Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Back Again + Captivate 8 Review (Summary: WOW!)

First off, my apologies to all subscribers for being absent for so long in posting anything new to this blog. While my time and focus have never veered away from all things enterprise mobile learning centric, the time to write my thoughts down and share them with subscribers has been in short supply. The advent of our updated corporate web presence in the coming weeks has energized my efforts to write and share so hopefully this will be the first of many new postings in the coming months and quarters. Onward and upward, eh?

This inaugural “Generation 2” blog posting comes on the heels of a tectonic shift in the mobile learning authoring tool wars…namely, the availability last week of Adobe Captivate 8 officially unveiled on May 20, 2014 in company press releases. The introduction was also several months ahead of rumors I’d heard from others “in the know” who had alluded to an arrival later this fall. As such things go, I spent many unplanned hours over the recent 3-day holiday weekend here in the US digging into what this new release holds and its significance on the mobile learning community moving forward. Upon initial review, Adobe Captivate 8 is well positioned as a key technology for heralding in a new era of “mobile first” capabilities and attitudes that can accelerate change and ultimately transform a mobile learning landscape that has plodded along for years. It couldn’t come at a better time.

One of the web tangents I followed over the long weekend brought me to a blog posting by Dr. Allen Partridge, Senior Technical Evangelist for eLearning Products at Adobe Systems, who recently penned “The Mobile Learning Tipping Point” on Adobe’s Rapid eLearning/Captivate Blog. Dr. Partridge’s article poses several interesting and provocative thoughts on the “state of the union” of mLearning and his words rallied me to not only to think but also to respond. I happened upon that posting after reviewing a great set of video tutorials exploring Cp8 prepared by Dr. Partridge along with Dr. Pooja Jaisingh, Adobe’s Senior eLearning Evangelist for learning products and I encourage you to check out this informative collection of videos which are certainly worth your time if you are curious about Cp8’s many new features and improvements.

As a technologist who has been involved in the enterprise mLearning space for 10+ years – spanning features phones at the outset into web access on smartphones on through native apps for handsets, tablets, eReaders and all manner of other intelligent, connected devices – I can assert that interest in mobile learning from the device-enabled masses is truly real and the proverbial tipping point Dr. Partridge refers to is now or well within our immediate reach. Myriad obstacles contributed to the slow pace of market adoption over the years and the widely held view by several pundits and experts that mobile learning might not be a ready for prime time. The four most commonly cited limitations included the “lack of capable smart devices” (reality: smartphones now outsell feature phones, and tablets outsell traditional laptops as well), the “lack of interest” to use mobile devices for anything besides making calls and sending texts/emails (reality: the simple majority of information access over the web now happens via a mobile device), the perceived “lack of security” (reality: enterprise-grade mLearning is actually MORE secure than traditional eLearning), and the “lack of flexible tools and platforms” to package and present mLearning courseware (reality: the mobile experience can actually be as good or even BETTER than an online experience). I have experienced all of these challenges from the front lines of enterprise mobile Ed Tech and while new challenges arise all the time, yesterday’s complaints have largely been squelched and progressive organizations of all sizes have attained fantastic, measurable results mobile learning, performance support and business communications.

And like the world of mobile tech in general, the landscape of enabling tech providing support for mLearning is also evolving at a rapid rate with most passing quarters yielding better tools, templates, and approaches. In one fell swoop, Adobe has significantly “changed the game” from what (until recently) I considered their “sub-standard support” for mobile learning in Captivate 5/6/7 to what’s now clearly an offering that’s running at or certainly with the front of the pack of authoring tools for mobile content.

What’s my one word review of the new Captivate 8? How about “WOW!”

The new Cp8 has great features, a simplified user interface for instructional designers, lots of flexibility to build content along with simulations, learning interactions, quizzes and even some simple game-enabled learning elements all through one industry standard and market recognized offering. And Cp8 is competitively priced as well costing less than $20/month via Adobe’s Creative Cloud services. In all honesty, I have complained many times to customers and partners alike about my disappointment in Adobe’s learning products not keeping up with the progressive and innovative feature sets they already offered in their other tools like InDesign and Dreamweaver. I guess they have finally found a way to get me to shut up and get onboard by actively endorsing their new product and approach.

Not only does Cp8 provide support for a highly customizable set of responsive content templates, a plethora of extended features also make it easy to set “smart positioning” of graphical and text objects, to include support for common haptic responses like swipes, pinches/zooms, to include geo-location support, to add quizzes and interactions that leverage device accelerometers, and to preview your responsive projects across the common online-tablet-handset display metaphors using Adobe’s Edge Inspect offering (based on Adobe Shadow, I’d reason). Our team still needs to dig into the gory technical details on the various Cp8 publication options for output/delivery to LMS platforms as well as native app-focused delivery, bookmarking support between modalities for multi-screen learners, and available support for xAPI statements but overall Cp8 represents a giant leap forward and it will help virtually all their current customers bridge the gap between online and mobile faster, easier and with better results. They are likely to grab converts from other authoring tools as well.

With Cp8, Adobe is clearly advancing what’s possible in our mLearning universe and coaxing the whole industry through that elusive “tipping point” we’ve anticipated for years. Clearly, other mainstream authoring tool vendors must now respond in kind with their own responsive and “mobile first” offerings or concede the field to what’s proving to be a very advanced and practical solution for enterprise mobile content authoring. And I think The Gartner Group should rethink that 10-year adoption landscape Allen referred to in his original posting too.

So, congrats to Adobe for a job well done – a long, long time in coming but nicely executed in the end.  And thanks for inspiring me to get back into the blogosphere as well.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

CellCast App for BlackBerry 10

Oh what a difference a few years makes, eh?

Our team has been involved in mobile learning for enterprise customers for almost a decade now on devices spanning basic feature phones in the beginning (think old Nokia handsets with voice only service) through simple smartphone devices (remember Windows Mobile?) popular four or five years ago. The next few years of the enterprise mLearning landscape were focused on supporting mobile workers equipped with nearly ubiquitous BlackBerry smartphones from Research in Motion; sure, there were some new Apple iPhones out there and Google had just introduced Android into the market but real companies needed real devices with real security so most organizations sought to leverage those BlackBerry populations for their mobile learning needs.

What transpired next will become fodder for many future business case studies as the venerable RIM/BlackBerry began to lose market share to more sexy iOS and Android-based alternatives due to what the market perceived as a lack of innovation coming from the folks in Waterloo.  Enterprise IT organizations started thinking about devices that were fun to use, had more capable features and better web browsers, and provided extensive app ecosystems to meet address unique business requirements. Much of the pressure on these teams to start considering non-RIM hardware was driven at the grassroots level via the consumer-oriented adoption of Apple iPhones and iPads and Motorola Droids that began to sweep through the market. When the sales executive up in the corner office demands she needs her new personal handset or tablet working with corporate email server and connected to the office Wi-Fi network, yesterday’s mobile device risks were suddenly evaluated under different light thus driving a wedge into the restrictive mobile device policies enforced by many IT security teams.

None of these facts was lost on RIM, their ecosystem or their investors for that matter. Over the past year, RIM (now officially renamed BlackBerry in both name and core product) has transformed the company’s vision and strategy in the mobile computing market to dramatically transform both their product hardware and the underlying mobile device software with differentiated, next generation offerings that leverage past strengths as well as support future ones. All this culminated today with the official launch of the BlackBerry 10 operating system and announcement of the first two of six planned handsets – the touchscreen BlackBerry Z10 and the upcoming QWERTY-based BlackBerry Q10. These devices are launching globally in the coming weeks/months and are sure to not just energize the CrackBerry faithful with long-awaited features but also begin to rebuild their base with new customers who feel the current crop of mobile offerings leaves them wanting something different and more secure. 

Our team has had the good fortunate to work on project to bring our CellCast Solution platform for enterprise mobile learning to the BlackBerry 10 device platform and we officially launched our new offering in the BlackBerry App World earlier this month in support of today’s product introduction (along with 70K other applications). The core functionality of our new BB10 app is virtually identical feature-wise to all our other native smartphone, tablet and eBook reader apps in other popular App stores but what sets this new app apart from its siblings is the “wow factor” users gain from BlackBerry’s new Cascades-based development environment and interface. The level of what’s possible has easily changed by an order of magnitude from the current BlackBerry/BBOS7 operating environment versus this new realm.

As evidence, the picture above shows our current BlackBerry 7 CellCast app next to our new BlackBerry 10 CellCast app each configured with the same selection of features and options. The graphical interface is more engaging and simplified – hallmarks of the new “less is more” mobile design doctrine my friends like RJ Jacquez (@rjacquez) and Mayra Aixa Villar (@mayraAixaVillar) both espouse. Both apps allow users to access training content, complete surveys, interact within defined social networks, and actively participate in game-enabled learning environments and check their status on leader boards – the BB10 just makes all those formal and informal learning interactions more enjoyable.

Overall, the “look and feel” is truly wonderful as you’ll see in the short promo video included below that I produced using another excellent feature found on the BlackBerry 10 that’s not found on many other smartphone handsets – HDMI video output that can be recorded by an external video source. Add to that some other compelling BB10-only features like BlackBerry Hub, BlackBerry Balance and the new video-capable BlackBerry Messenger/BBM with cool screen sharing capabilities to amass even more reasons (beyond control and tight security) why enterprises are going include BlackBerry 10 solutions in their mobile computing universes. BlackBerry 10 will definitely improve the mobile learning experience for all who adopt and use one.

Finally, my thanks to our whole team who worked diligently to design, create, test and deploy our next generation app for all our BlackBerry 10 users, partners and customers – you make me proud! :)