Using a runners motivation to help solve Tin Can Big Data

Early April 2014 saw the eLearning Network run an event on Tin Can (xAPI).  There were some great speakers who created a real buzz around the new technology.

One of the main things that was discussed was Big Data.  Now that Tin Can will give us more flexibility of tracking various learning experiences there will be a lot of ‘data’ coming our way – for example, each learning experience, when and how the learner experiences it, what score they achieved etc.  Andy Wooler of Hitachi Data Systems mentioned that there will even be a requirement for someone in an organisation to be able to make sense of all this data and decide how best to use it.

I came away thinking about this and wondering how learning professionals would be best able to analyse the data coming in to ensure they can make sense of it to better support their staff.

Recently, I bought a Garmin watch to keep track of my running.  For those of you who don’t know, Garmin watches are GPS enabled devices that will track how far you have run, the elevation, your heart rate, your time. the speed at which you are running and even the weather!  All of this data is synced to your personal account which you can play back, compare and track yourself against your goals.

Tracking yourself against your goals….  that sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Thinking more on the subject, there is a lot of data available to me as a runner from such devices, apps and websites but there isn’t anyone ‘actively looking’ at my data and telling me what I need to do to achieve my goals – no, i’m motivated enough to do this myself and i’m sharing this data with others. It’s easy, it works and most of the sites i’ve used look really slick and inviting! Many of the sites provide badges, social sharing and are multi-device.

So what can we do to learn from this?  I think that before we start developing websites, apps or plugins that use Tin Can to track our learners experiences and before we hire expensive data analysis gurus, let’s think about ways to motivate learners to want to analyse their data themselves. They can see how well they are towards their goal, where they need to improve and share their data with peers and potential future employers.  If we can do this in a way that motivates them to use the data themselves then this will go a long way towards making sense of the ‘Big Data’ which is coming our way.

Using tablets to bring face-to-face training into the 21st Century

Face to face training isn’t dead

Over the past few years there has been a lot of hype around Mobile Learning in the workplace.  By developing learning content which is compatible for the learners personal devices, aided by BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), L&D departments can provide their organisation with relevant information where and when they need it.

Whether this new direction has been due to cost measures or technology enhancements, training in the classroom still takes place and shouldn’t be discouraged. Face to face learning, whether this is in the form of coaching, workshops or larger events have room to become more engaging and cost effective.  Introducing the tablet can bring the benefits of Mobile Learning and e-Learning to enhance the classroom experience. Workbooks can be made electronic, quizzes turned interactive and group activities more engaging.

How can the tablet be used as part of the learning experience?

The tablet should be seen more as a ‘tool’ which enables the L&D department to deliver effective and engaging learning.  It should be seen to support the learning process and not complicate it, therefore any features need to be well thought out and not to distract from the learning objective of the session.


Sitting one-to-one with the individual allows personal or professional goals to be reached.  The coach would use a mixture of personal experience with known resources to aid the development process. The tablet becomes a toolkit for the Coach to use in their sessions.  This could be kept with them or shared with the individual depending on the requirement.

Tools and assessments could be added onto the tablet which can be passed to the individual to complete. Profiling or behavioral tools loaded onto the tablet become a useful tool that can be set up quickly when required.

Resources – being able to quickly show the delegate a business model, a video example or a useful article allows the coach to always be equipped with the information they require.  Yes, they could have this in their ‘bag of tricks’ but the tablet is a lot lighter and can play full multi-media resources.  Being connected to the Internet also gives the Coach almost infinite resources available on the web.

Information capture – as the Coach works with the delegate, they can capture various bits of information onto the tablet which can be instantly backed up via dropbox or similar service.

Communication – using Skype, FaceTime or similar allows the coach to carry out their sessions remotely.


Traditional training workshops allow multiple delegates to get together in one physical location and run through a number of subjects by a trainer.   PowerPoint presentations display key information, delegates write notes down in workbooks, refer to handouts and write on flip charts.  You may be lucky to have a session with various break-out activities and role play sessions.

The tablet can aid in a number of these situations;

Interactive workbooks allow the delegate to type notes into their tablet, automatically saving progress as they go, eliminating any requirement for printing.  These can be emailed directly to the delegate after the workshop to continue their learning.

Hand-outs and resources can be added onto the tablet for the delegates to refer to or interact with.  Resources can now be a mixture of video clips, sound recordings, pdf’s or even interactive apps. This again cuts printing costs.

Assessments – Ideally the session would start and end with a pre and post assessment.  By capturing the delegates knowledge (in real time) at the start of the day allows the trainer to tailor their session and add emphasis on certain topics (or people) in order to improve the score in the post assessment.  Various polls or quizzes can be added during the session to provide instant knowledge checks.

Photo & Video apps allow the delegate to capture the sights and sounds that they want to during the day.  This could be a role-play, a well explained description or even just the flip-chart that was used to capture everyones thoughts.

Information gathering using the internet is a valuable resource for the delegate, being able to Google something allows them to research in a controlled environment and present their findings back to the group.


Larger events provide many more challenges – but the tablet can add benefit here too.  As well as all of the features discussed above for workshops, tablets can be used in other ways;

Augmented Reality adds an extra layer of information above the real world.  Aiming the tablet with a particular app over a reference image displays additional information or media such as videos, 3D models or buttons. Products not even released yet can be built in 3D and explored using Augmented Reality. For example, delegates would aim their tablet at a large mat on the floor which would display a full size model of a car.  They are able to walk around this car, change the colour and even trigger animations to show how various parts work.  This can be done without the car even being there.  For smaller budgets, strategically positioned cards can provide the delegate with multiple resources to gain a good idea of the features being talked about.

Polling – as with the example on assessments above, polls can be created to capture real-time information from the delegates.

Presentation Screen – depending on the room setup it could be difficult for the delegate to view the screen.  The tablet could be used to display the presentation, view videos on the device or engage with the delegate (again via polls).  This is useful for large rooms or if a large screen is not available.

Potential Issues

The above sounds great and has worked well in practice. However, there are always going to be challenges that the technology will present.

Cost – This is the biggest factor for introducing tablets into the organisation.  Tablet prices are dropping significantly and when compared with printing costs of workbooks and handouts, the savings start to show.  Especially if workbooks and resources are constantly being updated with new information. Coupled with environmental benefits and the extra engagement of the delegate, a suitable business case can be created.

Distraction – Providing the delegate with an iPad with WiFi access potentially allows them to use it for personal reasons, such as email and social media sites.  By the trainer closely monitoring this, this can be controlled, some tablets can be configured to stop certain sites from being used. Another solution is allowing them to do this in the break sessions provided.

Technical knowledge – You will always have some people who are not able to use technology.  Some prefer a simple pen and paper approach or have never used a tablet.  An introduction to the technology should be explained at the start of the session and alternatives created if required, such as being able to use a note pad to take notes instead of typing on the tablet.  Pairing the delegate with someone who understands the technology is a good idea – this person is usually more than willing to show off their knowledge of the tech.

Battery life – using the tablet all day for various activities drains the battery.  By configuring brightness, syncing and sleep features decrease the drain on the battery.  Ensuring they are charged at the start of the session and having docking stations for multiple day events help eliminate this issue.

Final Say

Over the past year, and as Head of rts eSolutions, I have helped introduce iPads to various workshops and events for clients such as Hyundai, Mazda, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and Kia. I’ve trained multiple trainers on how to use the technology effectively and even taken 40+ iPads through customs.  Although I can see that many people will be wary of introducing such technology into the classroom, my experience has been that it has benefited not only the delegate but also the organisation itself with its various cost cutting benefits and engaging features. Feel free to contact me to find out more.

My thoughts from the Open Source eLearning Network Event

Being my first eln event I was quite skeptical about what to expect.  Over the past couple years I’ve attended eLearning exhibitions such as Learning Technologies and pub meetups with the weelearning clan so it was good to spend some more time with fellow professionals who also understand the complexities and challenges we face in the learning technology world. There were around 40 of us in a church style builidng with a meeting/training room. A very different kind of venue but the studios out the back seemed to be buzzing with activity with a nice court yard and music playing outside.

After a well needed wake up cuppa we were introduced to the topic of the day, Open Source software.  I’m not new to Open Source developments and a keen advocate of wordpress and Moodle but was interested in hearing more about peoples thoughts and experiences of using the various software.  For those who don’t know, open source is software that is built and maintained by a community, rather that one supplier.  Companies are able to download releases of this and host it themselves, or with a dedicated supplier (which they can chose from many).  One of the many advantages of it are that because you have access to the code, you are able to effectively do what with it as you please, so if you don’t like something, change it. No waiting for your software supplier to provide an update or paying lots of money to have it implemented when their time schedule allows it. All this sounds well and good, but what about the support? With all of the big players, i.e. WordPress, Joomla and Moodle to name a few, there are communities of dedicated individuals oline who will happily help develop features, plugins and release it back into the community. For more features of open source, see this great video from Doug Belshaw.

So back to the day in hand, Mark Aberdour from Epic introduced us to some popular Open Source software ranging from CamStudio for capturing your screen to Moodle, a full blown LMS mainly used in the educational sector.  His slides are shared on SlideShare.  One I want to check out is using Sigil & Calibre to author eBooks – could be a great option for our iPad based learning. BigBlueButton also looks promising as a virtual classroom tool. Adobe Photoshop alternative GIMP was also featured – although i’m dubious of what the mask tool looks like in that…

Next was Barry from Onlignment giving us a great run down of using Open Source LMS’s.  Barry provided a lot of personal experience of consulting on projects and emphasising on gathering requirements and ensuring these match with the clients needs. This was closely followed with a Q&A session with the panel.

After lunch we had a brief demo from Julian Tenney, from the University of Nottingham, of their elearning authoring tool called Xerte. Although mainly used in the educational sector I feel it certainly has legs in the corporate sector. Especially being able to use css to change the look and feel, corporate clients are a lot more wary of this.  There are certainly a lot of components that can be used to allow the educator to get their message across in an engaging manner. A new template based on the bootstrap theme also allow output to be responsive – will be interesting to see how Kineos new project matches this! The rest of the day was left to play with the tools, chat to fellow professionals and ask questions to the panel.

All in all a good day and looking forward to making some Mozilla Popcorn!

Article in the MIM Magazine on Augmented Reality

I’ve done a number of talks and demonstrations on Augmented Reality and how it can be used in learning over the past few months.  I was recently asked to write an article on this for the ‘Motor Industry Magazine’ to allow the readers to gain CPD points.

I introduced the article with an introduction of the technology, talked about where it has been used in the automotive industry then went on to discuss the challenges of using it within learning.  To add an additional layer to the piece I decided to make the article compatible with Layar, an Augmented Reality browser.  By hovering over your mobile device and using the freely available Layar app, additional content appears allowing you to add me to linkedIn, view the videos I talk about or swipe through the photos from our recent Kia event.

View this for yourself by clicking here to download the pdf.

How technology can aid in the ‘pull’ of learning

Previously learning was seen as something you do in a classroom and force fed from above.  However, this ‘push’ of learning is starting to change. Pull learning, where employees want access to knowledge on the spot, is starting to become the norm, if not expected.  The new generation of learners are using laptops, mobile phones and tablets powered by the vast amount of information available on the internet.
So how do companies take advantage of this change in habits?  First of all, they need to have an understanding of the tools that are available to them.  Learning Portals are becoming ever more popular; these are effectively websites with a login allowing their employees to access information directed to their needs.
These portals can be made using responsive design, meaning that the web page they are looking at will automatically change to display on a mobile device.  The layout will be more dynamic, the images will decrease in size and blocks of text can turn into bullet points meaning no more zooming into the site and waiting for large images to load to read the information you want.
The information on the portals can be a mixture of bite-sized information, step by step guides or even pod-cast style videos and sound clips.  By tagging each of these content areas with appropriate words, the portals search engine is able to quickly find the information you want, when you need it and on the device you are using at that time.
If you want to know more about the technologies and ideas mentioned in this post, please feel free to comment or contact me.  
Update 09/07/13

This article was published in the July/August issue of the Motor Industry Magazine.

Augmented Reality Talk at weelearning, Bristol

Wednesday 16th Jan saw me talk about Augmented Reality to the weelearning group in Bristol.  This is a subject that I have personally followed for a couple of years and have watched it mature into what it is now.  True, it can be a gimmick, but it’s one that people remember and take notice of. For this reason, I wanted to see how it could be used within eLearning.