One on One with Jonathan Satchell, CEO, LTG (EXCLUSIVE)

Greetings and welcome to my debut One on One interview series, where I interview corporate executive leaders in the e-learning space. Future One on One interviews will be available exclusively on findanlms.com, my learning system search engine platform that is 100% free to use for anyone looking for a learning system.  To learn more about PeopleFluent, visit FindAnLMS.com

For our debut post,  I met with Jonathan Satchell, CEO of the Learning Technologies Group (companies they own include LEO, Rustici, Gomo, Watershed LRS, PeopleFluent, Eukleia, PRELOADED, Vector VMS) to ask questions about LTG and the space in general.

Craig:  I know that you are a big fan of CMI-5 what are the benefits for folks who build courses and for training and/or L&D folks who have a learning system with CMI-5? 

Jonathan: Firstly, let me clarify that I am not a learning standards expert (there are great people in the Group who hold that knowledge). What I can say is that CMI-5 expresses learner activity using xAPI, which gives systems a consistent way to express the things people do. This is very useful, both in reporting and in causing other things to happen in a learning ecosystem. CMI-5 is an important extension of xAPI in that xAPI doesn’t specify how content should be launched (including a lack of authentication in that scenario), so cmi5 fills a crucial gap.

Craig:  xAPI was supposed to be the “be all” for mobile, and it just hasn’t come to fruition in terms of usage and need across the e-learning space. There are some learning system vendors though, who are xAPI only and offer nothing else.  What do you see as the ramifications of going all in “only xAPI”?

Jonathan  – In some ways, xAPI was substantially oversold at first, and now it’s settling into its intended (and important) role. xAPI is simply a shared language for two systems to talk to each other about the things people do. In that sense, it’s an important enabler for mobile applications that want to communicate with systems in a standardized way, but many just opt not to.

For those that do, it’s an elegant way to simply express things people are doing and that really is useful. Applications that opt to support only xAPI are able to do things they simply couldn’t in a SCORM world, and that holds benefits for the learners serviced. Going ‘all in’ on xAPI does run the risk of problems or delays in working with systems that are further out on the adoption curve. For some, that’s a reasonable and calculated choice. For others, it could be a tougher decision.

We also see adoption of xAPI being driven by the pressure to prove the business impact of learning. Three years ago the pressure was low but this has been steadily increasing, as seen in the yearly research conducted by my colleagues at Watershed and LEO Learning. We’re excited to see the trajectory of the results and an elevation of learning at board level.

Craig : While I like Watershed LRS, I feel that it is not as robust in terms of data visualization compared to Yet Analytics.  Equally, I admit I was surprised to see the number of vendors in the learning system space building their own LRS, rather than going 3rd party and integrating it. 

Jonathan –  I’ll answer the second part of the question first. There are two important areas to address when talking about LRS implementations in practice. First is what’s outlined by the xAPI specification — how to capture, accept, and export data in ways that are standard and interoperable. Generally, whether bought or built, wide adoption of these capabilities across vendors should facilitate standardized data flows, which is good news for tools like Watershed that can easily accept and further leverage that data.

The second area to address is reporting. Vendors are trying to fill the gap of reporting on data as best as they can, but we see a large space between what most LMSs/LXPs do and what we can do. One major hurdle is the ability to handle data from external sources. LMSs have been reporting on data they originated for years. However, reporting on unstructured data from other learning systems is a real challenge. This is precisely how we’re different from LMSs and arbitrary BI tools.

Our people and our software understand learning in detail. Our pre-built reports present details about questions and answers and other learning-related topics natively, as opposed to someone using a BI tool who would then have to interpret that unstructured data. This is a huge difference in approach-ability.

In terms of Watershed’s data visualisation, every experience we’ve had indicates that there’s far more capability available in Watershed than its competitors. In particular, our report builder makes it possible to create a significantly greater amount of different data dashboard views than we see in our competitors. In addition, Watershed recently released an exciting UI refresh, with new features and functionality designed to improve the user experience.

Craig: How as the CEO of LTG and thus Watershed, will you counter that? In other words, what you can you do to say to vendors, go with our product rather than build your own? 

Jonathan – While we might agree that many have been tempted to start building their own capability, we’re also finding that companies are now realising the level of complexity and size of investment they will need to make.

As a specialist in this area with some focused and substantial R&D, run by a world-class technical team in Nashville, we believe it will be at best uneconomic and at worst impossible for others starting out to now try to build the depth of capability required. The level of investment needed to keep a product current and moving forward with market demand is not for the faint hearted. For that reason I suggest people come and partner with us. Our partner commercial models are designed to support this route so that the economics are attractive.

Craig: LTG owns quite a few companies including Rustici (makers of SCORM Engine and Watershed), NetDimensions, PeopleFluent and gomo.   I easily see a complete ecosystem wrapped around PeopleFluent. What are your plans going forward in 2019 with PeopleFluent from a learning/training perspective?

Jonathan – This is exactly our intent and we have been talking about our ecosystem of capabilities for some time now. We believe we have pulled together and integrated a set of technologies that can help organisations span the full range of their learning needs. Helping organisations create and distribute content in the workplace, while maintaining the capability to manage organisation’s traditional training requirements (such as face-to-face courses).

We envision a world where learning (and talent) is at the heart of business strategy. Our ambition is to continue to enhance and further integrate these solutions to be able to take this ecosystem to the market but also leverage an open architecture that allows for us to connect into any organisation’s existing ecosystem. In addition, LTG is providing the services wrapped around the technology so that our clients can derive (and properly measure using big data approaches) true business impact.

Craig – Are you surprised at the growth and usage of LEP/LXPs in the learning system space?  As a company that sells an LMS, what can you do to counter that? How can you say to someone interested in an LEP/LXP – here is the better route to go (i.e. buy an LMS)?

Jonathan – Surprised? No, we’re very excited about it. We do see that there’s a lot of overlap in capability between LMSs and LXPs. In fact, we see lots of companies trying to play in both spaces. We believe they’re similar products with inherently different sensibilities. And that’s why we plan to go to market with something akin to an LXP this year.

While we understand the reasons for the way current entrants in the LXP space are presenting themselves (i.e. extremely learner focused, potentially at the expense of the businesses’ needs), we believe there’s an opportunity to offer something different in the LXP space. We’re still defining it and listening to our prospects and customers, but we’re excited to offer an LXP solution with a different perspective this year. The product we will release is based on real work being done by four LTG companies for a global oil and gas company, so it will be fully road-tested when we do come to market.

Craig – Speaking of LEP/LXP, I know it is one system that LTG does not have, at least not yet.  Are there any plans to acquire an LEP/LXP in the coming year?

Jonathan – As a publicly traded company, we can’t discuss specific acquisitions. However, on the subject of LXPs, as discussed above, we believe we have the right components in-house to go to market with an offering in this space soon.

Craig – VR hasn’t really taken off yet in the consumer marketplace, let alone training/L&D. CES moved away from VR and hyped AR at their show.  What does LTG have on their map to address AR, or are you betting on VR to regroup and lead in training/L&D in 2019?

Jonathan – For a Group focused on learning technologies and, more recently, talent management solutions, exploiting new and innovative technologies to solve learner and business needs will always be important to us.

While VR and AR have not yet gained widespread traction, we are seeing an increasing relevance for our customers. As a Group, we have deliberately remained platform agnostic in order to give freedom to our service businesses to engineer the right solution for their customers.

To your point on consumer VR, this hasn’t landed because it doesn’t naturally fit into our daily lives. However, in formal training and when used on the right project, it’s one of the most powerful interactions you can deploy, because of how immersive it is. For certain clients, VR has always been and will always be the right tool for the job, but as the technology and delivery mechanisms evolve, we believe we’ll see an increasing relevance to new markets.

Whilst VR remains powerful but specialist, we believe AR and MR (Mixed Reality) offer the greatest opportunity today for organisations to transform the way they deliver on-site. Thanks to smartphones, almost everyone has an AR-capable mobile devices these days. With Apple and Google’s commitment to their respective technologies, AR has moved beyond a gimmick towards a friction-less, and increasingly powerful way to support digital learning content in a physical world.

Craig – Finally, What do you see as the top two “hot ticket items (example Machine Learning, etc.)” in the learning system space in 2019? And what about one dud? 

Jonathan – We have always focused on the practical application of technology to deliver business results. While we’re excited about the future benefits of AI in learning (and are keeping a close eye on this with some interesting partnerships and R&D), we have some hotter items that will deliver immediate return on investment in 2019.

First is a medium that has swept the entire web (and made YouTube the second most popular search engine on the planet) but is still lagging in learning: video. Businesses have struggled to unlock the value of video in learning for good reason. Historically, it has tended to be an impenetrable and mostly one-way medium.

With our new gomo video capabilities, we believe video and user-generated content will be increasingly important in 2019. We have integrated pervasive video throughout our solutions and believe it has made a difference in how organizations share, track and capture knowledge. We are really proud of the social capabilities around our video solutions that allow for powerful search, feedback and commentary, which facilitate collaboration and mentoring

Another area we continue to invest is in learning analytics. With our PeopleFluent acquisition, we can now leverage Watershed to help our clients correlate learning and people data to the business impact of their investment in new ways.

I’m not sure I’d characterize any of the technologies as duds, in so much as the market is organic and evolutionary – technologies are tested and adopted and then adapted. So we spend an enormous amount of time examining these new technologies before we invest and either build or buy. We want to make sure it aligns to our core beliefs about what our customers need to be successful. Curation systems, machine learning, VR/AR etc all go through this cycle of testing, early adoption, hype, adaptation and then application and scale.

We are really interested in anything that helps scale learning in large organisations. Very often this is more about proper adoption, integration to working processes and good user-centred design. We see the whole LTG product and service offer helping organisations to “put the best people in the right roles becoming the best they can be” with data-driven decision making at the core.

And to do this in ways that help our clients solve the challenge of current and future workforce capability in a world where Gartner predicts 80% of job roles will need to re-prioritized by 2022. And of course this pace of change will not slow down in 2022, so we see the effort to link learning and performance as crucial, with the ability for our clients to then use predictive analytics to plan and equip the workforce for the future.

Final Takeaways – from Craig Weiss

Since this interview, a few items

a. NetDimensions has been rebranded.  They are now under the name of PeopleFluent Learning

b. PeopleFluent Learning is the Net Dimensions LMS (being updated), and Gomo. Watershed LRS is available, but it listed as a standalone and not included as part of the PeopleFluent Learning. 

c.  LTG is launching an LXP, the name yet to be defined.  The LXP will come with Gomo (as a SaaS tool, which it exists – and always has been), Watershed LRS and a very impressive video player with video editing functionality and bookmarks. 

I equally believe that the future will be Mixed Reality, but we are far from getting there.  The latest version of the HoloLens is targeted towards business, and costs $3,000 USD per headset. 

Our next interview will be with Apratim Purakayasth, CTO, SumTotal (Debuts in April). 

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