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eLearning Thought Leaders: Mark Lassoff November 11, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in Interview.
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See the new site! eLWmag.com

Mark Lassoff of LearnToProgram.tv

Mark Lassoff of LearnToProgram.tv

I was very lucky to catch Mark Lassoff in between speaking at DevLearn, working on his forthcoming book from Focal Press, and producing his next training video for the company he founded, LearnToProgram.tv. Mark is an anomoly in the world of elearning these days, because he knows how to code.

I’m not just talking about the two big programming languages, HTML and Flash. Mark works with and trains javascript, PERL, XML, CSS, PHP/MySQL, and the new and somewhat talked about HTML5. In a world of rapid elearning tools that eschew code at every turn, I knew I had to talk with Mark, who mixes elearning and code everyday.

eLW Mag Interview  with Mark Lassoff, Founder & Corporate Technical Trainer, LearnToProgram.tv

eLW: I want to ask about your training work at LearnToProgram.tv, but first, tell me about the book you’re writing — I love to get a behind-the-scenes look before books hit the shelves.

ML: I am currently writing a new title for Focal Press called Android Development Code Camp.  It’s part of a new series that I am editing for Focal that will include books geared towards beginners.  I am excited because it will be branded after my LearnToProgram.tv training company.  The people at Focal have been great to work with , and I am looking to produce a book that even a total beginner can read and work through and master beginning level application development in Java with Android.

eLW: You’ve got that technical background, you know all the major programming languages, what courses do you offer through LearnToProgram.tv?

ML: More and more courses every month.  We changed our focus as a company about three months ago and wanted to focus on the consumer or beginner market.  There are hundreds of thousands of people who want to learn programming, but no one focusing on that beginner’s market.  Right now we have three courses available– HTML and CSS for Beginners (Including HTML5!), Javascript for Beginners, C Programming: iOS Starts Here and Objective C for Beginners.  These courses are designed for people who are trying to learn web development, eLearning development and mobile development.    We’re introducing a new course every month.

Our courses are delivered three ways– an instructor supported, asynchronous option that includes lab exercises, code listings and hours of video lecture is our least expensive and most popular.  Our self-paced HTML course has over 1000 students in it.  We also deliver courses instructor-led online.  There is nothing better than having a live instructor so we offer that option as well.  Finally, any of our courses can be delivered via traditional classroom instruction.

eLW: I took your HTML/CSS course on Udemy.com. That’s a great way to learn code. That’s real elearning, but you’re kind of an outsider to the elearning industry. Explain that.

ML:  Well, I’m not an instructional designer. I have no traditional training in education… However, I am lucky enough to be one of those people who can walk in to a room an teach– and I think teach well.  I find the eLearning industry to be frustrating– It seems to be very vendor driven instead of driven by best industry level best practices, professional ethics, and what is best sound educational practice.  Vendors start screaming “HTML5” in response to media buzz and all of a sudden eLearning practitioners are all screaming “HTML5” without having the slightest idea of it’s current implementation in browsers, it’s shortcomings or even it’s structure.  Some vendor said it’s good, and that’s good enough.

I don’t mean to indict the entire industry– There are plenty of hardworking, creative, talented folks creating amazing work.  But the baseline still appears to be Powerpoint (or some easier/ more powerful modification to Powerpoint) and that’s sad.  It frustrates me to no end that people don’t want to learn HTML– they want a tool that creates HTML for the.  It’s easier.  What they don’t know is that there are countless limitations that each tool has.  You box yourself in with tools.  If you can code you can do anything.

LearnToProgram.tv Logo
eLW: I’m curious, too, about the tools of the trade in elearning. So much is done to avoid code and put elearning tools in anyone’s hands. Can you make a case for learning code?

ML:  I think there are many things in eLearning you can’t do without code–for example, simulation.  Do you want the captain of your 737 to have learned in a simulator or from Powerpoint slides?  A few years ago we built a complex avionics simulator to train helicopter pilots from a government agency.  We had to write code–there was no way to do it well without coding.

I realize that most elearning departments are understaffed, underfunded and overworked, but even learning HTML and Javascript will give you enormous power to modify, create and design learning interactions that stretch the abilities of even the most powerful toolset.

Tools come and go– We have been coding in HTML now since 1994.  Actionscript has been around as long as Flash has.  If you can learn coding you make yourself a very powerful eLearning Developer.  While it’s difficult to learn to code, it’s not impossible for just about anyone.  Of course– as I think we often forget in eLearning– learning takes time, practice and effort.  There is no Power Point slide deck I can show you — no matter how many avatars I use– that can make you learn to code.  You actually have to do it.  You have to practice.  I’ve been coding for over 20 years– and I am still learning every day.

eLW: You said your clients like you because you’re a skeptic. How does that help?

ML:  I think critically.  If a vendor claims x, y and z, I want to see proof.  At DevLearn one vendor told me that with his tool, “I wouldn’t have to write Actionscript any more!”  Great– What are the limitations?  How would you accomplish this with your tool?  Oh You can’t?  Moving on…

I just think I ask the questions that others don’t want to for fear of being seen as negative– or don’t know to.  

eLW: Our readers are going to want to hear more from you. Can I persuade you to share your technical knowledge and outsider perspective with our readers, writing some articles for the magazine?

ML:  It would be my pleasure.

eLW: Terrific. As long as you are going to write for eLW Mag, can we offer some coupons for your courses in the eLW Basement?

ML:  Sure.. If you go to my site– http://www.learntoprogram.tv, and choose any online, self-paced course, I’ll give you 50% off the published price.  Just enter the coupon code “ElearnWeek” at check out and the discounted price will be applied.  I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for eLearning developers to have basic HTML and Javascript skills.

Now for a few personal questions that will really give readers a chance to get to know you.

eLW: Word on the street is you have some insane 80s TV trivia knowledge. So I gotta try to stump you. Which show had a character named “Skippy” and who played that character?

ML:  Wow, that’s easy.  Family Ties.  Skippy was played by Marc Price.  As a child Skippy got his head caught in the bannister three times.

eLW: That was too easy, I guess. OK, Square Pegs: most famous actor?

ML:  Well, I think you’re fishing for Sarah Jessica Parker– but the better actor on the show was Jamie Gertz.  Jamie just did an episode of Modern Family.

eLW: OK. Growing Pains. First names of all the Seavers?

ML:  Jason, Mike, Ben, Maggie, and Carol.  The last couple of seasons they had a baby? Right?  I can’t remember the baby’s name, but I remember the baby grew up during hiatus.  At the end of one season she was an infant and then at the beginning of the next season she had speaking lines.  Leonardo DiCaprio was on there for a season as well– He played some runaway that family adopted.

eLW: Who played the kids?

ML:  Easy– Tracy Gold was Carol– Her sister, Missy, was the governor’s daughter on Benson.   Kirk Cameron played Mike.  Jeremy Miller was Ben.  The late Andrew Koenig played Mike’s best friend, Sylvester Stabone.  His father played Chekov in the Star Trek Series.  Got any more?

eLW: You are good. I give up. OK, no I don’t: Mr. Belvedere’s first name?

ML:  Lynn.  Brice Beckman, who played Wesley, just had a series on VH-1 a couple of years ago.

eLW: Amazing. Thank you, Mark. And for our readers who like networking, one final question: What’s next on your conference calendar? Or where can people find you online?

ML:  We are talking about exhibiting at Learning Solutions, but have not yet made a decision.  I will likely be at the MLearning Show in June and will be back at DevLearn next year.  We’re also planning on going to ISTE 2012.

I’d love to hear from people online– My company is http://www.learntoprogram.tv.  I am at http://www.MarkLassoff.com.  My linked in is http://www.linkedin.com/in/marklassoff and my email is mark@learntoprogam.tv.

Hope everybody reads and responds to my upcoming columns.

eLearning Thought Leaders: OpenSesame February 9, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in Interview.
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OpenSesame.com Buy and Sell eLearningI interviewed the guys at OpenSesame to find out what they are up to and why everyone is talking about the hoodies from DevLearn.

They are changing the way elearning, module-by-module, is bought and sold online.

eLearning Weekly Interview with Josh Blank, SVP/General Manager, and Tom Turnbull, VP/Community Development at Open Sesame

eLW: I go to OpenSesame.com and see that you are the elearning marketplace — what does that mean?

JB:  OpenSesame has a simple mission: Make buying an elearning course as easy as downloading a song from iTunes. We connect elearning buyers and sellers in an easy-to-use online marketplace where developers publish and sell their courses and training managers find the off-the-shelf content they need to create an effective and up-to-date workforce.

For the first time, OpenSesame allows buyers to research, evaluate and purchase courses from a diverse set of publishers in a single location. OpenSesame is also a solution for elearning developers, who can use our marketplace to reach new customers. Developers can sell existing off-the-shelf courses, thereby leveraging work they have already completed, or create new courses specifically for the OpenSesame marketplace.

OpenSesame addresses another elearning pain point by solving the interoperability hurdle. Our technology connects SCORM or AICC courses to any learning management system, enabling developers to focus their attentions on creating great courses instead of resolving technical hurdles.

eLW: An elearning marketplace seems so simple–developers can sell modules and training departments or individuals can buy modules–but the real trick is running the elearning on an LMS, right? Can buyers run the elearning on their LMS?

TT:  Emphatically yes. We are proud that our platform technology enables any course creator to connect any content to any LMS. We’re solving the interoperability problem for course developers and end users, while making diverse courses trackable on a variety of systems.

We rely on the SCORM and AICC standards to act as the bridge between content authoring tools and end users’ learning management systems. When organizations purchase a course from OpenSesame’s marketplace, they upload a license file to their LMS just as they would with any other course content.

eLW: You guys must know a little bit about these LMS things — how did you get started?

JB:  The OpenSesame team has a deep background in the elearning sector. During our 10 years in the elearning business, we realized that the biggest impediment to the growth of elearning was organizations’ inability to easily find, select and deploy high quality elearning content. We decided to found a new company that would act as a platform for these connections.

Between us, we have software, business, design and communications experience driving our development of the OpenSesame marketplace solution for the content conundrum. We believe that in the long term, our open marketplace will make elearning accessible, easy to implement and rewarding for everyone.

eLW: What about social media or integration–are you integration-friendly?

TT:  We believe in collaborating with our technology partners to solve problems and create elegant features for elearning professionals. We offer software developers the opportunity to add value to their elearning products by integrating with the OpenSesame marketplace through a read-write API.

LMS developers can integrate the OpenSesame catalog into their marketplace in two ways. First, developers can enable LMS users to purchase and deploy courses from the OpenSesame marketplace in one step. Our API will enable LMSs to automatically create and configure courses using files and metadata from OpenSesame. Furthermore, LMS developers can enable users to browse the OpenSesame catalog from within the LMS user interface — never needing to visit http://www.OpenSesame.com to access the elearning courses they need.

We are also developing an API for course authoring tools, which will enable developers to build authoring tools that publish courses directly into the OpenSesame marketplace, offering additional income and advertising opportunities to their clients.

eLW: If someone wants to sell elearning on OpenSesame, who should they contact or what should they do?

TT:  We are thrilled to welcome elearning course developers who are sharing their existing elearning courses or perhaps creating new, all-purpose courses on topics where they have created custom courses in the past.

Watch our Getting Started screencast to take a tour of our marketplace. Take the first step towards selling courses by visiting our site and clicking register in the top right corner. Once you have created a user profile, you can upload your course files, set the per-seat and site license prices and enter information about the topic, target audience and learning objectives.

Contact me at tom.turnbull@opensesame.com if you have questions.

eLW: What is something new and tantalizing that you are working on or might roll-out soon?

JB:  A SCORM video player.

We’re making it possible for simple, YouTube style videos to be completed and tracked as SCORM courses in learning management systems.  We’re excited about this for two reasons: First, making videos trackable like elearning courses will lower the barrier of entry for subject matter experts who have experience and information to share but don’t have traditional course design skills.

Second, videos are often the simplest and most straightforward way to illustrate a new idea or concept for learners. It’s the definition of rapid elearning to enable a developer or subject matter expert to make a screencast or other quick video to respond to new technology developments or demand in the marketplace. We’re making it possible for organizations to track and manage their learners’ participation in video-based learning experiences.

Wow — that’s huge. I know I will love it. Now for a few personal questions that will really give readers a chance to get to know you.

eLW: Imagine one of those bumper stickers that starts “I’d rather be…” and tell us what you love to do so much that you could complete that phrase with it.

JB: There’s no place I’d rather be than here, making elearning accessible, effective and fun! But in an alternate universe, if I had to choose another profession, I would coach the USC football team.

TT: Like Josh, I enjoy this opportunity to start a new business focused on extending learning opportunities across enterprises but if I had to choose something else, I’d be producing children’s movies.

eLW: What do you have to read online?
TT: My RSS reader features TechCrunch and a handful of elearning blogs, including this one, LearnNuggets, Aaron Silvers Blog, Jane’s Pick of the Day, Corporate eLearning Strategies & Development, elearnspace, our own OpenSesame blog.
eLW: Do you have a favorite geek t-shirt that you love to wear or want to get?
JB: I’m proud to sport my “hAPI hAPI Joy Joy” shirt.
eLW: I sort of wish I didn’t ask that question, but that is clever. Where is the strangest place on Earth you have been?
TT: How about the strangest place on Earth that I will go to next week?  My wife and I are taking our two boys to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, at Universal Studios Orlando. While I love reading with my kids and I love Harry Potter as much as the next Muggle dad, I can’t imagine that there are many stranger places on Earth than that.
eLW: Thank you, Josh and Tom. Here’s my favorite final question for our readers who like networking: Where will you be appearing and where can people find your schedule for conferences or events?
JB:  We are hitting the road this spring and we want to meet you!  We love to meet new people, try new hotel restaurants and talk about the future of elearning.
Also, if you missed out on the OpenSesame hoodies at DevLearn, don’t worry.  We ordered more.
The hoodies! Sweet.

eLearning Thought Leaders: Eric Bort of Clearly Trained January 18, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning, Interview.
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Clearly Trained Flash Character

What Can You Learn from This Guy?

If you haven’t heard of Eric Bort, or don’t follow him on Twitter, don’t be surprised. He’s not ubiquitous online like other thought leaders. But his elearning has been seen by millions and it speaks for itself.

This interview, perhaps more than any other we’ve done, will appeal to small business owners or those who are thinking about striking out on their own. The elearning industry is ripe for the entrepreneur, but running a successful business is still challenging, so the experiences and tips Eric Bort shares in this interview should be very helpful — after all, his elearning business is thriving in Louisville, Kentucky.

eLearning Weekly Interview — with Eric Bort, President, Clearly Trained LLC

eLW: I am amazed that more than 80 million people have seen your elearning and you have several big-name clients, and yet most people have not heard of Eric Bort and you do not do any sales — how is that possible?

EB: I think it’s one of those situations where the work speaks for itself. We have just enough high-profile projects out there with a link pointing to our site. That coupled with some great SEO and what I consider to be a strong portfolio of work has larger new clients calling us. We like to form a close relationship with a few high quality clients as opposed to the typical approach which is to take on any and every job to meet payroll. I’ve always loved the idea of delivering something no other company could, in a time line and budget that keeps everything realistic & reasonable.

I may only have an art school background (no business or finance experience), but something I’ve learned about business is that if you’re honest above all else, put passion in your work, and actually care about your projects, not profit, success and profits will follow. When a company like Lowe’s cold calls you and you’re able to have your project manager at Starbucks vouch for your company, you’re doing something marginally right!

Regarding twelve years without a sales person, we’re also focused on diversifying. Being a part of Edheads.org, which brings in around 70,000 visitors a day and exposes our work to over 1.5+ million people per month has always been a nice credibility boost. When clients know you can start from nothing and make something amazing in two weeks flat, projects can sell themselves.

Literacy eLearning Project by Clearly Trained

Screenshot of eLearning by Clearly Trained LLC

eLW: In elearning circles, there is often a debate between Flash development and using rapid authoring tools–as a Flash developer, are you finding that clients must cut costs by using their own development tools or out-sourcing Flash development overseas?
EB: In our area of expertise (custom development) a more common issue like budget is resolved by lowering the level of complexity or total seat time of a completed course. Rapid development environments aren’t out of the question, but honestly – we develop much faster from scratch than we do in the constraints of a template based or automated system. I’ve found clients are either all about rapid elearning development, or never mention it at all. Either that or it’s a department based need. Some departments just don’t need high-end creative work – for others, it’s the only way to train.

For the sake of marketing our company and having a focus, we chose the elearning path – but in the end of the day we’re all Flash developers, programmers, graphic designers and animators. A lot can be done with those skill sets that solve a variety of issues for our clients.

One pattern I have noticed in companies who outsource or take on development internally is that they can end up working against themselves. For the same reason I don’t sew my own pants or rebuild my transmission, the best choice for most companies is to focus on what they do best and leave the other needs to vendors.

eLW: Why do you like working in Flash?
EB:Flash has got to be the most adaptable, creative environment I’ve ever worked in. Where else can you create an interactive game that records user data, streams video, talks to other applications and can handle traditional frame by frame animation in the same program. It’s all very user interface centric with a little something for everyone.

Flash has its shortcomings, like typography (seriously, how come I can’t make bullets.. any basic text editor has the option to make bullets) – it’s nothing we can’t work around though.

eLW: You run a successful elearning company, and we have many readers who run their own company or who might want to start one–can you share three key bits of advice for running an elearning company?
EB:  elearning is a broad area – and I’m pretty sure there’s room for everyone to get into this business. The trick for us was (like a lot of companies) specialization – we really only focus on high-end and custom flash development. Some companies start to dilute themselves – going with the general media company approach (print, video, web, flash, etc.). Sticking to ‘corporate elearning’ has been one of the best decisions we’ve made.

Another thing to consider is having a professional write for your web site. We don’t have a sales person, but we treat our site like a sales tool. Everything from SEO (search engine optimization) to casual writing style were considered to set the right tone – we like working with large companies who are interested in doing something other than glorified PowerPoint style training. We may only get 150 people a day through the site, but so far we’ve started working with over 12 Fortune 100 companies who found us through clearlytrained.com.

Finally, the heart of any company is the employees – hiring the right people, seeking collaboration, ideas and hopefully getting everyone excited about their project is key. I always feel that I get more quality & results from each of my employees that a larger company would get out of 4 or 5 employees. Hopefully it says something when a company with five people and four contractors can handle some of the largest companies in the US as their clients. We’re not into mass production of low quality work – my employees know the next project will be something entirely different, so it’s rare that the job ever goes stale. You might be pulling stock photos one day, animating a character another day, programming a quiz, then working on a virtual tonsillectomy surgery. It’s not that they don’t ever do anything boring, but hopefully the exciting stuff hits often enough to keep everyone happy and involved.

eLW: What does a day of work look like at Clearly Trained?
EB: We show up kind of late — starting at 9:30. When you’re the boss and you like spending time with your family in the morning, it’s nice to have a fairly relaxed starting time. I don’t know anyone whose brain is very creative at 8am after a 40 minute commute.

If we know what we’re working on everyone moves forward and keeps production going. Apparently I’m addicted to buying whiteboards — I think I’m up to five 3×4 whiteboards, two calendar whiteboards, and one giant whiteboard where I write out anything from a schedule and concept designs to basic slide by slide to do lists. They tend to migrate throughout the office but mostly reside in a central location. This is my way of not bogging anyone down with meetings (I think we’re up to one official meeting per year at this point). Everyone knows what project they’re on — and I snoop around the office throughout the day with a surprise attack critique to make sure the overall project’s look and feel are headed in the same direction.

Photos of Eric Bort and Clearly Trained Office

Clearly Trained LLC

As a small business owner I’m not just the creative director, I handle the phones, client relations, coffee making and toilet paper restocking. It’s the little things that count — and playing support team and motivator for everyone else is top on my list. I’m probably one of the more annoying bosses out there, constantly coming up with new ideas — contradicting myself, pushing time lines before they need to be pushed, but you have to have a sense of humor. I’m not opposed to anyone rolling their eyes at me – it’s the end result that’s important above all else. Treat the clients right and do your absolute best, that’s what I ask. I need each employee to have a brain and use it. If your idea is better than mine by all means let me know – it’s definitely a group effort with each project.

Our day winds down at 5:30. I’m pretty sincere about getting out at 5:30 — if you can’t get something done in a 40 hour work week you’re probably doing something wrong. Either that or your employees are spending too much time on Facebook. That’s the nice thing about having great clients and interesting projects – it keeps everyone on their toes trying new things, from design to programming to usability. Nothing really gets stale around here, and that’s how I like it.

eLW: Can you tell me about SurgerySquad.com and what you are doing there?
EB: Surgery Squad is a concept that’s been rolling around in my head for around 7 years — virtual surgery games, short and to the point — that the average person could explore to learn more about a condition before going under the knife. Some people find it entertaining, some people throw up or pass out, but either way we’re out to create a unique, community driven experience. The real background to SurgerySquad.com is to give my team a place to push themselves. Imagine not having a client and being able to do as you please — do something amazing or never seen before with no real development boundaries. Surgery Squad is a bit of a proving ground for us — where we push ourselves to create in one week a full surgery interaction from start to finish, and launch it live on the site. So far we’ve had a great response with over 100,000 unique visitors in around 3 months, a 6+ minute average stay time and low bounce rates. Our only problem is that we can’t launch new surgeries fast enough for the fans of the site. We’re currently adding to our staff to help address this so we can get in position to grow quite a bit in 2011. My hope is to some day soon hit the 100 surgery mark on the site to have a little something for everyone.
And I thought learning was supposed to make people throw up! Now for a few personal questions that will really give readers a chance to get to know you.

eLW: You are a dad with incredible flash programming skills–do your kids know about that–have you ever made elearning or Flash movies for your kids?
EB: My daughter (3) always asks me to play the robot game (simple machines on http://www.edheads.org) that I programmed and did the robot voice for. She probably just thinks of what I do as fun games but has no concept that I did them. I do tend to slip my kids, friends and other interesting names and easter egg type references into our projects. Hopefully some day she’ll drag me into school for a show and tell session, I would love to make something just for her!
eLW: I know you are not a big cell phone guy, but is there some gadget or appliance or something techy that you can’t live without?
EB: Seeing I thought about this for five minutes or so and couldn’t come up with a single thing, I’m going to say no. That’s probably going to be interesting though these days — someone not into social networking, email at nights, smart phones or touching a computer over the weekend. Now that’s cutting edge! In all honesty, I spend all day every day on a computer — any device that lets people get in touch with me easier any time of the day takes away from my family time. And I love nothing more than spending time with my kids. That might be sappy sounding, but, it’s what I need after staring at a monitor 40 hours a week.
eLW: What is the best movie you’ve seen in a theatre recently?
EB:The fact that I’ve recently seen a movie at all is what amazes me. Between work, newborn baby, and a 3-year-old I’m generally stuck to Netflix at best. I went out by myself and saw Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows the other week.. so by default it was the best movie I’ve seen recently.
eLW: Where is the craziest place you’ve been on earth?
EB:Crazy might not be the word for it, but the most amazing place I’ve ever been was Maui, Hawaii. Swimming with giant sea turtles, amazing views, volcanoes, great coffee, and everything that’s not in Louisville, Kentucky. I’d love to go back there, but it would have to be for longer than a week which is how long the jet lag lasted.
eLW: Thank you, Eric. One last question for our readers who like networking: will you be attending any conferences, or where can people find you online?
EB: I’m a bit of a homebody… willing to travel if asked but the last conference I spoke at was in 2004, so it’s been a while. I would love to attend the eLearning Guild conference this year — so I’m looking into that. For now though the best place to find me is at ClearlyTrained.com.

Be sure to check out many of Bort’s elearning modules for free at Clearly Trained.

eLearning Thought Leaders: Jane Bozarth – DevLearn Preview October 29, 2010

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning, Interview.
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Jane Bozarth likes social media. She lives on Twitter and Facebook whether online at a computer or connected through an app on a mobile device. Her latest book is Social Media for Trainers. Bozarth will be at DevLearn, November 3-5, so we thought it would be good to interview her as a preview to such an industry leading conference, hosted by the eLearning Guild.

North Carolina governor Office Tweets about EarlWe had an eclectic conversation hitting topics from book publishing to SCORM to the future of the LMS, but she kept coming back to social media. Like me, she is amazed   and frustrated by all of the questions about companies blocking social media sites. In her work for the State of North Carolina, she is supposed to be using social Media. North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue used Twitter to update her state on Hurricane Earl in early september. The people and companies who have embraced social media are moving fast and finding innovative ways to sue the tools. In our interview, we focused on social media for training…and for other related business purposes.

eLearning Weekly Interview: with Dr. Jane Bozarth, Elearning Coordinator, North Carolina, USA, Office of State Personnel

eLW: In 2005 you published the book E-Learning Solutions on a Shoestring and now your latest book is Social Media for Trainers. Is there a common theme or themes with these books?

JB: I work for state government so will always face working with a limited budget and limited access to support staff like graphic artists or Flash experts.  A common theme in my books as well as my work is making good use of free and low-cost tools, and figuring out ways of doing things yourself. 

 eLW: Do you think social media tools serve better for classroom training or for online elearning?

JB: I think that’s something of a false distinction. Social media tools are useful anywhere we want to incorporate collaborative learning activities. 

 eLW: The social media tools for the classroom are great for collaboration, so do you see or want to see those tools used for other aspects of corporate work?

JB: We know that the preponderance of workplace learning occurs not in the classroom, but in those spaces between formal training events. Social media tools can provide excellent means of supporting social in-work learning. They are wonderful for performance support, mentoring and coaching, and peer-to-peer learning. 
eLW: So if social media tools are used in training practices and for other business processes, could you see social media tools causing traditional training to merge into the business processes?
JB: Yes, but I think that depends on workers, managers, and organization finally recognizing that most of what we call “learning” does not happen during training. 
eLW: What is your daily routine when it comes to internet use? Do you regularly visit certain sites? How long are you online every day?
JB: I am online, via a laptop or my iPhone, pretty much during every waking hour. I keep Facebook and Twitter up all day but don’t post much during work hours. I try to stay on top of blog feeds but find I often just have to make an hour a week to review everything. I’m also a Googler, though I find that I am now using Twitter more for getting answers. 
 eLW: What were you doing before working for North Carolina?
JB: I worked in retail and in the standardized-test business for a little while, but nearly my whole work life has been spent in state government. I was with NC Health and Human Services and the NC Justice Department before moving to my current job in the central personnel office. 
Now for a few personal questions that will really give readers a chance to get to know you.
eLW: Think rock-n-roll / pop music, specifically live music–what was the first concert you ever attended and what was the most recent?
JB: A mega show at Carter-Finley stadium with Aerosmith, Van Halen and Poco when I was 16. I went to the Asylum Street Spankers farewell Raleigh show night before last. The last big show was Heart a few months back.  
eLW: I know you love your iPhone as much as I love mine–do you have a favorite app?
JB: Oh man, that depends on what I’m doing. Lately it’s Netflix since I can now stream movies via iPhone. I like Shazam for music ID. For travel I love Gate Guru. I like Photogene for editing pictures. For mischief I love Fake Call.  I like Angry Birds and Rolando. I also prefer the Facebook mobile app to the desktop view.  

 eLW: What is your favorite sports team?

JB: How many innings are there in football?  

 eLW: What was your most unusual job?

JB: Running an upscale toy store. 
eLW: Thank you, Jane. And for our readers who like networking, one final question: Where will you be appearing and where can people find your schedule for conferences or events?
DevLearn 2010JB: I’m at DevLearn 2010 in November, Training 2011 in San Diego, the 2011 Learning Technologies Exhibition in London, and the eLearning Guild conference in March. My speaking schedule’s on my blog at www.bozarthzone.com. And folks can always find me on Twitter @janebozarth or on my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/Bozarthzone . 

Elearning Thought Leaders: Tom Kuhlmann September 15, 2010

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning, Interview.
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New Feature eLearning Weekly Interviews Thought LeadersTom Kuhlmann is VP of Community at Articulate. I can’t think of a cooler thing to be VP of—especially right now. Community and elearning are trending big time.

You can visit the Community page on Articulate’s web site and learn that, as VP of community, Kuhlmann’s ” job is simple — to turn our users into rapid e-learning pros.” Anyone who has read his blog (Rapid eLearning Blog) knows that it is a wealth of tutorials and practical tips for elearning designers and developers. It is no wonder that the blog has reached more than 600,000 readers.

Kuhlmann is the first to admit that not all of those readers are customers of Articulate. When you combine Kuhlmann’s writing with Articulate’s Community Forum and Gabe Anderson’s Word of Mouth Blog, you get a vibrant elearning community that is further augmented by Twitter and Facebook. Not to mention Screenr.

Elearning professionals are creating tutorials on Screenr and starting conversations that allow us all to benefit from perspectives and ideas only available through the kind of networking Articulate and Kuhlmann have established. It is Articulate’s dominance in elearning community that led me to interview Kuhlmann. We had a long conversation on the phone highlighted by his excitement about the conversations he is seeing. Kuhlmann is knowledgeable and gracious. I recommend seeking him out at the conferences—which you can learn more about at the end of the interview.

eLearning Weekly Interview: Articulate’s VP of Community, Tom Kuhlmann

eLW: Many elearning professionals, including me, have praised Articulate’s online presence and use of social media. How is it that you have such a lead in this area compared to other authoring software companies and other companies in general?

TK:  It’s all old fashioned customer support.  We really embrace our mission to empower people.  Most people don’t care about Articulate.  What they care about is getting their jobs done.  We try our best to help them do that.

Since it’s ultimately all about communicating with people, we leverage the communication channels to do so.  Social media is just one way we can help our customers.

eLW: What are some of Articulate’s challenges when developing software for elearning?

TK: Software’s just a tool.  So the goal is to create a tool that works well and sells well. 🙂  There’s always a balance between what you should and shouldn’t have in the product.  It’s not always about having every feature.  Too many choices is not better than too few. So it’s a challenge to consider the customer requests and then integrate them in upgrades.  Finding the right balance isn’t always easy.

When I used to look at software purchases with previous employers, it struck me that some of the more sophisticated authoring solutions were almost at a point where it was just better to learn Flash than to learn a proprietary authoring language.  So the goal is to add capability without complexity.

eLW: A debate continues to rage on regarding “rapid elearning tools” and other options, mainly Flash development. Is this debate changing…will it ever end?

TK:  I think the debate is kind of pointless.  They’re all tools that serve a purpose.  Find the right tool for the right purpose.  I have a post hole digger but I don’t need to use that every time I did a hole.  If I plant a garden, all I need to do is poke a small hole with my finger.  It would seem ridiculous to use the post hole digger.  In the same sense, if I need to dig a post hole, I wouldn’t get very far trying to poke the ground with my finger.

Rapid elearning tools offer a lot of capability without requiring advanced programming.  But they don’t offer every possible thing you can do in elearning.

Strategically, my default position would be to use a rapid elearning tool because it’s the least expensive and quickest approach.  Some courses require custom Flash work to augment the course and fill in some of the gaps.  In those cases, I’d use a hybrid approach where I leverage the best of rapid elearning and insert custom Flash pieces.  The reality is that not all courses can be built with rapid elearning tools.  So the next stage would be to do an all custom course.

Strategically, this is a solid approach because you can do most of your work with a rapid authoring tool and you free up your more costly Flash development resources to work in areas where you get more bang for the buck.

eLW: There are other conversations taking place regarding elearning design and development—can you share an example that you have seen or been a part of?

TK:  A lot of people in our industry like to criticize rapid elearning and make it sound like it’s the cause of bad elearning.  But the reality is that bad elearning’s been around for a long time.  Even today, I see plenty of crappy courses created in Flash or in some of these new 3D game-like environments.

I tend to see it in a different way.  Years ago the conversation was all about ADDIE which is a programming process.  So a lot of the conversation was about what you could or couldn’t do with the software.  Today, the software is relatively easy to use.  So I see a lot less conversation about the programming part of elearning and a lot more about how to build better courses.

I can’t recall a time in our industry where we’ve had as much conversation about how to build good courses as we have today.  It’s a good thing.  Remember, in the grand scheme elearning is relatively new.  So it should just be expected that as we mature we experience growing pains and do a better job defining the learning experience online.

eLW: What favorite web sites do you visit frequently?

TK: I scan a lot of feeds in my reader so I don’t really visit a bunch of sites, per se. I follow blogs in our industry, design sites, and stuff like that.  I’m also a gadget guy so I follow a lot of the tech sites that cover gadgety stuff and new technology.

I’m intrigued by the mobile learning and things like augmented reality–interested in seeing how all of that unfolds.

eLW: What were you doing before Articulate?

TK: I did some consulting on the side and worked for your typical large organizations with long meetings and lots of pointless elearning. :

Now for a few personal questions that will really give readers a chance to get to know you.

eLW: Are you a Mac or PC?

TK: I’ve used both, but mostly PC.  I love my tablet PCs.  I’ll probably get a Mac somewhere down the road.

eLW: What phone are you carrying now?

TK: I’m a gadget guy but hate cell phones. 🙂  A few years back, a cell phone company had a booth at our HQ.  I asked the guy why I should get a cell phone.  He told me that if I was on the way home and my wife needed me to pick up some groceries, she could just text me the list.  That did more to convince me not to get a phone than to get one. 🙂

Personally, I don’t like being tethered to everyone or feel the need to be connected 24 hours a day.  I just have a simple pay as you go mobile phone and buy a chunk of 1000 minutes per year.  I usually end the year with about 500 minutes.

With that said, the phones today are less about the phoning and more about computing.  I’ve been waiting to see how the Androids evolve and compete with the iPhone.  I also like what Microsoft’s done with their new Windows Phone 7. The Win7 phones are the most intriguing to me.  I’ll probably jump into a smart phone when I can get one on my terms and not be locked into a long term contract.

I think an iPod Touch with a mifi card is a better deal for me.  I’d love to have a mifi-like device that I can snap to my iPod Touch.

eLW: Do you have a favorite app out there?

TK: My favorite app is a new product I see being developed at Articulate.  It’s going to be cool.  But I can’t talk about that much.  Virtual collaboration is a large part of my job so I’ve played around with almost all tools and technologies.  You can ask the community team.  They’re still trying to figure out how to uninstall yuuguu.

I love Dropbox. Dropbox is by far one of the best apps when working together in a virtual environment.  I’ll be writing a bit about how I use it for my daily work.

eLW: What was your most unusual job?

TK: I used to work in a sawmill during a high school.  I had to climb under the machines and clean all of the saw dust out.  I hated that job.  I was also a lazy teen, which made the job worse because I hated it and never did much.  Needless to say I didn’t last long and ended up in the Army. 🙂

eLW: Thank you, Tom. Now, one last question for readers who like networking: Are you planning to attend any conferences or events where people can connect with you?
TK: I’ll be at all of the major elearning conferences.  The schedule is available on the Articulate site.  I also update my sessions on the blog.

You can find Articulate’s and Kuhlmann’s schedule here.