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3D Tips for the Part-Time eLearning Freelancer July 26, 2011

Posted by kevinthorn in eLearning, eLearning Careers.
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2 comments

eLW Moved to elwmag.comOne of the best pieces of advice my father gave me was, “Discover what you’re good at and then learn how to make money at it.” Just like most obedient young boys, I totally ignored my father’s advice.

Even though I’ve been drawing and cartooning my whole life and developing elearning for the past ten years, I never put the two together. I’m a decent artist but most artists are their own worst critics, and even though I was passionate about it, I never once considered earning a living doing it. That is until I got serious and decided to officially freelance while working a day job.

Some of you may know me through Twitter as @learnnuggets and some of you may know my work through NuggetHead Studioz. I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t have years of experience freelancing let alone freelancing full time to share success strategies. I do have some ‘getting started’ experience and things I’ve learned in the past year that I’ll share what I call my “3D Experience.”

Okay, so you have this thing you’re really good at. You’re really passionate about it and you want a piece of that industry’s pie. What’s next?

Decide

Deliberately deciding is crucial to your success. Think of it like a New Year’s exercise plan. You’re all excited about starting to exercise every day and lose the holiday weight. Off you go and usually within a month the ‘every day’ turns into ‘a couple times a week’ until eventually you don’t have the staying power to continue.
Success-guy-photo

  1. Commit to a maximum amount of time. You might be willing to put in a lot of hours, but make your maximum a rational and reasonable amount of time that will still keep your family in balance. If you’re like me, it’s also keeping my chores up to par. I decided I could commit to 20 hours a week max. That’s four hours a night with weekends off or three hours a night with some work on the weekend.  This plan works for me because I am my family’s night owl. I get quality, evening  family time, and then, when my family goes to bed by 9:00pm, I get to work for a few hours.
  2. Treat it like a job. I treat it like a second job. Many part-time evening jobs are retail or restaurants. They typically close late, and if you’re on the closing shift, you’ll be there another hour or so shutting down. Time is time, and if you’re going to work hard, you might as well work hard for yourself.

Think in terms of cost when deciding the amount of time you’re willing to commit. Go easy on yourself if you’re unsure; say ten hours a week. Remember, you still need to change hats when you go to your day job the next morning, so you want to ensure you’re still getting proper rest – and getting the work done.

Describe

Next, know what is it that you are going to do. Think of your skills and your talents. Describe what you will be doing to yourself before you start telling others. If you don’t know, what makes you think they will know? Definitely, differentiate between practical work and consultation.

  1. Are you going to be doing the practical application of the work? If so, to what degree? If you’re a designer/developer like me, you have to be honest with yourself about how long it takes to put something together. Whether it’s an illustrated graphic or developing an elearning course, describe the boundaries. I started off with offering the full bucket load from cradle to grave. Everything from instructional design to publishing and LMS support. That’s a lot for a shop of one to handle. I’ve scaled back and focused more on what I do best – design/develop.
  2. Are you going to be a consultant? If so, to what degree? A consultant brings years of practical application experience to a market where others hire you to help them down a path you once traveled. It’s still time invested but a different kind of time. Lots of phone calls, emails, managing calendars and perhaps even some traveling involved.

Describing what it is you are going to do – and what you’re not going to do – sets boundaries. Not just for your prospective clients, but for yourself. The boundaries will keep you safe from bidding on a project that may be more than you can chew starting out. They’ll also keep the stress at manageable levels.

Deliver

The phrase, “Under promise and over deliver” comes to mind. When you bid on projects, be honest with yourself about what you can deliver. Not so much in terms of the project itself, but how many current projects you have and how many you can balance at one time. I manage anywhere from 4-6 at any given time. Usually I have 3-4 illustration/graphics projects (which take less time), and/or 2-3 elearning projects (which are spaced out in terms of their production). I do this simply because I’m creative, and creative people (me at least) get bored easily. I need multiple projects at one time so I can switch between them often. And often, one project helps solve problems in another.

  1. Add a minimum of 20% time to every bid. Even if you know without a shadow of a doubt you can make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich in five minutes, bid six minutes. Why? Part time freelance is still life, and the dog is going to run away, your kids will want to play a game, you and your spouse may need to consume an evening talking about something more important. If not the normal stuff, then—even worse—the really crazy will happen. Multiple things will interrupt you. Plan for it.
  2. Don’t overcharge. It’s very attractive to get all caught up in the world of being your own boss and wanting to make your first million dollars in the first year. Stay humble. Do the work. The rewards will come in due time.

NuggetHead Studioz has only been an official business for less than a year. I have much to learn and only share these thoughts from what I’ve experienced already in that short time. Your situation will be different so just think through it carefully to ensure success. Oh, and of course…just do it!

See the new site! eLWmag.com

Too Hot for eLearning July 19, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning, Theory.
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3 comments

eLW Moved to elwmag.comBy the time school let out each summer, I was already done learning. Sure, classes were wrapping up and testing was done, but I was intellectually checked-out because it was too hot for learning.

Right now, in the midwest especially, the heat and humidity are collaborating to ruin everyone’s days. The dew point is so high that windows and glasses are sweating. Everyone is so sticky in the muggy air that nothing seems like a good idea. Except maybe a thunderstorm.

Does the misery make elearning difficult? I think so.

Are there better times during the year to schedule elearning? Can designers and developers control the environments in which our learners launch elearning? These questions always make me think about flight simulators. In a flight simulator, you can control the environment — make it shake or even make it hot! So, I imagine the ideal Personal Learning Environment (PLE) — a utopic  arrangement of computer, desk, mouse, beverage, snack, window, lamp, and whatever else at whatever temperature at whatever time, wherever suits the learner best. Perhaps with soft classical music wafting in the background.
photo thermometer 100 degrees
I like the list Prometheus Training uses to prep learners for optimal elearning — is anyone else using such tips? Is anyone else melting? Are your screens dripping with dew?

Photo Credit: greggoconnell

See the new site! eLWmag.com

Make eLearning for the iPad for FREE July 14, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning Tools.
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9 comments

I feel some guilty pleasure when other trainers and elearning developers become jealous of my elearning app for the iPad. Because the Mac iOS doesn’t support Flash, many of my colleagues haven’t been able to take advantage of the best elearning tool ever: the iPad.

My app did not cost that much ($7,000 developed in 2010 and $4000 for upgrades in 2011). Still, even those costs are not readily available to many training teams. So, I will share my first efforts making elearning for the iPad. It still works very well and gets “oohs and ahhs” even though it is simple and FREE.

There are many tools for doing the small bit of work involved, but I will focus on the easiest method I know, using the word processing program on my computer. It’s three steps and then you are elearning:

  1. Make a simple document in Pages.
  2. Export as an epub file.
  3. Put the epub file in iTunes and sync your iPad(s).

Learners can view the elearning module in iBooks, the free app from Apple. The reader app is the key, really. It has interactive functionality built in, so you just need to focus on good content.

Step 1 — Pages. Pages is the word processing program on a Mac. It is simple to use, like Word. Simply add text, images and video. Formatting must be simple so the epub file can adapt to various sizes when viewed. Still the content can look great, and with multi-media, it reads more like a digital magazine than a book. It helps to make a visual cover page (your page 1) that looks like a book cover. Play around with headers and styles — because these will help the learner navigate.

Step 2 — Epub. In Pages, just click Share > Export and choose the epub option. Check the box that makes your first page the cover art. You will have an epub file in seconds. If you get errors, it is probably related to formatting that epub files don’t support. It is best to keep the formatting simple — let iBooks do the work of making your module look great.

Step 3 — iTunes. On a Mac, just drag the epub file you just saved onto iTunes and then sync your iPad. Like Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.

In iBooks, your module will have an interactive table of contents — created from your headers and styles. The table of contents works as nicely as a menu in a Flash elearning course. Learners can change fonts or font size to their liking, read portrait or landscape, and bookmark and annotate the module. The video content plays right on the page or can be expanded to full screen.

I’ve had success with small, three-page mini-books. That’s three pages in the word processor — once in iBooks, the page numbers vary for each learner depending on  their font choices and orientation they prefer for their iPad. Learners found the content engaging and appealing, and as elearning it was refreshing to have a mini-book instead of the typical rapid elearning thriller. I’ve also made longer modules, around 10-11 pages. They were well-received, but I made ample use of white space, and I wouldn’t recommend pushing much more than that. I don’t have data on it, but the iBooks format seems to suit concise elearning efforts. If readers can page through within 15-20 minutes, they seem pleased. If you have more content, make a separate epub module and call it a sequel.