Tag: small business training

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Where in the world is the Internet? Can a small business with global clients still use Moodle?

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Last week I was asked if I could burn a CD with a Moodle course on it, because there was concern that people in Asia-Pacific wouldn’t have reliable internet access.  

Uh, no”, I said.  

For a brief time, I was speechless, which is a rare condition for me.  There are two huge misconceptions embedded in this question, which I absolutely must write about! 

  1. Anything online can be copied onto a CD or DVD because “electronic is electronic”.
  2. Internet access is available only in the US and Canada; maybe England.   

Electronic media is a broad category, not a single characteristic.  The “power of the Internet” requires the Internet.

No, you can not burn a CD of Moodle! The explanation will have to wait for another day.  But even if you could, here’s why you would not want to: 

  • A CD can not be updated, edited, or controlled.  Once it is delivered into the hands of the user, it is what it is.  If an error is discovered, a change in policy or technology occurs, or any other reason to change the content comes along, the content of that CD can not be changed.
  • You can’t track the usage.  A CD running on a device isn’t traceable.  As the teacher or administrator, you have no idea if the content was viewed, where it was viewed from, or by whom.  You have at least some ability to obtain this information within an LMS.
  • There is no feedback.  Even if you have a fancy CD that is “interactive”, only the program interacts with the user.  The teacher (consultant or trainer) does not interact with anyone.  There are no chats or forums.  Students do not interact, and therefore, don’t learn from each other.
  • There is no other advantage that an LMS has to offer. There’s no “My Moodle” or other customization at the user’s end.   

In my opinion, a printed book is better than a CD.  It’s a little bit larger, but doesn’t require a computer to run, and I can sit under a tree with it. 

OK, so those are just a few of the advantages of online learning.  Not only is online better, there’s no excuse not to have it.  Internet access is ubiquitous. Perhaps we need to revamp Where In the World is Carmen Dandiego to… 

…Where in the world is the Internet?  

When I was an employee at Time Warner Communications in the mid 1990s, all the buzz was about broadband, a wild, new concept.  The vision of our company was to bundle cable TV, phone, and Internet access into one service. There was even talk of a “library of movies that a user could just watch whenever desired”.  Revolutionary!  Almost as far-fetched as indoor plumbing!  Of course, these ideas are very much reality 15 years later.  

What was also reality then – and still plagues us today – is the very difficult  task of dealing with legacy systems – not just computer programs, but with the infrastructure itself.  In parts of the world where reliable phone networks had never been put in place, it was easier to install fiber optics and cell phone towers than it was to replace the old for the new in many parts of the US.  Cell towers are often a source of community disdain because they ruin the view.  Back then, cellular phones were as common in parts of Africa as in Colorado.  

That was a lifetime ago (in technology years), so I did some quick Googling and came up with some interesting statistics on 2010 Internet usage: 

  • Three-quarters of a billion people use the Internet in Asia, according to Internet World Stats.  I don’t know how fast their service is, but it doesn’t take much bandwidth to run Moodle.   
  • Chinese is the second most spoken language on the internet, according to this Wikipedia article.  
  • Another Wikipedia article states: Singapore, as a small densely populated island nation and a pioneer, continues to be one of the few countries in the World in which broadband Internet access is readily available to just about any would-be user anywhere in the country, with connectivity of over 99%.  
  • The Agoda hotel in Thailand has an internet café. I’m willing to bet that there at least as many hotels in Thailand with internet access as in many North American locales.   
  • With XMGlobal, you can host your own hot spot just about anywhere in the world. So if you’re not lucky enough to be in Singapore, you can still Moodle! 
  • Registered Moodle sites exist all over the world.  Presumably, those places have Internet access reliable enough to use their Moodle sites. 
  • My favorite myth-dispeller from WebsiteOptimization.com:  Japan and Korea are way ahead of the pack in percentage of subscribers who have fiber (faster and more reliable than the wire that hangs in the air along my street).  The US is 11th in fiber penetration and 22nd in broadband speed.  

In my post about how small businesses (including authors, consultants, trainers, and other entrepreneurs) can expand their client base by using eLearning, it was implicit that this expansion was limited only by the size of your imagination and the value of your services to people worldwide.  A lack of access to the Internet should not be a concern!   

Last year, I built and hosted a Moodle course for a cruise line.  We trained 2000 employees, while they were onboard ships that were sailing in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and the open Atlantic.  Not one person had an issue with the accessibility of the Moodle site.  Not one.  

So, if you are being held back by the notion that Moodle won’t work for your business because your clients are “around the world”, let go of that idea.  Moodle is available everywhere…

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Friday, August 13th, 2010

Open Source vs. Proprietary: What does it mean to a small business?

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Most conversations I have with potential clients include this question: “If Moodle is free, what am I paying you for”.  I wrote the answer to that in a previous post.  I promised to explain what “free” means, how that applies to Open Source Software, and what difference it makes to a small business owner. 

Open source software is that which has unencrypted code – meaning that anyone can see the source files (where the software program exists), and freely modify it.  Open source software is usually free of charge, and usually comes with no guarantees that it will work as described.  This might sound horrifying to you, but most of us have experienced bugs, poor support, and even fatal errors with software that was proprietary and cost a lot of money.  Proprietary software has encrypted code; if you look at the program files all you’ll see are a bunch of symbols and you are not allowed by law to modify them even if you could figure out how.  The free in open source refers to freedom of use, not cost.  Contrary to popular belief, open source software is still “copyrighted” in most cases, which does more to protect the users than the creators.  That’s a good thing.

Why would you want to use open source vs. something that was “guaranteed”?  Well, here’s a perfect example.  I am so used to going into the source files of Moodle and WordPress (both open source with strong communities of developers and users), to change colors, images, and strings of text that I found myself staring at my Microsoft Outlook the other day, wondering how to do the same thing.  I wanted to use the “out of office assistant” but I didn’t want the subject of the email to read “Out of Office Reply”.  If Outlook was an open source application, I would find that string in the code and change it to something else, such as “Thank you for contacting us”.  This does not take a genius to accomplish.  It’s really simple; but it is impossible to do in a proprietary application such as Outlook.  Moodle and WordPress (as I have them installed with reliable hosts and responsible web companies looking after them) are far less quirky (for me) than Outlook. In my eBook, Moodle e-Learning: Questions and Simple Answers about Online Training, I tell the tale of the proprietary LMS software that promised to do everything but did nothing.  I couldn’t get my $5000 back, even with an attorney! So “guarantees” mean nothing to me.  

Now, you may be thinking “I don’t want to make modifications”, but you probably do want those changes made, even if you’re not the one doing it.  Your web designer, for instance, makes changes to existing code all the time.  When you say “I want that color to be a little brighter” or “Can you change the font to Arial?”, you are asking him to modify the code.  This is relatively easy in Moodle, WordPress, Drupal, and all open source applications…it can not be done in proprietary software unless the creators built in a button to change the color or font.  In order to make those “little” changes that you have probably become accustomed to (if you have a website), you would have to go through a lot bigger effort and spend a lot more money if you are modifying proprietary software.  That is, if it could even be done at all.

Some software companies, like Apple and Articulate, have proprietary software as the core and offer software development kits (SDK) so that the community can create “applications” that integrate perfectly with their software.  This results in some really cool stuff, as most of you know. 

As a business owner, you should investigate all of your options for whatever functionality you desire.  Sometimes, a proprietary application will be the best solution for your needs.  Chances are, unless you are a giant business, you will have to settle for the out-of-the-box applications if you go the proprietary route.  If you want more flexibility, open source will likely be your best solution in the long run. Before deciding on any application, you should obtain actual user reviews, with specific ratings on function, support, scalability, and anything else that matters to you.  You can find very reliable reviews of an exhaustive list of open source software at SourceForge.net.  This is where I was able to find Moodle, the LMS I strongly recommend for small and medium businesses, authors, trainers, consultants, and other entrepreneurs who want to offer online training to clients and employees.

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