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Adapt to the future

Podcasts and Audio | 27.11.2017

Tune in as we discuss the Adapt project - A framework, an authoring tool and a blossoming community… Where is Adapt going next, and how can you be involved?

Paul Westlake  0:00  

Hi, welcome to Kineo stream of thought. I'm Paul Westlake solutions consultant at  Kineo. And today we plan to go adapt to the future. So I'm pleased to say today I'm joined by, 

Tom taylor  0:17  

I'm Tom Taylor, open source Learning Technologies developer.

Oliver Foster  0:21  

 I'm Oliver Foster. I'm a learning technical consultant, 

Pete Smith  0:24  

and Pete Smith tech team leads and member of the Adapt steering group. 

Paul Westlake  0:29  

Okay, thanks, guys. So um, I guess the obvious question is, for those who don't know, who can take me through what Adapt is. 

Pete Smith  0:37  

Nice quick question, to start off with Thank you Paul. Adapt is three things. Really, it's an open source project. It is an authoring tool. And it's a learning technologies framework for content development.

Paul Westlake  0:52  

So far more than just an authoring tool. So maybe we should start with the the framework piece that you said about so what do we mean by that? 

Oliver Foster  0:59  

Adapt is a collection of software built from some open source tools, which allow instructional designers to put in their content to design some content with graphics, text, videos, and build a course from it. It provides a very simple abstraction for building some very complicated pieces of elearning.

Paul Westlake  1:21  

 So I think we better deal with the the the elephant in the room there, which was this open source things like imagine a lot of people listening to this thinking? What does that mean? It all sounds a bit worrying and don't want to put this software on my machine? So you want to quickly take us through what open source means? 

Pete Smith  1:35  

Yeah, absolutely. It shouldn't be a source of worry, open source is a wonderful thing. All of the the biggest and best bits of software that it really widely used, have those pretty most of them are open source now. So things like the Apache web server, which powers most of the websites, which you would access on a day to day basis is an open source project. So open source, it's everywhere. The reason that we decided to make Adapt open source is it was a huge opportunity for us to work with other companies. So some of them like minded companies, some of them actually, big corporate entities who might want to create their own content in house to get together and produce something which is much better, much more rounded, much more fully featured than Kineo could provide on our own.

Paul Westlake  2:26  

But does open source not mean that we lose control, and therefore we lose the quality control?

Pete Smith  2:32  

It means that we don't have absolute say over what features and functionality are built? Yes, absolutely, we collectively meet to decide what comes next with Adapt. And what happens on the roadmap, in terms of quality control it is actually much better with open source. Because you've got a bigger group of people working together on the project, we need to make sure that all of the processes behind this are really robust. So we've got really robust version control, we've got a great process of peer review to make sure that any code is solid, it's well built. It's well designed, it's properly tested before it ever makes it into the published course. Also, with more people actually actively looking at it and testing it. Open Source, software's inherently going to have fewer bugs in it, then this sort of size of proprietary software projects. 

Paul Westlake  3:23  

Cool. So what made us actually develop Adapt in the first place? And did we identify a gap with some of the tools we were using? Or was there another reason around that?

Pete Smith  3:32  

it was largely in response to various things which were happening in the market. So if you cast your mind back, six or seven years ago, then the market was changing really rapidly, flash was in a decline. html was back in the ascendant. And suddenly, we had a lot of clients for whom creating content that would work well on a mobile was suddenly a big priority rather than just desktop delivery, which we've been doing up to that point. Adapt was a response to that. We figured that what we needed to do is come up with something which was cost effective, that would work well with our processes, so that we didn't have to build two or three different versions of the content each time. And we figured there was a huge opportunity to use the current best practice in web design, which meant responsive web design. So have one version of a course, which would reformat itself based around liquid layouts on a tablet device or much smaller screen on smartphone 

Paul Westlake  4:36  

And you're,  just chipping in there. So that that's different to some of the other tools which also publish out to html5 now. So they work on tablets and phones and stuff, but we're Adapts different is it actually tailors the layout to match the device is being used on its own? 

Pete Smith  4:53  

That's right, and some of the other authoring tools out there scale. So they still have that traditional flash style, click next to continue elearning. And their HTML version is really just taking that and putting it onto a smartphone device, which means you're squishing the content down with Adapt, you're actually restructuring it. So the biggest difference that you'll see is no next button, you have scrolling pages. And the scrolling page gets longer on a mobile device, because you're stacking those small units of content one on top of the other, instead of having two columns that you would have in a desktop layout. 

Paul Westlake  5:28  

And I'm going to play devil's advocate for a second because obviously, with my sales hit head on, so Kineo developed and designed or created, Adapt if you like, or and then it's gonna open source and we now collaborate with lots of other people. So with my sales head on why would we want to do that? Why we want to share that around and why don't we just license this tool much in the same way, as you know, many other vendors sell a an authoring tool, we have a killer application there. Its current its doing a great job for us. So why don't we do it that way?

Tom taylor  5:58  

Well, I think, in the case of Kineo, what we've always done so well is actually not necessarily differentiate on technology itself. But actually the service that's around that, so all the consultancy the design work. And we've always been very big on bespoke learning anyway. So it's not as if we've kind of had a software package or software service to sell, we've always used the tools in the best way that we can. So I think it's worked for us on that level, because it means that there's a level ground and we can offer our services, which is always already so important to us, and offer that on top of Adapt. 

Paul Westlake  6:33  

Okay, so who actually owns Adapt?

Pete Smith  6:35  

Nobody owns that. It's an open source technology. The Adapt community project has a steering group who, there to make sure that we work together and resolve any conflicts if and when they arise. But in essence, the code which sits on the Adapt learning GitHub is not owned by any one entity by anyone or organisation. It's owned by the people who put the work into it collectively. 

Paul Westlake  7:03  

And you're trying to quickly cover about that community because it their words that go very much go hand in hand Adapt and Adapt ocommunity and will push this back to the community. So what does that mean for maybe our clients? 

Oliver Foster  7:15  

what it what it essentially means is that a series of elearning, professional bodies have come together to pull their resources to make a fantastic bit of open source software and pooling resources doesn't just mean throwing money at a problem, it means that there are the expertise from all of those different regions, as Peter said, the different sectors of the learning community, as well as the different expertise. And, and on top of that, then they they test the same tool, and we get the benefit of all of that testing and all of that feedback. And when one company wants to do something new, we get to benefit from that. And when we want to do something new, they get to benefit. 

Paul Westlake  8:00  

And now how do we how do we? How do we make Ollie that we haven't got all of those different people going in different directions, there must be sort of a someone who's putting all that together. So So is there an active development roadmap for Adapt and do people know what they're working on? 

Oliver Foster  8:15  

There is an active development roadmap, there are a few different places that we we collate what it is that people want and what the community wants, what the businesses involved one. But fundamentally, the the framework is just a framework. So it doesn't come with content, it is a set of tools for building a course. So when we talk about conflicting kind of wants and needs from all of the businesses, there's there's actually a common ground beneath that, that we can all build collectively. So it doesn't doesn't mean that if somebody has a new principle for how they're designing courses, or they want to do something that they don't give back to the community, it doesn't doesn't stop them from doing that. It just means the base from which they do that is much more stable, much more solid. 

Paul Westlake  9:02  

Excellent. We've got a actively developed developing framework. So what version we're currently on with the framework. 

Pete Smith  9:10  

We are currently on version 2.2.4.

Paul Westlake  9:16  

Yes, I think it's 2.2.4  im not in any position to argue I'll go with that. And what does that mean, for me? If I was maybe an early adopter of Adapt? Do I have to update is it bit like an iOS update? Do I need to make sure I've got the latest versions and do my previous courses work on new framework versions, that sort of thing.

Oliver Foster  9:36  

It's, we're still in a kind of very early stage with the framework and version control. So it's, it's a problem that we are currently experiencing with the community. Every time we make a new iteration of the software there, there are changes that are there are major changes, major version numbers, that will break things that we have done in the past. So moving between major version numbers is is somewhat more difficult than moving between minor version numbers, which are additions of behavior or corrections for bugs. And so it depends at which stage you're entering the community. And what it is that you're changing how old the version of the courses that you're amending,

Paul Westlake  10:17  

And how have we seen this mature? So what have we added to the framework maybe in the difference between version one or version two, or what was added in maybe the last 18 months or so?

Pete Smith  10:28  

We're at the point where we're really focusing more on stability and flexibility now with the framework, rather than putting lots of features in because it's got a plug in architecture, the beauty of the Adapt framework is anyone can go off and build a new plugin, which has got new functionality. So if you go to the Adapt website, and have a look at the plugin browser, you'll see I think there's something like 154, which been created so far. And that's by a good old mixture. Some of them are elearning, suppliers. So like Kineo, or learning Pool, or learn champ, or any of the other collaborators, some of them from individuals who collaborate with us. And so there's a real community effort behind those plugins. For the framework itself, the that does contain a package of core plugins. And we'll keep developing those and improving the functionality and enhancing the flexibility of that core package. And we also need to make sure that we keep the framework patched and able to work with the very latest browsers and the latest versions of iOS. So a lot of the time those new versions will not have anything, which is immediately obvious as a new feature to someone who isn't intimately familiar with it. But it will still have a lot of improvements in it. And people should keep their framework versions regularly patched. 

Paul Westlake  11:50  

So Pete, you mentioned at the start of the podcast there about, I think you said that Adapt was three things. And one of the things you mentioned it being was an authoring tool. So it sort of flies in the face of me saying it's not exactly like a traditional authoring tool. So can we cover how that works? So where would I buy a copy of the authoring tool, for example?

Pete Smith  12:11  

Well, it's not exactly like a traditional authoring tool, because one of the big differences, it's a collaborative online server based tool. So you need a server to host it on. Otherwise, it's dead easy to get hold of, you just need to go to the Adapt learning GitHub, which is learning, click on the authoring tool version of it. And you can just download a copy from there. 

Paul Westlake  12:34  

There's no subscriptions to pay, there's no annual fees?

Pete Smith  12:37  

 No subscriptions, no fees, it's all absolutely free. What you do need is a certain amount of expertise and a knowledge of how to set up and configure a server that you can host it on. And that's actually the biggest single stumbling block to getting the authoring tool at the moment. 

Paul Westlake  12:51  

And what we're doing to help people with that. So if I'm not technical, how can I can I pick up a copy of that tool? Can you help me with that? 

Tom taylor  12:58  

Or Yeah, I think that's a key thing to take into account with the Adapt aurthoring tool is that it differs from storyline, your desktop tools in that obviously it has to be on a server. And I think the problem with that is that they'll always be a certain amount of technical know how you need, you know, be it an IT team or a sysadminm or if you want to do it yourself, you have to be familiar with setting up server based tools. So unfortunately, there's only so much we can do to help people out. That being said, it is fairly straightforward to set up a dev install on your own kit. The community is really good. We have two places, we have community forums and an online chat room called Gitter and the community go there. So that's a mixture of like people saying with the plugins, a mixture of the core development team and just other people in the community who use and develop with Adapt. And yeah, there's loads of people on there, they're always out there to help them and give instructions and kind of help people out if you come across any issues. So people are generally really friendly, and really helpful. 

Paul Westlake  13:59  

So do we use that authoring tool internally now? 

Pete Smith  14:03  

We do. And it depends entirely on what the client needs and what's needed for that project. And so generally, if we're building something, which is really big and complicated with all sorts of bespoke functionality in it, we'll reach straight for the framework, because you've got more flexibility there. If we have a client who has got a long term maintenance requirement with a, for a project, then because it's easier to use a user interface to go back and make content changes, then we will typically reach for the authoring tool, and we'll set up an authoring tool instance for them to go along with a new course or courses that we build. 

Paul Westlake  14:42  

And we can help it go back to what Tom was saying, you know, if you don't know what to do with service, we can help people with that, right? So we can host an instance of the authoring tool for them, should they want to contact us about that further down the line. So there is an easier route to it if you like. 

Pete Smith  14:57  

Yes, that's true. And I should also point out with my open source hat on Kineo isn't the only option there. So there are other Adapt collaborators who will offer the same service, people like can studios via systems will also be able to host your authoring tool. 

Paul Westlake  15:12  

And while were talking completely transparently, transparently about that, are there any limitations co authoring tool then? 

Pete Smith  15:20  

in terms of the technology? 

Paul Westlake  15:23  

The things that it can't do that we you said that there's things that we can do the framework that you can't do any offering tool? But for example, can I publish directly out of the authoring tool to my LMS?

Pete Smith  15:36  

Not directly directly. So obviously, the authoring tool being good elearning technology of SCORM conformance. So you can always publish out a SCORM package, which will be uploadable to all good learning management systems. And so in that respect, yes, what you wouldn't have is some kind of seamless, click once to publish type of process with any existing LMS. Although we are working on some integration with Totara assess at the moment, so if you watch this space, then that might change in the next few months.

Paul Westlake  16:10  

Excellent. So what's next for Adapt then? What's on your wish list, Ollie?

Oliver Foster  16:18  

Well, from the framework perspective, that we have a very, very long list of things that we need to get through. Most of them are about speeding up the development processes, engaging more people in the community, encouraging more people to use newer technology to make the things that they want, but basically to keep them engaged. So maintenance is also absolutely key to solving those problems, like the version management and how to migrate people's courses forwards. But also about  making the architecture much more resilient to to changes and and splitting it up into into appropriate levels of kind of architectural responsibility. And so it's much easier for people who specialise in certain aspects of the tool, or certain aspects of the framework. As members of the community without really having to know about any other pieces at the moment, we have a problem of it being very monolithic. So if you if you need to make one change, you have to understand a lot more about the framework then then should really be necessary. So that's kind of where most of the effort is focused at the moment. But general things like being able to make animations very quickly, and being able to branch out from this, this scrolling page into lateral pages, because there are a whole group of clients that don't like the scrolling page for various reasons. But that doesn't mean that the framework shouldn't be flexible enough to cater for their requirements. It is possible, it's just getting us to a stage where, where we can do it very, very easily. 

Paul Westlake  18:00  

Tom what do you think what's coming on the roadmap that you have, or what would be on your wish list for Adapt? 

Tom taylor  18:06  

Well, speaking with my authoring tool hat on, because that's what I have to have most dealings with. It's a similar kind of story, there's going to be a lot of work in the next six months or so around the kind of boring behind the scenes, tidy up the code, make it perform better, and that kind of thing, make it easier to add stuff on and then kind of moving on from there, we've got quite a few big ticket features that we want to get into the tool. Probably one of the biggest things that we get the community asking for is the ability to theme directly in the tool. So you know, tweak colors, and that kind of thing, basic theming stuff, because that's one thing we don't offer. But that's that's probably the biggest thing. I'm looking forward to

Paul Westlake  18:46  

Pete anything from you.? 

Pete Smith  18:48  

I think Tom and Ollie have covered the features really well. So I'll cover the other part of the Adapt project the community. And the plan, there is always the same to get more people involved. So we want to see more people who are using the tool inside their companies. So inside their organisations, because we get a lot of universities using it, we really want to see those people getting involved, suggesting new features and functionality that we as a core team should be building and also getting involved in lots of other ways. So Tom and I have just been to a two day event in Vienna, which is the second Adapt meetup that happened. And so if people would like to go ahead and host further meetups, we've got a hackathon that we're hoping to hold next year. So I'd really like to see the community growing and more and more events like that being held 

Paul Westlake  19:39  

And if any of our listeners are particularly interested in getting involved with that, or you know, dipping their toe in this or just seeing how the conversations going, where do they need to go for that information?

Pete Smith  19:48  

 Well, it's a lovely friendly community and lots of key places to go to. So for general information, the best place to start is the Adapt learning website which is we've got the forums which are all in so go ahead post any questions that you might want there its a really friendly place, you'll get a helpfull response, whatever it is that you ask. If you want more immediate responses, then as Tom mentioned before, there is the Gitter chatroom. Again, all of these things are on the website, so you'll find no problems. The other place to go to is GitHub, which I mentioned a couple of times. So if you spot an issue, or if you've got quite a well thought through detailed feature that you'd like to request then raise a ticket as an enhancement on there, and that will get picked up immediately by the core team.

Paul Westlake  20:45  

If you'd like to find out more about the history of Adapt, check out the link to our animation in the show notes. Or if you want to continue the conversation. You can pick us up on Twitter, where we're @Kineo or contact us via

Your speakers are

Oliver is an ECMAScript programmer. He works in the UK on elearning production and helps with the Adapt Framework open source project.
Paul was previously a Solutions Consultant at Kineo.
As a Technical Team Lead, Pete manages our team of Senior Technical Consultants and Front End Developers as well as taking accountability for the technical robustness and suitability of Kineo’s elearning and learning content. Pete also helps drive forward technical innovation working with our Technical Director and Head of Innovation to identify new opportunities for Kineo to branch into. Pete has a key role in the development of our Adapt framework and technical roadmaps for our proprietary tools and development.
A ‘satellite’ member of the Tech team; Tom is Kineo’s in-house expert on the Adapt authoring tool, and leads the development of both the internal and open-source flavours. He spends the majority of his time working directly on the open-source project, but also helps out with internal client services around the authoring tool.