New voices in L&D – Adam Meek

We continue our series of new voices in L&D with a really helpful and practical piece from Adam Meek. Adam is a Product Manager for a leading learning tech provider. Today, Adam talks through a variety of tools some of you may or may not have heard or considered, the idea here is to give an alternative not just because they are free but because some of them are even better than the paid-for options.

I don’t edit or amend the pieces being written for me. I’m not an editor, and that’s not something that matters for the purposes of this series. Each piece is submitted in the author’s own writing style. I’m also not fact-checking, unless there’s something that needs to be fact-checked.

You can connect with Adam on LinkedIn.

Alternative tools for L&D

I have spent the last 10 years of my career speaking to learning and development professionals and the last 5 speaking about learning tech. To some, this is a really boring subject and in fairness, it should be. 

Often the focus conversations about learning tech are what can the tech do rather than the outcome for your people should you do it.

This sort of message is not just heard in learning but also in marketing, communications, research, creative industries and other areas where the outcome is not always a specific metric.

So, this list comes with a word of warning, before downloading or signing up to any of the below going in with a clear outcome for you  (even if that outcome is for you to learn to use the tool and say you can do so) or your people (maybe testing an MVP) will leave you with a different opinion than going in to just poke around.
If you would like to learn how we do this in Tech, I would recommend reading inspired by Marty Cagan.

Types of tools
Open source: 

Software that is released under a license in which the copyright holder grants users the rights to use, study, change, and distribute the software and its source code to anyone and for any purpose. In short, free stuff, produced by people who are passionate about creating said stuff with the skills to do so.

Upside: it’s free and often direct replacements for other tools.

Downside: often the look and feel is an afterthought, this isn’t usually the place to find original ideas (but this is changing). Usually requires downloading and installing which can be tricky on corporate machines. 

Freemium: 

A business model, whereby basic services are provided free of charge while more advanced features must be paid for. This can be online subscription services, in-app purchases or requiring the viewing of advertising to support the app development.

Upside: it’s free at least to start, these models are often browser-based so no need to download and the UI encourages you to complete your task.

Downside: It usually isn’t clear where you will be asked for money, you could spend time building something and then be hit with a bill when it comes to publishing/downloading it.

Data Monetised Apps: 

“If you don’t pay for the product, you are the product” Facebook, Google and Twitter are the best examples of this. 

Upside: they are mostly free, look and feel are excellent, ginormous budgets mean they create the best features and buy the companies that come up with original ideas before they can become competitors.

Downside: You feed the beast, type a product name and you will start to see adverts for that product appear when on the web elsewhere. 

I have previously written an article on this subject focusing on content creation here so this article will be focused on how you can create communities, analyse data, automate actions, host content, survey and even god forbid, make SCORM!

Communities
Discord

Open-source (if you host yourself) or Freemium

Anyone who has ever used Slack will feel right at home in Discord, for those that haven’t, think about if WhatsApp, Teams and Clubhouse had a baby and you would be close.

Starting out as a way for gamers to build a community around their games the features grew up when someone integrated Patreon to control access and this resulted in a boom of small communities for anyone to charge access to.
Now it’s a key source of income for most podcasts, bloggers, YouTubers giving them direct access to their fans without the noise you get on social media.

I look forward to the day consultant or consultancies advertise to join a patreon like a retainer for services. 

L&D use cases: 

Communities of practice, supporting a long-running programme, an alternative to teams, slack or Webex.

Alternatives to the alternative:

Terminal, Revolt, Telegram, Rocket.chat

Bubble

Freemium

Bubble describes itself as a way to create a prototype and scale to a full-scale app without a line of code. It is as close as you can get to no-code software development although I think you would run into some issues if you end up with 100k users, setting up a small community even a self-registering community is just a case of editing some templates and hitting publish. No-code tends to rely on multiple vendors to make the more complex sites so if you talk about bubble you generally have to also talk about airtable, if bubble is the fancy front end you can click, drag and drop, airtable is the database that holds all the user record, interactions etc in an excel-like interface. 

L&D use cases:

Communities, restricting access to your IP, content delivery, mini-lms, data capture.

Alternatives to the alternative

Sotr, Bravo Studio, Quixy, Thunkable, Webflow, Carrd.

Data analysis

I am not going to assume anything in this section, data analysis is incredibly mature in some organisations and non-existent in others so let’s start with the basics and go from there. 

Calc

Open-source

Calc is effectively a clone of Excel made by the open-source community because they were all so fed up of paying Microsoft for old rope. It used to be limited to open-source formats (not supported by excel) but part of the E.U. battle with Microsoft in the early 2k’s meant Microsoft made a switch from deriding open source community to fully embracing and even contributing to it on a regular basis. There are multiple versions of calc, LIbre Office and Open Office are the main ones people use.
For basic data manipulation, this will serve you well, it may not have all the bells and whistles Excel does, but then most of the bells and whistles excel does are done better elsewhere.

L&D use cases

Preparing reports, creating CSV’s, opening excel files without an MS subscription.

Alternatives to the alternative

Google Sheets, WPS spreadsheet, Zoho sheet, smartsheet.

DataWrapper.de

Open-source

Data analysis is a messy business, cleansing data, making sure its all in the right formats and then setting up pivot tables and whatnot to try and get all the data in the right place before you can click that magic chart button in excel….then after all that it does not work because of user error somewhere along the way. Days like that I will just chuck a file at data wrapper, it checks all different data, figures out what data is what and then applies the right formatting and gives you options to visualise it. 

L&D use cases:

Completion data manipulation, attendance record analysis, mail merge

Alternatives to the alternative

Trifacta, RapidMiner, Talend, Qlikview, Orange. 

Tableau Public

Freemium

Not for the faint-hearted, this is a fully-fledged data analysis tool that will help you organise your data and create easy to understand visualisations. The learning curve is a bit steeper than the rest here but this is proper data analysis, there are tonnes of Youtube how to’s to guide you through and even more friendly forums. 

L&D use cases:

Visualising engagement data, analysing big data, presenting statistics

Alternatives to the alternative

Google charts, WebDataRocks, BIRT 

SCORM authoring

SCORM gets a bad rap, for good reason, it’s a millennial, 30+ years old and it’s showing.

This is not Cristiano Ronaldo at 31, winning champions leagues and scoring loads of goals, this is Wayne Rooney at 31, grumpy, difficult and has serious personal problems.

Anyway, what I am saying here is it takes a lot of work to make a good SCORM course, personally, I have given up, but if you are stuck with an LMS that only accepts SCORM and a subject that requires you to get that fabled SCORM completion status and no budget to get captivate or no will to give Adobe any more money then there are alternatives.

Ispring

Freemium

Free to author and the simplest way to create a SCORM, take a PowerPoint, click a couple of buttons make a quiz and you are done. If you have to, this is the way to do it. 

L&D use cases:

Compliance training, Elf and safety.

Alternatives to the alternative

eXeLearning is a genuine open-source tool but a lot less intuitive.

Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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