Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Interview With Joshua Millage: Cofounder of Lifter LMS

Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Joshua Millage, Cofounder of
LifterLMS and one half of  LMScast. Josh how are you today?

Joshua: Hey Jonny, thank you so much for allowing me to come on and do this interview with you!
Jonny: Tell me a bit about your background. How did you get in to edtech? Joshua: When it comes to my background and how I got into edtech, I would say
it started when I was really young actually. I had a mother and a father who were
both educators. My mom was a first grade teacher and my dad was a college professor. My dad had this habit that every Tuesday he would take me to a store called Incredible Universe. RadioShack owned incredible Universe at the time. It was a massive technology store. He would buy me a computer game or some piece of technology every week, and he wanted me to teach him how to use it. I was really interested in technology, so he supported that interest.

Through that he learned some really cool ways to bring technology into his classroom. Now this was like mid-1990s, so technology was much different than
it is now. But that's actually what got me interested in technology is just having an exposure at a young age and then seeing how my mother and my father were applying it into their classrooms.

As things went on and the online educational boom happened, I watched that. Later in my college career, I kind of hacked at my thesis. I went to Azusa Pacific University, and the dean of my business school asked if I would like to help her develop a new MBA program. This MBA program took place over the course of
15 months and allowed students to study for two months in Azusa, and then spend two weeks traveling all over the world. There was a heavy technology component there to sync up the in-classroom work and the out of class case studies that we would do overseas. It was truly a unique way to do blended learning.

That just sent me down a rabbit hole. I fell in love with the WordPress space, and over the past year I’ve been watching the WordPress LMS space in particular. And I saw some incredible opportunities to jump in with my client services company, codeBOX, so we decided to do that this last summer, and it's been a wild ride.

Jonny: What are the features of a good LMS?

Joshua: I think the WordPress LMS space is very different than some of the corporate training or larger LMS systems that are really geared towards universities. I do think that WordPress is going to start to really push on those different systems like Blackboard and BrainHoney and some of the other ones. I think some of the features of a good LMS are really giving you proper insights
into how your students are performing. Those are pretty good features. I think the new block of features we're going to start to see come onto the scene is in the way of artificial intelligence and automation. So being able to watch how a
student learns, help engage them and encourage them to continue to learn, and meet them where they're at.

What I mean by that is I've seen some features of various LMS systems actually allow students to submit their assignments based on their learning style. If they're an auditory learner or someone who enjoys giving speeches, they're able to upload that sort of content. If they're a writer, they can do that. If they're an artist, they can do more of a photo collage or something like that. So the LMS system is supporting the ways that the students learn. I think those are some of the new features on the block that are really, really cool. I also think that just having a
good user experience for teachers to create courses is really important. I hate to see it when technology gets in the way of allowing a teacher to do what they do best, which is teach.

Jonny: The LMS world is becoming heavily populated. Which key players will still be around in 5 years time?

I think you're going to see Blackboard stay around. It's not going to leave any time soon. Part of the reason is that they're cash heavy, and they're able to acquire a lot of the new key players in the space. That's already happening. They've acquired a handful of companies in the past 12 months. I think that you're going to start to see much more focused and niche companies come in. I really think that we're in the era of the long tail for the learning management space.

You're going to see more niche systems that come in and focus on supporting a certain type of learning style, blended learning. Maybe you'll see something, for instance, maybe support Montessori school systems or something like that. You're going to see a much more distributed and fragmented space come alive. I think there will be a couple of big boys left, but I think if they don't iterate fast enough they're going to find themselves extinct.
Jonny: So tell me a bit more about LifterLMS? What makes it different? Joshua: LifterLMS is a WordPress learning management system. It's really built to
help solo teachers build and sell courses online. What's different about it is that it
allows you to build, sell, and engage your students. A lot of WordPress LMS systems will just focus on building a course. They won't come with any sort of e- commerce functionality to help you sell your course, and none of them have engagement functionality.

What we define engagement as is basically a lightweight marketing automation system. It allows you to do gamification actions like awarding badges and
certificates based on students' behavior in your course, as well as automatically sending emails based on what users are doing and not doing. If they're not utilizing your course, you can actually automatically trigger an email to say, "Hey, what's going on? Is there anything that we can do to help you?"

We feel like that that's a way to scale the human touch. If I weren’t showing up to my class in college I'd probably get an email or a phone call from my professor saying "Where are you?" Now I went to a smaller school where the class sizes were much more intimate. Maybe that wouldn't happen at a state school, but I think that the people who are going to win online are the ones that do their best
to really bridge the gap and scale the human touch. LifterLMS is really situated to help that type of individual. Those are some of the things that make us different.

Jonny: I'm obviously a huge advocate of Free Technology hence the blog Free Tech for Schools. Can you convince me that Lifter does what other free providers can't?

Joshua: One of the things I really appreciate about what you do with Free Tech for Schools is that you promote free technology for schools to use. I think that's really, really awesome. There are some things LifterLMS can do that free providers can't do, and that's combining all of the things we've talked about just a minute ago into one plugin. I think that when you get to marketing automation
and you get to what I call learning automation, something that we're coining, is that it’s going to be hard to be free. Because there are moving pieces that have to always be moving. There are server costs and things involved with that.

With LifterLMS the cost is pretty lightweight. What I mean by that is for $150 and whatever cost it is to host your WordPress site, you can have a full-blown, very dynamic learning management system up and running in a matter of hours. I think that offers a new level of functionality that schools currently don't have. I would love to see a school adopt LifterLMS for each and every one of their teachers so that those teachers can teach in a more dynamic way online.

Jonny: A big problem with online learning is a low completion rate for students. How can you best tackle this problem?

Joshua: You're right. Online learning does have a low completion rate, and I think that happens for a number of reasons. The main one is that the user experience for the student is really, really bad. Moodle, Blackboard, and all of these bigger systems do not do a good job of making the learning experience fun for students. It's really difficult for a student who's used to a very clean experience that they would get on their iPhone or Mac, or even their Xbox, to jump into a platform that's very archaic and stale.

LifterLMS has a very clean user interface, and with some of our themes that we're going to be releasing soon, add a much more engaging user experience. I
think this will help students stay in the online learning environment longer and not be so inclined to jump out and do something else.

In online learning not many people are doing a good job with the human element. Teachers aren’t connecting with their students. With our engagement
functionality, like I mentioned earlier, you can award badges, which students are already geared towards with all the gamification that happens everywhere else in their lives. I think using that in the classroom will make the class much more sticky.

It’s also helpful to have automatic emails go off when a student hasn't been around for a while. So for instance, if they haven't logged in for seven days, sending an email. I think just small touches like that can really make a huge difference in terms of helping a student complete an online course.

The other thing that I would say is that sometimes professors and teachers online just don't know how well their students are performing, so they don't know how to reach out or when to reach out. With our up and coming course analytics feature you'll be able to get some deep insights into how your students are performing and pick up the phone and email, or however you would like to engage your student, because you'll be able to see how they're performing. I think it's on the professor to take action, but that will help student completion rates.

Jonny: Finally a few quick fire questions to finish off. Apple or android?
Joshua: I'm definitely going to go with Apple. Jonny: Kanye or Beck?
Joshua: That's a fantastic question. I definitely like Beck. Jonny: Spotify or Google play Music?
Joshua: I've been a Spotify fan from way back when we didn't even have Spotify in the United States, and I was using a VPN connection to connect to Europe so that I could access it. So definitely Spotify.

Thank you so much, Jonny, for allowing me to come and do this interview with you. It's been really fun! I hope that your audience finds it useful. If there's anything I can do, please let me know. You can always reach me at joshua@lifterlms.com or @jmillage on Twitter. Thanks again.

This is not an official endorsement of Lifetr LMS and I have received no payment for promoting the product.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Interesting posts I have read this week

Here is a run down of the top blog posts I have read this week.I am hoping to make this a weekly feature (time permitting!).

The first one isn't specifically edtech but contains from great advice from the UK National College for Teaching and Leadership on how to run successful school-led research projects.

Students should be able to tell us what they are learning, not what app they are using. Wise words. This post runs through the top 10 ways we can use technology for learning.

Macbooks, Chromebooks or ipads. This post tells us why we should think beyond the platform.

Enjoy and have a nice weekend!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Erase all kittens

I'm just going to put it out there. I'm not a cat lover. Dogs are way more fun. Just to clarify in case some of you are cat lovers, I don't hate cats, I just have a preference for dogs so don't hate me. Because of my mild dislike of felines, I was quite amused when I heard about an online platform game called Erase all Kittens. 

In the game you are a character called Arca, a creature banished to the ruins of the ancient internet. Arca's only friends were kittens but they then start to go missing. Arca must try to save the kittens or risk being alone for ever.

The beauty of the game is that it teaches children how to code and create on the web. It does this by encouraging them to hack into levels written in html5 and CSS to complete the game. An early example is lengthening a platform by changing the code inside (simply done by increasing the amount of text in the box) so that the main character can then jump across a narrower gap. 
I guarantee you will find this game a fun way to teach kids how to code. Check it out.

Friday, February 6, 2015

My days of expensive hardware are over

I have always been reluctant to spend money on software when there are so many free options available but I have always thought that buying expensive hardware was a good investment. That was until recently when my expensive investment in an iMac has been slowly gathering dust in the corner.When I first bought it 3 years ago, I used it for almost everything. Now, I use it to watch a movie about once a week. So what changed?
About a year ago we were investigating a possible implementation of Chromebooks so I was given a Samsung Series 3 to test its functionality. From the moment I took it out of the box I was impressed. I pressed the power button and within 10 seconds, it was ready to go. The look and feel was a bit like a Macbook Air , albeit on a budget. I am not going to lie and say it is a better machine than a Macbook Air, but if you work on a principle of 'good enough to do everything I need' then it is truly impressive.
What I didn't realise when I first used the Chromebook was how much of my computing was done in the cloud. I expected to have to use my iMac regularly but I found that almost everything I had to do, both work and personal I could do on the Chromebook. There were occasional frustrations and barriers (like no Skype for one!) but in most cases, you can find a Chrome Extension or App that does what you need.
There is also another advantage. I happen to use Chrome as my primary browser in school so when I close the lid on my Chromebook at home and go in to school, I can open up where I left off on my desktop. Also the range of useful third party apps is remarkable. If you already use Google Chrome, check out the web store.
With every OS upgrade, my Mac is getting slower and slower. Soon it will need to be replaced. I think it is highly unlikely that I will buy another Mac, as excellent as they are, when I can buy a Chromebook for a fraction of the price with all the functionality I need. Right now I have my eye on this one , but I will keep using my Mac until it dies and who knows what model will be available then.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Everyone who knows me knows I love everything Google but...

Every now and then, when Google Now predicts where I am going to walk to on Sunday, I do get a little bit worried. Should we worry or should we trust that they will 'do no evil'.

How Much Does Google Really Know About You? #infographicYou can also find more infographics at Visualistan