How one ‘aha’ moment led to a whole new normal
Neuroscientists who've been studying creativity and insight for the past ten years recently located the part of the brain where the ‘eureka’ moment takes place.
Yep, a teeny part of your brain, just above your right ear lights up.
The coining of Adapt was a eureka moment for us, but unlike the many eureka stories in history, it didn’t just drop like an apple from the sky. It came about from lots of hard work, different sources of inspiration, and, like all good learning design – because there was a need to do it (and, of course, a deadline).
So, what’s happened since Kineo’s collective lobes were flashing like crazy? Here’s the story of Adapt, and how it came about.
Think back to 2010 when nearly all content was created in Flash and delivered just to the desktop. At that time, Kineo was busy designing and developing an onboarding course for a major high street bank. The course would be completed by pre-joining staff on their home PCs, as well as by existing staff in the workplace. But there was a problem: within some areas of the business there was no ability to play Flash. Not only that: stringent accessibility requirements meant that creating a duplicate course in a format such as HTML was looking more than likely. Then, never one to be daunted, Kineo raised the bar of the challenge even further, agreeing to create a mobile version too.
We now needed to create at least three other versions of the course in addition to the core Flash delivery - one for those learners who couldn’t run Flash, one that would meet the organisation’s commitment to meet W3C accessibility guidelines, and the mobile version. If we tried meeting the mobile brief via a native app then we’d need even more courses – one for iOS and one for Android. It was clear that a pretty novel solution was required (and fast!), to solve this challenge within the budget.
Cue the proverbial lightbulb
It was at that point that inspiration struck. We realised that rather than create multiple versions of one course at great cost, it was possible for a single HTML course to do it all. Yes: we could create a solution where the same course content would work as well on a smartphone as it did on the desktop. And because it would be built in HTML and displayed in the phone’s browser, the device’s operating system would be rendered irrelevant. It would also meet the client’s accessibility guidelines.
What’s more, by adhering to responsive web design principles, we could deliver a multi-device solution that reflected the experiences learners had elsewhere online. We really felt like we might be on to something.
Around the same time, Google released its research on sequential screening. The research showed that:
- the smartphone had gone from being a fall-back device that was only used when no better alternative was available, to being at the very centre of our daily interactions with the digital medium
- we hold well-formed expectations of our interactions with different devices and bring to bear refined patterns of behaviours
- we happily swap from one device to another depending on where we are at the time, our preferences and the goal we’re trying to achieve.
This made us realise that we should go beyond what we’d done for that major high street bank. To meet the expectations of our ‘always connected’, tech-savvy learners, we needed to place multi-device behaviours at the heart of our entire design approach.
Following the success of the bank project, and mindful of the Google research and the challenges with Flash, I took a bold step. I pitched to the Kineo directors to secure funding for a proof of concept project which we called Adapt. The idea was to test just how far we could push this new approach to designing and delivering elearning. The pitch was approved unanimously and the project commenced.
We initially had a three-month development window for the proof of concept project but enthusiasm got the better of us. We sold it to a mobile phone giant and another company, who’d heard what we were developing and wanted in, well before the framework had been officially released.
So, take it slow or jump in at the deep end?
It was time to make a decision. What do you do when you have an entire production department producing Flash courses, but a backlog of work calling for something other than Flash? Tread softly? Outsource? Not if you’re Kineo.
You trust your instincts about where the industry is heading, you re-train your entire workforce to use a new elearning development framework and kick-start a revolutionary new approach to designing elearning content. And it was a good job we did, because the market was changing rapidly and we were committed to getting ahead of it.
We sold £700k of Adapt elearning in the first year. We could see that the multi-device angle and the modern design approach was really appealing to our market. Sales were going from strength to strength, so much so that by the end of FY13, we’d sold £3m.
The key to success
So what made Adapt so appealing? By using responsive HTML web design techniques Kineo could offer a single course which would:
- work on any device which had an appropriate web browser
- comply with accessibility guidelines
- be easier to maintain as there was only a single version
But enough of the technical details – how else were we innovating? For a start, we took the opportunity to refresh our design approach by using scrolling page layouts. For many years web designers and instructional designers avoided the scroll bar at all costs and kept all content ‘above the fold’ to ensure users didn’t miss anything out of sight. Yet much of this thinking was based on research that was addressing the needs of naïve users new to a fledgling technology emerging at the end of the 20th century.
Things have changed. A large proportion of our audience today are tech savvy, and for them surfing the net is second nature. They’re used to seamlessly switching back and forth between devices and applications and for that reason we adopted a ‘mobile first’ approach to our designs. Layouts and interactions that worked well on desktop but not on a smartphone or tablet were unceremoniously cut and redesigned from the ground up so they worked equally well on mobile devices.
What did all this mean for Kineo?
The speed and scale of our transition to Adapt was impressive, and if we’re honest, intense. It required huge capital investment as well as real commitment from Kineo’s directors. It also meant we had to overhaul nearly every aspect of our processes. And whilst we all knew Adapt was a game changer, we had to sell the idea to the market and prove our new offering was superior to what had gone before.
It wasn’t an easy journey – and we didn’t expect it to be. When challenges inevitably occurred the Kineo team rolled up their sleeves, fixed the problem and improved the framework – all the while delivering best in class courses to our clients. The rock solid product that is Adapt today exists in no small part to the boundless skill and patience of all Kineo’s employees, past and present, who were involved in its creation. Thank you all!
At the end of Adapt’s first year, and having refined the technology and our design thinking, we started discussing making it a collaborative project; partnering with other companies with different skills and ambitions to help it flourish. In May 2013 the Adapt Framework, “Kineo’s ground-breaking responsive elearning design”, won the Platinum Award for Best Learning Design Technology at LearnX. It was then that we knew that we couldn’t keep this to ourselves. We’d proved that this thing had potential but it needed more minds, more hands, and more input to be able to realise its full potential.
We invited interested organisations to become part of this journey and the open source project took flight.
What happened next? Well that’s another story and it’s still very much being written. But the Adapt framework just won another LearnX award for the fourth year in a row, so it’s obviously working.
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