module, Datango and others) to higher-end technologies that capture much more than is required for simulations. The latter provide capabilities for embedded coaching, business process tracking, business process improvement, process integration, stealth knowledge management and more. This range of tools includes RockeTools’ ActiveGuide, ThinkSmartPS’s 2Work!EPSS, Epiance’s BPI Suite, Above All Sofware, Beyond Software, WorkSoft’s Certify and more.

Three key advantages of including such tools in an LMS / LCMS are rapid simulation developers, new technologies that embrace business process improvement and generally expand the “Quality” toolset and those emerging tools that enable a range of knowledge management capabilities toward the semantic web. Details:

  1. Clearly the most popular form of elearning for computer-mediated work is simulation. A tool that can rapidly capture end-user business processes and auto-generate animation, simulation and related documentation would provide clear benefits to any organization making an LMS investment.

· An LMS is useless absent content to manage. Rapid development tools are therefore a plus.

· Rapid development tools that are integrated directly into the LMS in terms of object type, segmentation, assembly, reuse (e.g. SCORM) provide further advantages in terms of reduced development and maintenance time and increasing the effectiveness of the learning experience.

· A current trend is toward workflow-based, performance-centered assessment and learning. In other words, many knowledge worker tasks are workflow-based, so we must first establish taxonomies of business processes against which the organization can assess knowledge gaps. The LMS would then manage delivery of need-to-know interventions that are specific to individuals and, therefore, enable faster time-to-competency. These performance-centered design (PCD) tools, by their very nature, are workflow-centric and usually gap-analytic.

· Generally speaking, assessment is the weakest segment of the elearning development lifecycle (it is, at best, a lower-case E in the ADDIe process (analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation). Those tools that include remote capture would therefore provide an enormous benefit in terms of continuous assessment of learner populations and deployed solutions as well as a more efficient means of conducting formative evaluation during the elearning development cycle. Remote capture does not disturb workers as we capture and analyze.

· Other eLearning development tools that are part of an LMS suite could benefit greatly from process capture tools via an API or directly embedding them into the tool. This could server to reduce development and maintenance cycles.

· The extension of simulation-based learning interventions to contextualized, blended interventions (including coaches and other forms of performance support combined with simulations) provide further benefits to the LMS licensee.

  1. The general trend is toward more performance-centered and workflow approaches to learning. Performance improvement expands the boundaries of investigation to find root causes of performance deficiencies that may be outside of the realm of learning gaps. A significant component of performance improvement is evaluating workers’ business processes and improving them through Quality methods, the most popular of which at the moment is Six Sigma. Unfortunately, the state-of-the-practice is mostly through face-to-face activities such as contextual interviews and observations that are extremely labor-intensive and expensive.

· On the other hand, such performance support tools embrace a technology-centered approach to performance improvement through business process improvement. The conventional Quality tools – check sheets, Pareto charts, Ishikawa diagrams, histograms and the like – are inherent in the various capture-based suites through, for example, remote capture and analysis features. The basic data that are collected via remote capture and the supplied queries and functions provide, at the most fundamental level, a Quality toolkit around business process improvement.

· Of great benefit to organizations that invest in an LMS would be to have a business process improvement suite as an integral component. The reason why there is a trend toward performance improvement in the learning sciences is because it is recognized that merely recording the volumes of so-called graduates of courseware via an LMS does nothing to measure how the organization is benefiting or improving. We might as well weigh all of the learners and record the total as a (worthless) measure of LMS effectiveness. On the other hand, measuring how well business processes are supported from a Quality perspective and correlating this with the frequency that learning interventions are created to close gaps and their effectiveness at closing them would add a powerful dimension to the LMS. Specifically, it would significantly enhance the return on investment and general business case around licensing and maintaining an LMS.

  1. Another rapidly emerging trend is personalized or ontology-driven knowledge management. The Semantic Web is a vision articulated by many, most notably Tim Berners-Lee, the original architect of the Web. The machine-readable view of the semantic web is for automation, integration and reuse of information and knowledge across applications. It is also about intelligent agents manipulating and retrieving information to make it more relevant to the context and person who is searching and learning. Additional views of the semantic web include a means to apply web services toward making information actionable (i.e., turning it into knowledge) for the person solving a specific problem at a specific time and understanding that individual’s context.

· The accepted building blocks of the semantic web begin with XML and proceed in layers to include XML Schema, Resource Description Framework (RDF), RDF Schema, Ontology, Logic and Proof and finally Security and Trust.

· An LMS that supports SCORM or AICC is nothing more than an early step toward the semantic web, as these emerging models are nothing more than XML Schema for reuse in relation to learning.

· For an LMS (or LCMS) to be poised for the semantic web revolution, it must at the very least sit on a foundation of XML, XML Schema and support metadata that says “anything about anything” (i.e., RDF and RDF Schema).

· Such performance support tools are often built on such a foundation. They will not only complement that of an LMS or LCMS, but are poised to become the foundation that informs ontology.

· breakSo the benefit to an LMS licensee is huge for forward thinking organizations. The semantic web is about knowledge representation that considers the searcher/learner and what he or she knows and does not know, the context of the problems that inform learning - most notably business process - and a machine’s ability to manage the process and deliver what is needed at the time of need (to borrow an old phrase).

The three areas of benefits discussed above were couched in terms of the organization that licenses the LMS or LCMS. Clearly, the benefit to the LMS or LCMS vendor of including process capture-based performance support / workflow learning tools - as integral to its toolset with respect to simulation, learning evaluation, performance improvement and semantic web - are enormous. As the realities of current LMS and LCMS deficiencies continue to surface, they are more and more evolving toward commodities. That is probably why there is a flurry of activity around adding components like content development tools, human resources management features (e.g., performance management and career development). The problem is that none of these are really making a difference. Licensing is flat, there are fewer discriminators and, generally, the playing field is becoming quite level. I would argue that the three major benefits afforded by including a process model-driven performance-centered toolset in an LMS or LCMS suite could inform a tipping point, in the language of Malcolm Gladwell. Of course, if you share the mindset of the Workflow Institute, you’d have realized that in a blink of the eye.

© 2005 EPSScentral LLC, Annandale, Virgina


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