Rise of the learning content ecosystem with Phylise Banner (podcast)
In episode 160 of The Content Strategy Experts Podcast, Alan Pringle and special guest Phylise Banner talk about the limitations of the learning management system, the rise of the learning content ecosystem, and more.
“I think about enterprise-wide applications. Consider the tools that are used to generate help solutions. Let’s just use Jira as an example. You have a knowledge base, enterprise-wide, and everyone at the organization has access to ask a question or search the knowledge base, or something like that. That’s where I want to go, that’s what I want to see. I want my learning experience platform to be like that. I want a knowledge base that I can tap into any place, anytime, anywhere. And then, have my mastery checked in the ways that I want to have it checked. ”
— Phylise Banner
- Wrangling the Meg of learning content
- Content operations for elearning content (podcast)
- Developing a strategy for learning content
- Flexible learning content with the DITA Learning and Training specialization (white paper)
Alan Pringle: Welcome to the Content Strategy Experts Podcast, brought to you by Scriptorium. Since 1997, Scriptorium has helped companies manage, structure, organize and distribute content in an efficient way. In this episode, we’re talking about how people in the learning space are addressing challenges in their content operations. What do those changes mean for learning management systems? Is this the end of the monolithic LMS?
Hey, everybody, I’m Alan Pringle. Today, we have a special guest, Phylise Banner. Phylise, welcome. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
Phylise Banner: Sure. Thanks for having me, Alan. My name is Phylise Banner. I’m a learning experience designer. I have, I want to say, over 25 years. I did the math the other day, actually. It’s about 27 years in higher education, and corporate and non-profit government learning design. Before that, I worked in data visualization and information design. I came into this field in a little bit of a different way, although there’s other folks who came in it the same way that I did, considering this from an information perspective rather than from a teaching perspective.
The minute I started working in the field, I was fascinated by educational theory, and pedagogy, and philosophies, and andragogy, and hudagogy. And techno-hudagogy, thanks to my friend Bill Pelz, there. But throughout the years, I have watched technology evolve alongside learning theory, and I’m fascinated by that. I had been in the content strategy space this whole time, both from the information design, data visualization side, also going over into learning design. I’ve had a focus on content strategy all along. I’ve known folks at Scriptorium for probably 25 years.
AP: Well, probably so because we’ve been around since ’97. And we have crossed paths in conferences probably more times than we can tell people. Indeed.
Well, with your background, you’re the perfect person to talk to about this, in the learning management system, LMSs, and what’s going on with them because we’re certainly seeing a shift. And you’ve got your feet even more firmly planted in the learning space than we do. I’m very interested in your perspective. I think a good place to start, especially for people who may not necessarily be in the learning space, maybe even a little more content focused, let’s start with a quick definition of what a learning management system is and what it does for an organization.
PB: Oh, I didn’t know that was going to be on the test, Alan.
PB: Curveball. I’m not going to have the ultimate, perfect definition of what a learning management system is. If we want to talk about a content repository and what different content repositories look like, overlay a content repository, content management system with registration. The ability to create courses, to offer courses and show progress through those courses. Whether it’s simply content, or content interaction and assessment. I would say those are the features that would differentiate a learning management system from a content management system.
Early on, when learning management systems started to become more widely available, the joke was all it is is a content management system with the ability to register thrown on top of it. But there are so many pieces that are built into learning management systems these days, which is why the behemoths got to become behemoths. With student privacy, the data that’s being collected, learner privacy, the interactions between student information systems. Setting up the databases behind the scenes, so that it would be possible, back in the day, for a student information system, akin to Banner, Banner is one of the systems, to be able to talk to the data in the learning management system.
AP: Sure. The people that use these LMSs, and I’m talking more about the trainers, the learning people, what’s the general process for creating content and getting it into one of these LMS systems? What’s their process? Or, does it vary from system to system?
PB: It varies from system to system. It also varies from practice to practice. If we want to talk in any learning space, imagine a training session … We’ll talk about a physical learning experience, where you’re all designated to meet in the same place. You all show up in the same place. Someone walks in the room, drops a bunch of material or folders on the desk, and walks out of the room. That’s how most learning management systems are used. Unfortunately, it’s the way they were designed. It was upload your file-
AP: A dumping ground, essentially.
PB: Exactly. A dumping ground with no context. That’s the same as someone just dropping … I used to do that when I did training. I’d come in, I’d drop it on the table, I’d walk out and say, “That’s what you’re doing to your learners.” If you don’t provide context for your information, that’s exactly what you’re doing to your learners.
The process depends on the tool that’s being used. So we’ll say, am I using one of the big tools. Let’s say it’s Canvas, or Moodle, or Brightspace, or even if it’s Teachable, or Kajabi. It depends on how the LMS itself, or this learning platform, is enabling you to structure a learning experience and upload content, create assessments, enable interactions. The instructional design process or practice needs to happen first.
PB: We need to design this learning experience. We need to consider how we want the learners to progress through that, how we want them to communicate with each other, with an instructor, with themselves. It’s sort of there’s no right answer to your question.
AP: Sure. That’s true, even on the content side too. It leads into what I want to talk about next. It sounds like dumping ground, or maybe better than dumping ground, there’s still going to be some challenge and obstacles, especially to assign any intelligence to all of this content that you’re putting into these systems. What kinds of things, in general, do you see these people who are creating this learning content, what kind of hoops are they jumping through? What kind of workarounds, what things are they doing to get things to work better in these systems?
PB: I’m going to roll it back a little bit, and talk about when learning content has typically developed, and shared, and reused.
PB: Because that reuse is something that we didn’t think about very much. Not everyone.
AP: You’re not the only industry, either.
AP: Learning folks, we’re not slamming you at all because, trust us, it is a problem everywhere.
PB: But coming from an information design space, reuse was always in the back of my mind, and classification’s always in the back of my mind.
PB: Having always known what a library system could do, what a database could do, how classification could help organize any type of information. Taking a look at learning management systems, and the ability to tag content and content types has been missing.
PB: All along. I remember when I could first build a course in WordPress, and was able to program the heck out of that backend, and classify learning content, classify activities as activities. I also remember Angel, the learning management system, where we could do that within a learning object repository. And then, Blackboard acquired Angel so that went away.
But, I think the struggles we’re up against now to make things talk to one another, our learning content repositories, our learning management systems. If we’re using these old, big solutions, there’s Lectora. I don’t want to go through and just bring out all these names.
AP: Brand name salad, yeah.
PB: Brand name, yeah, salad. But the newer tools are really taking into consideration how we might reuse content. How we might want to, how we might need to.
Some of the things you and I have talked about in the past, and other folks at Scriptorium, are the possibilities of even going as far as using micro-content. Or the DITA learning terms, to really tap into those frameworks to become a little bit more consistent with tagging our content so that we can reuse it.
One of the things that I see, one of the biggest challenges I see right now is you’ve got the training department, and the marketing department, and the documentation department not able to share content, using different systems. You see this all the time, Alan.
AP: We do. We do.
PB: That’s your job. How do we make that go away?
AP: You’re speaking my language. Yes, you are.
AP: We have noticed, we have more clients from the training space now. They are really up against what you just talked about. Reuse and the single source of truth, those are two things that really, a lot of them, their hair is on fire because they are being forced to do copy-and-pasting for different versions. Copying and pasting from one system to another.
AP: It’s my observation, and you can tell me if this is unfair, that a lot of tools marketed to the learning groups seem very closed and do not play well with others, at all.
PB: Completely. Completely.
PB: We see that changing a little bit.
PB: Once we started becoming comfortable using APIs and getting things to talk to one another. But the thing that’s still missing is that centralized database of information.
You’ll hear the term learning experience platform being thrown around a lot these days. The way I have seen them used, I have never seen one used to its full potential. If we want to talk about how are we including or taking into consideration informal learning, what I learn in my kitchen about my job just because I happened to learn something that has something to do with something else I’m …
PB: Just these tangents and things like that. And, how we capture them.
I am going to call out a product. I want to call out Docebo. The folks at Docebo know I love them. I’ve seen the best approach to learning experience platform, With the standards that exist in the learning space. You’ll need to find someone whose more versed in SCORM than I am, which is the standard for exporting and importing across different platforms. But that’s just taking a package, and downloading it, and putting that package somewhere else. It’s not letting one assessment, or seven questions from one assessment, talk to a different learning experience.
AP: Yeah. I compare a SCORM package almost to an ebook, like an ePUB file, which is basically a container, a ZIP file really, a container file, full of HTML files. A SCORM package is very similar. It is just a container for a lot of files.
I will tell you, one of our clients has been concerned about SCORM packages from an intellectual property, IP point of view, because the second you let that go and it’s just manually uploaded or imported into a system, it can be hard to get controls. But you’ve already mentioned APIs, there are ways to make virtual SCORMs, almost like an API, where you can hold onto it. But the traditional SCORM package, if you just hand it over, I’ve just given you my stuff.
AP: What if there’s an update, what if something’s outdated, whatever-
AP: It’s a big mess. I have also noticed that we will create automated transformation processes to basically create SCORM packages so people can put content into an LMS. The problem is LMS A likes a slightly different version of SCORM than B. Yeah, it is a standard, but there are flavors within that standard, we have observed.
PB: Oh, exactly. Yeah.
AP: That’s another big pain point. But what I’m hearing from you is it sounds like two things are going on. Some of the vendors, the companies are getting wiser with letting people create smarter content, number one. Number two, people are starting to move to those platforms and realize maybe the older ways of having just that LMS sitting in the middle, that pretty much it, maybe is not the way our things need to be. It needs to be connectivity, there needs to be a wider ecosystem of tools that’s not just in your department. It needs to be cross-departments, in a lot of cases, in organizations.
PB: Absolutely. I think about enterprise-wide applications. Consider the tools that are used to generate help solutions. Let’s just use Jira as an example. You have a knowledge base, enterprise-wide, everyone at the organization has access to ask a question or search the knowledge base, or something like that. That’s where I want to go, that’s what I want to see. I want my learning experience platform to be like that. I want a knowledge base that I can tap into any place, anytime, anywhere. And then, have my mastery checked in the ways that I want to have it checked.
PB: A lot of times, the learning management systems are talking about being really focused on the learner, and more adaptive. I’ve seen adaptive systems, and especially with generative AI being so widely available.
AP: I wondered if that was going to come up. There we go, the requisite AI mention.
PB: We’ll get there again. The adaptive pieces, what I’m seeing are in content and serving up content.
PB: Adaptive learning means you’re giving me different content because maybe something I’ve searched for. But are you giving me a different assessment? Are you giving me an different option to interact? This is where I see the future of learning experience platforms going.
PB: That it’s the experiences that I have will be different, will change. I haven’t seen it well done yet. I want someone to show me.
AP: Well, even on the content side of the world, because we’re focused, Scriptorium, on the product content side of the world. You talk about, “We need to deliver omnichannel content, we need to deliver content, what people want at the time they need it, and the format that they want.” Yes, that sounds great but not everybody is doing it. So again, this is not just about learning folks. This is a problem that’s universal. Yeah, I think there is a lot of room for improvement.
Wherever content is, you have got to have, your source has to have that intelligence built in that lets you do that adaptive content on the fly. A quiz based on your location, and you’re at this particular branch, or at this particular hospital, or this location so you’re going to get this training. If you don’t have that intelligence, metadata, yeah I said, built into that source content, and then it needs to be processed by the various systems, you’re sunk. That goes right back to you’ve got to start during the creation process and get that intelligence built into that content so you can do the adaptive things that you are discussing.
PB: Yeah. You talk about being in that place, or that space, and being served what’s appropriate in that moment of learning need. I’m fascinated by location-based tools. Lidar, iBeacons, like when I walk past this, I might need to learn something different in order to do something past this point. I think all of that is really important.
Let’s go into AI.
PB: We touched on it. We don’t know what might come next.
PB: I’ve embraced it. I love playing in this space. Anything that can help with the … I talk about dreaming drudgery design in development, and anything that can help with the drudgery piece is always welcome in my book.
AP: It’s hilarious you said that because I was about to say we see it as another tool. If it can handle the drudgery of content creation, there’s several things I can think of. It could help you sort. It could help you … Yes, people still index things. Why not let AI take a whack at it? It may not be perfect, but then you can go clean it up. Any kind of pattern matching, that sort of thing, I think it does very well.
Now, we can quibble about should you be going out on open sites and dumping your corporate information in there.
AP: But if you’re in a closed, large language model that is specific to your company, your organization, why not let it look at your stuff and find relationships that you probably don’t have the time to go dig around and find, and it can. It’s just another tool. Do I think it’s going to replace content creators in any space right now? The only space where I think it might is if you are someone who is cranking out low-quality content, of people who do, shall we say, not entirely truthful reviews on various sites, things like that. Things that can be put together fairly quickly, I think there might be problems for those kind of people, low quality content. But when you’re talking about the spaces you and I are in, I see it more as a tool and not the replacement.
PB: Absolutely. A lot of what I love about this community, we talk about documentation and training on new products, well nothing exists.
PB: We can’t tap into existing content to generate this content. In the learning space, I see so much potential for different types of tutors based on information that we have, existing knowledge.
You talked about intellectual property earlier, and that’s a big deal.
PB: On the higher ed side, there’s the open education movement, open education resources, and just open education about enabling more access. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what open access looks like in this content space, the struggles we have and maybe what advice do you have for protecting intellectual property, but sharing content? Creative Commons licensing is a beautiful thing, and being able to share learning content would be so helpful but we don’t go there. Companies spend so much money creating from scratch, the same trainings that other companies are creating.
PB: I just think about all the compliance training I’ve written in my lifetime.
AP: What you’re talking about is a tightrope, and it’s a very difficult tightrope because we are a profit-based society, unfortunately. This is business. It can be very hard to give things away.
I’m going to toot Scriptorium’s horn here for two seconds, in this regard, because what we did is we created a WordPress-based site called learningdita.com, to teach people about an XML specification, the Darwin Information Typing Architecture. Which, by the way, can be a very good fit for learning content. We basically created that where it is out on GitHub, you can download the source files, do whatever, and then you can take the classes for free. This was our thought on that. We are proving our own bonafides in this space, the DITA space, by putting these courses together, but then they benefit people too. And I’ll be blunt, they also benefit our clients because instead of paying someone to pay for an introduction to DITA course, people can take it at their own pace, through this self-paced learning that’s online, and do it that way to get a baseline and it also saves the client some money. It doesn’t even have to be our clients, anybody can go out there and take advantage of this free training and not pay for it.
You really have to think very carefully, bigger picture, how this could pay off. If getting content out there, if providing some open training, open source training to people, it can help you indirectly. It can prove your competence in topics. That’s the angle that I’m coming it. I don’t know if that exactly answers your question, but that’s where my brain has gone.
PB: No, I like that. I wonder, can people reuse and reshape it? If it’s on GitHub, it’s there and someone could take it-
AP: They could take it, and adapt it, and they can take that source.
AP: Basically, the site that we have, a learning management system that sits on top of WordPress, that is ours. That is just one instance, one instance of how you could use this content. If people wanted to take that content and then do something more print or PDF based, or some other format, they can. We’ve even had some other people in our line of work, in different parts of the world, take that GitHub content, translate it, and then create their own instances. In German, in French. That same content is out there and it’s been localized. If you want to, you can go to their learning DITA sites and do it through that language, if you’re more comfortable in say German or French.
PB: There’s nothing to stop someone from taking it and charging for it, either.
AP: If they wanted to, they could.
AP: Again, everything that you said, these are the kind of considerations you have to think about when you put things out there for free.
AP: It’s like you’ve got to let your child go out into the world and do their own thing. I’m comfortable with that, because at the end of the day, a more informed world about DITA, in our case, that is a possible customer for Scriptorium down the road. That is very business-y and maybe even a little repellent to put it so bluntly, but there you have it. There is a case for providing free, open source information, even from a for-profit corporation.
PB: Absolutely. Absolutely. For those of you that are listening that are not familiar with Creative Commons licensing, I highly encourage you to go out and take a look, to see what the different types of licenses are. Because there’s that non-commercial use that I would recommend, in many cases. But, I like to think about learning content and the levels at which we would share it.
PB: I would love to see more collaboration. Not just across departments, but across organizations.
PB: I don’t know how we do that.
AP: And again, there’s goodness to be had, but sometimes in a profit-driven situation, longterm thinking is not the motivator. Short term profits are the motivator, so it gets very sticky in there.
AP: Unfortunately. Because at the end of the day, if you’re a for-profit corporation, you’re not there for the sake of giving things away. You’re just not. With education, I think it’s even a little stickier perhaps, because you are talking about trying to improve people, their knowledge, to give them more information. Where do you draw that line?
PB: I’m going to stop you there and say okay, if we separate this out into knowledge, skills, behavior, attitude-
AP: See, this is the learning person talking right here, and I’m going to sit back and let you do it.
PB: Knowledge, skills, behaviors, attitudes. Let’s think of, what if for skills, because yes there are some skills that are unique, but what if we shared that learning content? I can’t tell you how many times I have reinvented the wheel.
AP: Oh, sure.
PB: Every other learning designer has done the same exact thing.
PB: That’s our job, to continuously reinvent the wheel.
PB: Maybe, we need one giant learning experience platform, where we can have skills. I would say, knowledge, skills … Think about how we’ve learned, and how you want to learn, and how you will learn in the future. I’ve heard people come out and say, “I don’t want to learn from a robot.” You already have been for years and you may not have known that, but you have. The expertise that we’re relying on in any learning experience when we introduce an instructor, we need to factor that in. What does it mean if instructor A has this content that they’re delivering as part of a learning experience, or instructor B has that content and they’re delivering this learning experience? Are they going to be two different experiences? In my mind, yes. They’ll be different, depending on the individual’s expertise that they’re bringing. But is that going to get minimized, will that go away?
I’m rambling on here, Alan. I’m so sorry. But now I’m thinking of influencers, and influencers online, and product influencers. They’re educators, too.
AP: They are.
PB: Where does that content lead us when we’re learning from TikTok, or we’re learning from Instagram?
PB: Gosh, I’m all over the place, here.
AP: No, it’s a valid point. I know a lot of people who, they run to YouTube for a video to learn how to do things. This drives me back to the question I would like to wrap, is okay, with all of these changes that you’re talking about, all this sharing that needs to be going on, all this reuse that should be going on, what does that mean for the LMS, from your point of view?
PB: Well, this is a dinosaur I would like to see hit by a meteor tomorrow. I have never been a fan of the learning management system. I think that the information repository with the ability to customize the interactions you want is what an LMS needs to be. Too many times, I have been forced into designing, developing and delivering a learning experience around the limitations of the learning management system.
AP: I have seen clients do exactly what you just said, and they hit a breaking point and they say, “No more.”
PB: Yeah. They’ll sit there and say, “No more,” until someone offers them a solution. What is that solution going to look like? What I see that solution looking like is a lot of pieces that fit together. That it’s app salad, strung together with a central content repository, that can be classified or searched.
There is a learning experience platform out there that you can just create these adaptive learning experiences, and there is no tagging, there is no metadata. I know that they’ve used large language models to generate results, but I still don’t love it.
So for me, the future for me, the meteor may not hit. It may be a slow death. I’d like to be there when they bury Blackboard. Just throw a handful of dirt on that LMS. But I’d love to see someone come up with a solution that helps us stop reinventing the wheel, helps us invent a new form of transportation that we don’t even know about, to push that metaphor a little too far.
AP: No, but I think that’s a very good place to end it. Future thinking, some positivity, but there’s some real work that needs to be done before that.
AP: Phylise, thank you so much. This conversation went to some really interesting places that I didn’t expect and that is always a plus on a podcast like this. So thank you so much for your expertise, we deeply appreciate it.
PB: Oh, thanks for having me. I love you folks at Scriptorium, I love the work that you do. I love the way that you educate folks. And maybe, someday, we can partner and solve this problem together.
AP: A lot of people would be very happy if we did, indeed.
Thank you for listening to the Content Strategy Experts Podcast, brought to you by Scriptorium. For more information, visit scriptorium.com or check the show notes for relevant links.