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The Evolution of the Absorb LMS: An Update

March 6, 2013 Leave a comment

dan suitIf you’ve spoken to our staff or visited our website or blog recently, you may have noticed 3 things:

1. Absorb LMS has a fancy new look and feel!
2. We are no longer talking about Smartlab
3. We are now talking about something called “Mercury”

Absorb LMS is rapidly evolving, right along with the entire learning technology industry. The rise of mobile learning, and specifically, the success of the Apple iPad and iPhones, have created new challenges – and new opportunities – to rethink how we deliver online learning.

It’s been more than 10 years since blatant^ was founded on the principle of building a better Learning Management System. Over time, we have added many new features, mostly at the request of clients and sometimes because we’ve anticipated what’s to come and tried to lead the market in that direction. We’ve always aimed to implement these new features so that they will be both useful and easy to use. We also try to ensure that we maintain a high-level of design standards. The user experience is tantamount.

A few years ago (a lifetime, in the technology arena) and as part of this ongoing product evolution, we created a completely custom platform that sat “on top of” Absorb LMS. It provided some of our clients with a completely custom HTML5 interface, and added some additional functionality to support increased marketing, learner messaging and learner engagement requirements. This platform – Smartlab – also ran on iPads (where the old Absorb FLASH interface would not) and it offered all of the Absorb functions plus some new features and widgets: FAQ, Quick Polls, Twitter Feed, News Feed, Rotating Banner Ads and Contests. All of which could be targeted at specific groups of users with the standard drop-down audience filters that Absorb provides for course and resource targeting.

For the clients that adopted Smartlab, this was great. For a while. We all learned some things and thought long and hard about how we could make Smartlab even better.

What we learned:
1. HTML 5 is great for iPads but an IDEAL user interface should scale in size and layout regardless of the size and type of device that the learner is using.
2. Custom is great, until you want to change it. Then it can get expensive and time consuming.
3. Custom does not like upgrades. Having a custom anything kind of defeats the purpose of the SaaS model, where all users get all new features at the same time.
4. Custom can get very expensive and requires tons of planning and review work. If many people are involved in the decision making process, this can drag on for some time.

How we improved it:
1. We took the best features of Smartlab (Polls, FAQ, Contents, News, Twitter, Banners) and made them available to all of our Absorb users (current and future).
2. We renamed this ‘Absorb Mercury Edition’. Smartlab was a weird name anyway, and besides, it was still 95% powered by the core Absorb LMS.
3. We changed the entire product to have a slick new “responsive design” that detects and adjust its layout depending on the size and orientation of the browser/device being used.
4. We dropped the design fees for the (formerly Smartlab) Mercury options by over 80% and eliminated 6 months of project management effort.
5. We recognized that only some of our clients would be interested in Mercury’s bells and whistles and so made it available as an easy add-on module that can be purchased and turned on at any time.

Our clients think this is great. Whether they upgrade to the new Absorb Mercury Edition or simply migrate to the new Absorb LMS responsive interface, they will still benefit from complete cross-platform/mobile support in a beautiful user interface. In other words, you don’t need to use Mercury to take advantage of the adaptive features in the new learner interface – this is now standard to the Absorb platform.

So to recap, Smartlab has been improved and renamed Absorb Mercury Edition (or “Mercury”, for short); the price and implementation time were reduced dramatically, and Absorb now scales perfectly across different types of desktop computers and mobile devices, thanks to the new responsive design.

Since it is part of the core Absorb LMS platform, Mercury also gets regularly updated as part of our standard development cycle. And for clients that want or need a custom interface, we still offer that service too, and at a much lower cost due to the new Absorb Mercury Edition architecture.

It’s an interesting and dynamic time in the learning technology industry, and we’re excited and inspired by all the change.

Using an LMS for Highly Effective Retail Training: Part One

January 4, 2012 Leave a comment

LISTEN AND LEARN (is what we do)

One of the things I love best about this job is that I have the great pleasure of speaking with a variety of  senior training managers across many industries on a weekly basis. I like to think that they learn as much from me as I do from them but sometimes, I am sure that I am the one that really benefits from these conversations.

It’s important for us as a learning technology provider to participate in these discussions and to really listen to the challenges faced by our customers “in the trenches”. I know we are good listeners because our products reflect a lot of the great thinking generated by these interactions. In particular, we have collaborated with some brilliant clients (like Oakley) to develop an understanding of some great best practices in the area of retail training.

Recently, I had a long conversation with a training manager of a department store chain that has about 100 stores and no Learning Management System. I want to share some observations here that came up in that discussion, specifically in the context of retail employee training. This seems particularly pertinent given the recent announcement of 100-120 planned store closures by Sears/Kmart.

FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL

Retail is a complex science. Although no one retailer can control the economy (many would argue that Walmart does in fact play a significant role in the global economy) we do understand that effective marketing will at least get people into your store; so let’s talk about what happens if marketing succeeds in that goal.

Great store design and merchandising will impact how much time people spend in your store and what they will purchase. This is the realm of a select team of employees but the people that have the most direct impact on your potential customers are your retail (sales) employees.

Your retail employees will define your corporate culture, reflect your corporate standards, impact customer satisfaction and loyalty and ultimately, increase the amount that each customer spends in the store. That’s all, of course, subject to who you hire and how well trained they are.

Let’s agree that you can provide high quality training without an LMS. The opportunity, however, is in scaling that training; providing it quickly and in short, focused interactions that are relevant and measurable. And dare we add ‘fun and rewarding’ for the learner?

In PART TWO I will discuss some observations and best practices for how an LMS can really impact your retail employee performance.

When SaaS gets Sassy (Part Two)

November 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Dan Medakovic, VP Learning Solutions

When SaaS Gets Sassy (Part Two): The Rise of “Mass Customization” in the LMS World.

or

Would You Like Fries With That? – Enterprise Software Goes Down Market

The introduction of Software as a Service (SaaS) was a benefit to all types of organizations, but especially to small and medium businesses (SMB) who could now afford enterprise type software such as Learning Management Systems. SaaS is still the most popular way for companies to acquire software. It is affordable, typically requires little-to-no support from an I.T. department and can usually be implemented in a short period of time.

What’s not to like?

Well, in our experience, there are still many organizations that do not want to compromise their “brand experience”. Especially where interacting with external users (retail employees, agents, distributors, field reps or customers) are concerned. Some of these companies have invested millions in building a brand and they are very serious about having their brand’s qualities reflected in everything that they do. For them, the ability to upload a logo and select a colour scheme for their LMS user interface will simply not do. They still want all the savings and time-to-market benefits of a SaaS LMS, but only if it can be purchased with the deep brand immersion elements of a custom portal or website.

The following illustration shows how far we’ve come and where, I believe, we are headed.

SMARTLAB to the Rescue!

Blatant Media has responded to this need by creating a highly customizable interface which leverages the power and cross-platform capabilities of HMTL5 and the benefits of using web parts which can be customized (size, placement, colour, text, etc.) that pull data from our award-winning off the shelf Absorb LMS platform. We call this product SMARTLAB and it is currently being deployed by several of our clients and is generating tremendous interest in the market. In addition to reflecting and extending your company’s “personality”, SMARTLAB is also in a category of its own. SMARTLAB provides a complete set of “learner engagement” features which allow you to easily create and target informal learning content such as News, FAQs, Polls and Contests right alongside your formal training offerings (videos, quizzes, SCORM courses). The best part? It looks nothing like an LMS! :- )

The use of our Absorb LMS on the back-end and web parts on the front-end means that a company can have all the benefits of a highly customized system, at a fraction of the cost and in a fraction of the time.

Sound interesting? Why not attend our upcoming webinar to learn more or contact us for a personal demo.