The BoatU.S. Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water is the 501(c)(3) arm of the Boat Owner's Association of the United States. As a non-profit, the Foundation's goal is to promote safe and responsible boating across the nation. They do this with a range of programs, educational and otherwise.
Over the years, dominKnow has helped BoatUS overcome a number of challenges related to its eLearning programs.
Around 2010, BoatUS started considering an expansion of their eLearning library beyond their free safety course and into other boating topics. They began reaching out to other small non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the boating community to find partners for this project.
Several boating NGOs expressed interest; they offered specialized curriculum in a classroom setting and didn’t have the resources to expand into eLearning. "We aren't exactly an eLearning contractor," says Amanda Perez, the Director of Education at the BoatUS Foundation, "but we function that way with these partners to bring their content to a larger audience."
BoatUS decided that working with partners scattered all around the country would require authoring tools that could facilitate collaboration and review. The desktop software they'd used for their boating safety course didn't fit the bill, so they began to look for an authoring tool that would.
In 2012, BoatUS began using dominKnow's tool, then Claro, to build partnered courses. “We really benefited from the fact that [dominKnow | ONE] has such a good front-end system but can also do the really in-depth back-end customization that we needed.” Just as they'd hoped, it supported smoother collaboration with partners. As Perez put it, "Being able to capture feedback from the reviewers and have it in that central place has made such a difference in our workflow." Plus, their partners and SMEs love the convenience of working with a browser-based tool, because "you don't have to install a piece of software on your computer, you just log into it from wherever you are." An additional benefit at this stage was the tool's intuitive nature. According to Jennifer Dadamo, the Foundation's Web & Multimedia Developer, getting started with dominKnow is easy. "I think I did watch a few videos or look up how to do a few specific things, but when you're building a course, doing basic authoring, it's simple."
Today, BoatUS maintains 15 specialized boating courses in partnership with other NGOs, developed between 2012 and 2019. Topics include a series of sailing courses, the use of specific equipment or electronics, and a few state-specific clean boating courses. In 2020, BoatUS decided to make their specialized courses mobile-friendly. They were originally designed in fixedpixel Claro, but they wanted to move the courses to its responsive sister tool, Flow (both part of dominKnow | ONE). Using dominKnow’s mass conversion services, the change was quick and easy. “dominKnow was really helpful in the conversion to Flow,” Perez says. “They ran a script on our entire coursefiles to update them and then we went through page by page to validate.”
When BoatUS came to dominKnow, the latest version of their nationwide safety course was only two years old, so it didn’t make sense to move it to a new tool.
They continued to maintain it in desktop software. For years, they periodically revisited the possibility of overhauling the course, but it was low priority until snowballing technical problems reached critical mass.
BoatUS's safety course serves hundreds of thousands of learners each year. The curriculum is state-specific and, in many cases, satisfies mandatory education requirements for earning a boating license. As a result, it's a pivotal course for boaters nationwide.
It’s also massive: over 400 course pages and 200MB. It takes students 4-6 hours to complete.
By 2019, old courseware was clashing with browser changes, making the course increasingly glitchy. Their LMS was causing a host of other problems, and all of this exacerbated existing connectivity issues in their user base. Remote and rural learners frequently lose the internet unexpectedly. Boaters often attempt to meet their requirements at work, only to run into firewall problems.
Put altogether, learners were frequently losing their progress, which made them irate. This, in turn, began straining BoatUS's limited ability to provide tech support. As complaints reached a fever pitch, they realized they needed an updated and glitch-free course, and they needed it as soon as possible.
However, their staffing capacity for the project was also limited. They had no idea how they'd pull it off.
Due to the small development staff and tight timeline, dominKnow referred BoatUS to a design partner for help. The design firm made templates and took care of more advanced functionality. This left BoatUS staff to simply plug in existing content.
Using this process, they rebuilt the course in Flow.
With dominKnow's help, Perez was surprised to find they "managed to do what – to me and many others – appeared completely impossible. We rebuilt the course in about four weeks."
The switch to responsive design eased the browser/OS/device conflicts that were cropping up. Along with their new LMS, this resolved many glitches and technical support complaints. Plus, their course was mobile-friendly for the first time.
BoatUS made two more changes to reduce their tech support burden for good measure. First, they chose to integrate xAPI into the course as insurance against progress loss. Later, they also added measures that stopped students from proceeding if their internet connection was lost or some critical course element was blocked by a firewall.
“All in all, [tech support requests] have drastically gone down,” Dadamo says. They went from “having over 100 [new issues] to wake up to in the morning to maybe 10” on the worst day.
In the interest of quickly getting a functional course up and running, BoatUS backburnered a number of other concerns. Once the crisis had passed, they had time to make a few improvements.
Since each state has its own course and exam requirements, the boating safety "course" originally consisted of 98 separate (and enormous) files.
During the Flow rebuild, it made sense to leverage dominKnow | ONE's reuse features, so the overlapping content only needed to be copied once. This meant that edits were quick and efficient but publishing still required processing, downloading, and uploading 98 enormous files.
Streamlining the boating safety course involved close work between Dadamo and BoatUS's dedicated account manager at dominKnow, as well as a point of contact at their new LMS. Consolidating 98 files down to two was no simple task. Now, as Dadamo explains it, when a student begins the course, "there's a widget that's placed in the very first page of the course and the very first page of the final that says, read what state the user chose when they registered within the LMS and load that state's information."
Dadamo credits dominKnow's dedicated support with making this step possible. While she found general authoring in dominKnow | ONE intuitive, "when it came to that, I really, really needed my hand held. And [our account manager] was there for it. There were numerous occasions where he worked with us for two or three hours at a time trying to troubleshoot a problem."
dominKnow's willingness to work directly with other vendors has also been key. "We're actually having one of [the LMS's] employees train with dominKnow so that I don't always have to be the go-between person," Dadamo says. "It's going to be a huge help."
Before the consolidation, it took roughly thirty minutes for all variables to process for publishing, plus ten minutes to download each file and five minutes to upload each to their LMS. That's 25 hours (and a lot of tedium). The consolidation has made an enormous difference. According to Dadamo, "Now I get [all jurisdictions] downloaded in about 10 minutes and uploaded in one minute."
Over the years, there have been a few common threads in BoatUS's ability to tackle problems with dominKnow's help.
As Dadamo says, "We really benefited from the fact that [dominKnow | ONE] has such a good front-end system but can also do the really in-depth back-end customization that we needed."
Plus, there's a mutual investment in success, she says. "I think it works because we both want to make it work."