Elearning superstar: Craig Weiss

It’s Thursday, and that means it’s time for another chunk of solid gold digital learning insight courtesy of one of our esteemed ‘E-learning Superstars’. This week’s wisdom comes from none other than ‘the second most influential person in the world for E-learning’, Craig Weiss!

In this post Craig will touch upon topics such as, being a learning celebrity, the exponential growth of learning and how it is crucial to try-before-you-buy when investing in an LMS.

Craig will provide you with a wealth of tips for avoiding common E-learning pitfalls, creating compelling scenarios and predictions for the future of the industry.

You can find out more about Craig on his highly influential e-learning blog.

First question I’d like to ask is, what made you decide to set up your blog, and your own company?

It was basically out of necessity. I was a training director and I was laid off a couple of times. I initially set out to create a blog to utilise what I knew about E-Learning. I was reading other people’s blogs and I realised that other bloggers were simply theorising, it was like they’d never been in the real world. I had been doing E-Learning since the late 90’s and had seen and done every single thing that you can imagine.

That position meant that I could contribute knowledge learnt in practice. I wanted to provide simple, accurate information with no hidden agenda, that was independent and honest. As a result of that it’s enabled me to launch my business and I now have both consumer and vendor clients on a global scale.

I should imagine you’re a busy man, do you still have time to get hands on with projects? Do you get a lot of opportunities to work with new tools and techniques?

Absolutely, I’m constantly looking at new tools and techniques. I track over 120 authoring tools and 630 learning platforms. My thing is always about innovation, I want to see what’s new, what’s out there, and at the same time I’m always looking at what’s taking place in the market in order to make educated forecasts. In 2009 I was on a panel that said the future of mobile learning is going to be tablets. I remember being laughed at… then what took off in E-Learning, tablets!

I’m always looking at new tools and new technology. You have to realise that some technologies won’t break through, you have to understand the marketplace, the learner, and just because something’s a brand new, hot technology, doesn’t mean it’s going to work and be successful.

For example, Kinect technology. It is being used in numerous different environments not just for playing games. Physicians use it during medical school and a lot of different places use it for education, but it’s not grabbed hold of the corporates.

It’s all about finding what works, what could work, what’s possible to make and then identifying whether people can use this technology, without knowing how to use it, I think that is a key component in creating a tool.

What excites you most about what you do and the effect your work has? What is the most gratifying change that you’ve made to the industry?

I love what I do and I’m passionate about what I do. It’s rewarding every time I hear someone say “I’ve listened to you” “I’ve read your blog and it helped me train my customers”. I think what amazes me the most is that when I travel, people come up to me and they know who I am!

To me that’s just mind boggling, to me I’m just this guy that grew up in El Paso Texas. When I was in Germany people were taking photographs with me. It’s a unique experience that I believe is only going to get better as long as I stay true to myself. I’m always going to be honest, independent and fair, that way I don’t have trouble sleeping at night.

What is the most important change in E-Learning that you’ve witnessed in the last couple of years?

I think the industry is not really at a ‘mature’ state yet, but people are quickly adopting E-learning, and not just in the corporate environment. I predict that by 2020 90% of corporate learning is going to be in E-Learning, everything is currently pointing towards that happening.

There are more and more companies, tools and platforms and that means that there is now lower pricing. A high price doesn’t always mean that you are going to get a great product, you still have to do your due diligence to get the most value from your tools.

People are not conducting due diligence enough now, they read about a vendor and don’t even look at the product and then they’ll shoot out an expensive RFP and then they expect the vendor to build this ‘house’ without ever talking to them.

That’s where I see a lot of people getting in trouble when they use that approach rather than looking at the website or talking to the vendor.

I have created an RFP template that allows you to figure out everything a vendor and platform can do for you. That said, the number 1 reason people leave LMSs is support. It’s been the biggest problem in the industry for years.

Talk to your vendors about support, ask if it’s included and specifically what you will get; “when are your operating hours”, “is it internet only or phone support?” “Most importantly what is the most realistic response time?” I’m a fan of vendors having somebody dedicated to me. In my opinion having one person that I deal with is more effective than getting jumped around.

When you look at buying an LMS from a budget standpoint it’s almost like buying a car and you’re not going to buy a car without a warranty, no one does that, you have expectations.

You look at the car, you test the car, you don’t just go into the showroom and say “Hey I’m going to buy this car without even testing it!”.

LMSs and authoring tools are expensive propositions for any training budget, whoever you are, and that’s why you need to seriously consider support and service before making these investments. It’s vital that you trial your software.

What are the biggest project challenges / roadblocks that E-learning professionals regularly encounter?

One of them is technology. The majority of learners actually learn out of the workplace, so your learners need to have a basic understanding of technology. Some people are still on Windows XP and IE6 which can limit interactivity. If you have a course with a lot of streaming videos then that’s fine on a high speed line in the workplace, but for someone at home it won’t be the same.

One of the biggest challenges is knowing what to buy, people are having to buy tools now when they have a background in producing Flash. The beauty of intelligent modern authoring tools is that they allow this transition to be smooth. With the Internet, if you’re willing to go past the first page on a search engine you can find a lot of great information from people who are in the same boat as you. Everything’s evolving so much, my recommendation is to utilise the Internet to help you find technologies that are most suitable for your requirements.

The biggest challenge that we face is creating real world scenarios and that’s what learners want, they don’t want to have static content. If you can build a scenario, you’re going to make a major impact and to me a scenario is much more effective than an assessment. A lot of people think that education is all about assessments. All an assessment tells me is that you know how to memorise, it doesn’t tell me that you know how to synthesise.

What would the ideal e-learning authoring environment look like for you? What requirements are needed to make the grade with you?

Firstly it must utilise the Cloud, and secondly it has to be able to create courses dedicated specifically to mobile devices. To me it would ideally be an E-Learning authoring tool “Ecosystem”, which no-one’s doing at the moment. I want it to be completely ‘Self-contained’. For instance a tool with an image editor in would save me from having to open up Photoshop, or an authoring tool that comes bundled with its own media library. Ideally it’d have a resource community where I can get insight into other people’s projects and share resources.

I want it to be fun! The authoring tool itself should be fun to use, if you’re using this tool everyday, it can easily become tedious. Something that is fun but can still be intuitive and complex.

How do you think E-learning is going to change over the next few years?

We’re such a fast moving industry in terms of technology. In my mind, streaming video is going to play a role and gaming is going to play a bigger role than it is today. Mobile is going to have to go to another level.

Apps, APIs and integration are going to play a role. It’s no longer a case of saying “Hey I can integrate and share a few things”, but now people are saying things such as “I need to integrate this with Salesforce” “I need to integrate with MailChimp”, I want a tool where I could have a thousand integrations and the consumer shouldn’t have to go out and look for this, it should be part of the product.

I do believe things are starting to become more modern, you’re going to see a more modern look and feel than we usually have. At the same time my key question is whether Standalone assessment tools will be as dominant as they are today in five years time. My personal feeling is that they won’t be.

Content curation is another big thing that I see taking place in a couple more years. It still has to be seen, but everything appears to be pointing to that.

I think Kinect technology has enormous possibility but it’s just not taken off. I’d like to see people mashup Kinect’s augmented reality with E-Learning!

I think additionally from a vendor standpoint, a real plus point would be the ability to re-skin apps, I think you’ll see a lot more apps where clients can customise their interface.

Who are your E-learning superstars? Who do you look to for inspiration?

I don’t have just one person who I look up to and say wow! I look at a variety of people and for judgement I can trust. Mike Pino is a really knowledgeable guy, especially in regards to the global marketplace, if he says something to me, I can trust his judgement. I think Debbie Richards in the US and David Patterson over here in the UK are definitely up to E-Learning superstar status!

I don’t necessarily just read these people’s blogs, I talk to these people. People that are looking for the next new thing are my idea of superstars, anyone trying to break the status quo.

People who are happy to jump in the ocean without a life jacket, that’s the sort of people I want to be with!