Technology – Taking Advantage of “The Cloud”

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Before we can even have a realistic conversation about taking advantage of cloud computing, we have to actually understand what this is.

Cloud technology, when applied to a learning organization offers:

  • Anywhere, anytime access to learning applications
  • Instant scalability to meet the size of your learner population
  • Seamless compatibility with social and collaborative platforms and tools

Cloud computing is essentially a series of hosted computing systems.

In the old delivery model of a learning organization, the organization bought, installed, implemented controls, and maintained all the learning applications in-house. In the new, cloud-driven delivery model, the “cloud” hosts all or part of the learning organization’s applications and courseware.

The result is a streamlined, cost effective, and efficient delivery of content to your learners. With this technology, members of the learning organization no longer have to be experts at the underlying infrastructure of the delivery system. They can focus on what they do best…educating learners.

Because of the nature of cloud technology and the increased use of mobile devices, there is a 365/24/7 demand for the delivery of learning content. Cloud technology can be the centerpiece of this delivery mechanism that can easily deliver video – a content medium that is becoming more popular.

With the cloud, a service provider owns and controls all the systems. This includes servers, storage, networking, operating systems, and databases. You access the system through the internet and it is usually offered through a subscription model. Typically, as a client, you have administrative privileges to the system, but you don’t actually manage the software. This removes the IT costs and lowers operating expenses, while at the same time improving reliability and security.

Sounds really good, right. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of a cloud-based system.

PROS

It offers more autonomy to the individual and the organization.

Without IT’s assistance, you can create relevant and tailored user content.

Cloud systems are typically open-source, where group collaboration enhances the system for everyone.

CONS

In the short-term, moving to the cloud can be expensive.

There can be heightened fears over a loss of control and protection of company content.

IMPROVING MANAGEMENT COSTS

There are many generic administrative functions that one can perform efficiently and inexpensively. This frees up talent and resources to perform other critical organizational needs. Ideally, more content within the cloud because of easier access and lower costs. As technology matures, so will security. Did you know that YouTube can be a cloud-driven application? It is hosted externally. However, you can customize security levels, content, searches, and access to match your organization’s goals.

AUTONOMY

Since you can easily tag and update cloud-based content, you can offer greater autonomy to your learners. It is a challenge to get the most current content to learners when they most need it. Within the cloud, you can link individual content from various sources so they appear within a single search tool.

Because the cloud is web-based, you can effortlessly search across different applications, repositories, and databases. Now, your users can access all your great content, no matter where it lives. You can even implement a single-sign on application that enables learners to traverse all learning-related sites. Essentially the Cloud is a very effective search platform that allows users to set preferences for themselves and yield highly individualized results.

YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH IT

You can improve your relationship with IT because you are using Cloud technology.

In a traditional learning environment, IT custom-builds platforms and delivery applications. This is slow and labor-intensive. It is also full of obstacles and delays. Cloud technology totally negates this situation by reducing many of the support-type tasks to the cloud service provider. Because of this, you have the capability to quickly and easily scale your system to meet your needs. Another area in which there is a removed burden is in the posting of new content and improving content availability.

SECURITY

This is the single largest complaint of cloud-driven content. However, it is exactly the opposite, By comprising all your learning content in one environment, it is actually safer. Consolidating your content is safer because a higher concentration of resources can be devoted to a single system. Cloud-service vendors are quite aware of the concern over security. They also realize that if they fail to meet the necessary standard, the cloud will fail as an entire delivery platform.

Here is an article from American Banker about how to keep cloud computing secure.

MOBILE CONTENT

If you want to use the Cloud, you may want to rethink how you use mobile technology.
You cannot deliver a 30-60 minute course over a tablet or hand-held device. You need to chunk your content into bite-sized pieces.

Replace written content with videos. This is much easier to view on the smaller screens.

Use tools like HTML5 to create content designed for mobile devices.

Because of the cloud video has seen a considerable bump in its usefulness as learning content. You can easily create and categorize video content in a way that facilitates easier search and usability. Before the cloud, it was too expensive and time-consuming to develop video-based content and manage the delivery of this content in-house.
Learners enjoy video as short sources of information. Bandwidth is also no longer an issue because tools like YouTube are designed for streaming and storing video content. Therefore, learners can access the content immediately at the time of need.

PERSONAL STORY #1 – YouTube/Amazon

I am a huge fan of using YouTube as a learning tool.

I personally use it all the time when I am trying to learn something new or see how people created something. I recently used YouTube to learn how to perform different effects within a video editing tool I use to create new videos. I have also used it to see how different software products function. When I was determining whether to purchase Adobe Captivate 6 or Articulate Storyline, I turned to YouTube to watch the many demos of different features of the two tools. This was much faster than trying to download the software demos and trying them myself. This series of videos focused my attention on different features in which I knew I would be interested, and therefore sped up my ability to demo the products myself.

I have used a combination of YouTube and Amazon.com to determine product purchases. I do this right in the store, as I am making my decision. Amazon has an app for my phone that allows me to scan a barcode on the product. It then shows me the same product within its database. This provides me with a price and reviews. If the reviews and the price seem favorable enough, I turn to YouTube to look for demonstrations of the product use or video-based reviews.

This may not be a cloud-based learning system, per se, but it is a perfect example of a self-made, on-demand learning system all delivered to me through my hand-held device. This is eventually how your learners will want to receive your content, and using cloud technology can offer that to you and your learners.

PERSONAL STORY #2 – Using WordPress/YouTube/Google to Create an Online Presence

The blog you are reading, right now is stored within a cloud content system – WordPress. We created this blog to provide you, the reader, with information you desire, under the umbrella of the Central Florida chapter of the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD).

The chapter does not own the WordPress application, they don’t own the videos we share, and they don’t own the servers that deliver the content we provide to you. They don’t have a team of content managers that manage all the content either. They have one person – me, the author.

I use a combination of information outlets, mostly all web-based, to deliver content to you. I have Google alerts set up. This allows me to have regular content come to me in my e-mail. I also use other blogs to determine interesting content. I then use YouTube and Google to find videos that someone else created to better explain my content to you.

By combining these tools, along with traditional media such as books and magazines, I have been able to provide an ongoing stream of interesting content. Because of the automated research capabilities of the cloud, I have been able to produce about two articles a week on an ongoing basis.

Again, not specifically a learning system, but definitely a use of the cloud and its content and delivery tools to create a personal learning network that allows me to share content I find with you, the readers. Because my work with this blog is housed within a cloud-based application, someone else might decide that my content is valuable for their staff, team, industry chapter, or whatever and link to it as content within their content system. As you can see, this proliferates through the web and eventually lots of people might be using my content to better their knowledge or their careers.

In this type of environment, Google and WordPress can be the search tool that provides on-demand content. Someone might search for something I wrote about on this blog and Google returns it as a result. Then, when they reach the blog, they find that the content was interesting. Then, as a result, they may search the blog for more content. This search is specific to the blog, so the content within that search is very focused and targeted to the content they need.

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