Distance Learning Goes Mobile

Next-generation streaming media platforms serve as complete training content creation and delivery networks.

By Ed Behan, Vice President, Enterprise Markets, Globecomm

The ultimate goal of any distance learning system is to achieve the most effective training for all associates—minimizing spend for maximum return. Many factors combine to achieve this goal. But until now, applying engineering and design ingenuity to reach people where and how they work today has not figured prominently into the landscape. As mass consumer communications adapts to the new mobile reality, so, too, should the enterprise sector. Empowering associates to interact, learn, and complete workplace tasks no matter where they are can only benefit organizations.

The newest, state-of-the art learning solutions are end-to-end streaming media systems, functioning not only as distance learning systems that reach associates and partners anywhere and any time—on laptops, TVs, and mobile devices—but also as complete content creation and delivery networks. A high degree of functionality is built into these systems. Comprehensive tools enable organizations to create private networks for internal communications, employee training, and digital display. Single platforms now can enable publishing, interaction, viewer management, and measurement, allowing enterprises of all types to control each viewer’s secure programming access, create interactive broadcasts, and capture meaningful data on viewing behavior. These services can be distributed over corporate Wide Area Networks (WANs) Internet Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), satellite networks, or even through the cloud. Hybrid solutions across any combination of these four also can be implemented.

Flexible and multifunctional, these new “three-screen” global interactive distance learning networks stream live and on-demand content easily and instantaneously anywhere in the world. They also can serve sophisticated corporate communications needs, and even sales functions. Best-of-breed systems integrate technology advancements that can reach across continents if necessary, but also do so much more efficiently and cost-effectively than ever before, providing low latency for real-time interaction with high visual quality and less dependency on underlying legacy infrastructures.

New Functionality and Greater Interaction

The crux of these new platforms is their ability to enable enterprise organizations to create and manage their own fully branded content creation and delivery networks on one integrated platform. It’s an easy and intuitive process to create live channels and publish on-demand programming from both internal and external sources, while controlling access and managing the entire system. Let’s take a closer look at the capabilities of some of the best of today’s streaming media systems.

These platforms not only feature highly interactive voice, polling, and chat capabilities, but also provide targeted applications for specialized learning opportunities. Specialized tablets can perform both as viewing devices and interactive keypads, facilitating audio interaction through built-in microphones. Wi-Fi capabilities and other functionality are built into these edge devices, allowing students to participate in classes from virtually anywhere. An app that enables a group of students to watch a session on a single television monitor and interact using Android “keypad” technology is one example. Offline interactive learning to iPhones and iPads is also possible through integrated mobile apps. These platforms also integrate with existing third-party enterprise software applications, including Active Directory and Learning Management Systems.

The entire system is easy and intuitive, with functionality accessible through any Web-connected device through an Internet browser. There is no need for specialized software downloads. Once inside a Web portal, intuitive program guides allow easy content browsing, as well as rich metadata and search capabilities. Users simply click on a program and view. An easy-to-use contribution wizard allows metadata entry and content uploading. Built-in platform functionality completes all necessary content transcoding and places files in a submittal folder. A network administrator simply reviews the content for suitability prior to publishing of the file. Delivery works much the same way, automated per defined parameters.

Even more critical may be the powerful analytics engines built into these systems. Nearly real-time analysis and metrics are delivered to session leaders so changes can be made on the fly. Instructors can ask questions and engage in real time to assess understanding and make adjustments as needed. Numerous reports can be generated covering a range of categories. Data gleaned then can be used to assess performance, as well as inform future improvements to both training content and training processes.

Hosted Solutions

A Managed Video as a Service (MVaas) solution for these systems is an increasingly popular option. Fully hosted solutions integrate the hardware, software, and delivery solutions with network monitoring, help desk, and life cycle support for a completely managed corporate communications solution. The complete system then encompasses all needed functionality—from file transfer servers, multi-format streaming encoders, and transcoding platform to a comprehensive video asset management system—for a comprehensive solution for internal, and if desired, external communications. A fully managed solution can remove significant pain points for enterprise organizations, eliminating up-front capital costs, mitigating the risk of equipment obsolescence, and allowing a fixed monthly expense and high-level system performance through regular, automatic upgrades.

Benefits: Immediate and Into the Future

While increased mobility—reaching associates at any distance, any time, and on any device—is a tremendous benefit (and increasingly will become a requirement to remain competitive), it is far from the only benefit. Better, faster training; more interaction; and significant resource efficiencies and cost savings are also significant advantages, with positive short- and long-term results. Gone are the days when it took multiple vendors, often four or more, to implement an end-to-end distance learning solution that included a painstaking process of integration. Convergence is upon us. Now, the technology exists to have one platform seamlessly enable all parts of the content and communication chain—from content creation and delivery to highly interactive training with real-time metrics and analysis. Corporate training no longer requires different vendors to address different parts of the process. Smart leveraging of the newest technology brings all of these processes together into fully integrated platforms, saving enterprises costs and better utilizing resources, with the potential to impact all aspects of communications. Better, faster training and communications, complete mobility, and all services delivered from one platform. The time has come.

Ed Behan is vice president of Enterprise Markets for Globecomm. Prior to Globecomm, Behan founded Novu Solutions, an Atlanta-based engineering firm specializing in digital video technologies. He also served as co-founder and Chief Technical Officer of the Enliten Management Group, a consulting company serving the enterprise media communications industry. And he has served in technical and management positions for companies such as AT&T and General Electric. With 25 years experience in the communications and digital imaging industries, Behan has been responsible for the design, integration, and operation of more than 30 digital video satellite networks. Behan is the co-author of two books, “Delivery of Media in the Enterprise” and “The BTV/IP Satellite Receiver Guide,” and he holds a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Engineering from Marquette University.

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