Their strategy is not a mystery. It’s all about listening and strength, aimed with precision at what is, arguably, pending homework for Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). To put it in single words: Comfort. Joy. A pleasant visual interface. Why not: A luxurious user experience that is mindful of our human, mental and social needs. Eliminating the FOMO that many proprietary Silicon Valley tech arouses —often the only justification for its existence— is one among the many reasons why eCreators earned the first Global Moodle Partner of the Year Award, last November.
For its part, Learnbook, the company’s Moodle customization, is also deserving of its recognition as the Best Premium Moodle Theme of 2019. But just because it remains undefeated for yet another year should not lead you to believe the space isn’t thriving with innovation. The simple fact is: Learnbook has not stopped outdoing itself, to the point that deeming it a “theme” does it no justice. Saunders himself shared an exclusive preview of the soon-to-come new features with us, as well as the ambitious roadmap for 2020 and the decade upon us.
Learnbook: Solid experience, sound infrastructure, groundbreaking SII
The coming wave of innovation on Learnbook is a dutiful exercise on both the front and the back end, but one that has never lost sight of real users. Saunders acknowledges how his own views have evolved, especially in the past year, thanks in part to his discovery missions and higher focus on listening to their customers.
For most of 2019, development was underway on the production of a “Single Image Infrastructure,” or SII. It refers to an architectural design that provides large organizations, running upwards of 10 Moodle sites, central control and powerful automation features. It allows for new custom site deployment, upgrade, plugin installation and more, to one, several or all sites under their management, instantly. The modular assembly of Moodle enables this, but it is the deep understanding of its architecture what makes eCreators a provider in a league of its own, of what could be considered an advanced multitenancy solution.
The SII solution is being piloted through eCreators resellers. “The solution is still new. We don’t want to deploy it at a mass scale.” The company privileges close partners who commercialize Learnbook for the testing, located in Singapore and mainly across Asia Pacific. It is expected to be officially available to all in Q2.
Learnbook Lite LXP: Online learning, humanly connected
The SII is only one of the several ways in which the company is looking to leap further from the —arguably crowded— LMS space, both technologically and in terms of the user experience. With the LXP, eCreators lunges firmly on both grounds, by building a learning platform from the “learner up.”
Saunders is ready to prevent possible misunderstandings: “It’s not a leap away from the LMS, and certainly not from Moodle.” Moodle and other LMS continue to make tremendous efforts to become the “one-stop-shop.” In Saunders’ view, there are two critical issues the LMS is only expected to keep wrestling with for the time being:
- The tendency to “jump” away from the LMS and take advantage of another tool, mainly because it feels more amenable. From Skype to WhatsApp to Gmail, complementing the LMS with other apps mainly following the principle of least resistance, might be fine for students and even some teachers, but it poses a complicated challenge for administrators, instructional designers and researchers interested in understanding the full extent of a learning experience.
- Even if the LMS incorporates all kinds of solutions, from multimedia, to gamification, to subject-specific tools, users will always have to deal with gaps, coarse integrations or vastly different experiences with no hope of peaceful concomitance. From the admin’s point of view, it’s not really an improvement, as there are constant concerns on the infrastructure and administrative hurdles in keeping track of multiple vendors and licenses.
Both parties are begging for a truly seamless user experience.
By using Moodle as a reference and a guiding light, especially on its focus on social learning; but building a solution from scratch, Saunders and eCreators believe to have found in the LXP the integral solution the industry has been looking for.
While there are clear feature overlaps between the LMS and the LXP, the differences become just as undeniable when you consider the principal unit of each. In the LMS, it’s the course. In the LXP, is the user. In the LMS, without courses filled with sections and activities, there is little reason for the user to log in, let alone hang around. In comparison, the LXP plays a number of different roles, making sure it has something to offer to the learner: It’s a content and feature catalog, a social interaction hub, a learning planning and advising tool. The LXP aims to envelop the user with relevant solutions and informatic immediacy. It’s not that the LMS cannot do a similar job, at least in theory. But after years of experience and listening to hundreds of clients, promoting the virtues of the LXP seems more effective than trying to eliminate the association between the LMS and the widespread, default practices. There is little hope that in the minds of many the LMS is one day going to be more than a repository of PowerPoints and PDF handouts. Despite the vast efforts (and investments) in UX, truly interactive and rich learning experiences are the exception rather than the rule.
From a “learning consumer” perspective, the LMS almost seems to have forestalled the delivery of new solutions and models. For the LXP, the possibilities have a seemingly unlimited flavor. Saunders recounts a barbecue anecdote: Skilled and fond of the grill, he ran into a cold stall. “I didn’t know what to do.” YouTube, everyone’s best DIY teacher, wasn’t giving him the answer he needed right away, and getting it would have required him to endure the endless blabber the recommendation algorithm deems as more engaging.
He had one more realization: “If there was a service that would give me the straight answer fast, say by connecting me with an expert over the phone, I would be more than happy to pay $5 for a 2 minute call.” The point is much bigger than this example. For starters, many fields and companies seem to profit from this informational disarray. Then, instead of brute-forcing extremely sophisticated algorithms to replicate skills that are fairly available, it might pay a lot better to focus on technologies that bring people together, and bridge gaps between experts and learners.
As insightful as this finding is, it is by no means unique. It is, to a large extent, the same reason why data-intensive AI requires whole armies of humans who classify and structure data to make it digestible to the machine, with still unsatisfying success and a potential for social tensions. “There are neglected audiences. People who don’t really have the avenues. Many have to go through a very long bureaucratic process to get the help of anyone. And even if they reach the end of that process, there is no guarantee that the neglect will end,” sentences Saunders.
It can be disheartening to take a hard look at our predominant educational paradigms and realize how needlessly burdensome they are, while being completely out of touch. Before the LXP, no system seemed to be designed to bring actionable knowledge to people as fast and effectively as possible; or to bring people together through the exchange of said knowledge.
The LMS is a vehicle. The LXP is a multi-modal system
“If I had asked learners what they wanted, they would have said faster PowerPoints.” — Henry Ford, had he been in EdTech.
In many ways, the current state of affairs in the online learning experience is the result of disorderly patchwork. By enabling plugins, Moodle opened the gates for everyone to provide alternatives to the statu quo. Remedies, real enhancements, or merely cosmetic bells and whistles with dubious value, all coexist under the understaffed rule of the Plugin Directory. Beyond Moodle, less flexible experiences settle for deciding what’s best on behalf of the student or teacher. Saunders finds neither model satisfying.
His take may lean towards the Moodle side, but it’s a clear departure. Rather than throw every possible choice haphazardly, a better solution could be “all about creating more avenues.” Enabling a multimodal approach that sets learners free, even from their teacher’s choices or their own, but one that never keeps the eyes off the prize.
In Saunders vision, which Learnbook LXP is steadily turning into reality, a user can begin studying a regular module, but can fire off a chat window or have a live call within a moment’s notice, to a peer, a TA or coach, all within the same platform. Social interaction is always a choice ready to be made, and if recent studies are true, digital learners will prefer their learning to be social 8 times out of 10.
In essence, the main goal of the LXP is to connect people in a way that leads to learning through experiences as streamlined and enjoyable as possible. While the LMS seems to favor structure over experience, Learnbook LXP looks almost as if it was meant to defy linearity. By lifting a surprisingly long list of presupposed requirements, digital learning gains a new depth, a new perception. Increasing the volume of meaningful learning interactions —with content or with users— becomes the ultimate goal.