DevLearn 2007 Expo

Wednesday I took a (long) drive to San Jose to check out the DevLearn 2007 Expo. I did not attend the conference because the registration fee was a little high for my non-existent budget, but figured the Expo would be a good opportunity to check out the latest new tools. Truth be told, the size of the expo was disappointing. It was much smaller than I expected in terms of the number of booths. It also seemed the conference didn’t have a lot of attendees because every time I walked by a session room they seemed mostly empty.

The small expo size and small number of people did allow me time to really talk with some vendors about their products in depth. I talked with a dozen or so vendors, but only a few really impressed me, with both their product and professionalism. Most did not impress me, and some were actually rude. I don’t want to dwell on those, but I’ll just say that two of the biggest names in eLearning tools were the most unprofessional and unimpressive companies I talked with.

Rapid Intake

The company that impressed me most was Rapid Intake. A few months ago I gave Flashform a negative review. Garin Hess, Rapid Intake’s CEO, contacted me and did a personal demo of Flashform. I changed my mind about the product and wrote a new review of Flashform. Garin was at DevLearn and spent very long time with me talking about the next evolution of Flashform and even demoed the beta version for me. I can’t say much about it now, but it is cool. Very cool. For the first time (maybe ever) I have seen an authoring tool that I’m genuinely excited about. I wish I could say more and tell you all the awesome features, but Garin swore me to secrecy until they are ready for release. What the iPod did for music this new product may do for eLearning development. It really is that cool. Remember when Authorware was the tool? This may be next. This is one tool worth your attention. Keep an eye out for it.

Also, the folks at Rapid Intake deserve kudos. I’m just a guy that has a blog, but they treated me with the utmost respect and truly valued my opinion. Rapid Intake actually listens to the people in their target market. Other vendors were reluctant to get out of their chair to hand me brochure and give me their robotic sales pitch, but Garin and his co-workers had an actual two-way conversation with me.

Exceptional Software Strategies

Who’s Exceptional Software? I’d never heard of them, but that’s normal for a convention expo, half the companies I’ve never heard of. Exceptional Software is software development company with a division that focuses on eLearning. What made them standout was their game, Never Rest. Never Rest is an Instructional Alternate Reality Game (I-ARG). This game takes scenario based learning to the next level by making it realistic – learners actually do things in the game that they do on the job. “Game” probably isn’t the best word to describe it since it really is training, but cool like games.

MediaEdge (the division of Exceptional Software that developed the I-ARG) has developed a Flex based platform for deploying the training that allows instructors complete control over the environment. I haven’t played with a demo myself, but what they showed was impressive. Well thought out, professionally designed, and very engaging. From what I saw they’ve found the sweet spot where games and training mix. The development team was a combination of Instructional Designers and Game Developers and the strengths of both show in the final product.

It was refreshing to see this platform and talk with them because it was totally different than anything else I saw. Most tools are focused on the traditional development paradigms or try to sell you on “rapid development”. Never Rest is really about making something realistic, engaging, and truly interactive -real learning based on real world scenarios. You learn by doing the job you’re being trained for. I’m going to spend some time with Never Rest and researching I-ARGs because it looks fun.

Summary

There were a few other companies and products that I need to look into a little more before blogging about them. There were also plenty of LMS vendors there, but none had anything that really jumped out at me. Same old LMS stuff I’ve seen before, just with a UI face lift.

If you’re looking something to get you excited about eLearning, make some time to look into both Flashform and Never Rest. They are developing new products that will hopefully breathe some new life into the eLearning development tools marketplace.

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