M-Learning & The Evolution of HTML

by Lee Reilly, Senior Web Designer

HTML5 logo

My first real foray into the realm of coding over a decade ago pertained to making a text box on my page a solid colour, positioning it to the right and making the text white. After much musing (by which I mean searching around the internet) I fumbled a solution and had inadvertently coded something! In this case it was a <div> container to hold my text, which was aligned right and coloured accordingly. The beginnings of my first HTML site, though perhaps not as grand as I might have liked.

Over the years my HTML and CSS skills have improved, as has my understanding of the underlying processes involved. With the upcoming publication of the highly anticipated HTML 5 specification I find myself feeling like I did over a decade ago; is the difference between HTML 4 and 5 so great that I must start creating little text boxes on a page again in order to understand this new version?

The answer, mercifully, is no. HTML 5, in its simplest form, is a revised version of HTML 4. Sure, it has the ability to be so much more, but it does not have to be. I could take the latest project I am working on, amend line 1 to <!DOCTYPE html> and I would have an HTML 5 project. I would obviously not do that as it would be cheating and not advisable for compatibility of content within that project.

The real power of HTML5
The real power of HTML 5 (and CSS 3) comes from the improvements within. HTML 5 is created to improve the interoperability of HTML based documents. This means it is designed to work across multiple platforms and software setups. Numerous elements have been added such as <article>, <header>, <footer> and <section> to make the lives of developers easier. If nothing else these new elements reduce the quantity of <div> elements required for layout. These and other elements have been created to help add meaning to the content within. An example of this would be creating a news article:

In HTML 4 I might create something like:

<div class=”newsarticle”>
<h2>Why am I making this site in HTML4?!</h2>
<p class=”newsdate”>09-12-11</p>
</div>

In HTML 5 this could be created as:

<article>
<h2>HTML 5: That’s the ticket!</h2>
<date>09-12-11</date>
</article>

The benefits to creating this in HTML 5 are two-fold. First, there is less coding involved. Second, and more importantly, the elements used are created for the purposes illustrated; <article> is used for independent, self-contained content and <date> is used for defining dates and times. The freedom that HTML 5 allows in creating element names might at first make it appear to be less structured and potentially more prone to variation between developers. What this flexibility does, when combined with new elements and attributes, is allow for greater control of structure.

Can it make a difference?
Everything mentioned above give HTML 5 the potential to improve the way websites and web apps are built. The real power of  HTML 5, however, comes from its integrated Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs. They have been designed to make developing web apps easier across multiple platforms. These include new APIs for audio and video, which will act to provide a uniform (and non-flash based) approach to getting rich media easily on to the web. Great in theory but these are still a long way off being perfect. In its current incarnation, HTML 5 has no full cross-browser support for video file formats. This means if you were to use the <video> element in a project today you would need to encode your video as both mp4 and ogg file formats to ensure all modern browsers would play them; a large overhead to say the least.

M-Learning
When evaluating how good HTML 5 is we must consider that it is still only a draft specification and elements and attributes are still subject to change. That said, it has the potential to deliver on numerous fronts and the thought of a fully interoperable web app or website across numerous platforms, complete with rich media and animation without the need for user-installed plugins makes its success all the more appealing. So much so that we have already begun project work using HTML 5. These E-learning projects have been designed to work cross-platform, from the traditional desktop E-learning to tablets and smartphones (so called M-learning or mobile learning). The benefit of using HTML 5 as the backbone is that the same pages are served up to each platform, the only difference being how they are styled. This technique of catering for different platforms using the same pages is called responsive design.

In future blog posts we will look at responsive design as well as the hugely anticipated <canvas> element in HTML 5 and its potential for usurping flash for cross-platform animation. We will also look at what new features CSS 3 brings to the party.

Top Tips for Hosting Webinars

by Noleen Turner, Marketing Manager

Choosing the right tools
There are lots of webinar tools out there – each with their own benefits and drawbacks – but bear in mind – none is 100% reliable. Most offer a free trial before you buy, so find one that’s easy to use; works with a variety of operating systems and your in-house technology; and is scalable.

Some of my favourite webinar tools are gotomeeting, gotowebinar, webex, Adobe Connect –and anymeeting(which is FREE!). Online Meeting Tools Review have a list of webinar tools with peer reviews.
Preparing for the webinar

  • Get familiar with the technology. Make sure you know how to use the webinar tools inside out before the live event. This will eliminate nerves and the chance of any problems occurring.
  • Choose the right topic and deliver what you promise: Make sure your webinar topic is interesting and of genuine value to your potential clients – and stick to it. If you promise your audience A (genuine value webinar) – and deliver B (sales pitch) – they have a right to be angry and disappointed.
  • Have a co-presenter – invite an industry expert, customer or partner to co-present. This will generate more interest and could even double your attendance. It also takes the pressure off you when you’re trying to answer questions, conduct polls or fix technology hiccups.
  • Write a script/outline and use this to structure the learning content. Don’t cram too much into the webinar – it’s better to have a small amount of really high quality content than a large amount of poor quality content.
  • Practice: do a couple of dry runs, record it and play it back to hear how you sound.  If possible, practice with co-presenters.  Time yourself so you know if you are going to be able to cover all the content within the time slot. Don’t rush through – take your time and cover points fully.

Timing:

  • Start promoting the webinar at least five weeks in advance.
  • Choose the time and date of your webinar carefully. Avoid Mondays and Fridays as these are peak conferencing days, meeting days and annual leave days and attendance can be lower. Consider where your audience is based – and what time it is most suitable for their region. Start at 15 minutes past the hour rather than on the hour. Give attendees time to move between meetings and join the webinar.
  • Send two reminders only — 1 week and 1 day before the webinar.
  • Leave at least 15 minutes at the end of the webinar for a Question & Answer session.

During the event

  • Begin the session at least 15 minutes early to test the video and audio connections of all the presenters and panellists.
  • Join your meeting early and check that all links and presentations are working. Share a ‘welcome’ slide to let attendees know that the webinar will be starting soon. Provide attendees with an overview of how to use key webinar features – such as chat, raise hand, questions and answers etc. Provide an overview of what the webinar will cover and how it will be structured. Introduce all speakers. Remember to mute all lines until the question and answer session begins.
  • Use more than just PowerPoint to keep your audience engaged. Include multimedia such as animation, flash, photos, web-demos and video.
  • Don’t just talk at your audience – invite them to join in the conversation. Conduct polls at regular intervals and host a question and answer session at the end.
  • If things go wrong – stay calm. Take a minute and try to fix it, but if you can’t, apologise and move on.
  • Leave lots of time for questions and answers.
  • Record your webinar and make it available on your website or blog afterwards.

Afterwards

  • Conduct a survey at the end of the webinar to get feedback from the attendees.
  • Follow up with all registrants one week after the event – both attendees and non-attendees. Include relevant links such as a recording of the webinar, case studies, white papers, survey results, feedback etc. Invite people to your next event.
  • Pass details of all registrants to your sales team for detailed follow up.
  • Review all feedback and work on lessons learned to make sure your next webinar is even better.

And finally, don’t be afraid of the technology and good luck!

2011 E-learning Market Review: Mergers and Acquisitions

By Glynn Jung, Non-Executive Director 

The big-scale version of training outsourcing – LBPO (Learning Business Process Outsourcing) – continues to grow as a financially attractive option for employers with large and distributed workforces. Chats with some employers suggest there may be a gap for new mid-range LBPO suppliers who not only manage the contracts and services from a number of suppliers to an organisation, but also offer platforms, systems and rapid content development services.Well, acquisition and consolidation in the e-Learning market have been hotting up through 2011, (as in fact has happened during previous recessions), as investors look to exploit opportunities in new tools, technologies and sectors for workforce skilling, as major suppliers look to extend market reach and as niche suppliers find development funds being switched off.

In terms of mergers, strategic investments & consolidations in 2011 we witnessed upheaval in all sectors and territories.

These included Lumesse acquiring Edvantage, SkillSoft acquiring Element K from former owners NIIT and BB acquiring both Elluminate & Wimba.

Taleo acquired learn.com and SuccessFactors acquired Plateau Systems, subsequently themselves being taken over in December by SAP.

Kaplan never seem far from their next purchase and LBPOs such as GP (formerly GenPhysics), KnowledgePool and Demos are no slouches in the consolidations markets; GP in fact acquired R.W.D. Technology’s consulting business earlier in 2011.

EPM and BPM giant OpenText picked up Operitel for its e-Learning management expertise that will be bolted into OpenText products in the future. Operitel’s LearnFlex includes social and mobile learning management fully integrated into SharePoint.

Trivantis also announced the official acquisition of its partner, Flypaper Studio. The deal couples Lectora authoring software with Flypaper, a full-featured Flash interactions builder and digital signage platform.

Investment Group acquisitions included UfI Ltd. and learndirect by LDC, GlobalKnowledge by MidOcean and with BB itself being acquired by Providence Equity.

Earlier hopes of SkillSoft’s intentions in terms of protecting and integrating the best of E-K’s products into their own portfolio now seem to have been a tad optimistic … anecdotally what I’m hearing is that all E-K products, including the third-party products, will be taken off the market as soon as practical and that SkillSoft are energetically pursuing a campaign of converting E-K clients to the SkillSoft services.

As the number of large generic catalogue suppliers continues to diminish I’ve increasingly received questions from my clients about their future supplier strategies and seeking my thoughts on how I see the market shaping up.

My first observation is that new portal suppliers will enter the mid-size catalogue sector, offering a limited number of value-for-money suppliers’ products.

I further suggest that clients will either return to contracting directly with preferred niche suppliers such as Happy, CrossKnowledge, ILX, Flow or Cegos, (those are just top-of-my-head examples), or will sign up with a new breed of smaller scale LBO partners. Certainly the issue of same look and feel for all materials seems to be largely irrelevant these days and increasingly people are weighing the pain of managing multiple suppliers against the value of getting exactly what they want. I’d like to hope that this will ultimately deliver smaller content libraries targeting real needs in an organisation rather than “just-in-case”.

Finally I suggest that there’s always room for new suppliers, both in existing generic sectors and to exploit the convergence of Higher Education,CommercialColleges,BusinessSchools, Business and Industry. Some of the most exciting innovations in blended learning are taking place in the public and education sectors where we see new commercial spin-offs or partnerships delivering much needed revenues.

In this I anticipate the emergence of generic content reflecting particular industry sectors or jobs, with scenarios, vocabularies and graphics relevant to these sectors and roles. Many of us had anticipated that this could be a spin-off from National Skills Academies but that didn’t really happen.