Saturday, 13 January 2018

Building My Own Learning System - Part 1

Building My Own Learning System

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Introduction

Before I get started on this post, I want to make one thing clear. This is not Trailhead. It’s not Bob Buzzard’s Trailhead. It’s not a clone or wannabe of Trailhead. While it would be fun to build a clone of Trailhead, all it would be is an intellectual exercise to see how close I could get. So that’s not what I did. I didn’t build my own Trailhead. Are we clear on that? Nor is it MyTrailhead, although it could be used in that way. But again, I’m not looking to clone an existing solution, even if it is still in pilot and likely to stay there for a couple of releases. I’m coming at this from a different angle, as will hopefully become clear from this and subsequent blog posts. Put the word Trailhead out of your mind.

All that said, I was always going to build my own training system. Pretty much every post I’ve written about Trailhead had a list of things I’d like to see, and I can only suppress the urge to write code in this space for so long. This might mean that I moderate my demands, realising how difficult things really are when you have to implement them rather than just think about them in abstract form.

The Problem

Trailhead solves the problem of teaching people about Salesforce at scale, with content that comes from the source and is updated with each release. MyTrailhead is about training/onboarding people into your organisation. The problem I was looking to solve was somewhat different, although closer to MyTrailhead. I wanted a way to onboard people from inside and outside my organisation onto a specific application or technology, but without sending everyone through the same process.

For example, regular readers of this blog or my medium posts will know that I run product development at BrightGen, and that we have a mature Full Force solution in BrightMedia. We also have a bunch of collateral and training material around BrightMedia that I’d like to surface to various groups of people:

  • Internal BrightGen sales team
  • Internal BrightGen developers
  • External customer users

I don’t particularly want a single training system, as this would mean giving external users access to internal systems. It’s also likely that I’ll have a bunch of training information that isn’t BrightMedia specific, and I don’t really want to colocate this with everything else.

Essentially what I’m looking for is a training client that can connect to multiple endpoints, each endpoint containing content specific to a product/application/team. That, and a way to limit who can access the content, allows me to colocate the content with the application, potentially in the packaging org that contains the application.

The First Stirrings of the Solution

Data Model

As the client won’t be accessing data from the same Salesforce org, or potentially any Salesforce org, my front end is backed by a custom apex class data model rather than sObjects:

Screen Shot 2018 01 13 at 18 12 00

I’ve deliberately chosen names that are different to Trailhead, because as we all know this isn’t Trailhead. I was very tempted to use insignia rather than badge, as I think that gives it a somewhat British feel, but in the end I decided that would confuse people. Each path has topics associated with it so that I can see how strong a candidate is in a particular field. The path and associated steps are essentially the learning template, while the candidate path/step tracks the progress of a candidate through the path. A path has a badge associated with it and once a candidate completes all steps in the path they are awarded the badge. The same(isn) data model as myriad training systems around the globe.

The records that back this data model live in the content endpoint. Thus the candidate doesn’t have a badge count per se, instead they have a badge count per functional area. In the BrightGen scenario they will have a badge count for BrightMedia, and a separate badge count for other product areas. The can also have multiple paths in progress striped across content endpoints.

User Interface

I created the front end to work against these custom classes as a single page application. As the user selected paths and steps the page would re-render itself to show the appropriate detail. I’m still tweaking this so I’ll cover the details in the next post in the series.

Show me the Code

I don’t plan to share any code in these posts until the series is complete, at which point I’ll open source the whole thing on github, mainly because it isn’t ready yet. I’m pretty sure I’ve got the concepts straight in my head, but the detail keeps changing as I think of different ways of doing things.

 

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