March 6, 2013
The Evolution of the Absorb LMS: An Update
If you’ve spoken to our staff or visited our website or blog recently, you may have noticed 3 things: 1. Absorb LMS has a fancy new look and feel! 2. We are no longer talking about Smartlab 3. We are now talking about something called “Mercury” Absorb LMS is rapidly evolving, right along with the entire learning technology industry. The rise of mobile learning, and specifically, the success of the Apple iPad and iPhones, have created new challenges - and new opportunities - to rethink how we deliver online learning. It’s been more than 10 years since blatant^ was founded on the principle of building a better Learning Management System. Over time, we have added many new features, mostly at the request of clients and sometimes because we’ve anticipated what’s to come and tried to lead the market in that direction. We’ve always aimed to implement these new features so that they will be both useful and easy to use. We also try to ensure that we maintain a high-level of design standards. The user experience is tantamount. A few years ago (a lifetime, in the technology arena) and as part of this ongoing product evolution, we created a completely custom platform that sat “on top of” Absorb LMS. It provided some of our clients with a completely custom HTML5 interface, and added some additional functionality to support increased marketing, learner messaging and learner engagement requirements. This platform – Smartlab – also ran on iPads (where the old Absorb FLASH interface would not) and it offered all of the Absorb functions plus some new features and widgets: FAQ, Quick Polls, Twitter Feed, News Feed, Rotating Banner Ads and Contests. All of which could be targeted at specific groups of users with the standard drop-down audience filters that Absorb provides for course and resource targeting. For the clients that adopted Smartlab, this was great. For a while. We all learned some things and thought long and hard about how we could make Smartlab even better. What we learned: 1. HTML 5 is great for iPads but an IDEAL user interface should scale in size and layout regardless of the size and type of device that the learner is using. 2. Custom is great, until you want to change it. Then it can get expensive and time consuming. 3. Custom does not like upgrades. Having a custom anything kind of defeats the purpose of the SaaS model, where all users get all new features at the same time. 4. Custom can get very expensive and requires tons of planning and review work. If many people are involved in the decision making process, this can drag on for some time. How we improved it: 1. We took the best features of Smartlab (Polls, FAQ, Contents, News, Twitter, Banners) and made them available to all of our Absorb users (current and future). 2. We renamed this 'Absorb Mercury Edition'. Smartlab was a weird name anyway, and besides, it was still 95% powered by the core Absorb LMS. 3. We changed the entire product to have a slick new “responsive design" that detects and adjust its layout depending on the size and orientation of the browser/device being used. 4. We dropped the design fees for the (formerly Smartlab) Mercury options by over 80% and eliminated 6 months of project management effort. 5. We recognized that only some of our clients would be interested in Mercury’s bells and whistles and so made it available as an easy add-on module that can be purchased and turned on at any time. Our clients think this is great. Whether they upgrade to the new Absorb Mercury Edition or simply migrate to the new Absorb LMS responsive interface, they will still benefit from complete cross-platform/mobile support in a beautiful user interface. In other words, you don't need to use Mercury to take advantage of the adaptive features in the new learner interface - this is now standard to the Absorb platform. So to recap, Smartlab has been improved and renamed Absorb Mercury Edition (or “Mercury”, for short); the price and implementation time were reduced dramatically, and Absorb now scales perfectly across different types of desktop computers and mobile devices, thanks to the new responsive design. Since it is part of the core Absorb LMS platform, Mercury also gets regularly updated as part of our standard development cycle. And for clients that want or need a custom interface, we still offer that service too, and at a much lower cost due to the new Absorb Mercury Edition architecture. It’s an interesting and dynamic time in the learning technology industry, and we’re excited and inspired by all the change.