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

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning, eLearning Tools.
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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.

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Easily Add Flash Interactions to eLearning February 16, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning.
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Don’t worry: no Flash is required. You don’t need to know how to program in Flash, and you don’t even need to own Flash software.

You just need to head to eLearningInteractions.com and use the intuitive online tool. Once online, you are five steps away from having a beautiful Flash file (.SWF) to insert into your elearning.

  1. eLearning Brothers Templates and InteractionsClick to launch the eLearning Interaction Builder.
  2. Choose a training activity template (from more than 70 like glossaries, process maps, pyramids or games).
  3. Add text, images and audio.
  4. Choose a theme (lots of colors and patterns, or make your own).
  5. Download the .swf file.

It’s really far too simple for what you get: amazing looking Flash activities for your elearning that add interaction and fun for your learners.

eLearning Interactions comes from the eLearning Brothers, Andrew and Shawn Scivally. They also offer elearning templates and custom Articulate skins as well as blog posts and good-natured ninja-tastic attitudes.

The interactions builder kicks out a Flash AS2 file, which easily scales to fit into your PowerPoint or your authoring tools. The games can be used in classroom training too. Since Captivate 5 has, questionably, limited support to AS3 only, these ineractions are not for Captivate 5, but they work great with Captivate 4, Articulate, Atlantic Link, and others.

eLearning Interactions Screen Shots

For a nice, quick tutorial, watch their screenr video that shows the simple steps that result in awesome elearning interactions: http://screenr.com/y0F.

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.