aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Archive for May, 2010

Learning Networking, PHP, and SQL

Posted by Ellen on May 24, 2010

Once upon a time there was a former association education director with a background in instructional design and online learning development. She and her husband (a former college instructor and electronics trainer) volunteered to serve on a committee to  help the group update its wi-fi system and Web site by creating a password-protected gateway that could be monitored for excessive bandwidth use.

Eager to learn and participate, the couple sat in on a brief orientation about how the wi-fi network was set up but before they could fully engage in the task at hand, politics intervened. The committee chair (and holder of most knowledge about the system) was suddenly cut out of the loop by the group’s president, who brought in a relative to take on the task.

To make a long story short, the couple — still willing to help, though a little more cautious about how they might go about it — poured over various texts and how-to manuals, purchasing a few with their own money to study up on networking, system hacking, databases, and database languages.

So much to learn! So little time!

Pouring over the books and talking with each other was helping them get a foothold in the subjects, and their mentor helped as much as he could. Not only was he retired and on the move, he was understandably less motivated after being abruptly ejected from his seat as chair on the committee.

What the couple really wanted, but couldn’t find, was a series of quick but solid online tutorials on the topics they needed to learn.


Informal learning was all well and good, but they would have been learning so much more efficiently if a basic course could have helped point them to the best starting block, led them through the fundamentals, and pointed them down the road, so the questions they would have asked their mentor could have been more helpful for all of them.

Alas. No courses. Someone, somewhere, had decided that all that was needed was a network of contacts and a set of questions. Our learning, it was presumed, would occur in the give-and-take of that social environment. Supplemented with a few chapters in the books, maybe.

Isn’t this what we’re hearing around us? That the course is dead, that social networking is all we need? MariAn at Designing Impact seems to think so.

I disagree. I’ve been saying this for some time — and will continue to say it — that sometimes a course is EXACTLY what you need.

Sometimes you have to get some basic understanding into your brain before you can even form the questions you’d ask an expert.

Sometimes the experts get tired of answering the same basic questions over and over.

Sometimes a book just isn’t enough. Maybe it’s just me, but although techies are great at some things, writing generally isn’t one of them.

Sometimes what you really need is a course.

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Trends, Justifying aLearning, Online Learning in General | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Free LMS Comparison Template

Posted by Ellen on May 22, 2010

You can thank Craig Weiss at the E-Learning 24/7 blog for this great tool — he’s created an easily adaptable Excel sheet for comparing various LMS products and their features.

His blog post explaining the sections and using the sheet are here.

If you’re not using a matrix or comparison sheet of some sort, you should be. As Craig says, you need to be able to compare apples to apples or you won’t be able to make a fair choice, and could end up getting lured by some fancy-shmancy feature set you don’t need, probably won’t use, and will cost you extra buckolahs.

So use his or adapt it completely for your own project, but for heaven’s sake, use something!!

Posted in aLearning Strategies, eLearning Resources, LMS | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Learning from the Amish

Posted by Ellen on May 10, 2010

My attraction to the Amish goes back a long way and is fairly complex — maybe it’s an admiration of a lifestyle that demands skills I’ve never excelled at (cooking, sewing, gardening are among the responsibilities women shoulder in among the Amish) or their aversion to “modern” things like electricity and cars. Maybe their ability to live hard lives comfortably is what inspires me. It’s hard to say.

In “Why Amish Businesses Don’t Fail,” Geoff Williams summarizes research by Elizabethtown College professor Donald Kraybill, who found that 95% of Amish businesses succeed past that critical 5-year mark. This is far above the national average, which “hovers just under 50%.”

When you consider that most Amish attend school through the eighth grade then quit to devote themselves to families, farms, and businesses, this accomplishment is even more noteworthy. We’d all be hard-pressed to find a better example of the power of informal learning.

Being true to what they are good at and know is key to their success, reports Williams. Focusing on quality workmanship (whether it’s furniture or baked goods or any other product) has always been their trademark (I can vouch for this, as much of the furniture we had was Amish-made — beautiful and durable!).  

Cooperation and hard work are ingrained in Amish culture. Competition — at least to us outsiders — doesn’t exist. Communities thrive because the focus is on “us,” not on “me” or “my family” or “my business.”

“Networking through Facebook doesn’t exactly have the same community-building pull as teaming up with neighbors to build a barn…” says Erik Wesner, author of Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive.

Is your association focused enough on

  • providing what you know and do best?
  • making sure everything you do is of the highest quality?
  • cooperation rather than competition?
  • working hard enough for your members?
  • finding ways BEYOND the Internet to increase member involvement?
  • creating a fertile environment for informal learning?

Or are you too caught up in trying to save or make money? Too obsessed with how social networking can increase attendance at events to expand or improve your products and services?

What can you learn from what the Amish are doing right to increase your level of success?

Posted in aLearning Strategies, Learning in General | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

LMS Resources

Posted by Ellen on May 8, 2010

I know, I know. You don’t have time for all of this. You need an LMS and you have a teeny tiny amount of time to spend figuring it all out.

Resist the temptation to skim the surface!! Several studies have revealed that at least HALF of the organizations that invested in an LMS were at least somewhat dissatisfied with their selection! Many orgs find themselves having to pay more than they anticipated to add or change features they thought they were already getting or in the configurations they needed.

One way to reduce the risk that will happen to you is to go into the process as informed as you can be. To help make your search for info more efficient, I’ve compiled a list of blogs/posts with super info on LMSes and LCMSes, and welcome suggestions for others.

Starting Points

A great place to start with a broad picture of LMSes is Connie Malamed’s eLearning Coach interview with Tom Werner of Brandon Hall Research, “Learning Management Systems: Expert Advice.”  

ASTD offers this “Field Guide to Learning Management Systems.”

Choosing an LMS? Lots of resources on this one (a Google search will give you even more):

This TrainingForce post lists basic steps for the LMS process overall as well as some guidelines for what to include in the RFP.

From a techie’s point of view, see “1o Things to Consider Before Choosing an LMS” by Dave Mozealous, an Articulate quality assurance guru.

The E-Learning 24/7 Blog: The Truth and Realities of E-Learning, written by Craig Weiss, elearning and training development specialist and consultant, is a constant source of great info on LMSes. He has so much helpful info on this topic, it’s hard to select just a few posts, but these might be of particular interest include:

If you’re trying to figure out whether to host your system inside your firewall or have it hosted via the Web, “SAAS LMSs and Vendor Client Lists Questions” is essential reading. 

Looking for ideas on defining your requirements?

Here’s an example of how consultants at Managers Forum assisted some clients in separating what they “needed” from what would be “nice to have.”

And be sure to take a look at Tony Karrer’s “Rapid LMS: eLearning Technology” post in the eLearning Technology blog. His series on LMS RFPs is required reading! Start here:

Considering Open Source?

A history of Moodle and its incremental growth can be found in the Donald Clark Plan B blog.

Craig Weiss at the E-Learning 24/7 Blog posted his take on the “Pros and Cons on Moodle.” 

And Craig gives us some Open Source LMS options other than Moodle, too.

For general info about open source options, see:

Keeping in mind that UpsideLearning wants to sell you their own LMS, Amit Gautam’s post on “The Real Cost of a Free (Open Source) LMS!” raises some important concerns that you need to weigh before you jump headlong into Moodle or other open source options. Amit knows LMSes — making the Upside Learning Solutions Blog one of my regular reads.

Another blog with some thoughtful advice about open source options (and from another LMS vendor’s point of view, so take that into consideration as you read) is Manish Gupta’s “When or When Not to Use Open Source LMS?” at the G-Cube Solutions blog.

More Helpful LMS Blogs!

Looking for more LMS-oriented blogs? Amit Gautam has his own list of  Top 13 LMS and Learning Technology Blogs (and we’re pleased that aLearning made this list!).

Resist the temptation to take shortcuts by skimming past the great info that’s out there. Make sure you’re not one of those dissatisfied LMS clients — go into the process as knowledgeable and prepared as you can be!

Posted in aLearning Strategies, Blogroll, eLearning Resources, LMS | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Brandon Hall Announces Excellence in Learning Technology Winners

Posted by Ellen on May 5, 2010

If you’re feeling a little uncomfortable with your reliance on one product or company over another, and you’re wondering where to find reputable, reliable alternatives, Brandon Hall Research should be on your list of places to check.

How timely that they’ve just announced their first Learning Technology winners, right during the aLearning Blog’s series on LMS and LCMS options! Recognizing the “best in commercial learning technology,” the sixteen categories are comprehensive yet varied — ranging from simulations/game development to analytics.

A few categories are of particular interest to alearning, including awards for Best Advance in

  • Learning Management Technology for Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses
  • Social Learning Technology
  • Technology for Rapid Authoring
  • Technology for Virtual Classroom Training or Conferencing

This last category is probably of particular interest. Of the following, which would you consider to be the best?

  • Cisco WebEx Trainig Center
  • Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro
  • Elluminate Live! V9.5
  • Skillsoft’s Live Learning


You’ll probably be surprised to see which product won! Check out the results here:

Posted in aLearning Strategies, aLearning Trends, eLearning Resources, LMS, Social Learning, Webinars | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »