Tom Kuhlmann is the Vice President of the Articulate Community

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ABOUT TOM KUHLMANN (Vice President, Articulate Community):

Tom Kuhlmann is the Vice President of the Articulate Community, which he has been running for the past six years, with a focus on building a committed group of rapid e-learning developers. He also hosts The Rapid E-Learning Blog where he provides practical insights and hands-on tips to develop great e-learning courses.

Tom is passionate about learning and technology, and has over 20 years of experience in the training industry. He has developed hundreds of hours of e-learning, and also managed several e-learning and training projects.

Many people consider Tom as “the” guru in e-learning instructional design.


As part of our tenth anniversary celebrations, we proudly present ‘Crystal Balling with Learnnovators’, a thought-provoking interview series that attempts to gaze into the future of e-learning. It comprises stimulating discussions with industry experts and product evangelists on emerging trends in the learning landscape.

Join us on this exciting journey as we engage with thought leaders and learning innovators to see what the future of our industry looks like.


1. Learnnovators: What according to you is the future of e-learning? How do you look at the interesting shifts happening in learning paradigms (such as social learning, flipped classroom, Bring-Your-Own-Device, etc.) fuelled by the enormous possibilities thrown open by emerging technologies?

Tom: It is an exciting time for those in our industry. Online technology has made it possible for people to connect with others and have access to information that wasn’t previously easily available. In many ways this evens the playing field, especially for those in developing nations. It also opens the doors to anyone who is motivated and inclined to learn.

Learning in many ways is a social process and the technology and opportunities make it easier than ever to connect to diverse levels of expertise.

2. Learnnovators: What do you think is the future of rapid e-learning authoring tools? Where do you think the industry is moving? What according to you are the challenges ahead?

Tom: Rapid e-learning is probably a dated term. A few years ago it made sense because most of the options required programming skills; thus having tools that took this away made development “rapid.” However, many of the tools, like Storyline, have become more sophisticated and replaced traditional programming. And these tools are more prevalent. In that sense, it’s all just e-learning.

The tools are getting easier to use and provide more options. That’s good. The challenge is that the burden is placed on the organization to provide the proper skills to those using the tools. Software doesn’t create great instruction. Another challenge is that many building courses today have limited technical and programming skills. This often interferes with how they develop, launch, and maintain their online courses.

3. Learnnovators: How do you think today’s rapid e-learning tools are aligned with the possibilities offered by Experience API? How will the tools evolve further to capitalize the real power of this standard?

Tom: Tools are just that, tools. How they’re used is what makes them effective. If the goal is to actually learn (which isn’t always the goal in e-learning) then it’s important that course design is about crafting great learning experiences. The challenge is that many courses aren’t designed for learning and the organization’s expectation is only to track completion.

As far as the evolution of the tools, they’ll continue to evolve to meet the market’s needs. If the market wants to craft better learning experiences, then that will happen.

4. Learnnovators: How do you think today’s rapid e-learning tools are equipped for ‘gamification’? How will they evolve further to reasonably satisfy this requirement?

Tom: Gamification is a trendy word. Marketers are always quick to chase the trends. Take away the trends and there’s a lot about gamification that adds value to the learning experience. Many of today’s tools already allow the creation of a gamified learning experience. It’s just a matter of adding that component to the course design.

I’m sure that there will be some vendors who’ll sell “gamification” as a feature. But from what I’ve seen, most of those are either simple tracking systems with badges or lame games.

5. Learnnovators: How do you think today’s rapid e-learning tools are aligned to produce courses that are ‘Responsive’? How, according to you, will they evolve further in this regard?

Tom: Responsive design presents a challenge to many of the tools and to course design in general. Because the core requirement is to adjust to multiple screen sizes many of the responsive courses tend to be linear in nature. This is great for distribution of information or just in time delivery, but it’s not necessarily the best mode for crafting a learning experience.

The reality is that responsive design is part of the equation for certain types of content; and it’s a consideration moving forward. But it’s not optimal to start with the expectation that every course created also needs to be built with a responsive design. It depends on the situation, delivery, and objectives.

It also depends on posture. Does a person looking at a smart phone have the same expectation of training and experience as the person looking at a tablet or large screened computer?

6. Learnnovators: How extensively do you think rapid e-learning tools presently support Accessibility requirements? How will they evolve further in this regard?

Tom: Most vendors have embraced accessible development. Each organization has different needs and implementations. Technology always evolves and mostly improves development. So I assume that as more organizations demand accessible content and better define their needs, the tools will evolve to meet them.

Personally, I think many organizations do a poor job with creating an accessible learning experience. They typically want to invest the least resources possible and expect to create a single course to meet all needs. Usually that means that the course is bland and mostly linear which ends up creating a mediocre learning experience for everyone. Is the goal to ensure that people with special needs have access to the same learning? Or is it that everyone has to take the same course?

7. Learnnovators: In this age where most learning happens ‘informally’ (through on-the-job-learning and peer-learning), how well do you think current tools support informal learning?

Tom: All tools support informal learning. They create content that can be accessed to learn regardless of how they’re positioned. In that sense, as long as someone has access to the content, they can use it to learn. This happens regardless of how the content is formally designed.

The real challenge is making that content available to those who want to access it. In many organizations the courses are locked behind firewalls or LMS and the learner has limited access to them.

8. Learnnovators: What changes/shifts do you foresee in the support for animations and complex simulations in this ‘No Flash’ age? How do you think the tools will align themselves to address this gap?

Tom: HTML5 is all the rage. However, it is still a moving target. In addition, each browser is a bit different in how it supports HTML5 and there are hundreds of devices that may be used to access the content. They may or may not work regardless of how well the course is designed. This is especially true when the course includes more interactivity, movement, and media.

The tools and technology will improve and everything will kind of come to some sort of cohesive middle. The biggest challenge is that many course developers have limited technical skills and experience, especially those who got started with rapid e-learning. Often they expect that what worked in Flash should work the same in HTML5 and that’s just not the case. It requires careful consideration of the final output and the audience’s access to technology. I usually recommend that they visit the HTML5 test site because it illuminates some of the issues.

9. Learnnovators: What are your views on video-based learning? What are Articulate’s plans to support the development of interactive-video based courses?

Tom: Video-based learning isn’t new. In fact, I got my start in video before transitioning to e-learning 20 years ago. It’s a lot easier to make and deliver videos today. Video is a great way to deliver content, but it’s only one way.

As for Articulate, we already support the development of interactive video. All of the tools allow the integration of video. Storyline and Quizmaker allow for the layering of content on top of video to create interactive elements. We also have Replay which is a new product to quickly and simply create video presentations and tutorials.

10. Learnnovators: Learning today happens across multiple devices, and there are many challenges that courseware developers face (such as device-relevant interaction models). What are Articulate’s plans to address their concerns/requirements for designing ubiquitous learning?

Tom: Our goal is to craft the best HTML5 output for course authoring. This gives the author a good starting point. From there they can determine the devices being used to access their courses and make the appropriate adjustments. What made Flash so valuable is that a single player controlled the playback. You could be assured that regardless of device, the playback was mostly consistent. That’s not the case with HTML5. Not all browser and devices are equal so the author may have great HTML5 output, but it’s useless if the end user can’t access it.

11. Learnnovators: The shift from desktop to cloud seems irresistible and many tool developers have already embraced the ‘cloud’ model due to its advantages. Where do you see Articulate in the cloud computing scenario?

Tom: We’re a for-profit enterprise so we’ll be where the money is? :-)

12. Learnnovators: One of the highlights of Articulate is your community that helps build your brand. How significant is this synergy in a tool development scenario? How do you think your community is driving/ will drive innovations in your products?

Tom: Community is critical because it allows people to connect with their peers. From a software perspective they get quick access to technical help. But more importantly, connecting with peers allows them to learn from each other’s tips. Articulate makes software, but it’s the users who come up with best practices and techniques that help make efficient production.

13. Learnnovators: What according to you would make an ideal e-learning course?

Tom: It depends on the purpose of the course and perspective. The organization may see an ideal course as one that is inexpensive and shows who completed it on time. This is true for a lot of compliance training where learning isn’t the primary goal. The learner in that world may see the ideal course as one that is easy to get in and out of.

From a learning perspective, I think an ideal course is one that lets me learn and build on skills I have. It is compelling and relevant to real needs, and gives me an opportunity to practice what I am learning.

14. Learnnovators: What according to you would make an ideal rapid e-learning authoring tool?

Tom: An ideal tool is one that lets me get my job done. The tools are diverse. Some are form-based and designed for specific functionality and some are freeform that requires more design considerations. A person with limited skills probably values the form-based options. But a person with more technical skills and experience probably wants more opportunities to customize.

15. Learnnovators: What would be your message to the learning community and the industry in this age of ‘learning’ driven by technologies that are ‘disruptive’ in nature?

Tom: Learning is part of human nature. It’s not like all of these technologies has changed that. What I like is that it’s easier than ever to create content and make it available to people. This content can be used to enhance the learning experience. The fact that there’s so much available to people today is amazing.

I had to reset all of the door locks in my house. This required that I disassemble all of them. In the past, I would have called a locksmith. But today, I went to YouTube, found the exact lock I had and watched the videos.

Was the “training” very dynamic? No! In fact, the video was poorly shot and the audio was horrible. No organization would have ever offered that as an official course. However, for me, the learner, it was exactly what I needed when I needed it. That’s disruptive.

Learnnovators: Thank you so much for sharing your valuable insights and experiences, Tom. It was wonderful interacting with you. We wish you and your team at Articulate the very best!

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