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No More eLearning Software May 13, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning, Theory.
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I cursed myself in a current post (What I Like About eLearning) when I included a semi-sarcastic comment about having umpteen programs open on my computer every day in order to get my elearning work done.

Since then I have articulated at least one non-HR-approved word in reaction to slow computer action or even crashes. I need more memory. I need dedicated video memory. I need software that doesn’t take so much of my computer’s resources! (I love you Adobe.)

Or maybe I need to just get all the software and even the operating system off my machine all together! Can it work for elearning professionals?

Can it work for you?

Award Nominee Reveals His eLearning Authoring Toolkit [Guest Post] May 6, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning, eLearning Tools.
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1 comment so far
Larry Ober has been nominated as Best eLearning Designer in the Maestro eLearning Awards, dubbed the OSCARS of the eLearning industry. What follows is an interview between Steve and the award’s organizers, Maestro eLearning.

Q. How did you get your start with eLearning design?

Several years ago we engaged a vendor to create three eLearning modules for a new product launch. As you know, good quality eLearning modules are expensive. We were happy with the results, but realized after only a few months that the content already needed updating. When I went back to the product marketing team with the request for budget to re-engage the vendor, they were less than enthusiastic.

So I offered to create the updates myself, if they would pay for authoring software. They agreed, and we invested in Articulate. Since then, I have created numerous eLearning modules, games, assessments, and other content. I’ve expanded to using Toolbook and other software. My largest project to date was the creation of three learning modules for a (different) new product launch. They were very successful, and I’ve updated them twice since they were created. By doing all this in-house, I’ve saved our marketing team well over $100,000 just on that one project.

Q. Wow! What are some tips you have for new developers?

First, be aware that many LMS systems already have integrated authoring software. If your company uses an LMS for learning content, ask the vendor if they have authoring software as well. These packages are usually easy to use, and integrate easily with the LMS you are using.

If you plan to buy a stand-alone authoring platform, first consider how  much time you can spend learning to use it, and what capabilities you really need. Authoring software can be relatively simple, such as packages that convert PowerPoint slides to a SCORM compliant module. Other brands are very sophisticated, but you’ll need to take a class on how to use it, and plan to spend a lot of time on the learning curve.

Finally, make sure the publishing capabilities match your needs. Most commonly you’ll need software to publish to a SCORM compliant module, but which version of SCORM does your LMS use? Do you have a need to publish to self-running CDs? How about mobile platforms, like the iPhone? Know your actual needs before investing money and time in an authoring software package.

Q. What are some of your favorite tools?

So far my personal experience is limited to Toolbook and Articulate as authoring tools. I’ve also used Audacity, a free audio creation and editing tool, as well as various video encoding and editing tools.

For the novice user that wants to turn PowerPoint presentations into serviceable SCORM compliant eLearning modules, I’ve been very happy with Articulate. It allows the user to include audio, simple interactive animations, quizzes, and flash video.

If you don’t need the SCORM encoding, another option is iSpring, a free tool that will convert a PowerPoint to flash video.

For the more advanced user, or anyone authoring eLearning full time, Toolbook,  Adobe, and Lectora offer suites of software that are state-of-the-art. Both have sophisticated authoring capabilities, but either will involve a substantial learning curve if the user isn’t already familiar with authoring tools.

Q. Before we end, could you expand your earlier thoughts on mobile-conscious design?

Mobile devices, starting with PDA’s and now smartphones, revolutionized how sales calls are entered, and everything about CRM. In my experience, however, they haven’t delivered big gains in training—yet. The problem has been trying to fit traditional eLearning content on the smaller screen. In most cases, the read-ability is inadequate. In my experience, the screen size is appropriate for reference material and some interactive job aids. Another common use is for reference apps, usually simple calculators or wizards, to be used on the fly for calculating pharmaceutical or medical values.

Two areas that have potential for growth are, first, as a response key pad for daily or weekly training updates. This would enable the standard ‘district conference call’ to become an interactive experience. A second future use may be as a time management device. Apps are becoming available that will use GPS technology to track where you are, and how long you are there. These apps can graphically present how long you spend at each customer location during a week or month, and track that according to that account’s current or potential sales. This analysis would allow the user to spend the time in the accounts that have the most potential.

About the Interviewer

Maestro eLearning is a customer service company in the business of creating custom online training courses. They’re collaborating with industry consultants and vendors to launch the Maestro eLearning Awards. Delight your colleagues and consider nominating them for some awards, such as Best eLearning Designer and Best eLearning Developer.

My New Year’s Resolutions For 2010 December 26, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I’ve come up with a few ideas for my New Year’s Resolutions for 2010. Next year, I will…

Experiment more with technology
I usually do a decent job with this, but I’m going to do a better job in 2010 of trying lots of new software, tools, web sites, web applications, etc. I don’t need to be an expert in all of these technologies, but I find that a good awareness of everything is very important.

Succeed (or fail) fast
I will use quick prototypes when evaluating new tools / technologies for projects. I’ve learned over time that lengthy trials take too long and are often unnecessary. I usually have better luck when I set up something that is ‘good enough’ and then improve it iteratively.

Listen better
In the past few years, I fell into the occasional bad habit of not listening closely enough to clients / internal customers. I would sometimes shortcut conversations in my head and diagnose their situations before I even knew the whole story. I’m aware of this, and I’ll do my best to listen better moving forward.

Read more
I love to read, but I sometimes get too busy…or at least that’s what I tell myself. In 2010, I want to do a better job of reading on a regular basis. I usually prefer books on business, performance improvement, and sometimes suspense / mystery thrillers.

Travel more
I want to travel internationally at least once next year, along with several trips to different states. I’m always open to suggestions, so let me know if you have any ideas.

What are your resolutions? Oh, and in case you need it, there’s a good article on eHow called How to Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions. :)

Hot Topics in eLearning for 2009 December 4, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Tony Karrer posted a list of the trending hot topics in eLearning for 2009, based on stats from his eLearningLearning.com site. Nothing is too surprising, but it’s very helpful how Tony linked to some of the more popular articles and blog posts related to each topic.

Below are the hottest trending topics we saw in 2009, but be sure to visit Tony’s full list to see even more great info.

Hot Topics in eLearning for 2009

  1. Twitter
  2. Social Media, Social Networks, Social Learning, and Informal Learning
  3. Google Wave
  4. SharePoint
  5. Video
  6. Mobile , Mobile Learning and iPhone
  7. Changes in Design and Instructional Design and our Roles
  8. Webinars and Virtual Classrooms

Any predictions on what we’ll see as the hot topics in 2010?

eLearning User Groups September 29, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Last week I went to the Metrics That Matter user group in Chicago. During my trip, I started thinking about user groups related to learning and technology. Other than conferences, where do learning and technology professionals get together to discuss ideas with each other? Conferences are great; I attend them and present at them on a fairly regular basis. But too often these events are more focused on presentations than collaboration and idea sharing. We can learn a ton from each other simply by trading stories and experiences, and we should do this more often. What other ways do we have to interact directly with each other? I came up with a list of ideas below. Please chime in with your thoughts. (Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the Metrics That Matter user group meeting was excellent.)

Ideas for connecting with eLearning peers

#lrnchat

I’ve written about #lrnchat before. It’s an online discussion that happens each Thursday on Twitter. Dozens of learning and technology gurus join in to have open discussions and share ideas. This is a great way to interact with some of the top thought leaders in our field.

LMS user groups / conferences

Several LMS companies offer user groups and conferences, and I would highly recommend that you check one out if you work closely with an LMS. Most of the well-known LMS vendors have user group meetings and/or conferences, including:

  • Blackboard
  • Cornerstone
  • GeoLearning
  • Inquisiq
  • Learn.com
  • Mzinga
  • Plateau
  • Saba
  • SumTotal

Technology / Development-focused user groups

Adobe has an active user group community, with over 700 groups that meet regularly to discuss products such as Captivate, Dreamweaver, Flash, and much more. Visit the Adobe Groups page for more info. (In fact, a few Captivate-specific user groups have popped up.)

Separate from the Adobe Groups is a user community for Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro.

Many of the “social learning” tools (ex. blogs, wikis, etc.) have user groups or strong online development communities. A few quick examples:

Twitter

Tools like TweetGrid allow you to track keywords related to your niche of learning and technology. This can help you find others who are working on similar topics or projects, and then you can reach out to them directly.

What else?

What am I missing? Are there other ways you directly connect with peers to exchange ideas and discuss your work? Blogging, definitely. What else…?

Supporting Formal and Informal Social Learning June 18, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Last month I wrote a post called The Future of eLearning is Social Learning , featuring work by Jane Hart. I highlighted several of her online presentations, which do an excellent job of outlining the basics of social learning while also addressing some of the most common misconceptions and pitfalls. Jane recently released another presentation titled Supporting Formal and Informal Social Learning, which covers the people side of social learning and the settings/contexts in which it takes place. The presentation is below. This is Part 3 of a series.

I continue to realize the most difficult part of implementing social learning is the change management – not the technology. Slides 14, 15, and 16 do a good job of addressing this. Thanks, Jane!

Micro-blogging at Work May 30, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I’ve been on Twitter for over a year, and I find great value in the ability to ask questions to a large group of people (ex. friends, peers, etc.) when I need to find information. I often get excellent answers and suggestions that have much more value than a Google search would have yielded. I also enjoy the ability to share helpful resources that I find, and I do my best to answer questions that other people have. It only makes sense that organizations are starting to bring the same concept of Twitter (micro-blogging) in-house to improve communication between employees.

What is micro-blogging?

Micro-blogging is the process of sending short text updates that describe what you’re doing and/or thinking to a web site or web application. The messages are available to whomever has subscribed to view your messages. There are many micro-blogging platforms (see below) that allow you to easily track messages from your friends and peers, and they also make it easy to search for messages that were previously posted. All of the information is saved and it can be searched. Read a more detailed definition of micro-blogging.

How can micro-blogging be beneficial at work?

Here are a few examples of how micro-blogging can be beneficial at work. Micro-blogging can be used to:

  • Ask questions
  • Share project updates
  • Make organization-wide announcements (for non-critical information)
  • Build a community (ex. have new employees communicate with each other and share their experiences)
  • Promote a culture of information sharing

We’re in the early stages of a micro-blogging trial at work. I can’t say much about it, but I am very pleased with what I’ve seen so far. I’m seeing employees making connections with co-workers in different divisions, and I’m seeing employees provide each other with assistance on a regular basis. While I can’t articulate a rock-solid business case for micro-blogging, this behavior screams success to me.

Selecting a micro-blogging platform

If you are concerned about your employees sharing confidential or proprietary information, you will probably want to be very careful when selecting a micro-blogging platform. You can use an internally-hosted micro-blogging platform, or you can consider using a solution hosted by a vendor. Some of the most popular platforms are:

Involve the right people

When considering micro-blogging at your organization, you’ll need to make sure to involve the right people. I highly recommend you bring in people from the following departments. Help them understand micro-blogging and why you’re interested in using it:

  • Corporate Communications
  • HR
  • IT
  • Legal

Run a pilot program

Consider running a pilot program, where you use micro-blogging for a small group of users (perhaps the training department?). This will let you get a feel for how the concept works, and you should be able to figure out its potential pretty quickly. (I would also recommend that you jump on Twitter, just to get a quick understanding of how micro-blogging works.)

Good luck, and please leave a comment below if you have experience using micro-blogging at work. I’d love to hear how it is going.

The Future of eLearning is Social Learning May 2, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Jane Hart has been creating presentations recently to help explain social learning to her clients. Fortunately for us, she is now sharing some of this content online: Jane is working on a 3-part series related to social learning, and the first 2 parts are now available (and embedded below). Keep an eye out for the third part, which should hopefully be published in a week or two.

These presentations are valuable for several reasons. First, they explain the significance and importance of social learning in simple, people terms without getting overly technical. I would feel very comfortable using these presentations to help educate upper management on the benefits of social learning without hesitation. Second, the presentations describe a solid approach (using Elgg) for getting started with social learning. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the social learning tools out there, and even though I’ve never used Elgg, it seems like it would be a great starting point. Finally, the presentations are extremely portable on SlideShare; you can embed and share them very easily with others. Take a look…

Part 1: The Future of eLearning is Social Learning

Part 2: Using Elgg as as Social Learning Platform

Part 3: Coming soon!

Beware of Social Learning Backlash April 11, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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4 comments

I’m finding out that the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” has some major significance when it comes to introducing social learning (specifically, social learning tools) at an organization. In fact, even worse things can happen if you don’t market your offerings correctly…

When introducing social learning tools and concepts, it’s easy to get excited and anxious to share our findings. We often see the potential of how these tools can impact our organization, and we can’t wait to tell everyone we know about it. But here’s the tricky part: A good portion of our audience may not see the same potential, and it’s important to understand their point of view. They may have these feelings for several reasons:

  • They may not understand the concept(s)
  • They may fear new technology
  • They may be afraid to learn something new or change their current processes
  • They may feel intimidated or threatened

In fact, some people may undermine your efforts by expressing doubt to others and they may refuse to use new tools. To be clear, I believe constructive criticism is always a good thing. I’m only concerned about the people who counter your efforts because of one of the reasons listed above.

On a sidenote, it doesn’t help that many of the social media and social learning tools have goofy names. Many non-technical people immediately dismiss the idea of using these tools because they can’t take the name seriously. (Personally, even though I am a fan, I think Twitter’s name is one of its biggest downfalls.)

Here are a few tips to prevent social learning backlash:

  • Communication and change management are key
    Begin by explaining the basics of social learning and gradually work up to the benefits of using social learning specifically at your organization. Explain all benefits and be honest about possible shortcomings.
  • Seek out allies in your organization
    Find people within your organization who can help you tell the story of how social learning can benefit your organization. This way you won’t be seen as the person trying to make all the changes on your own.
  • Don’t just talk – produce
    I can talk about Web 2.0 and Learning 2.0 until I’m blue in the face, but it won’t do anybody good until I actually produce something. I would recommend staying light on the concepts and heavy on the examples. As they say, actions speak louder than words.
  • Carefully connect social learning to familiar external sites
    Explain that most people already use social media and social learning resources outside of work, whether they realize it or not. For example, what tools do you usually use when you have a question, or when you need information? Wikipedia, Google, and social bookmarking sites like Delicious are a few simple examples.
  • Re-brand the technologies in-house to use more conventional names
    If you install any social learning applications in-house, you may consider re-branding their names to something that makes sense within your organization.

Kevin Jones has done a fantastic job of covering all things related to social learning. Be sure to check out some of his posts below. You’ll find additional tips for improving the adoption of social learning at your organization:

Build a Learning Portal Using WordPress April 3, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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eLW moved to eLWmag.comI’ve written before about learning portals and how they can be a great way to improve access to learning materials for users. I wanted to provide a more in-depth post that shows how you can create your own learning portal using the freely available content management system, WordPress. So, let’s get started…

Refresher: What is a portal?

(This paragraph is from a previous post.)
A learning portal is a web site that contains links to all different types of learning and training materials for employees at an organization. It may display upcoming classes, online courses, job aids, programs, links to web sites, etc. It may also include search functionality, a rating system, bookmarking ability, and more. The content displayed on the portal may be general to all employees at an organization, or it may be customized for that individual and the role they play. In a perfect world, the learning portal would be able to analyze the person’s department, role, and previous training history. It would then automagically determine learning resources that may be most valuable to that person. It may take a little while, but we’ll get there.

This tutorial will show you how to get a basic learning portal set up. You can add the advanced functionality yourself using either custom programming or by using one of the thousands of free WordPress plugins.

What is WordPress?

WordPress is a free content management system that allows you to build and manage your own web site or blog. WordPress is used by millions of people, and it has an amazing support community in case you run into any questions or problems. I have personally used WordPress for several years and I’m a big fan. In fact, eLearning Weekly is a WordPress site. Learn more about WordPress.

WordPress.com vs. WordPress.org

I want to prevent some confusion around WordPress… It’s important to know that WordPress.com and WordPress.org are completely different, even though they’re run by the same people:

  • WordPress.com hosts your site for you, which is convenient, but it prevents you from making detailed customizations. WordPress.com sites are publicly hosted.
  • WordPress.org allows you to download the installation files to your computer (or to a server) where you install it yourself. You can then customize the system as much as you want. This tutorial will focus on using WordPress.org.

Install WordPress

You’ll need access to a server to install your portal, but you can install WordPress on your own computer if you just want to test it out first. Follow these directions to get WordPress installed. Essentially, you’ll need to have PHP and MySQL installed wherever you want to set up the portal.

After you’ve installed WordPress, you’ll have a front-end and a back-end. The front-end is what your users will see – it looks like a normal web site or blog. The back-end is your administration site that you’ll use to make updates. The back-end is password-protected, and you can create user accounts if you want to share the administration with others.

Use a Template

After you have installed WordPress, you’ll probably want to select a theme to use for your portal. There are thousands of themes available on WordPress.org, or you can select from many vendors on the web that provide WordPress templates (ex. StudioPress or WooThemes). Some themes are free, and some cost money. Grab a theme, and then follow these steps to get it installed.

Tweak the Settings

Poke around with all of the settings in your WordPress site. You’ll probably be surprised to see how many things you can easily configure. I don’t think you can really break anything in there, so feel free to try things out. (Famous last words, huh?)

Add Learning Content

In WordPress, you can create pages and posts. Pages usually consist of content that is less likely to change on a regular basis. Posts are generally used for content that is regularly updated, for examples news and announcements.

Once you have your site up and running, populate it with your learning content, such as a list of upcoming classes, online courses, job aids, programs, links to web sites, etc. You’ll see that you can add media (ex. images and video) to your pages and posts, too. Preview the site frequently to make sure everything is appearing to your liking, and continue to refine you content until you’re happy with it. Be sure to get feedback from colleagues, too.

Widgets and Plugins

You can add a great deal of functionality to your site using widgets and plugins.

Widgets are known as “sidebar accessories” for your site. Visit this page to learn more, or simply play around with the widget section in your administration site.

Plugins can add almost any functionality you can dream of to your WordPress site. Visit the official plugins page on the WordPress.org site for more info.

That’s it!

The hardest part about setting up WordPress is making sure you have PHP and MySQL installed and ready to go. Other than that, everything else should be straightforward. You’ll be successful if you update your learning portal on a regular basis and continue to get (and respond to) feedback from your users.

Troubleshooting

As I mentioned, WordPress has an amazing support community, but feel free to ask questions here and I’ll do my best to help you out. Good luck!

See the new site! eLWmag.com

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