Changelog #2

Hello! Below, you'll find an overview of the changes we've recently made to Pathgather. As always, if you have any questions, just let us know at support@pathgather.com.

View a learner's endorsed resources

When viewing a learner's profile, I find the content they've learned quite interesting, but I often find myself wondering what they learned and loved. Well, that's now possible! Now, when viewing a profile, any content learned and endorsed by the user will display with a 'heart' next to that item.

A new way to share

With the recent launch of gatherings, we now support 3 main ways to share your knowledge: by sharing learning content, by creating a learning path, and by creating a gathering. We've decided to package those 3 options into a single "share" button you can access at any time. Just hover over the '+' button in the bottom left and choose your desired way to share!

New enhancements to your default activity timeline

As you follow more and more users in Pathgather, the activity those users generate will display in your default activity timeline. However, while this sort of social following is quite normal in social networks, it doesn't always apply perfectly to the learning nature of our site. So, in an effort to further push relevant content to our users, we've started to include activities that relate to a user's skills in their timeline.

For example, if I've added Javascript as a skill to my profile, any time a user shares Javascript content or creates a Javascript gathering, that activity will now display in my timeline, regardless of whether or not I follow that user. Essentially, in addition to following various users in Pathgather, you're now also following your skills!

New integrations

We've also recently added support for a couple of new content vendors. We're happy to welcome Skillport and Code School to the Pathgather content family! If you already have licenses to either of these vendors, simply navigate to our 'Subscriptions' functionality in the administration interface and enable them with a single click. Additionally, if you don't have licenses to Code School but would like to still sample their content, there is a separate option to enable only their free offerings

That's it for this Changelog! Again, if you have any questions or feedback, we're just a short email away at support@pathgather.com

Happy learning,

The Pathgather Team

The startup ‘training’ program

Or why giving your team dedicated time to learn is best for the long-term

‘Training’, at least as it’s historically been defined by larger corporations, is quite commonly overlooked in the startup world. While you’ll often hear of large companies building dedicated teams and budgets solely focused on implementing a global training program, you rarely, if ever, hear about startups giving such a program the slightest thought. And who could blame them! Any given day can provide any number of unanticipated distractions that seem urgent: a top customer requests a custom analytics report, a distinguished potential client has ‘one more’ feature request, the current sprint is already days behind its scheduled completion, etc. With all these distractions, who has time to worry about training? After all, we hired the team we did because of the knowledge they have now, so let's put that knowledge to use now!

Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit...but the truth is that life as a young startup can be crazy and stressful, where focus, bandwidth, and dollars are finite resources to be utilized only on the most critical of needs. Training is usually a “we’ll get to it later” focus, not a “we need this now or we’re dead” focus. And honestly, there’s probably little reason to hire a dedicated training team on a dedicated budget if you aren’t even sure you’ll have a team 6 months from now.

Why We Spend Every Friday Learning

However, none of this means you should totally forget about the training and personal development of your employees. You’ve probably hired your early employees because they’re quick learners and autonomous. If that’s the case, maybe all you need is to set aside time for “self development” and let them loose! Which is exactly what we do. Every Friday, after usually an hour or two of ‘real' work in the mornings, we spend the rest of the day on some sort of personal development: learning something new, contributing to open source software, writing a new blog post, etc. 

We’ve been doing this for over a year now, so I figured it’s time to review what we’ve achieved and reflect on why we implemented this ‘policy’ in the first place (and why you should too!)

It builds a self-sustaining learning culture

Let’s consider a scenario. Sally takes a few hours every week to explore her curiosities: learning new things, tinkering with side projects, etc. One day, she stumbles upon an amazing talk from the Netflix engineering team on building flexible APIs for streamlined client-side communication, and finds it quite relevant to the stack her company currently uses. She thinks this new way of thinking about API development has potential to increase the front-end team’s development velocity by many factors.

If Sally is an employee of a large company, the knowledge she’s learned may have a slight impact on her immediate team, but it’s unlikely to be a game changer for the entire company. However, if Sally is a member of a 15 person startup, the amount of influence this newfound knowledge can have knows no bounds.

This is the single greatest benefit we’ve seen from this ‘program’. Once something exciting is learned, it quickly spreads throughout the rest of the team, serving as a talking point well after it was initially started. The end result is a self-sustaining learning culture, one where the knowledge learned by one spreads to the others quickly. The process is refueled weekly, as other employees discover more exciting information. The excitement is contagious, the information sharing is continuous, and the benefit to team culture and knowledge is obvious. Everybody wins!

It prepares employees for their career after your startup

Obviously, what your employees achieve during their time with you is of the utmost importance. But what about what they achieve after their time with you? Do you give that any thought? Should you really even care?

I’d be willing to bet that most startups don’t give this the slightest thought. Startups care that their employees work as hard as they can now, that they dedicate all their energy to the startup now, that they help the startup achieve its goals now. After the employee moves on, that's their business. 

While this approach may help you achieve your startup's short-term goals, it will prevent you from building a lasting 'brand' for your company. Your former employees are like your ambassadors to the rest of the industry: the more they achieve, the better your company's reputation will be. When you get a new resume on your desk and you look through the applicant's past companies, there's a reason you're more excited about some more than others. Don't you want people to be excited to see your company's name there?

Ensuring your team members are setup for the world beyond your borders is absolutely critical to building a respected business. Of course, you should absolutely consider implementing a “personal development" program for many other reasons: you genuinely care about the success and well-being of anyone who’s put their trust and faith in you and your company, you realize the knowledge and technology your company uses today is only temporary, etc. But if you needed a selfish reason to convince you, there you go. Remember, there's a reason why universities obsess over the accomplishments of their alumni.

It’s a critical component of a healthy startup culture

The two most common concerns people have when considering working at a startup seem to typically be:

  1. Stability - "Will I still have a job in 6 months? What about 2 years?"
  2. Work hours - "Will I be required to work crazy hours? I don’t think I can stare at a screen that long….you won’t make me sleep in the office, right??"

A great way to alleviate concerns for #2 is the ability to point at a set time for creative exploration and personal development. And while this may not directly ease the concerns of #1, it certainly has the ability to increase your employees’ confidence in their ability to land on their feet if something does indeed happen.

By guaranteeing your team a set time where they can break away from their normal workflow and environment, you keep them engaged, focused, and prevent burn-out from the rigors of your current work environment. This keeps their attitude, and team morale, pointing in the right direction. 

It’s a great "perk" when recruiting

I’ve been recruiting a good bit over the past several months. One question I ask every candidate during the initial chat is “So, why is now the right time to move on from your current position?”. I’d say over 90% give some form of the answer “I feel like I’ve learned about all I can here”. Yeesh…feeling like you’ve learned all there is to know is hard to do, so that feeling probably doesn’t bode too well for that company’s work environment. 

This, of course, makes some sense if you aren’t allowing your engineers some ‘free time’ to explore the ever-changing software world. If your engineers are just constantly engrossed in your tech stack every hour of every work day, it’s inevitable they'll get a bit bored. Thus, if an engineer you're recruiting has experienced this before, they'll know to look out for it in their next position. If you have a ‘policy’ to learn or experiment on a weekly basis, you’ve already eased their largest concern. Additionally, if your engineers spend some of this time working on open source development, as our engineers often do, a Github profile of useful and (hopefully) popular open-source projects can serve as one hell of a recruiting tool for some of the best available engineers. It’s done wonders for our own recruiting efforts, that’s for sure!

In conclusion

In the incredibly competitive world of recruiting, you'll see companies ranging from Google to small startups offering some fantastic-sounding perks: free massages, free lunches, free laundry, free gym memberships, etc. Hell, I even saw free lawn care once! And there's absolutely nothing wrong with these perks...that is, if your company can afford them. But amongst the sea of superficial perks, perhaps it's time for "free learning time" to join the group. After all, it has the potential to impact your employees' lives in a way that would far exceed any free lunch or massage.

Changelog #1

Hello,

We're going to be trying something different moving forward when it comes to communication around launched product enhancements. Once or twice a month, we'll be writing a "Changelog" post, a detail of the recent product changes we've made at Pathgather.

As always, if you have any questions or feedback, just let us know at support@pathgather.com!

API support for Gatherings

We added the ability to create, retrieve, and manage gatherings and their content, paths, and users to our official API. The API docs can be found here. You can use this API to easily create gatherings in bulk, automatically have your users join a gathering, add certain content to a gathering, etc.

Skills added to paths

For awhile, you’ve had the ability to associate content to the skills that content helps a user improve in, but that functionality was missing from paths. Well, not anymore! Now, as you create or edit a path, you'll see the ability to tag your path with as many skills as you like.

path_skills.png

We highly recommend you add relevant skills to your existing paths to help get them in front of the users who would benefit the most from their content. To edit one of your paths, navigate to the "Created" section on your profile, hover over the path you'd like to edit in the "Authored Paths" section, click the gear icon, and just hit Edit!

Gathering support added to auto recommendations

Admin feature: Auto recommendations allow you to automatically recommend learning content and paths to current and future users who satisfy a certain criteria, such as users who join the Engineering department, users in New York who have been employed for at least a year, etc. Now, you can configure a recommendation to be automatically pushed to users when they join a specific gathering!

gathering_recommendations.png

Automatic communication of new notifications

If you’re like us and you have a tab of Pathgather open during the work day, it’s been a bit annoying in the past to know when you had a new notification. Well, we’ve improved this greatly! Your open Pathgather tab will now let you know when you have new notifications via 2 different methods: 1) The orange bubble that displays over the notification menu button will automatically increment its number as you get new notifications and 2) The title you see in your tab will be prefixed with a count of new notifications.

notifications.png

That's it for this Changelog! Again, if you have any questions or feedback, we're just a short email away at support@pathgather.com

Happy learning,

The Pathgather Team

Building a Community of Learners with Pathgather Gatherings

At Pathgather, we believe that enterprise learning has the power to be a transformative force in an employee’s overall learning experience. With the right tools and an engaged workforce, we think it’s possible.

That’s why we are especially excited about the latest feature addition to the Pathgather platform - gatherings. With gatherings, you can build collaborative and engaging learning communities to find people who share your interests, start conversations, and share learning resources.

What is a gathering?

Think of a gathering as a learning community focused on a common topic, skill, or interest. They allow learners within Pathgather to share paths and other learning content in a targeted way and also to start conversations to learn from one another. For example, the “Data Science Enthusiasts at Company X” gathering would be the perfect avenue to allow people to share courses on a new methodology, ask questions about a programming language, and connect with experts and enthusiasts across departments.

How does it work?

True to Pathgather’s core belief in employee-driven learning, anyone with a Pathgather account can create a gathering. Gatherings can be set to public (anyone in your company can view and join the gathering) or private (membership is managed by a gathering administrator and content is hidden from non-members). Each gathering contains an event feed, conversation board, learning catalog, and member directory.

As an L&D professional, how can I use gatherings to engage my learners?

Glad you asked! Here are our top five best practices:

  1. Identify subject matter experts, leaders of internal initiatives, or heads of departments who would be great early adopters. Meet with them to explain Pathgather, explain gatherings, and get them to commit to building a community. You will be instrumental in building your company's initial network of gatherings, and your involvement will help organic adoption take off. Your Pathgather Customer Success team is happy to help you with all of these things!

  2. Find the obvious use cases for gatherings. Your engineering team, your human resources department, and your public speaking club all have an innate need for knowledge sharing and collaboration.

  3. Find the creative use cases for gatherings. Is there an upcoming company all-hands? Create a gathering to start the conversation in advance, collect Q&A questions, and share presentation materials. Does your diversity and inclusion group work closely but in offices all around the world? Use a gathering to share relevant resources, discuss upcoming initiatives, and connect all members of the team in a single place.

  4. Make sure you (or the gathering administrator) have a plan for each of your gatherings. People aren’t going to return if there isn’t compelling content and conversation in the gathering.

  5. Skill- or topic-driven gatherings, such as Data Science Enthusiasts or Public Speaking Club, are most effective in enriching your learning environment and spurring collaboration when kept public.

 

Gatherings mark a major advance in our mission to create a learning platform that both employees and organizations truly value, and we couldn’t be more excited to keep building upon it moving forward. If you have any questions or thoughts, get in touch with us!

4 Resources to Get You Started with React, Facebook's New Frontend Library

A few months ago I read an interesting blog post by someone who teaches programming to beginners, in which he argues that it is important to distinguish between true beginners - people who are brand new to coding - and people who are relatively new to coding, but are nonetheless familiar with all the basic concepts.  He calls this latter group early coders.

If you are brand new to programming (ie, a beginner), there are tons of great resources that make learning fun and very approachable, including Codecademy,com, Teamtreehouse,com, Udacity.com, and Codeschool.com.  These sites and many others like them will have you up and running in no time (well, it will take some time, but it will be pretty fast).

If you fall into the second “early coders” group, in that you understand the basic concepts front end web development (HTML, CSS, Javascript, and maybe some jQuery as well) and you’re looking for a way to help you build out user interfaces in a more modular, maintainable way, you might be interested to check out React.  My point is that I don't think you need to be an experienced developer in order to begin learning and benefiting from React.

Described as a “Javascript library for building user interfaces,” React was created and released pretty recently by Facebook.  It’s one of the hottest topics in frontend web development these days.

I was curious and wanted to see what all the buzz was about.  I'm an early coder myself, and had dipped my toes into some of the popular Javascript frameworks out there like AngularJS, but immediately found React to be far more approachable and intuitive.  I wasn’t quite sure why that was, but this Angular vs React blog post seems to offer one possible explanation:

AngularJS introduces an explosion of new concepts. There is, at least, controllers, directives, factories, scopes, services, transclusion, the directives library, the module system, and more that I’ve no doubt forgotten about or haven’t encountered yet. Add to that the famously bad documentation and you have a learning curve like a cliff.
In React there are just three important concepts: components with properties and state. Components are just code. There is so little to React that when I started to learn it I could read all the documentation in just one day.
To his point, I’d say that if you’re already fairly comfortable with HTML, CSS, and Javascript, I don’t think there’s anything stopping you from gaining a solid grasp of React in a couple of days, which is pretty excellent.

So, ready to give it a shot?  Here’s one introductory path you can take to kick things off:

1: Getting Started

https://facebook.github.io/react/docs/getting-started.html

I wouldn’t have predicted it, but I actually started with Facebook’s documentation and found that it was a great place to start.  They have a quick tutorial where they walk you step-by-step through the creation of a simple comment thread using React.  By the end you’ll have created your first React app using multiple components and be familiar with all the basic concepts.  Nice!

2: An 8-part walkthrough

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N98ACjjJABw

Next I found this relatively short video series by some guy on Youtube who walks you through the creation of a similar app to what the Facebook documentation walks you through, but now you have someone verbally guiding you through it, which will help to reinforce all the concepts that Facebook’s documentation introduced you to.  Because he broke the tutorial up into 8 pieces it’s easy to rewatch a section as many times as you need to in order to make sure you understand what’s going on.

3: No need for jQuery?

http://facebook.github.io/react/docs/events.html

This gem of a blog post was shared with me by my good teammate Neville.  I have tended to use jQuery for all my event handling, but this blog post does a good job at explaining some of the challenges that arise from jQuery event handling in complex apps, and how React can alleviate many of those problems.  This tutorial is also rather unique in that it first looks at how you would accomplish some functionality in jQuery, then translates it into React, which I found very useful.

4: Learn React, Flux, and Flow

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pd6Ub7Ju2RM

Once you’ve worked your way through the two steps above, I would recommend you check out this recording of what seems to be a meetup held at Facebook.  What’s nice about this video is that while this guy also walks you through the creation of a basic React app, similar to the other resources I’ve linked to here, he also describes at a higher level what React is and how it differs from other forms of frontend development.

Extra Credit: In their own words

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxVg_s8xAms

This talk was given by the folks at Facebook who created React, just shortly after they first open-sourced it on Github.  While there isn’t anything here that isn’t covered by the other videos and tutorials, I found it very interesting to hear them make the case for why React is worth the time and attention of experienced developers, at a time when it may not yet have been clear how the community would receive it.

Wrapping up

Find these resources useful?  Are there others that you found helpful as you were first learning React?  I'd love to hear about them!

Customers We Love: Garrett Messer, ZirMed

This post is the first in our Customers We Love series, a chance for us to turn the pen over to some of the amazing people we have the pleasure of working with everyday. Meet Garrett Messer. Garrett is HR Manager of Organizational Learning & Development at ZirMed, Inc. In his 8 years at ZirMed, he has been in Operations, IT, and Human Resources roles. In his current role, he manages employee orientations and other company-wide training initiatives. Take it away, Garrett!

The Learning & Development Industry: how is it evolving?

As an HR professional in charge of learning and development at a leading cloud-based software company serving the healthcare industry, I’ve seen L&D embrace a variety of new and evolving trends, including:

Continual Learning

When products stayed the same, there was minimal need to train and retrain. That’s still true of some products, which is why we only have to take the driving test once. If cars were suddenly able to fly, every driver would have to be retrained.

However, as technology and business practices continue to change faster and faster, our knowledge and skills need constant updating. Those who stay current get to keep their jobs. I always tell new employees that people can become out of date just like software, which is why they need to invest in themselves through continual learning.

Self-Directed Learning

Some managers will point you to education to make you a better worker in your current role, but far fewer managers will point you to education that will help you excel in your career. I say, “Don’t let your job description be your eulogy!” Take control of your learning.

Dan Pink does a nice job explaining how we can motivate people in the workplace and beyond. Find your purpose and take on the effort yourself. Know the end goal and learn at your own pace—even if it’s faster than everyone around you.

Searching for Learning

How and where do you go to learn—your company’s LMS? A brick-and-mortar or online college? A MOOC (massive open online course) ? A pay site? And once you get there, which courses and resources will you choose?

As learning opportunities increase, so does the challenge of navigating them. We all need information to help us make those decisions, and we want feedback from our peers on the quality of the education.

Community Learning

Sharing educational information reduces effort and formality. We want others to tell us whether the material we’re considering is good or bad—and why. We feel more comfortable when we can consult stars, ratings, and reviews so we can make faster, more confident decisions.

We also want to share what we learn with others. Communities of learning empower us to interact and discuss the things that interest us—check out John Green’s TedTalk about his experiences with them.

What’s Next?

Education will continue to become more personalized and customizable. Portability and availability will increase. And you’ll have even fewer reasons to wait for your boss or HR department to tell you what to learn.

 

-- Garrett Messer

 

A Mandate to Innovate

(or how to convince your boss to let you)

A year ago, when we were only months into the launch of Pathgather, much of our sales and marketing efforts revolved around ‘selling the vision’. We would identify a company, establish contact with a buyer, then spend a significant amount of time educating them on our mission:

Our mission is to provide a learning platform that employees value. In other words, we believe a learning program MUST be employee-driven; where all learning resources are unified into one delightful user interface and individuals are compelled to learn every day

Companies had a hard time wrapping their heads around this idea. Conceptually, they agreed, but in practice, they relied on a fuzzy combination of LMS-based required learning, day-long classroom sessions, and limited support from their exec team. These discussions had remained largely unchanged...

That is, until recently. Over the last quarter or so, we have noticed an intriguing trend with both inbound and outbound interest in Pathgather. ‘Selling the vision’ conversations have been replaced with lively discussions about enterprise-wide projects to re-imagine learning. There is a recognition that times are changing and that a successful learning organization empowers learners, unifies content, and provides valuable insights to business stakeholders.  

A Motivated Population

This idea is picking up some serious speed. We think it’s because L&D professionals are so active in the HR community which enables the spread of new and innovative approaches to learning. The folks we speak to agree with the changing landscape of technology and methodologies but it wasn’t until recently that many of them have had the opportunity to apply these concepts to their own organizations.  

We couldn’t be more excited about this trend because it demonstrates a fundamental shift in executive opinions toward learning policy and outcomes. We were built on the principle that the corporate education market is in need of significant innovation and we are pleased to see that companies are headed in that direction. 

Convincing your boss to embrace change

This trend is all well and good; however, many learning professionals are still faced with the ‘business as usual’ mentality that has plagued this industry for many years. It’s fine to talk about the need for change at conferences or on LinkedIn groups, but when it comes down to fighting the good fight with your exec team, it can be hard to formulate a plan. So we thought we might try to help. We spend all day speaking with teams trying to accomplish just this task so we figured we could extract some best practices for building your case to innovate.

Below we have compiled some of the tactics our customers and partners have used to achieve their goals. Hopefully this helps, and feel free to leave additional tips in the comments below!  

Business Priority Alignment

This is probably an obvious one but it’s also painfully overlooked. When building a case to innovate, L&D professionals should take a macro approach to why this shift is important. Most employees hear rumblings of new initiatives coming down the pipe but remain largely removed from them. Well, this presents an opportunity to demonstrate the need for better learning experiences.  

Is your organization implementing a new ERP system? Sounds like people will need product, technology, and project training. Is the company expanding into a new industry? Sales, Marketing, and Recruiting are all going to be affected. Do you keep hearing whispers of a shadowy ‘Project X’? In that case, a clear learning strategy will be central to its success. Our point is that if you hear of an interesting initiative going on, find the person responsible and demonstrate the need for a better approach to learning.  

What your execs don’t know should scare them  

For entirely too long, learning professionals have had to justify their existence by producing the most perfunctory and mundane of reports: the LMS compliance report. We are consistently surprised by the lack of analytics being utilized to judge the knowledge of a workforce. Most L&D professionals are required to wade into their LMS and extract a report that outlines a baseline understanding of when employees were forced to train -- X number of employees took Y compliance course and got an average score of Z. Woof.  

Execs should be thinking about where they’re not training people. Understanding the emerging technologies people are searching for, identifying how valuable the training they provide really is, and locating independent learners out there who could be your next rockstar VP are all areas that should be regularly explored. If you could go to your management team telling that story, I guarantee you they would be chomping at the bit to innovate.   

Communities of learning exist

Whether you want to admit it or not, a significant amount of learning is happening outside of L&D. When we implement with our customers, we often uncover vibrant communities of learning in pockets across the business. Rather than shun this type of behavior, we feel these communities are critical to building an innovative learning organization and you should work hard to engage those stakeholders in helping you build one.  

If you are building a case to innovate your L&D program, start with these communities. Walk over to any engineering, design, or product team in your company and ask them how they learn about new technologies and where they share that with their coworkers. It’s been our experience that many of these teams have some informal way of sharing content - whether through email, Confluence pages, or a random corporate wiki. This idea can frustrate learning professionals but is absolutely an opportunity to demonstrate a new approach to delivering learning. If you can show your exec team that the appetite for learning is there, and secure direct support from business units, you are well on your way to proving a case for innovation.  

Your competitors are your best spokesmen

What are your top competitors doing and how will it affect your organization? Our advice: become an expert in all things competitor related. Here are just a few examples of worthwhile competitive analysis activities:

Understand recent successes (failures) that have been publicized in the industry. Have they anticipated a new trend or explored a new market that your organization should be knowledgeable on?

If they’re publicly traded, review their investor material and see what large initiatives have been a priority.

Do your LinkedIn research and see how many people they have been hiring. Is there a theme among those hires? A new business sector, technology, product focus?

All of these activities will allow you to position a need for a better learning program across your organization.

Go International

As companies expand into new geographic areas, they must also migrate their learning program. Unfortunately, one of two things typically happens: either international markets go wildly underserved OR those programs have to start back in the Stone Age of learning delivery. Companies think ‘let’s start out small with the India team, get them set up with some instructor led training then maybe in a year or two we’ll migrate some of that work to the LMS’. This is completely the wrong approach. We’ve found that international teams are some of the best places to launch innovative learning solutions. These populations can leapfrog your current programs and be the pilot sites for ground-breaking learning programs.  

If you are looking to make a case for innovation, then look to your international markets. We guarantee you your international business partners will be excited to be on the cutting edge of a new initiative and your exec team will be more willing to consider a phased rollout like this.     

The First Step

To those of you who have the mandate to innovate, congratulations! We are excited to see where you take it. For those of you fighting that fight, we hope some of these tips will help you in your efforts. Each company has its own priorities and we sympathize with learning professionals that are lobbying daily to build great learning organizations. As we mentioned in the beginning, we speak with a lot of people every day, and if we can help share best practices with our colleagues in the field, we are thrilled to do so.  


If any of this was helpful, drop us a line in the comments and we can talk more about it.

Pathgather is now live on Periscope

Or, we will be soon, and on a regular basis!  I’ll touch upon why we've decided to do this, and why you should check it out!

First, what is Periscope?

periscope-pathgather

Periscope is a live video streaming app offered by Twitter that has really taken off in the past several months.  Once you download the app (available on iOS and Android) you will receive a little notification when anyone you follow on Twitter starts a broadcast.  Just tap on that notification and you’ll jump right into the live broadcast!

What’s especially cool about Periscope is that it allows viewers to leave comments that everyone can see, including the person recording the video.  This allows whoever is shooting the video to respond in real time.  Basically, irrespective of what we're doing, it’s really cool and you should check it out.

Why are we Pathiscoping?

[ Side note: Pathiscoping = Pathgather Periscoping.  How are we feeling about that? ]

There are lots of ways to get your message out there, including blogs, articles, videos, case studies, conferences, and more.  These are all valuable modes of communication, and we use each of them.

But we also wanted a way to get in touch with people in a less structured, more spontaneous, and completely unscripted way.  We wanted a way to reduce the traditional barriers to communication between us and those who are interested in what we’re doing.

We’re doing this as an experiment, and are going to evaluate it on a week by week basis.  But we think Periscope could be a great tool to help us accomplish these goals.

How will it work?

The inaugural Pathiscope will take place on Thursday at 3pm ET.  No need to mark your calendars, though!

In order to get in on the action, just follow these few steps:

  • Follow @pathgather on Twitter if you don’t already (this is how Periscope will know to inform you when we start broadcasting).
  • Go to the App Store or Google Play and download the Periscope app.
  • Login with your Twitter account, and subscribe to the @pathgather video stream.

And that’s it!  If you follow these steps, you’ll get a notification on Thursday at around 3pm that we’ve started to broadcast.  Look forward to seeing you there!

The unheralded flaw in LinkedIn's acquisition of Lynda.com

linkedin-lynda-acquisition

I love the idea behind LinkedIn’s acquisition of Lynda.com, because it does indeed further LinkedIn’s mission of connecting talent with opportunity.  The promise is that LinkedIn will now not only be able to connect people with jobs, but connect people with the learning resources that will help them get those jobs.

This is absolutely the right direction to take the company.  That said, I’m not convinced that their chosen strategy - acquiring Lynda.com - is one that will ultimately succeed.

They’re all in on Lynda.com

lynda-acquisition

The main issue I see is that LinkedIn now has a very strong interest in seeing Lynda.com succeed.

Well, what’s wrong with that?

Put simply, it's bias.  Lynda.com is a popular, high-quality learning provider, but it is by no means the only learning destination on the web.  Every content provider has its strengths and weaknesses, and inevitably, Lynda will be weaker in certain areas than the competition.

And yet when a LinkedIn user searches for something at which Lynda is comparatively weak, which content provider is LinkedIn likely to recommend?  I have a hard time imagining that it would be anything other than Lynda.

Why can't I imagine it?  Why not recommend the best content, irrespective of the content provider?

LinkedIn paid $1.5B for Lynda.com

And that was at 10x Lynda’s revenue.  That means LinkedIn has lots and lots of incentive to push Lynda.com hard to their users, and very little incentive to ensure that their users are being exposed to Lynda’s competitors.

In the short term, this will be a very strong partnership for LinkedIn and Lynda, but I fear that it will harm the user experience in the long term.  It shouldn’t matter to LinkedIn whether Lynda or Pluralsight or Udacity gets chosen by the user.  And yet due to their financial incentives, it will matter.

lynda-competitors

A better approach

Ultimately I think LinkedIn would have been better off without a dog in the fight.  This is the approach we've taken with Pathgather.

Our goal is to make it really easy for companies and employees to find the world’s best learning content in one place, to personalize our recommendations based upon their interests and learning history, and to empower learners to curate the best content for one another.

It doesn’t matter to us whether our users pick Lynda or Pluralsight or Udacity or any other learning source.  It matters only that we get them to the best choice as quickly as possible.

We believe this approach is far and away the best for our users.  I think it would be a wise for LinkedIn to adopt a similar approach as well, even if their near-term financial incentives would say otherwise.


Why the term “Corporate MOOC” is buzzwordy

I’m hearing more and more companies mention that they’re developing or have already developed corporate MOOCs.  But I’m not sure they always mean what we think it means.

What is a corporate MOOC?

The idea of a corporate MOOC is very cool.  It means that a company would create some learning content that they would then publish to the world so anyone can learn from it.

Why would a company go to the expense of creating something that they would then give away for free, and risk competitors benefiting from?  There are actually a number of compelling reasons.

One is that many companies recognize that either currently or in the future there will not be enough qualified applicants to fill certain important positions.  MOOCs can be one strategy to alleviate this problem.

Take Google as a hypothetical example.  Let’s suppose that they know they’ll need twice as many Android developers as they currently have 10 years from now, but they can tell that there is likely to be a major shortage of people who have the necessary skills.

In this case, Google could publish and publicize a MOOC about android development today, in the hopes that some of the people who take the course will one day become valuable Google employees.

Sure, the individuals who take this Android MOOC may end up taking their talents elsewhere, but Google will give themselves the upper hand because throughout the course they have the opportunity to reference how great it is to work at Google and how wonderful it will be for the students to apply their newfound skills at their company.  It’s a major branding opportunity that until recently simply hasn’t been an option for companies.

In a world where it is becoming harder and harder to compete for top talent, companies that find creative ways to spread their influence and brand awareness into the talent pool will have a valuable long-term competitive advantage.  This is especially true for companies that don’t have the brand recognition that Google already does.

android-udacity-mooc

How do many companies seem to be using the term corporate MOOC?

The above is great, but it seems that what many companies mean by corporate MOOCs is something a bit different, in that they don't actually intend for the content to be open to anyone without restriction.

Why does that matter?  It matters because the first "O" ("open") of the acronym "MOOC" is the one that actually makes it unique.  Sure, massive, online, and courses help describe what a MOOC is, but without the word “open” you’re left with something that we’ve already had for more than a decade - online courses.  And we can assume that without being open they're unlikely to be massive.

The “open” part of a MOOC, therefore, is what makes it a novel and powerful concept.

So why might these companies be saying they’re developing corporate MOOCs if they’re not really MOOCs?  I suspect that the answer is that they’re referring to some of the other characteristics that are associated with MOOCs.  MOOCs are not SCORM content, so they're more flexible.  They’re video-based.  They tend to have assignments and supplemental reading paired with them.  They often have discussion boards where learners can discuss the coursework asynchronously.  They're modern in ways that traditional LMS-based learning content isn't.

Companies are right to develop content that has these characteristics.  But, as I've described, that makes them better online courses, not MOOCs.

Why does it matter if they’re being mislabeled?

moocs-mislabeled

Well, it ends up confusing what the actual term means, and may give companies the sense that they're innovating more than they actually are.  And it distracts for the fact that with actual corporate MOOCs, they have an opportunity to actually do something different.

L&D practitioners should think about one or two areas that their company could provide unique thought leadership in, and consider developing genuine corporate MOOCs to share with the world.  I suspect that they would find the downsides to be limited, and the potential benefits quite profound.

 

Why we have a boring-sounding mission

Our mission is to provide a learning platform that employees value.

No, it doesn’t sound exciting.  No, it’s not a world-changing mission.  But it is an industry-changing mission, because such a learning tool has never existed for the enterprise.

Some background

It took us a long time to get to this iteration of our mission statement.  We were looking for something that succinctly and accurately captured what we were doing and how we believe what we’re doing to be different and important, but nothing we came up with had felt quite right.

Just a few of the previous iterations:

Our mission is to:

  • provide a platform that helps individuals and organizations learn, grow, and achieve more.
  • create cultures of learning within organizations by providing an engaging, rewarding, and collaborative learning platform.
  • connect employees around personal and professional development.
  • help employees improve their skills and advance their careers.
  • help employees learn more by learning together.
  • and on, and on…

The problem wasn’t that these iterations misrepresent what we aim to do - quite the opposite.  It’s just that they were a bit too squishy.   They’re hard measure.  And that limited their effectiveness as mission statements.

Take, for example, the mission to “help individuals and organizations learn, grow, and achieve more.”  Sure, it sounds good, and it’s something that we want to do.  But if you tried to really pin down what precisely that means, or how to measure it, you’d have a pretty tough time.

Or take “create cultures of learning within organizations by providing…” as another example.  How do you ever know if you’ve created a “culture of learning?”  How do you even define what that is?

Why this one feels right

This current iteration of our mission statement may not be the final one (businesses are always evolving, after all), but at the moment it feels right for a couple of reasons.

It’s measurable

One of the key characteristics that we were looking for in a mission is that it could be quantifiably and reliably measured.  In the case of whether someone finds our product valuable, we have a couple of obvious methods.  First is that we can observe how often employees voluntarily return to Pathgather.  Unlike most LMSs, which are heavily compliance-driven, employees use Pathgather only if they want to, which ensures that we can never rest on our laurels and must constantly be improving the product.

Second, we can directly ask employees how much they value Pathgather, and measure our progress by how much we can improve their subjective responses.

Now at first, it doesn’t seem like measuring ourselves in this way makes us very different from any other product or service out there.  But actually in the enterprise learning industry, this mindset of optimizing for the learner’s experience is quite uncommon.

It doesn’t exist yet

This brings me to the second reason this mission feels right to us.  LMSs tend to optimize primarily for administrators, to the detriment of the learner’s experience.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the administrator experience tends to be very good either, but at least there is clear value intended to be provided to admins (compliance tracking, most notably).

Employees, by contrast, seem to place little personal value in the organization’s learning system.  Just ask yourself: how many employees at your company would voluntarily use your LMS if you stripped compliance training away, and nobody was therefore asking your employees to use it.  How often would you use your LMS voluntarily?

Why this mission matters

This mission matters because we believe that ineffectual, low-engagement learning systems are holding organizations back.  In order to succeed in the future companies will need to adapt as fast as the technology around them is changing.  They’ll need to be less top-down and more flexible.  They’ll need to compete even harder to attract and retain the best talent, and they’ll need to convince people that their company is a place not just of work but of learning and growth.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, this in itself is not a world-changing mission.  At Pathgather we do happen to have a longer-term vision to democratize opportunity, which does fall into that category (the subject of a future blog post, surely).  But you don't get to your final right off the bat, there are a series of big missions that we first need to accomplish in order to get there.

It may not be flashy, but it’s very much needed, it would be unprecedented, and will be very impactful indeed.

Learning Platform = LMS??

On the Pathgather blog we're not afraid to tackle the big, complex questions of our day.  Where others may be satisfied to skim the surface, we'll plumb the deepest depths until we arrive at our answer.

Take today's topic for example:  Learning Management Systems and Learning Platforms.  Same thing?  Completely different?  Who cares?  Read on to find out.

A Moment of Inspiration

I got inspired to write on this topic after reading a recent post by LMS blogger and commentator Craig Weiss called And in this corner: LMS, and in the other corner -- Learning Platform.

The title instantly piqued my interest.  Finally, someone is going to set the record straight!  There are more than 400 enterprise learning systems of some kind out there, most of which call themselves Learning Management Systems, but more and more of which have begun calling themselves “learning platforms.”  Inevitably, this raises the question:  what’s the difference?  Should I care?  Is this just marketing fluff, or is there actually something of substance to pay attention to here?

By the end of Craig’s post I still didn’t feel that I had any more clarity as to whether there is really any meaningful difference between a learning platform from a learning management system.

And this matters because the answer is that, yes, LMSs and learning platforms are are in fact two very distinct things.  Hence, the birth of this blog post.

Not just that - I would argue understanding what that difference is actually gives you insight into one of the most fundamental and important transformations at play within enterprise learning.

But before we get to that, let’s take a look at what has been muddling the LMS vs. LP conversation.

How shouldn't we be thinking about it?

Method One: Old vs New

One litmus test I often see used is a very simple one: LMSs are old, and learning platforms are new.  Or, translated into marketing speak, LMSs are “traditional” and learning platforms are “modern”.

At first blush, it seems like there may well be something to this.

But what does being “modern” really mean?  Essentially, it's shorthand for saying your product is better-designed and easier to use.

One of these is more modern than the other.

One of these is more modern than the other.

Unfortunately, this definition just doesn't cut it.  Don’t get me wrong, great design is incredibly important, but our task here is to put our finger directly on what truly separates an LMS from a learning platform.  While learning platforms may tend to be more modern, this need not always be the case.  Our task is to find a definition that captures the essence of what makes a learning platform different

Method two: The Features Method

Another distinguishing tactic I often see used is a side-by-side feature comparison.

Immediately, you’ll start to notice tempting trends.  For example, LMSs are almost always SCORM compliant, while learning platforms often aren’t.  LMSs often must be installed on-premise, while learning platforms tend to be cloud-based and easier to get up and running.

And yet, time after time this features-comparison method suffers from the same flaw as our modern/traditional distinction.  What happens, for example, when an LMS moves to the cloud, or a learning platform becomes SCORM compliant?  Either there’s no actual difference between the two, or our search for a more fundamental truth must go on.  So go on we must

Let's talk taxonomy

In order to illustrate just what kind of truth we’re looking for, let’s imagine that the LMS is a shark, and the learning platform a dolphin.

What’s a foolproof way to distinguish between these two creatures?  If we compare their features, we might say that sharks have sharper teeth than dolphins, and dolphins are friendlier than sharks.

Such feature comparisons work great...until you come across the toothless megamouth shark, or this scary-looking, flesh-hungry dolphin.  You're clearly no closer to figuring out what really makes these two guys tick than you were when you started.

However, once you figure out that sharks are in fact fish, and dolphins are mammals, you've actually arrived at a useful truth that helps to explain why other aspects of these creatures work and behave the way they do.

But enough with the animal talk

We’re here to talk enterprise learning, so let’s get down to business.

We still need to define perhaps the most mysterious word in this whole discussion: “platform.”

What does "platform" mean?

My dictionary defines it as “a raised level surface on which people or things can stand.”  That's a good starting point.

From a technology standpoint, you can think of a platform as something on which other useful applications can run and interact with one another.  For example, iOS is a platform.  It connects users with lots of awesome apps, and app-makers with lots of awesome users.

Airbnb is also a platform - it connects a previously untapped and enormous inventory of rentable living space with people who want it.  What if we didn't have this platform?  In the absence of Airbnb, we could technically call up random people looking to sleep in one of their spare rooms, but that clearly isn't going to end well.  It’s not that the inventory doesn’t exist - it’s that without the platform there's simply no good, trustworthy way for these connections to be made, yielding a poorer, lonelier, more hotel-dependent world.

We needed a platform.

Airbnb unleashed the latent potential of millions of square feet of untapped room and board, and we’ve all benefited from it.

And I would like to argue that the kinds of inefficiency and waste that plagued our regrettable pre-Airbnb world still plagues the enterprise learning world today.

A platform-less learning world is a worse learning world

The reason is that incredible amounts of high-quality learning content already exists.  It's everywhere.  You and your coworkers should be able to find it really easily and benefit from it.

But it’s hidden in hundreds, thousands of places, in the hidden corners of your organization and in third-party content providers that are difficult to deliver to your workforce.

From a macro perspective, this means that on the supply side, content producers aren’t gaining access to as many content consumers as they should be, which has a powerful dampening effect on how much content those producers ultimately are incentivized to make.  On the demand side, this means that content consumers, learners like you and I, are missing out not only on content that already exists but is difficult to find, but also on untold mountains of potential content that is never created.  In the platform-less status quo, we all lose.

The learning world needs a platform.

So concludes part one

This became a longer-winded investigation of the term “learning platform” than I originally intended.  But as Mark Twain is supposed to have said, “I didn’t have time to write a short [learning platform blog post], so I wrote a long one instead.”

A more succinct follow-up post may be in order.  In the meantime, hopefully this has piqued your interest - and shed a bit of light on the topic in the process.

Coming up

We'll dig deeper into just how a learning platform works, and what benefits it produces for individuals and organizations

And as I mentioned at the top of the post, Pathgather is an “employee-driven social learning platform”.  But we’ve only covered a mere 40% of that description!  What do those other words mean?

Inquiring minds want to know - and to them I say: stay tuned!

Gather Around: What We Learned at Our First User Conference

Before we begin, allow me to introduce myself - hello! My name is Mansi, and you’ve never seen me here before because I am the newest addition to the Pathgather family. I’m the Senior Manager of Customer Success and came to Pathgather by way of management consulting. I am thrilled to be here.

Last week we hosted our very first user conference, Gather 2015, at the sunny San Diego campus of our very first customer, Qualcomm. We don’t have much to compare it to, but I’d call Gather a huge success (I think a few of our clients will back me up here). I wanted to share a few lessons from my perspective.

All that energy, all in one place

I’ve worked with clients my entire, albeit relatively short, career. I can honestly say that I’ve never had the pleasure of working with a more creative, passionate, and lively group of clients. It was amazing to witness the sheer energy with which every person spoke about making learning and development at their organization better for everyone. I think I speak for the entire Pathgather team when I say it was truly humbling to realize that we work with such a unique and talented set of professionals.

Still the new kid on the block

In many senses, Pathgather is still the new the kid on the block. By contrast, the majority of our customers are household names. This fact astounds me every time I think about it, and it is incredible to see how much support we have behind us.

The good and the bad

We learned a lot about what our customers think we do exceptionally well, what we do moderately well, and where we need to step it up. As a growing startup, this kind of feedback is critical to our success and to the future of our company. It feels a lot like tough love (in the best way possible), and we can only be thankful we have clients as committed to our success as we are.

Connecting a community of connectors

We’ve worked extensively with our clients, but Gather provided an opportunity for our clients to really get to know one another. Much to our delight, everyone is interested in keeping in touch in the days, weeks, and months following the conference. We’re aiming to support this via Pathgather soon!

Looking ahead to Gather 2016

If the historical evolution of our company is any indicator, who knows where we’ll be a year from now - but Gather 2015 sure gave us a ton of ideas. We left the conference with a renewed list of to-dos, but also a renewed commitment to tackling that list. We are excited to continue traveling down this path (sorry, I had to) and transforming the face of enterprise learning along the way.

See you at Gather 2016!

Telling Stories With Data

Can you measure learning? I don't think so, or at least not in a way everyone will agree on! However, you can do the next best thing, which is tell stories about how people are learning, and use data to make those stories compelling. That's the type of "reporting" we hope to do with Pathgather, which is why we capture a ton of interesting data, but we haven't made it very easy for our customers to see that data. That's why we've been working hard on some new tools that administrators can use to easily look through their data, narrow in on what's important to them, and start to find their stories. There is still a lot of work for us to do here, but having a powerful way to browse the data is a critical first step.

Why Engagement Data Is Crucial

One of the best ways to understand learning at your company is through the lens of engagement. What content is the most viewed? How do Lynda videos compare to classroom training in terms of learner endorsements? Which departments share the most paths, or score the most points? These are interesting questions, because they get to the heart of why learning is happening at your company, and what you can do to encourage it. With our new interface, you can easily sort and filter by these kinds of engagement metrics, and even pull your data out to Excel so you can crunch it even further. Once you've armed yourself with engagement data you can start telling powerful stories about the impact learning is having.

Even something as simple as sorting recently shared content by launches can be useful

Even something as simple as sorting recently shared content by launches can be useful

It's also worth mentioning that the new Pathgather admin interface is the same interface used to manage accounts & content, which means you'll probably stumble across interesting stories by accident when you're updating a user's permission or adding a new course. As always, we want to hear from you, so let us know what you think! We look forward to seeing what stories you have to tell.

Keep learning!

How The Pathgather Team Learns

One of the best parts about building Pathgather has been how much we learn everyday. As you might expect, the team here does a lot of online learning - YouTube, StackOverflow, Lynda, Quora... if you walked into our office at any moment, you'd probably find at least one of these open on our browsers! We recently released a huge update to Pathgather which was designed to make it easy for our users to share learning content like this with each other, but we were a bit surprised by what we ended up learning about ourselves.

How Content Sharing Works

This feature is deceptively simple. If I find some learning content that I want the team to see, like a video on project management, I pull up Pathgather and share it. Of course, there's already a million different ways to send someone a link: email, IM, Facebook, and Twitter are just a few examples. Those platforms are great for content that you want to use immediately (cat videos come to mind), but are all pretty ineffective ways to share something that you want others to find again later. When it comes to learning content, this is more than just a minor annoyance, it's a wasted opportunity! In Pathgather, everything we share becomes a permanent part of our company catalog, where it gets used over and over again in search results, paths, profiles, discussions, recommendations... you get the idea. We put the amateur YouTube video shared by your co-worker right next to the professional one from Lynda, and let users decide which one works best for their company.

Every Pathgather user has the power to share their knowledge - after all, they're the experts

Every Pathgather user has the power to share their knowledge - after all, they're the experts

Shared content shows up everywhere: searches, paths, profiles, etc.

Shared content shows up everywhere: searches, paths, profiles, etc.

Lesson Learned

For us, the best part about this feature was how much we learned from our customers while creating it. We thought L&D professionals would be afraid to let regular users share content like this, and would tell us that opening up the catalog would be too dangerous. We were completely wrong. When we showed them an early version of this, the overwhelming feedback was that we were the ones playing it safe! They told us to make it more open, less structured, and easier to use, all in the name of encouraging social learning. So we did. 

Stories like that remind us that we're incredibly lucky to be able to learn from the best minds in the industry, which is what social learning is all about. Having a solid, established catalog of formal content is crucial, but a lot of the magic happens informally around the edges - person to person, team to team. We use Pathgather to help capture some of that magic.

Keep learning!

Learn Different

Wisdom.  It abounds in this clip.  If you have 10-15 minutes to spare, you should check it out, I’d be surprised if you end up disappointed.

[The audio when the ad rolls is messed up for copyright reasons - I included an unadulterated version at the bottom of the post in case you want to check that out.]

The first time I watched it, at least, I was moved.  This was probably for a couple of reasons.

One is just the timing and the moment in history.  As Steve mentions in the clip, he’d only been back at Apple for 8-10 weeks at this point (following his 10 or so years of exile).  And Apple was plagued by plenty of troubles.  The company lacked direction.  Their product line was bloated.  People like Michael Dell were suggesting they just liquidate and return all the money to shareholders.

Had they continued in the direction they’d been going, or had they not acquired NeXT, maybe that’s exactly what would have happened.

Instead, what we have the opportunity to witness here is, for all intents and purposes, the exact moment when things at Apple changed, when the course was set for it to ultimately become the most valuable company in the world.  And what could be the single most important factor in Apple’s resurgence - a renewed clarity of vision and purpose - is precisely what Steve was there to discuss.

EATING DOWN TO APPLE’S CORE

Despite this taking place some 18 years ago, the message Steve delivered about what Apple stands for feels as authentic to the company's brand today as ever, which is kind of remarkable.

“Apple at the core, its core value, is that, we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better.  That’s what we believe.”  And that those people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that actually do.”

It becomes clear that the things he talks about at the beginning of the clip - the important decisions to get rid of 70% of Apple's products and simplified their manufacturing and distribution - were made not arbitrarily, but because  they followed as a course of necessity given the company's values and beliefs.  Even Apple engineers whose products were trashed were 'three feet off the ground' because now they actually knew why they were doing what they were doing and what direction they were all headed in together.

WHAT IS LEARNING CONTENT ANYWAY?

No, this video is not what you might traditionally call “learning content” - but it’s pretty dang educational to my eyes.  In fact I would challenge anyone to find a course, a lecture, a book of any length that communicates as succinctly or powerfully just how crucial a clear vision and message is to the success of an organization.

It's a simple clip, and well worth sharing and discussing - one of our beliefs happens to  be that there should should be an amazing, engaging, and rewarding place for people to do that.

Integrations, Integrations, Integrations

For the past couple months, we've been hard at work on some big changes to the way you use Pathgather every day, which we're excited to share with you - but not quite yet. In the meantime, we've also been focusing on adding new integrations to make it easier than ever to add content to your Pathgather catalog. Let's take a look!

New LMS Integration: SumTotal

We recently added a "plug and play" integration with the SumTotal's cloud-hosted LMS. With this integration, Pathgather will connect to your SumTotal LMS, automatically index all of the content daily, and make those courses easily searchable, shareable, and launchable from within Pathgather. This means you can leverage your existing catalog of learning material (and all the benefits of SCORM tracking provided by your LMS) alongside content from the best online providers, all carefully curated by your employees. Who says you can't have your (compliance) cake, and eat it too?

New Cloud Storage Integration: Box

Every organization over time accumulates a treasure trove of relevant learning content in the form of presentations, documents, tech talk recordings, screencasts, and more. Fresh off their recent IPO, Box is increasingly becoming the preferred place to store this content in the cloud. However, once you've uploaded your files, it usually becomes impossible to find them afterwards. Our new integrations makes it easy to add your Box content to Pathgather, where it will become searchable, shareable, and launchable, just like everything else. Even better, we'll even embed the Box content directly in the Pathgather course page so your users can view the file immediately!

New Video Integrations: Brightcove, TED Talks, and more

YouTube videos are some of the most popular learning content on Pathgather, and for good reason: it's a highly engaging way to deliver learning, and it integrates beautifully with our platform. In the enterprise space, there's lots of other video platforms that our users love though, so we've added tighter integrations with Brightcove and TED Talks. Now when you go to create a Pathgather course, you'll find simple instructions for how to share your favorite videos from these platforms within Pathgather, where they'll become - you guessed it - searchable, shareable, and embedded right there.

New Analytics Integration: Export to Excel

Every Pathgather instance contains a huge amount of valuable employee engagement data. What content is the most popular? When are users logging in most frequently - during work hours, or evenings and weekends? You can answer these questions with our built-in reporting features, but sometimes you just want to get your data out of Pathgather and into a powerful tool like Excel where you can create the exact report you're looking for. That's why we created a simple Excel integration to help unlock your data. Simply create your report in Pathgather, switch to the table view to see the raw results, and click the new "Export to Excel" button. We'll pull all the data into a spreadsheet and email it to you, so you can slice and dice it however you like!

Share Your Thoughts

We think these new integrations will bring a smile to your face, which we love to see, so let us know what you think! You can reach out to us anytime at support@pathgather.com with questions and suggestions for future integrations. Hope to hear from you soon.

Keep Learning!



Learning AngularJS Magic: Expressions

This post is the first in what we hope to be an ongoing series written by our Engineering team about what we're learning at Pathgather. If you're not a web developer who is familiar with AngularJS, you'll probably find this post a bit... technical. Hopefully you'll learn something new!

AngularJS is a pretty magical thing. It brings a lot of helpful magic to the table: declarative templates, automatic data-binding, etc. But sometimes, the magic can surprise you... Here's my cautionary tale.

Pulling Back The Curtain

A couple of weeks ago, I was experimenting with some layout logic using familiar directives like ng-repeat and ng-click, and hit an unexpected snag. While my particular example was nested deep inside our application, here's a very simple application that reproduces the gist of what I ran into.

Can you guess what the issue is?

  1. Take a look at the code below
  2. Before you check out the preview, try to figure out what the application is doing
  3. Click the 'Preview' button to see the application running
  4. The 'Add Points' button doesn't work... why not?

The problem here is that our button doesn't add points like it's supposed to, but why? Every time you click it, the points property should be incremented by one. The ng-click attribute couldn't be any simpler: ++points, which is valid Javascript, so what gives?

The explanation is simple, but the implications aren't immediately clear: ++points is valid Javascript, but it's not a valid Angular expression. Let's learn some more about the magic.

Angular Expressions vs. Javascript

First things first: what's an Angular expression? If you are writing Angular applications, you're writing a ton of Angular expressions. You might not realize it at first, but a bunch of the Angular magic is implemented by taking strings from your templates and interpreting them as Angular expressions. Here are a couple of examples:

ng-click="foo()"      ---->    "foo()"
ng-show="foo != bar"  ---->    "foo != bar"
Hello, {{ name }}!    ---->    "name"

New Angular developers will see cases like these and assume that these expressions are Javascript, but they are wrong! These may look a lot like Javascript and act a lot like Javascript, but Angular expressions are definitely not Javascript. In fact, Angular expressions are their own language, which is why our toy example above doesn't work as you might expect. In most cases, they are pretty similar though: you use '.' to access properties, '[]' to index arrays, '=' for assignment, etc. In fact, as long as you are behaving well, you'll likely never notice the distinction, but here are a few interesting differences:

  1. no support for any loop constructs (while, for, etc.)
  2. no support for any conditionals, except the ternary operator: ?
  3. support only a subset of Javascript operators (*, /, %, etc.)
  4. added support for appending a filter chain via pipe operator: |
  5. added support for declaring a one-time binding via :: prefix

For more details on Angular expression syntax and some of the design philosophy, you can check out the Angular Expressions page from the Developer Guide.

Angular's $parse Service

OK, back to our example. Since ++points isn't a valid Angular expression, what happens? The helpful error message in the console points us in the right direction:

Error: [$parse:syntax] Syntax Error: Token '+' not a primary expression at column 2 of the
expression [++points] starting at [+points]

From this message, we see that our expression used some unsupported syntax (in this case, the pre-increment operator ++). The error message is thrown by the very magical core Angular service, $parse. Let's investigate some more.

Since Angular expressions are their own language, we need a way to evaluate them using our specialized grammar. That's where $parse comes in. $parse turns an expression like this:

"data"

...into an executable Javascript function like this:

function (s, l) {
  if(s == null) return undefined;
  s=((l&&l.hasOwnProperty("data"))?l:s).data;
  return s;
}

How does it work? Therein lies the magic of $parse: it implements a language-within-a-language that essentially transpiles to regular Javascript. Whenever you call $parse, Angular does what you'd expect a compiler to do: it tokenizes the expression (via a Lexer that implements the Angular grammar), and then parses those tokens into executable statements (via a Parser). The statements are wrapped up into a new Function object and returned, and afterwards you can evaluate the expression by invoking the Function and passing the scope and locals as arguments. That's how it works! If you thumb through the source code a bit, you'll see the implementation of the Angular expression "language" tucked inside of parse.js:

function $parse(exp, interceptorFn) {
  ...
  var lexer = new Lexer($parseOptions);
  var parser = new Parser(lexer, $filter, $parseOptions);
  parsedExpression = parser.parse(exp);
  ...
}

As you might expect, it's a bit tricky to implement a compiler in regular Javascript code: there's a lot of loops, deeply nested functions, conditionals, and string manipulation going on under the hood. You should definitely skim through the Angular source code some time to see for yourself what's going on, but be forewarned: it's as crazy as it sounds. For example, here's a snippet of how the Lexer identifies some basic tokens like strings, numbers, etc.:

while (this.index < this.text.length) {
  this.ch = this.text.charAt(this.index);
  if (this.is('"\'')) {
    this.readString(this.ch);
  } else if (this.isNumber(this.ch) || this.is('.') && this.isNumber(this.peek())) {
    this.readNumber();
  } else if (this.isIdent(this.ch)) {
    this.readIdent();
  } else if (this.is('(){}[].,;:?')) {
    ...
  }
}

Yikes, that's a lot of conditionals... Somehow, I doubt that's how gcc tokenizes source files. Joking aside, I understand the motivation behind doing this: expressions are necessary to support declarative templates, and Angular's implementation is more secure than the alternative (Javascript eval()). However, that doesn't mean it's not a bit scary to know that this is happening every time you write an ng-show directive to hide some social buttons.

The good news is that the performance of this code isn't really much of a concern: calls to $parse are relatively infrequent, and there are some pretty reasonable optimizations in place to make it speedy (e.g. an expression cache), so in general, I wouldn't worry about it. But still, now that you know what's in there, anytime you find yourself using $parse directly just be careful about it. For example:

  1. try to avoid calling it from inside something that runs frequently (like a watcher)
  2. make your expressions simple; when possible, try putting the data you need directly on the scope instead of through references (i.e. "data" instead of "someObject.getHandle(4).getChild().container.data")
  3. etc.

How To Use $parse Directly

Most of the time, $parse is going to be called for you automatically, or it'll be part of a core directive you are using. I think that's for the best, but if you do have a scenario where you have to use it, it's easy to do. Just inject the $parse service like any other and use $parse(expr) to get the parsed function, which can be invoked to get the expression value by passing in a scope object for context:

$scope.data = "foo";
var parsedExprFn = $parse("data");
console.log(parsedExprFn($scope)); // "foo"

Some $parse Demos

Now that you understand the basics of how Angular magically transforms string expressions into executable functions, here are a couple demos to play around with.

1. Using $parse to generate Javascript functions

2. Basic $parse performance comparison

This test generates 10000 string expressions and evaluates the performance of Javascript eval() against Angular's $eval (which calls $parse). Notice how much faster $eval is the second time around thanks to the expression cache which skips the lexing & parsing!

Fixing Our Bug

Finally, let's fix that original demo, so we can start giving ourselves points for all this Angular learning we're doing. Since the only problem was using an unsupported operator, we can fix it by changing:

<a class="button" href="#" ng-click="++points">Add points</a>

to

<a class="button" href="#" ng-click="points = points + 1">Add points</a>

The result:

Keep Learning

Now that we've gone through it, it doesn't seem as magical anymore, does it? That's why open source projects like Angular are so great: you can learn a ton by just reading through the source code, helping out in the IRC channel, and replying to Github issues and Stack Overflow questions. So get out there, learn something new, and help out while you're doing it!

If you love Angular, open source, and learning, you'd probably love working with us: we're work with Angular and contribute to open source projects everyday while we're helping companies learn, and we'd love to hear from you. Check out our jobs page or e-mail us for more info!

Announcing Our Seed Round...

I’ll get to the seed round in a minute - but first, I have an important confession to make.

When we first started Pathgather about 18 months ago, neither my co-founder Jamie nor I could have really told you what an LMS was.

Now, this could seem like an imprudent disclosure.  After all, Pathgather is specifically designed to address the dissatisfaction so many companies feel with their LMSs, so you’d think that having years of experience with LMSs would be all but required.

And yet counterintuitive as it might seem, approaching the enterprise learning industry without a preconceived notion of what an LMS is, or how learning within companies is expected to work, has proven to be one of our greatest advantages.

How We Got Here

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As is so often the case with startups, we created Pathgather to solve a pain we personally experienced.  As online learners, we knew just how much high-quality learning content is available on the web, but were frustrated that there wasn’t a simpler way to find the best stuff, to see what our friends were learning, and to get recognized for completing courses and improving our skills.  Your typical online learning experience was still annoyingly disjointed, non-social, and did little to actually help advance your career.

We felt like Pathgather needed to exist.  And so we got to work on getting our our concept out there to see who else thought so too.

While weren’t surprised to hear that Pathgather resonated with other individuals like ourselves, we hadn’t anticipated just how many large organizations would find value in what we had built, too.

What We #Learned

As we spoke with more and more organizations, we quickly realized that companies are well aware that technology and globalization are changing the way they do business, and that it’s more crucial than ever that their employees constantly improve their capabilities.  The key issue was that LMSs simply weren’t living up to their mandate - employees just weren’t using them.

Very early on, Jamie and I had the incredible opportunity to meet with the talented and forward-thinking folks over at Qualcomm, who were looking for a platform that would unify their learning ecosystem and truly engage employees around continual professional development.  Nine short months later, more than half of Qualcomm is using Pathgather, and we’re more excited than ever about what lies ahead.

What We Believe

This is where the value of our LMS-less background comes into play.  To us, the reason Learning Management Systems have garnered such widespread dissatisfaction and low engagement was immediately apparent: they don’t empower their end users: employees.

We believe strongly that relying solely on traditional, compliance-focused LMSs is no longer a tenable option for companies that want to keep pace in our rapidly changing world.  For enterprise learning to succeed, it needs to be inherently valuable to employees at a personal level, which is why Pathgather allows employees to guide their own learning paths and enables them to get recognized for improving their skills.  The surprising result is a learning system that doesn’t require learning, and yet drives far more learning engagement than systems that do.

The Road Ahead

We’re very happy to report the closing of our recent $1.5M seed round, co-led by Contour Venture Partners and Bloomberg Beta, and are motivated every day by the opportunity to build a product that helps people come together to improve their lives and careers.  We’re fortunate indeed to be working with some of the world’s most innovative companies in this pursuit, along with a group of amazing investors who believe in the importance and value of our mission as much as we do.

If any of what we’re doing resonates with you, don’t hesitate to reach out!  Let’s work together to build a more social, collaborative, and engaging future for online learning.

MOOCs: A Free, Great-Tasting Lunch… That No One Seems to be Eating

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This is part two in our ongoing series Learning Content in the Enterprise.  To read part one on Content Libraries, click here.

So you’ve heard of MOOCs, but what are they, who uses them, and who cares, anyway?  Let’s dig in.

What’s in a name?

To start, I feel obliged to define the (unfortunate) acronym: MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Courses.

What are they actually?  Simply put, MOOCs are just online learning content that’s cheaply or freely available to anyone who cares to make use of them.  While there are a bunch of different models out there (Coursera, Udacity and EdX being among the most prominent), this is what each of them ultimately come down to.  So, from a technical perspective, they’re not terribly revolutionary.

Why the buzz?

Well, MOOCs are pretty awesome for a number of reasons.

Awesome thing #1

They hold the promise of disrupting higher education.  MOOCs were birthed out of the university system and in a number of cases draw their content from universities, and the idea of extracting the actual learning content from that whole complex system and making it available and affordable to anyone is pretty exciting.

Awesome thing #2

At a global scale, it’s abundantly clear that the university system that has worked in the developed world is simply not going to be replicable in the developing world.  MOOCs offer a first glimpse at what the foundation of an alternative form of higher and continuing education could be constructed upon.  While not at all sufficient, MOOCs are an important step towards the democratization of education.

Awesome thing #3

Flexibility.  You can learn from a MOOC whenever - which is to say, they’re asynchronous.  Now you may be thinking: wait, hasn’t elearning always been asynchronous?  Yes, but because MOOCs originated in an academic context, this represents a big change to that status quo.  That said, as we’ll discuss later, asynchronicity is also the source of one MOOCs most pressing challenges, which they’ll need to overcome if they ever want to live up to their promise.

Awesome thing #4

MOOCs allow for lifelong learning.  The Internet, globalization, biotechnology, 3D printing, big data...  Whether you like it or not, these things are coming, and you can bet they’re going to change our lives and businesses in incredible and unpredictable ways.

The reality is that it’s more crucial than ever to constantly be learning and augmenting your skills.  By making knowledge more freely and easily accessible, MOOCs help us do that.

Awesome thing #5

Free (or cheap).  ‘Nuff said.

MOOCs in the Enterprise

Given all the benefits associated with this new kind of learning content, you’d think it would be seeing great adoption in the enterprise L&D community - but at least for now, that’s not the case.

An Underutilized Asset

According to Bersin, 79% of enterprise learning leaders are actively interested in exploring MOOC offerings and applications… but just 8% of L&D organizations are actually using them.

In some ways, this is perfectly understandable.  When asked what was preventing them from adopting MOOCs, 69% said it was due to a low awareness of the offerings.  MOOCs have only really been around since 2012, and it takes time for organizations to figure out how they are useful and adopt them.  It will most likely take a small number of forward-thinking L&D organizations to successfully leverage MOOCs for others to see how they can be applied to their own context.

What else is contributing to slow adoption?  49% said it was due to challenges integrating MOOCs into their existing L&D structure.  Most legacy LMSs aren’t designed to integrate MOOCs into their platform, which means L&D organizations have to find some other way to deliver MOOC content to their learners.

Time to Experiment

Is your organization taking advantage of MOOCs and other non-traditional learning content yet?  If not, take a moment to figure out what you can do to easily get this content in front of your users.

We’ve created Pathgather in part to help solve this problem, by bringing content from wherever it lives (MOOCs, LMS, CMS, HRIS, cloud storage, and more) together into one unified learning platform.  Unless users have a single point of access for learning, adoption is unlikely to take off.

But there are plenty of ways to get started, and it doesn’t have to require a big initiative.  Maybe just sharing a link to Coursera with some co-workers could inspire them to take a look.  However you go about doing it, we think it is absolutely worth your while to start introducing MOOCs into your organization.  The costs are low, and the potential benefits are very high.

Coming up…

That wraps up our overview of MOOCs in the enterprise - but what does a MOOC actually look like?  What are the differences between the different MOOC providers out there?  Which ones are right for your organization?

Answers to those questions and more, on our next installment of Learning Content in the Enterprise.

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