Monday, October 15, 2012

eLearning Software as a Service (SaaS): Integration is key

The last decade has seen an explosion of Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions. The elearning industry has also been influenced by this paradigm shift. The elearning industry turned from being virtually non existent to a multi billion dollar industry catering to a wide variety of learning and training needs (both profit and non-profit) across the globe during the last couple of decades. This phenomenal growth was further helped by the introduction of a variety of new technologies. Video hosting and streaming services, online meetings and virtual classroom technologies, online hosting and collaborating on documents, presentations etc have transformed the elearning industry. All these can be used separately or in conjunction with other technologies to enhance the online learning experience. Even social networking has its fair share of contribution in enriching the learning experience of millions by providing ways to conduct group discussions, collecting feedback or even by conducting informative debates on the subject material.

Another interesting recent development is the rise of mobile computing. Even though the mobile platform has huge potential, many people still consider mobile elearning to be a "nice to have", but not mission critical to their training offering. A primary reason for this is that most mobile screens are not sufficiently large enough to properly enjoy the courses. Moreover until recently courses were created using flash. Such courses don't work on Apple's iPad or iPhone (though flash supported browsers are available). So most often courses will have to be custom made for the mobile platform or old courses will have to be converted to HTML 5. The success of a mobile solution depends essentially on the content provided, ease of use and its seamless integration with the online learning application. 

With such diverse training methods and solutions available in the market, choosing the right platform will be a nightmare for the uninitiated. The previous post talks at length about the factors that should be considered before picking the right delivery platform. In this post
we wanted to emphasize the importance of selecting a platform that can provide a complete solution to all your needs. The platform should be able to integrate seamlessly with a variety of other useful applications. It should also provide one seamless interface to access all of your course offerings and should be able to 'grow' with your offering by incorporating new training methodologies. eLearning applications that are available as SaaS applications are at an inherent advantage because they can seamlessly integrate with most other web applications, including new and emerging ones. 

To further illustrate this point, lets consider a customer who provides live classes via Citrix GoToTraining (or Webex Training Center). After a certain period to time the customer decides that they would like to also offer self-paced courses. Any LMS would serve this purpose. However, it is more than likely that the customer would want to provide its end-users a seamless interface to all its course offerings. For example, the customer would want end-users to see a consolidated listing of course offerings including both self-paced courses as well as live online virtual classes. The ability to integrate with Citrix GTT becomes critical to meet this need. Without this the customer will be forced to manage two different training databases (Citrix and LMS), run weekly reports separately in Citrix online and the LMS and later merge them. 

Our elearning platform's ability to seamlessly integrate with Citrix online services like GoTo Training (as well as Wbex) can be a real life saver for such clients. They no longer needed to go back and forth between Citrix and the LMS to manage training sessions and self paced courses. Also it eliminates the need to manage two different databases in Citrix and the LMS since the LMS provides one seamless interface to access and manage all the training needs. 

So as your training needs increase or change over time, the platform should be able to grow and adapt with your offering. For example, if you want to offer streaming video classes or live in-person traditional classes, in addition to self-paced and live virtual classes, you platform should also be able to meet these needs. Before you  decide on an SaaS elearning platform think about the integrations that are important your training offerings.