30 Years of Learning Management with RISC Inc.

The Early Days

As we celebrate 30 years in business, let’s take a look back on the history of our company and the industry…

RISC was founded August 18, 1992. At that time, the learning management suite consisted of two components; the Occupational Training Information System (OTIS) and the Student Test And Evaluation (STAN). These systems were designed around meeting OSHA’s process safety management requirements for testing and qualifying employees working in hazardous environments. These early versions allowed for tracking and reporting on training requirements and delivering on-line, randomized tests before the term LMS became part of our language. They could even run on a Local Area Network!

With HTML 1.0’s release in 1993, RISC ushered in a learner portal where employees and supervisors could access their own training plans, launch documents, run reports, and enroll in instructor-led training–all using the Intranet. Yes, the intranet, because not many companies had any access to the internet at all.  To transfer an employee’s records from one location to another you had to “unload” their training history to a floppy-disk and send it through intercompany mail to their new location where their training records could be “loaded” from the disk. Not exactly the efficiency you would expect today but it was amazing for the time and provided a fantastic compliance tool.

Finding a Niche

In these early days of using dedicated software to manage learning, one of the key drivers for organizations to implement an LMS was compliance. The RISC offices were established just outside the gates of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.  The Space Shuttle Mission Assurance group implemented the RISC LMS in 1994. At the same time, Houston’s oil and gas sector began implementing our solution. This led to further product development including the introduction of online performance checklists to help satisfy the Department of Transportation’s Operator Qualification requirements.  In-depth item analysis of the online question bank within the RISC LMS provided an auditable way to validate testing and ensuring employee competence.

Going to the Cloud

Little did we know when first approached by a client asking if we could “host” the application for them how the world of cloud computing and software-as-a-service would change.  A global, integrated oil company came to RISC in 1998 stating that they wa

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nted to move into one global LMS organized into multiple sites, delivered in multiple languages and tracking training expenses in both local currencies as well as a universal currency.  In 1999 RISC made it happen as we debuted the LMS a accessible 100% through the internet.  Software hosting in those days looked very different than the modern cloud-hosting of today but set the path for RISC’s evolution into a software-as-a-service provider.

The early 2000s gave rise to a period of intense international expansion seeing the RISC suite in use on every continent except Antarctica.  From solar panel manufacturers in Australia to pilots in the Middle East, offering a cloud-based solution lowered the cost of entry for organizations focused on employee development and managing compliance.  RISC’s market continued to evolve as well with growth in the retail sector resulting in our first LMS implementation for over a half-million students.

Technology Advancements

Two huge technology advancements helped drive RISC development into the 20-teens and even today – mobile phones and xAPI.

xapi gnomeNo one can deny the impact of smart mobile devices on society. We are now always connected and have the power to search for any information at our fingertips.  This has changed the way that we access information and has helped shift the way we access training and other performance support resources.  I am far more likely to jump out and watch a YouTube video to learn how to change the belt on my clothes dryer.  I have my phone out in the kitchen to cross-reference recipes while making dinner.  Learner expectation has changed as well.  Don’t put me in an instructor-led training session on Excel all day when all I need is a quick video showing how to add labels to a chart.  RISC’s mobile apps for iOS and Android help give students, supervisors and instructors the ability to quickly schedule training and access resources anytime and anywhere.  Students can even upload images, drawings and other documents to the LMS for instructors to grade and provide feedback while documenting the evidence of training.

During this same period of time the Experience API (xAPI) was under development to become a new way of recording and sharing learning and performance data.  RISC was an early adopter of xAPI recognizing it’s power to change the way we approach training.  xAPI allows us to move away from a LMS-centric learning environment and to a more Learner-centric environment.  I can use mobile apps to record student data in xAPI.  I can use xAPI to track AR and VR experiences that I could not in the past and provide a line-of-sight into employee performance to help inform business decisions.  cmi5 is the xAPI profile for the content being launched from an LMS using xAPI.  RISC’s president and CEO, Art Werkenthin, has been an active member of the cmi5 committee for a decade helping shape the standard and ensuring RISC is the first LMS to achieve cmi5 conformance.

The Future

So what does the future hold? As much as we are all curious about that question, I do feel there are some clear opportunities.  First is the expansion of the learning ecosystem.  One promise of xAPI is middleware-free integration.  xAPI data must be formatted in a consistent way so that it is portable. Per the specification, xAPI statements can be forwarded from one learning records store to another.  This data portability has shifted the US Department of Defense focus on a “Total Learning Architecture” where transactional learning record stores act as an intermediary between desperate system like learning management system, human resources information systems, performance support and career planning.  The DoD’s goal is to provide optimized training for soldiers across their career life cycle and xAPI enables this vision.

The second reality is that the future of learning will continue to become more an more personalized. As the ability to analyze big data quickly improves and our ability to define what employee performance we want tracked our ability to hone-in on a learner’s specific needs becomes stronger and stronger.  Why force a student to sit through information they have already mastered? Or information that is not relative to them? If we consider capturing student performance in xAPI, why don’t we have a personalized development plan based on things a person could actually improve?  Taking too long to format a document? Have the word processor a short video on formatting.  If I’m overusing the brakes in my car, the car itself could send an xAPI statement so that I get a scorecard with recommended improvement.  The new capabilities are here and it’s only time before we determine where learning interventions will go.

Duncan Welder IV
Director of Client Services RISC, Inc
Mr. Welder holds a Master’s of Education from Texas A&M University in Educational Technology and has more than 25 years experience in implementation of Learning Management Systems, both domestically and abroad. Mr. Welder has been recognized for his application of Learning Management Systems to manage regulatory-compliance in industries ranging from petrochemicals to finance and has provided presentations to professional organizations including the Gulf Coast Process Technology Alliance, the Northwest Process Technology Alliance and the American Society of Training and Development.
Mr. Welder’s career is founded in traditional instructional design and computer-based training development. He is a certified Development Dimensions International facilitator, a Kirkpatrick Certified Evaluator and facilitator of the Ohio State University curriculum development program. In addition to working in industry, Mr. Welder has held adjunct faculty positions at Bowling Green State University, Ohio and the College of the Mainland, Texas. Mr. Welder has been published in both Training Magazine as well as US Business Review.