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Hands-on with Assima Training Suite October 27, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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We recently purchased Assima Training Suite (formerly known as Assima Wizard Training Suite) at work. We’re planning on using it to create training for our upcoming PeopleSoft upgrade. We evaluated several tools, and it came down to Captivate and Assima Training Suite (I’ll call it ATS from here on). We chose Assima’s product mainly because its simulations are much more realistic: ATS “clones” software applications and provides a very realistic working environment (sandbox) for the learner. It’s pretty amazing. I’ve written about ATS before, but now I’ve had a chance to take the software for a more thorough test drive (plus, I attended a 3-day training session). Let’s take a closer look…

Which version?

We’re using version 4.x of ATS, which seems to work fairly well, but I hear that a new version is in the works. From what I understand, the new version significantly improves the user interface, functionality, and reliability. Our training session went well, but we ran into several glitches. Sometimes the glitches were our fault, but other times they weren’t. My overall feeling is that ATS is a killer app that needs just a bit more maturation. It’s so close! I’m very much looking forward to the new version, hoping that it further solidifies the product.

Features

Here are some of the basic features of ATS:

  • Extensions
    ATS has two recording modes: object-based recording and screen capturing. Object-based recording is the ideal method by far, but it requires that you have a special extension in ATS for the application you want to simulate. For example, we needed a PeopleSoft extension. (Be aware that you may need to purchase additional extensions for the different applications you want to simulate. I think ATS only comes with one or two extensions by default.) Screen capturing can be used with any application (as long as you have access to its executable file), and it provides you with very basic screenshots of whatever you recorded.
  • Simulations and Tutorials
    After preparing a storyboard, you’ll start using ATS by recording a simulation. To do this, you’ll open your target application (ex. PeopleSoft) and step through your task; this part is very easy. Next, you’ll create a tutorial for your simulation. This is where you put in the narrative (instructional text) for the learner. This part is based upon the simulation you recorded, so you do not have to re-record your task (cool!). And again, it’s very easy. If you realize that you need to make changes to your simulation or tutorial, you can use the SimDoctor tool to edit individual objects on each page. SimDoctor lets you add form elements (ex. checkboxes, text fields, radio buttons, etc.), and you can also remove objects on the screen. The SimDoctor tool is definitely one of the highlights of ATS, and I’ve only described about 10% of its capabilities.
  • Demonstration / Practice / Evaluation
    After you’ve recorded your simulation and created your tutorial, ATS is able to output your learning materials three different ways: a Demonstration module is the show me, the Practice module is the let me try, and the Evaluation module is the test me. And remember, you only had to record the task once to get all of these outputs. Very impressive.
  • Microsoft Agents
    ATS uses Microsoft Agents to display information to the learner while they’re working through a module. You can select which character to use, or add your own. The most common one is Merlin, the wizard. You can use generic agents, too. There’s an option that presents the instruction inside a yellow post-it note, which looks pretty decent, just in case you’re not a fan of the Microsoft Agents.
  • Publish Types
    ATS has several publish options: pure HTML/JavaScript, an option using their ActiveX plug-in, a CD/executable option, and a “Java Loader” option which uses….you guessed it: Java. (Note: During our training session, we found out that each of these publish types has their own idiosyncrasies. Sometimes buttons, links, styles, and graphics would look slightly different between the publish types. For most people, it would probably not be an issue.) There is also an option to make your final product AICC- and/or SCORM-compliant. The file sizes for published simulations seemed to be fairly decent (ex. ~1-3MB for a simple task).
  • Documentation
    ATS also has a feature called GenDoc that can automagically create help documentation for your users. GenDoc can output to several formats, including PowerPoint, Word, and HTML. It combines your application screenshots and instructional text into a nice package, and it does it very quickly.

Pros and Cons of using Assima Training Suite

Here’s a run-down of the pros and cons from what I’ve seen so far:

Pros:

  • ATS has the best approach to simulation development when compared to the rest of the products on the market (Datango appears to be the only company in the same ballpark). Assima seeks to truly simulate software applications – and they do a very good job at it. When the learner interacts with the simulations, you’d swear they were sitting in front of the real application. For example, Assima often uses a demonstration of the Windows application, Notepad. In the Notepad simulation, you can click on each menu and explore many of the menu sub-items, just like you were working in the actual Notepad application. Apply this to complex software and/or web applications and you can begin to see the possibilities…
  • Using ATS, you can record once and output to several formats (ex. Demonstration, Practice, Evaluation), and then generate your documentation. This is a major time-saver compared to other tools I’ve used in the past.
  • Assima offers great training. Although we ran across several issues, our trainer did a great job of keeping things rolling and reporting issues to their support personnel. After attending the training, I’m confident I can use the tool with ease.
  • Assima really appears to have their act together when it comes to support and documentation. They offer an online support center that is very well thought-out and the help section within the application is great.

Cons:

  • ATS seems to be a great product, but it is priced WAY too high. I don’t want to give specifics, but I’ll put it this way: We purchased 4 licenses. We could’ve bought a house in the Kansas City area for the price we paid. Yikes.
  • ATS has been around for a while in Europe, but the product still seems…young to me. Basic tasks sometimes led to application errors (which we were able to overcome most of the time). For the price, ATS needs to be rock-solid. I hope they’re getting there soon. Assima will be unstoppable if they can make ATS bullet-proof and lower its price.
  • I don’t get the impression that there’s a strong ATS development community. I’m not sure if this is because Assima is a relatively young company (they started in 2002) or if it’s because the price is too high for average users. I hope this changes soon.
  • ATS can only be used to capture application simulations. So, if you want a tool that can create great application simulations, consider ATS. If you want a tool that can create good application simulations, good soft-skills simulations, and generic screen capturing abilities, consider Captivate.

For more information…

The Assima website is a bit vague. It is text-heavy, and it lacks demos, screenshots, detailed product information, and pricing details. That’s a major turn-off. We found out about the product through another vendor, who arranged a live demo for us. Otherwise, I probably would have ignored Assima after spending a minute or two on their site. If you are at all interested in ATS, I suggest contacting them for a demo (either in-person or via webinar). It is worth your time just to see what ATS can do.

We’ll keep working.

We’ll continue to explore ATS over the coming months. We hope to find out exactly what caused our issues – and solve the problems before we get too deep into development. If we can do that, I’m really anxious to see where this goes. ATS has so much potential.

Start the discussion!

Have you used ATS? Can you provide tips or tricks? Do you have questions about ATS? Drop me a line.

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The E-Learning Marketplace October 19, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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The E-Learning Marketplace is another excellent resource now available from Jane Knight over at the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. The Marketplace is a web site / service that allows you to “Find a job, fill a vacancy or offer your services in the global e-learning marketplace.” The service is free for now. I really hope this site takes off. As always, Jane has a great idea of what types of tools and services could benefit people in the learning / technology / training / development / eLearning world. Thanks, Jane!

Teacher Training Videos October 10, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I ran across a great resource today: a web site that provides free tutorial movies that can help you better integrate learning and technology. The site is Teacher Training Videos, created by Russell Stannard. Russell is a principal lecturer at the University of Westminster.

Some of his tutorial movies include:

On the site, Russell says, “Look out for the new videos on Moodle, Facebook & social networks and 2nd Life.” I look forward to them. Thanks, Russell!

eLearning 2.0 Tools October 3, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I’ve discussed eLearning 2.0 before, but Tony Karrer recently started a discussion about the different tools and technologies that can be used to reach this next level of learning. Check out his post here. Spend some time over at Tony’s site, especially if you’re not well-versed with these types of tools. He has linked to several great videos explaining the tools, and people are starting to contribute other resources. Good stuff!