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Trident SCORM Development Software April 30, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I just recently learned about a SCORM development tool called Trident, which is distributed by Redbird Software. Trident is a SCORM Integrated Development Environment (IDE). The acronym IDE is common lingo for programming geeks like me… Wikipedia defines an IDE as software that “normally consist(s) of a source code editor, a compiler and/or interpreter, build-automation tools, and (usually) a debugger.” This means that Trident lets you code, debug, and package your eLearning modules in one place. Think about it this way: Trident lets you tweak and test your eLearning modules without having to upload them to your LMS each time you make a change. And you can monitor real-time API calls and associated data while testing your modules. Very nice.

I’ve been working with the demo version of Trident and I really like what I’m seeing. It has a forms-based interface which lets you enter metadata for an eLearning module (SCO) without having to even think about the gory details of SCORM; it writes all of the XML for you. I’ve seen other SCORM editors out there, but this really seems to be the end-to-end solution, from coding to packaging.

I hope to get a copy of Trident soon, and I’ll use it along with Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks, and Captivate.

Fair warning: The Trident environment may seem overwhelming if you’re new to SCORM. If this applies to you, I’d first recommend getting up to speed with a few SCORM basics, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a copy of Claude Ostyn’s In the Eye of the SCORM by your side. After that, you’ll be ready to go. (Another great feature of Trident is the built-in Help section; it’s written in plain English with clear descriptions and instructions.)

Trident costs $349.00 right now, but the price is slated to go up to $499.00 on May 30, 2007.


eLearning Tools April 28, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I ran across two great eLearning resources today, so I thought I’d share them here.

The first resource is a directory of over 1,000 eLearning tools. Both free and commercial tools are listed here. This is a great place to start if you’re ready to learn about new technologies, such as wikis, podcasting, or simulations. This directory is maintained by Jane Hart, who runs The Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies.

The second resource is a post on Tony Karrer’s blog that talks about eLearning Software. He describes several types of tools and offers examples of each. Be sure to check it out.

I try to devote time each week to keep up with emerging tools and technologies. My goal is to find better ways to make training interesting and engaging (instead of boring) for learners. Resources like the ones above make this task much easier for me. I hope they help you, too… Enjoy!

What is eLearning 2.0? April 23, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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There’s been a lot of talk about this new thing called eLearning 2.0. What is it? When is it coming? What tools will I need to make it work? These were my thoughts as I headed to The eLearning Guild’s 2007 Annual Gathering conference in Boston a few weeks ago. Well, I think I’ve finally got it all sorted out.

Before we jump into eLearning 2.0, let’s discuss the idea of Web 2.0. If you haven’t heard this marvelous buzzword by now, let me explain: Web 2.0 is the term used to define the next generation of web sites and web applications that allow for more contribution and collaboration from users. Tools like del.icio.us, Wikipedia, and craigslist are examples of Web 2.0 sites. Note that Web 2.0 “…does not refer to an update to Internet or World Wide Web technical specifications, but to changes in the ways the platform is used.” (Web 2.0 definition on Wikipedia)

During a session at the eLearning Guild conference, Tony O’Driscoll put it this way: “Web 1.0 was the democratization of information (content). Web 2.0 is the democratization of participation.” His quote made complete sense to me. The debut of the Web allowed everybody to access information; content was provided to us and we consumed it. Now things have changed. With Web 2.0, we can more easily share our knowledge and experiences with each other via the web. A shining example of this is Wikipedia; users add, edit, and delete entries to maintain an amazingly large and (fairly) accurate information system. Talk about synergy.

What a second… Couldn’t this lead to inaccurate or inappropriate content being posted on a site? Is this reliable? Are these types of sites used for serious, important purposes? These are good questions. For publicly available systems, such as Wikipedia, the truly dedicated users of the system monitor and guard it; it’s their baby and they protect it as best as they can. For systems that are implemented internally (for example, at a corporation or university), I believe there would be an administrator or team responsible for monitoring and maintaining information. It’s an assumed risk that there could be issues; however, the risk appears to be worth the reward for many people. I suppose it ultimately depends on your needs and your organization’s needs.

Let’s get back to the eLearning world. With eLearning 1.0, information was prepared and delivered to the user, as if we were filling an empty glass. Communication was one-way. The idea of eLearning 2.0 is to harness and utilize each learner’s knowledge and experience so that everybody can benefit from it. To achieve this next level of learning, you can tools such as wikis, blogs, and social bookmarking. These tools allow each learner to contribute their knowledge on a specific theme, design problem, or subject area, depending on how the learning experience is structured.

I think the eLearning 2.0 movement has great intentions, but I can’t see a mass exodus from existing eLearning strategies. I think these tools and ideas will be a great supplement to existing eLearning courses and curriculums, but I personally don’t see enough structure and organization for them to stand alone. Let’s take a simple scenario: learning a new software package. While a wiki may be helpful for learners to compare notes and share their experiences regarding the software, we’ll still need a basic introductory course on how to use the software, right? We shall see.


Assima Simulation Software: Initial Impressions April 19, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I saw a demo of Assima today, which is a tool that can be used to create (nearly) fully functional software simulations for eLearning. Assima is considered to be a next-generation simulation tool because it captures application information at the object level rather than just grabbing screenshots*, and it gives the developer the ability to record the application’s functionality once and then output it as several different movie or simulation types.

In terms of eLearning, a simulation tool should allow you to create the following:

  1. Demo movies (Watch it.)
  2. Training simulations (Let me try.)
  3. Assessment simulations (Test me.)

With many of the products I’ve seen, such as Adobe Captivate, you have to record three separate movies to get all of this functionality. With Assima, it appears that you can capture information once for an application and then output it in any of these three formats. If an application changes, you can “doctor” it in Assima. For example, let’s say IT adds two new buttons to a PeopleSoft screen after you built all of your PeopleSoft training. You can simply go in to Assima and add form objects (ex. buttons), and then apply actions to them instead of re-recording everything. Your changes are then automatically made for your demo movies, training simulations, and assessment simulations. That could be a huge time-saver.

So, if you want to create a simulation of an application, such as Microsoft Word, you first need to allow Assima to scan the application and read-in the menus, shortcut keys, etc. This is a fairly quick process, but it does need to be done for each screen and/or dialog box within the application. Of course, the true functionality of the application isn’t automatically captured; you have to “teach” the application’s functionality to Assima. If you want to teach the learner how to create a bulleted list, you need to record yourself creating a bulleted list. After that, you can tell Assima how to display the demo movies, training simulation, and assessment simulation for this task.

I’m excited to learn more about Assima. They definitely have the right idea, but I’m concerned that the file sizes for simulations will be very large. We’ll see. I’m also curious to see how easily the simulations integrate with learning management systems (LMSs). The movies are supposedly SCORM-compliant and AICC certified, but I’ve yet to see them published to an LMS with my own eyes. Assima is also quite expensive compared to other mainstream simulation tools.

* For the record, I know Knowledge Planet’s FireFly product can grab application information at the object level, but I’ve never been a big fan of its output format: big Java applets**. Plus, from what I’ve seen, Assima’s additional functionality beats it, hands-down.

**See this post’s comments for more details.

Using Adobe Captivate for eLearning: A Love/Hate Relationship April 12, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I’ve been using Adobe Captivate (formerly Macromedia Captivate) for over 2 years and I think it’s a great authoring tool that can help you create powerful simulations and demonstrations for eLearning. However, there are a number of issues (bugs) that can drive you completely insane during the development process. Luckily, many of the bugs found in Captivate v1.0 were resolved in v2.0. However, there are still some problems in v2.0. I recently attended a “Stump the Captivate 2 Experts” session at The eLearning Guild’s 2007 Annual Gathering, and it was not a pretty sight. Two Captivate experts were on the receiving end of about 40 Captivate users venting their frustrations about the product. Of course, we all still love the product, and it is the best value screen capturing/simulation tool on the market in my opinion.

Here are a few of the issues with Captivate 2.0 that were discussed:

  • When previewing or playing a Captivate movie, if your audio sounds distorted (ex. your narration sounds like you are underwater), delete the audio and re-add it to the Captivate file. That should fix the problem.
  • If you have issues with text captions showing up blurry or unnecessarily bolded when using a transparent background, try reinstalling Captivate (especially if you upgraded to version 2.0 from version 1.0).
  • When inserting audio for a slide, make sure you pad the audio with 0.1 seconds of silence at the beginning and end of the slide. If you have audio too close to the beginning or end of a slide, it may not play correctly when previewing or publishing the file.
  • Try to keep Captivate demonstrations and simulations to less than 100 slides. Break up content into smaller modules. Captivate will be much more stable and less likely to do strange things. Some people, including myself, reported that the thumbnail images in Edit mode start getting flaky when you try to edit movies that have over 100 slides. We also noticed slides randomly disappearing and changing places. It is believed that this is simply a “memory issue.”

Several people said that these tweaks work for version 1.0, but I’ve not tested all of them myself. Good luck!

Using Video in eLearning April 12, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Using video is eLearning is a double-edged sword. It can make a learning experience much more interesting, exciting, and engaging, but technical issues can often negate the positive effects. It’s important to be aware of this before getting too far…

Creating Video
Any video file can be converted to a Flash video file (.flv) using the Flash 8 Video Encoder or a third-party application.

Viewing Video
The learner just needs to have the Flash player plugin installed and they’ll be able to view the video. Just a year or two ago, deploying video meant that the learner would have to download and install a specialized plugin such as RealPlayer, QuickTime, or Windows Media Player. (Yes, I realize the Flash player technically is a plugin, but it has become so ubiquitous that I don’t consider it to be a specialized plugin that requires effort to obtain.)

File Size
If you’ve ever worked with video, you probably know that its file size can be quite big. If you use video in your eLearning, you may want to split it out into smaller chunks, constrain the width and height of the video (so that it isn’t huge on the screen), and try to compress the video as much as possible using the Flash Video Encoder or whatever application(s) you prefer. Flash is known for being able to stream information to the user. This works especially well on high-speed internet connections; learners are able to begin watching a video while the rest of it is downloading. This is called progressive download. Assuming the connection is fast enough, there won’t be any interruptions as the learner watches the video. For slower connections, I recommend automatically pausing the movie as soon as it starts loading and instructing the learner to hit the play button once the movie has fully downloaded. They can start watching it earlier, but it’s possible that the rate which they’re watching the video is faster than the download rate. When this happens, the video will stop dead in its tracks. That’s not a great experience for the learner.

If you want to get fancy and use the Flash Media Server, it can automatically determine the users connectivity and then serve up the most appropriate version of the video (ex. low-quality, medium-quality, high-quality). It can also do true video streaming, which allows the user to watch the video as the bits are downloaded, which is as live as it gets. This method also prevents the user from saving the video to their computers.

Tools for Working with Video
We use a Canon Elura 100 digital camcorder for recording our training events at work. I dump the video to a PC via FireWire. I pull the video into Sony Vegas, resize the video when necessary, and then export it as .mpg files. At this point, I launch the Flash 8 Video Encoder and let it convert the .mpg files, usually over one or two days. Once everything is finished, I have several .flv files waiting for me. I open Flash 8, utilize the FLVPlayback component, and build my eLearning as the situation requires. Did I mention that I love working with all of these cool toys? 🙂

Tutorial: Build SCORM-Compatible Lesson Templates for Your LMS April 12, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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The typical eLearning project requires so much time, and can be so labor-intensive, that productivity is always a concern of developers, designers, and their managers. In addition, making courses SCORM-compliant and functional with an LMS adds another layer (or two) of complexity. I wrote an article for The eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions eMagazine on how to build a reusable eLearning lesson template. This article outlines how you can save time by using the template, and focus on the most important problem – producing engaging and effective learning.

Download the article here (PDF)