Atomic Jolt: The LMS Purists

Justin Ball, CTO & Co-Founder, Joel Duffin, CEO & Co-Founder, Atomic JoltJustin Ball, CTO & Co-Founder, Joel Duffin, CEO & Co-Founder Learning is no longer confined to classrooms. Its “e-” prefixed version makes more sense today, for the learners who are distributed and have specific, segmented needs. But, while we praise the perpetual “e-” effects of technology, have we somehow managed to place too much importance on the prefix, somehow overlooking learning itself?

“One has to remember that technology is supposed to make learning approachable and as enjoyable as possible, and not displace learning from the front seat,” says Joel Duffin, CEO and Co-Founder, Atomic Jolt. Duffin’s remark comes in wake of the fact that the current Learning Management Systems (LMS) landscape is to a larger extent populated by purely software product companies. Now, LMS itself being a software may make his statement seem quixotic, but the truth is, many such companies often fall short in the barometer of LMS—instructional effectiveness.

While instructional effectiveness can be heightened by “explicitly connecting learning materials and activities to the measures and outcomes they address,” the issue is that LMS functionalities that support this alignment are mostly at a nascent stage. This leads CIOs to face major challenges while addressing user dissatisfaction with their existing learning technology and implementing a coherent learning strategy for their organization. This is where Atomic Jolt steps in. The company helps organizations and edtech startups customize and integrate LMS with third party tools to bring up functionalities capable of overcoming user dissatisfaction. Although, there are numerous other players within the space that integrate third party tools with LMS platforms, Atomic Jolt separates itself with its unique value proposition of bringing best-of-two-worlds to the table.

Being an LMS consultant with a proven track record of working with universities and edtech startups highlights only a portion their value proposition. The rest traces back to the company’s foundation and commitment of focusing on instructional effectiveness.

While Duffin and Justin Ball, Co- Founder and CTO of Atomic Jolt, carry years of experience in the software industry, their shared academic interests are what truly contrast the company. Duffin holds a PhD, and Ball an MS in Instructional Technology. And, this is where most of the other incumbents— the purely software companies—fall behind Atomic Jolt.

“Our pedigree in instructional design and online learning coupled with our experience puts us in a position where we understand the worlds of software and instruction. This allows us to deliver the best possible platform and tools that satisfy a client’s unique requirements, and afford greater instructional effectiveness to meet the demands of curriculum developers, instructors, and learners,” says Duffin.

"Our pedigree in instructional design and online learning coupled with our experience puts us in a position where we understand both the worlds of software and instruction"

These LMS platforms, Duffin states, can be a client’s existing one in need of customization, or an entirely new one which Atomic Jolt can help select and customize accordingly. Delving into the company’s methodologies, he adds, “Atomic Jolt’s interaction with clients start with conversations to understand the audience and their needs followed by development of use cases describing the technology solutions to be built.” The company uses sprints of one to two weeks toward “development milestones” under which teams work with clients to prioritize, detail, estimate, and assign work stories. At the end of each sprint, clients receive updates to review and conduct user acceptance testing. “Once the solutions are deployed into production, we monitor systems for client and server side errors and performance, and continue to work with the client to refine, scale, and add functionalities to meet user needs.”

To describe his firm’s output, Duffin draws out the example of Saylor Foundation. His firm helped the foundation integrate a single sign-on solution to integrate their assessments which were delivered in Moodle. Additionally, Atomic Jolt created what Saylor Foundation calls “e-portfolio.” Powered by a rules based system, the e-portfolio allowed students to identify relevant courses, see other options and their prerequisites, and monitor their results. The solution also allows students to share their coursework and grades into public portfolio which can later be shared with prospective employers. “We helped them choose the technology, integrate required tools through APIs and then build a completely new platform.” It is important to note here that the demands and challenges for incumbents within a given segment often overlap. In such scenarios, Atomic Jolt takes a unique stand with regards to striving to bring forth an innovative solution it pre-developed, instead of approaching every client with a new solution. The firm helps clients bring the solutions and tools it built for them to a larger community leveraging Atomic LTI platform which offers cost-efficient hosting and scaling. “It helps them extend their development investment by offering the solutions to other clients.”

Although, Atomic Jolt’s posture as an LMS consultant is well evident and acknowledged across the industry, the firm does invest in its own innovation lab to develop off-the-shelf products. Duffin gives insight into one of those named, Open Embeddable Assessments (OEA).

Even after the solutions are deployed into production, we continue to work with the client to refine, scale, and add functionalities to meet user needs

An open source embeddable quizzing platform that lets formative and summative assessments to be embedded using simple embed tags, today OEA implementation includes names such as, MIT and Lumen Learning. Second comes Open Tapestry, a “next generation content management system” that helps organizations curate and integrate content from disparate sources including open content, alongside publisher and faculty created content. Hinting toward the “open” factor evident in the products, Duffin adds that open source is a trend along which his company has refined and improved multiple open source starter apps over the years making it easier to create learning applications. “Cloud is another trend that we are focused upon,” he says informing about a recently developed platform leveraging Amazon’s Lambda infrastructure. “It allows us to scale learning applications using a true SaaS hosting approach without requiring re-architecturing.”

While technology and the possibilities it unlocks for LMS continue to evolve, “instructional effectiveness remains the north star for faculty and CIOs,” and the goal that drives Atomic Jolt. With a brief pause, then nostalgic cadence, Duffin retraces Atomic Jolt’s journey through inception and recalls, “Justin and I started with the focus on Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Enjoyability, the three E’s of learning and instruction. We wanted to apply the principles of learning to the design of content and technology to make learning approachable and as enjoyable as possible.” Through its journey the company has built custom solutions including learning outcomes, assessment, student portfolios, content management and many more. Multiple partnerships with LMS platforms, such as Canvas Alliance Partner, and familiarity of working in startup and University spaces are the differentiating traits of Atomic Jolt, which Duffin says has allowed the company to deliver solutions at qualities higher than competition. “At Atomic Jolt, we encourage our team members to collaborate and to take the opportunity to not just get by, but excel, level up, and mentor their fellow team members.” Extending their zeal for mentorship and the passion for STEM, with an inspiration to give back to the society, the duo have also helped found a youth maker club, to nurture the local talent for the challenges yet to arrive. It is through such efforts and yielded results that Atomic Jolt continues on its promise of making the best out of technology to enable instructional effectiveness, their commitment to deliver the best-of-two-worlds.

- Prodyut
    November 29, 2016