Is Microsoft Opening up to the World of Blended Learning?

by Glynn Jung, Non-Executive Director

microsoft cloud imageIt amazes me to think how Microsoft has almost invisibly developed a role for itself in the cost-sensitive and occasionally technophobic world of learning, including collaborating with open source communities.

It first really clicked with me last year when I started counting the number of times that Sharepoint was included in Invitations to Tender (ITTs) and Statements of Requirements, often with open source attachments such as Liferay and SLK. And this was before SP2010 had become established with all its improvements over SP2007 and its Groove technology.

Just as sneakily the open source CMS application Umbraco (as used by Aurion Learning for portals and hubs) has become number 4 in the UK’s list of most popular .NET tools. Sharepoint is number 1.

The proprietary world is still prevalent of course with products such as SharePointLMS from ElearningForce serving the corporate market but there’s been a growing enthusiasm amongst open source suppliers and within Microsoft to make it easier for buyers to move on from the old thinking that “it’s either Microsoft or it’s open”.

So we see X-Box technology opening up to the e-learning community to experiment with developing training simulations based around body sensor technology and Sharepoint moving from being arguably the most derided Microsoft product to its most heartily championed … and all with the support of the open source and boutique development communities.

For the generic e-learning suppliers who’ve long believed MS Office End User e-learning to be their commercial bedrock Microsoft’s release of Office 365 must be a bit of a mixed blessing. CLOUD hosting means that once again VANILLA software is real world, justifying their catalogues of End User titles.

Unfortunately Microsoft’s offering destroys the financial case for buying libraries of materials based on total cost of ownership per end-user (including software licenses and IT overheads such as server farms and technical support teams).

For those who don’t know, Microsoft’s CLOUD offer for organisations with less than 25 staff costs around £4.00 per user per month. This includes webmail, IMS, Voice & Video Conferencing, WORD, Excel, PowerPoint and One Note and a Sharepoint 2010 Intranet. Meanwhile Microsoft’s enterprise offer includes Private CLOUD App-V, WORD, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook with Business Contact Manager, Publisher, Access, One Note, LYNC, InfoPath & SP workspace. It also includes Active Directory Integration. Price? – approximately £16.00 per user. It also includes access to a load of training & study materials.

With Windows 8 to be released in the near future we see the realisation of at least version 1 of Microsoft’s vision of a common MS platform across the “three screens”, i.e. PC/Laptop etc., smartphone/smartpad and digital TV, all integrated by LYNC.

So in some ways while the technical press is shouting about Apple versus the world, about patent infringement and misappropriation of IP and about winners and losers in the technology market, Microsoft is quietly doing what we always hoped they would and deliver technology to make things easier.

Training Smarter in the Recession

by Dr. Maureen Murphy, Aurion Learning

Learn BlackboardResearch published last year from the Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES), at the Institute of Education, University of London, and researchers at the University of Cardiff shows that, despite predictions to the contrary, the recession has not deterred most UK companies from training their staff in new skills. Yes – training expenditure is down….but not by as much as expected (the report* quotes a 5% decrease in training expenditure in England between 2007 and 2009). In fact, the research shows that rather than putting the brakes on skills training, the recession has simply forced most companies to train smarter.

Easier said than done? Here are my top tips for training in the recession:

  • Shift training focus to key business areas – an obvious one but the best place to start. Align training with key business strategy – so if you want to improve sales, deliver meaningful sales training. If you want to develop stronger leaders, deliver powerful leadership training.
  • Embrace technology – increasing your use of e-learning, mobile learning (mlearning) and virtual learning environments will seriously cut time out of office as well as travel costs while giving staff access to on-demand and just-in-time learning.
  • Organise more in-house training – by developing staff competencies you can use internal staff to deliver training and manage communities of learning.
  • Share, share, share – encourage knowledge sharing, collaboration, coaching and peer mentoring. Make the most of the existing knowledge pool in your company.
  • Cut course length – make your learning short, sharp and strong!
  • Evaluate the learning – ask your staff about how they have put the learning into practice and improved performance. Evaluate the learning and measure return on investment.

*Source: The Impact of the 2008-9 Recession on the Extent, Form and Patterns of Training at Work LLAKES, Institute of Education, University of London