mLearning’s about content – not devices, platforms or tools

Jim Farrell HeadshotPosted by Jim Farrell

mLearnCon is a relatively new conference (about 3 years old) produced by the eLearning Guild. I attended it recently in San Jose, California, and had a great time there. If you are wondering if this conference would benefit your organization, consider these questions from the Guild’s website:

  1. Is mLearning right for our organization?
  2. What tools are best for developing engaging learning?
  3. Should we build a platform-specific application or a mobile optimized website?

While the importance of these questions may be case-by-case specific, I’ll share my thoughts about each of them in a moment. The one thing I took away from this conference is that the most important thing is not the device, platform or development tool. It is the content. I think our friend Jason Haag (@mobilejson) from the ADL said it best: “We need to start thinking about being “learning designers” and not just instructional designers, because we now have an opportunity to design for more than just formal courses in the cognitive domain. “ So yes, indeed, it’s all about content!

Here are my own responses to the Guild’s questions:

1. Is mLearning right for your organization?

I think there are two key questions behind this one: Are people in your organization using mobile to access internal content? Are people in your organization taking assessments or filling our surveys on mobile devices? (If you don’t know how to respond, adding Google Analytics can help you figure this out quickly.) Given the fact that mobile devices are everywhere these days, your answer to both of my questions is probably yes. But you need to understand WHY people are accessing your content via mobile, then develop your content in digestible chunks or in ways that solve business problems. Learning via mobile is most often pull learning done at a moment of need to support performance. So, yes! It is the content that matters.

2. What tools are best for developing engaging learning?

I love the word “engaging” in this question, but I think it is the wrong word. I would replace it with efficient, productive or correct. As a manager I am not worried about being engaging, I am worried that people do their jobs correctly and efficiently. There are lots and lots of rapid development tools out there, and mLearnCon was ripe with them. There is no be-all end-all tool for developing learning. Never was, never will be. You have to find the tools that best fit each situation and medium you are producing for. Ask the question, “How will people be consuming my content?” — then pick your tool accordingly.

3. Should we build a platform specific application or a mobile optimized website?

It seems to me this question has already been answered. Responsive design allows people visiting your content to get appropriate views. Apps are not the answer. Are you ready to support all of the growing list of mobile operating systems?

Jason Haag shared a terrific quote during a presentation he gave at the conference: “Not every mobile device will have your app on it, but every mobile device will have a browser.” Although HTML5 is not an official standard until the end of 2014, there are techniques available to detect the features for the browser and display the best possible presentation to the user. At Questionmark we like to say Author once, Schedule once, and Deliver to any device. That is truly due to using responsive design to give participants the best experience possible.

The great thing about conferences is about meeting people you admire or follow virtually via Twitter. This conference was no different. I got the chance to meet the famous Sarah Gilbert @melsgilbert. Read her cover article this month in Training and Development magazine if you are truly a beginner in the mobile learning world.

Going BYOD? “Responsive Design” will help you get there

Brian McNamara HeadshotPosted by Brian McNamara

We’veResponsive Design talked about “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) in this blog recently – and about how many organizations within corporate learning and higher education are either starting to embrace the idea, or – at the very least – start planning for how they can be ready for it in the future.

In fact, one of my recent blog articles focused on a few practical tips on how to optimize your online assessments for the broadest range of devices and browsers possible.

But today we’re going to take a look at how “responsive design” technology built into the latest release of Questionmark OnDemand will make the jump to supporting BYOD delivery of online assessments much, much easier.

Check out the video below for a look at how you can author a Questionmark assessment once, and then deliver it at a broad range of screen resolutions and to many different types of devices – from laptops to tablets to smartphones.

We have plenty of resources available to you. “How-to” videos and brief presentations about best practices, will give you valuable pointers about authoring, delivery and integration in our Learning Cafe. We also share presentations and videos on our SlideShare page.

Why mobile assessment matters

John Kleeman HeadshotPosted by John Kleeman

The reason assessment on mobile phones and tablets matters is because so many people have these devices, and there is a huge opportunity to use them. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how rapid a change this has been!

I’m indebted to my colleague Ivan Forward for this visualization showing the increase in mobile phone ownership in 10 years. It’s based on data from the South African census reported by the BBC.

See for text figures behind this graph

As you can see, in the decade from 2001 to 2011, more South Africans gained access to electricity, flush toilets and higher education, but the change in use of mobile phones has been far more dramatic.

Figures in other countries will vary, but in every country mobile phone use has increased hugely.

Not only does this explain why mobile assessment matters, it also explains why so many organizations (including Questionmark customers) are moving to Software as a Service / on-demand systems. Because of the rise of mobile phones, the parallel rise in tablets and the fast changing nature of mobile technology, you need your software to be up to date. And for most organizations, this is easier to do if you delegate it to a system like Questionmark OnDemand than if you have to update and re-install your own software frequently.

On-demand or on-premise: Which is better for talent management? Part 2

John Kleeman HeadshotPosted by John Kleeman

In an earlier post, I explained 6 reasons why the Cloud is usually better for deploying talent management software.

These were:

1. On-demand gives you access to innovation and use of mobile devices

2. Deployment is easier with on-demand and allows quick pilots

3. On-demand requires less corporate IT bandwidth

4. You don’t need to worry about scalability with On-demand

5. On-demand is easier to make secure

6. On-demand is usually more reliable

We offer the on-premise Questionmark Perception as well as Questionmark OnDemand, our SaaS solution, so I have no “axe to grind”.

It’s important to consider all the angles when deciding between on-demand and on-premise — so now I’d like to identify 4 reasons why on-premise can be better:

1. Data protection is simpler if everything is in house

What are some of the reasons against on-demand deployment? One is data protection.

With an on-premise installation, you have full control of your own data protection.

With an on-demand installation, you need to ensure that you keep control of your data and that the Cloud provider responsibly processes it. Most reputable providers do a good job on data protection, so you can usually resolve this concern, but you do need to stay in control and be vigilant when using a network of data with different providers.

2. The US Patriot Act can be a concern for non-US organizations

Usually an organization will be reasonably confident that data in an on-premise system should be inaccessible by governments or other outside parties, at least without a legal process. But there is concern a government might force an on-demand provider to share data without the organization’s permission.

In particular, the US Patriot Act gives the US government the right to demand data from a US provider. If an organization is concerned about this, it would want to use an on-demand provider that is not US-owned, whose data center is outside the US and is not owned by a US company.  (Questionmark has a European data center for exactly this reason.)

3. There is less risk of lock-in with on-premise

Technology and suppliers and needs change, and every organization needs to be able to plan to move systems in the future. For both on-premise and on-demand, you need to make sure that your data is accessible in a documented format. But for on-demand, you also need to make sure that your contract permits you to get access to the data and export it or otherwise access the data to avoid lock-in.

4. You can customize on-premise

Picture of software development from Wikipedia ( you can configure an on-demand system and set up your own templates and branding, but major customization is harder. Most on-demand providers use the same software instance for all their customers; this is one of the key economies of scale that make on-demand successful.

An on-premise installation is much easier to customize, so a strong reason to go on-premise can be to do deep customization. For instance, you can usually access data via web services in the Cloud, but if you need direct database access or connections, you may need to go on-premise.

Of course, if you do customize, too wide a change can make things difficult when a new version of the software is produced. This goes back to the first reason on my list of arguments in favour of on-demand: it gives you easier access to new versions and innovation.

 Of course, other factors come into play as well – functionality, cost, support, and organization culture to name a few. Both routes are viable. There are advantages for on-demand services, but some organizations prefer on-premise installations for good reason.

If you’re trying to decide what’s right for you, I hope both of these posts (part 1 is here) help highlight some of the issues.

Webinars on Mobile Assessment, Regulatory Compliance and Browser-Based Authoring

Chloe MendoncaPosted by Chloe Mendonca

Our current UK Web seminars offer technology updates and some guidance on how to use assessment to benefit your organisation.

All of these one-hour webinars are scheduled for 11 a.m. London BST

What’s New in Questionmark Live Browser-Based Authoring? – June 12 and July 4
Subject matter experts (SMEs) can easily write questions and complete assessments anytime, anywhere thanks to our easy-to-use, browser-based authoring tool. Join this session to learn about the newest authoring features in Questionmark Live.

Creating Assessments for Mobile Delivery — Wednesday, 29 May and Thursday, 20 June
You can deliver a single assessment to many different types of devices, and process the results centrally. Join this webinar to learn about a cost-effective and flexible way to provide assessments for people on the move. You will find out how to create assessments that sit well on a small screen.

Using Assessments to Mitigate Risk and Ensure Regulatory Compliance – Thursday, 6 June and Wednesday 26 June
This session will explain how assessments can help your organization demonstrate commitment to comply with laws, warn of a lack of knowledge before it impacts the business and provide evidence that appropriate precautions such as training have taken place.

Introduction to Questionmark’ s Assessment Management System – Thursday, 30 May and Wednesday, 19 June
This introductory web seminar explains and demonstrates key features and functions available in Questionmark OnDemand and Questionmark Perception. It will show how you can use our assessment management technologies within your organisation.

Click here to sign up for any of these webinars.

On-demand or on-premise: Which is better for talent management?

John Kleeman HeadshotPosted by John Kleeman

Is it better to run assessment, learning and other talent management software on-demand, in the Cloud? Or is it wiser to run software on-premise, within your organization’s firewall?

I recently wrote about this on the SAP community and received a lot of feedback; I‘d like to share the topic with readers of the Questionmark Blog.

In this post I will share 6 reasons why the Cloud is usually better. And in my next post I’ll give you 4 reasons why it may not be.

1. On-demand gives you access to innovation and use of mobile devices


A critical advantage of on-demand deployment – or software as a service (SaaS) — is that you get the latest version of software. Most providers upgrade all their customers at the same time to the latest version, and you get bug fixes, feature improvements, security fixes and innovation as part of the service. With on-premise, you are in control of when you install updates. But due to the resources required to upgrade, it’s commonplace to only upgrade once every year or two, and therefore be several versions behind an on-demand system. Support for the latest mobile devices is an obvious casualty..

To quote Ed Cohen of SuccessFactors:

“If you look at the rate of innovation that can occur with a SaaS product as against a company maintaining a behind the firewall instance of something, it becomes super important for learning and talent.”


2. Deployment is easier with on-demand and allows quick pilots

An on-premise system needs setup of servers and software installation. This takes planning, time and resources, whereas an on-demand system can usually be deployed within hours of ordering it. An on-demand system is also easier to scale up and expand. You can start small with one project and add users or departments as needed.

3. On-demand requires less corporate IT bandwidth

This is often the strongest reason to go on-demand in the learning and assessment space. Corporate IT departments are typically overloaded, and talent management software is not their top priority. This creates a bottleneck, which in turn delays deployment.

On-demand still needs the involvement of corporate IT, but you can usually make headway and provide improved functionality quicker than when deploying on-premise.

4. You don’t need to worry about scalability with on-demand

With an on-premise solution, you have to scale servers to cope with the busiest times (e.g. an end-of-year deadline, exam season or a compliance milestone). But if you use on-demand software, you delegate this to the Cloud provider, who will usually be able to expand to handle your highest load.

5. On-demand is easier to make secure

Both on-premise and on-demand can be very secure, but achieving a high level of security is expensive and involves constant vigilance. Unless you invest heavily in security, Cloud providers will usually provide higher security than the typical on-premise solutions.

This point is well described by SAP’s  Prashanth Padmanabhan in his blog article Why Do We Keep Our Valuables In A Bank Locker?. He states:

“… one of the SAP – SuccessFactors Hybrid customers announced publicly that their own security audit found that SuccessFactors cloud infrastructure was more secure than their own fire wall.”

And the respected UK Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association says in its Cloud briefing paper:

“In practice, data is probably more secure in cloud services than can be provided by in house solutions.”

6. On-demand is usually more reliable

Usually, providing your users have good Internet connectivity, an on-demand system will also be more reliable and have higher up-time.

Stylized picture of bridge

Unless you invest heavily in your on-premise infrastructure, a professionally maintained on-demand server is likely to provide a higher level of 24/7 availability and uptime than a locally maintained system. A professional system is likely to have redundancy in every component and will not fail if a piece of hardware fails, whereas it may not be cost-effective to have such redundancy in an on-premise system. Redundancy makes sure, just like in a bridge over a river, that if one piece fails, the rest of the bridge survives.

In a follow-up post, I’ll explain some reasons why on-premise can be better.