ZebraZapps puts a DIY twist on learning software


ZebraZappsAllen Interactions began as an outfit that specialized in creating custom training software for large companies. They’ve been delivering these one-off apps throughout their 20 years in business, with a client list that features such heavyweights as Google, Hilton, Apple and Disney.

Now, the Mendota Heights-based company has branched into selling technology that allows clients to build their own complex learning programs through a powerful application called ZebraZapps.

The first commercial product offering from Allen Interactions, ZebraZapps is a SaaS that has been available publicly for about two years after a lengthy development cycle. Product Manager Christopher Allen, son of company founder Michael Allen, says that there “Are practically no limits to what the application creation software can do.”

“Users can build just about any application that they’ve come across on the Web,” he says. “It’s capable of doing anything a programming language could do. We put in the ability to create very advanced simulations.”

The idea is that companies can design and build realistic and interactive digital simulations that teach their employees how to complete certain tasks necessary to their job. For instance, one program might instruct flight attendants how to react in the case of a passenger emergency. Another might walk a medical student through a procedure.

Companies once relied entirely on Allen Interactions to create these learning apps, but with ZebraZapps the process becomes a collaborative and scalable effort.

“Organizations that we work with are now starting to standardize future work within ZebraZapps,” says Allen. “Where there used to be eight people (from Allen Interactions) building an app, now you can have hundreds working toward the same thing.”

Allen believes equipping employees with e-learning applications that can be accessed on the go is vital for businesses today, noting that this method offers personalization and convenience that can’t be found elsewhere. Rather than sending the entire workforce off to training for a week, companies can provide tools that support employees while in the field, and show them how to do their day-to-day job in an environment that simulates real life. These apps can create multiple scenarios and give feedback based on performance.

Since ZebraZapps offers such a high degree of flexibility and customization, might its utility be applied to industries other than e-learning going forward?

“It certainly has the capability to go far beyond that,” Allen says. “But the market where we have the most name recognition is the learning market.”

He adds that he sees great potential in the K-12 learning sector, where curriculum changes are forcing schools to invest more and more in digital tools. He sees this, along with the ability to build native full-on apps for Android and iOS (a feature he says is “close”) as the main frontiers for ZebraZapps in 2014.