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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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My LMS vendor just got acquired by another company! Now what?! April 28, 2011

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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SuccessFactors Acquires PlateauThe landscape of learning management system (LMS) vendors is constantly changing. There have been dozens of acquisitions in the past decade, including a big one this week. This can be a scary time if your organization happens to be using an LMS that gets acquired by or merged with another company. After all, you’ve most likely invested thousands of dollars and many hours getting it set up and configured to work well. So, if your LMS vendor gets acquired by another
company, what should you do? What questions should you ask?

My first piece of advice would be: Just relax. The process of merging two business generally takes a while. You most likely won’t see any overnight changes. Take this time to think through several scenarios and prepare a list of questions for your account representative.

Below is a starter list of questions that you may want to ask. The account rep may not know all of the answers if the news is still fresh, but it’s good to start thinking in these terms. To keep things straight, I’ll use the terms acquirer (the company who is making the purchase) and acquiree (the company who is being purchased).

Question to ask:

  • Why (specifically) was the company acquired?
  • How will the roadmap for the LMS change?
  • Will the underlying technologies change?
  • What products, services, features, etc., of the acquirer will be made available to clients of the acquiree?
  • How will the support model change for the acquiree, if at all?
  • Will the hourly rate change for the acquiree? (ex. For customizations)
  • Will any of your technical or support contacts change?
  • Will there (still?) be an annual conference for the LMS and its users?

I’m sure I left off some questions. What else would you add?

The Luxury of Instructional Design March 2, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in Theory.
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It’s better to know some of the questions than all of the answers. – James Thurber

You hear about the next training project you and your team have to manage. What questions come to mind? After questions about the main content, you’ll probably have questions about time, people and money.

  • Question Marks PicHow long do you have to prep the course?
  • How long should the course be?
  • Who is the audience?
  • What’s the budget?

These and other logistical questions help frame your strategy for making the course. They are crucial questions, even part of many trainers’ tool kit for analysis–the ‘A’ in ADDIE. ADDIE is widely used and tauted, but following ADDIE often leads to a fatalistic unanticipated side-effect: focusing on performance outcomes and writing learning objectives to get there means working backwards from the end, and the end causes worry. Side-effect: anxiety.

  • Will we get done in time?
  • Will everything we plan actually work?
  • Should we just use the same materials as last time?

Wondering whether or not you can put it all together can stop you from putting it all together. Or, it makes you focus less on design and more on implementation. With deadlines and resource constraints, you need to get some ducks in a row:

  • Can you really afford the luxury of instructional design?

No way. Not this time. We need to have a course ready for when the class shows up or logs on. We’ll look like idiots if we don’t look prepared or if our elearning doesn’t work.

Does this happen?

How about this: someone thinks about the learners and the learning they need. Someone takes a moment to imagine a learner after training, out on the front lines of life, where they need to know those vital nuggets of their training, and where success and sales either happen or do not. If you are someone who thinks of that, then maybe you have asked this question:

  • Can you afford to forget about instructional design?

Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple. Dr. Seuss

Thurber quote: Answers.com
Seuss quote: Thinkexist.com

Top 5 eLearning Skills for 2011 February 27, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning Careers.
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What are the skills you need to land an elearning job?

Working in elearning taps into many skill sets. Designing or developing elearning  requires experience in training and project management as much as audio and video production.

I focus here on what I think are the top skills for elearning now, in 2011. These are skills that will show up on job descriptions where they list job criteria, requirements or experience. More companies will have one or two elearning people handling all the elearning duties for their team. These small groups of elearning designers and developers will have to do it all–manage the projects and handle graphics, video, narration and all the various software, including some sort of LMS. They will have a small budget to outsource some work, but even those dollars might be reallocated for new software or video equipment, which could make the elearning duties easier.

Top eLearning Skills 2011Given that trend, I hope readers aren’t surprised when I leave instructional design off my list. Soon, elearning job descriptions will not even mention instructional design or ADDIE, as they almost always do now. I know managers include those references in job descriptions now simply because the last document did. Instead, when looking to hire, I think managers are going to care more about these job skills, my top skills for elearning in 2011.

1. Graphic Design

Photoshop has been a constant in elearning job descriptions for a while. But today developers can create graphics in PowerPoint 2010 or online using free tools like Aviary, Pixlr or Splashup. LinkedIn has regular group discussions on where to get the best free and paid images for elearning. Graphic design requires good online research skills. Developers of elearning must know a bit about image sizing and file sizes and be able to edit disparate images so that they look like they belong in the same module. Tom Kulhmann’s blog offers many tutorials on editing graphics.

2. Video Production

Cisco experts predict 90% of the internet (consumer IP traffic) will be video by 2013. Hiring video production companies will still be popular, but elearning teams are going to need to handle their own video production to meet deadlines and budgets. With video production software available at incredible, affordable prices, and high-quality digital video cameras and microphones available cheaply for both rental and purchase, teams are capable or setting up a studio, running a production, and editing videos for their elearning needs. Companies like OpenSesame are preparing for more video by creating a SCORM video player.

3. Rapid Development

The tools I see most are Captivate and Articulate. Newer online tools are emerging and gaining some popularity, perhaps because the software can be accessed from anywhere, not just a company computer that has software loaded on it. Who knows, maybe Articulate and Captivate will offer their tools online too. Knowing how to get around many tools is wise. Once you start getting good using two or three of these authoring tools, they all seem pretty intuitive. These rapid development tools are where video, graphics, narrative and text come to get ready for an LMS or a web or SharePoint deployment.

4. Social Media

Social learning is still finding its place in corporate elearning. The one, two or three people on elearning teams will need to be up to speed on microblogging, status updates, and integration. Some elearning tools are already integrating social media for social learning use–like the LMS software, TOPYX. Although companies and training managers may not yet have discovered how to implement a social learning plan, they will be looking for elearning employees to take a lead in this area.

5. Mobile Deployment

Being able to push elearning modules to mobile devices will continue to gain in importance. Many have expressed reservations about whether training can really happen on a mobile phone, no matter how smart it is. The larger iPads and emerging competition are catching everyone’s attention for sales use and elearning deployment. Since Flash is not supported on iPads, the rapid elearning tools have been useless. I expect that new tools like AppAuthor Pro will become popular since developers can make elearning modules on the back-end and push them out to the app they only have to pay for once.

The Thin Mints of eLearning February 21, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning, Theory.
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eLW Moved to elwmag.comDing-dong. Girls. Girls’ club. An organization for young girls, young women, powerful women. And it’s for the kids!

Delicious cookies.

(It teaches them about business. About selling. Money. Honesty.)

I’d like to sell to you, for $3.50, a box of thin chocolaty-minty learning cookies. Learning that you would enjoy. Binge on. Freeze for later. And even share with friends and family.

(I am talking about elearning.)

I start to wrap up the tower of cookies and put it back in the box with its twin, when it occurs to me that these individual Thin Mints are really very thin.  Super thin. Like, they’re barely even a whole cookie.  In fact, it would probably take three Thin Mints to equal one regular-sized cookie.  Which means if I eat two more, I’m really only finishing up one cookie, right?

Thin Mint of eLearning
That’s the truth according to the Didactic Pirate.

The truth about elearning: The experience of elearning needs to be so thin that it leaves learners wanting more.

That’s all folks. A thin mint this.

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.

Map Your eLearning Career Path February 3, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning Careers.
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Many people recognize the potential of elearning and want to know more about how to get into the industry. I get asked how I got into elearning. For me, it started with being a techy, then a writing teacher, then an online course designer and developer, then an instructional designer, and finally to an elearning specialist and LMS administrator.

Career Path from Techy to Teacher to eLearning Specialist

I think it’s helpful to see career paths in case yours might evolve similarly. I recommend polling friends and colleagues in your networks to learn about their career paths. And you can map out yours, too, on paper or online.

Monster.com has a career mapping tool, in beta, that can help you visualize your career path–in elearning or otherwise. You simply plug in the job title you have and possibly the one you want to move to, and then interact with the tool to view the career mapping. I like the linear view, which I was playing with for this post, using instructional designer as the starting point.

The screenshot from Monster.com shows the moves an instructional designer might make as their career progresses. You can click it to see a larger view so you can see that the tool links to open job postings and helps you see how likely certain job transitions are.

Monster Screen Shot Career Path

I’d love to hear about your elearning career path. How did you get into the business?

LMS Spotlight: TOPYX January 31, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in LMS Spotlight.
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As part of my research on LMS options, I found one that is so inexpensive that it still boggles my brain. Let me get right to the price before I share the features: $15,000 per year. For TOPYX, that’s it.

If you have been a part of purchasing an LMS, you know that 15 grand a year is practically unbelievable. When I talked with Jodi Harrison, Vice President Business Development and Affiliate Partners at Interactyx, I needed her to repeat the price a few times, and then I had to ask if that was just the set-up price. Nope. There are no hidden fees for each learner. No cost to implement and no charges for upgrades, which are free for life. Just $15,000.

And if $15,000 seems like a lot, you can opt for TOPYX Lite for less money and less LMS.

Topyx  LMS Best Value FlyerWith TOPYX, you have options. Having options is key in the elearning industry where everybody needs something just a little different. Maybe all the options inspired 100% of 2010 TOPYX clients to stay with TOPYX.

For an LMS that truly integrates web 2.0 to create a social learning experience, look to TOPYX. TOPYX comes ready, off the shelf, to integrate your favorite social media accounts like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and is built to add other plug-ins like your company’s webinar software. TOPYX has now won the Best of Elearning! award for Best Social Learning Software for two years in row, 2009 and 2010.

If you already have an LMS you like, or are stuck with, you might like TOPYX BOLT. BOLT is the social learning only component that plugs-in to your existing LMS so you can benefit from the award-winning social learning infrastructure.

TOPYX is sold as an SaaS solution (Software-as-a-Service) and is totally web-based. That might be bad news for companies that require behind the firewall solutions, but it’s great news for small companies or companies with inundated IT departments. The affordable and reliable hosting is provided by Rackspace.

If you do want to pay more than $15,000 per year, you can. There are optional add-ons like a built-in authoring tool, and although your first two language options are free, you can purchase more. And for more information, watch this short video from Interactyx:

How to Stand Out to Get eLearning Jobs January 26, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in Editor Comment.
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Photo of Business Lady with LaptopOne of eLearningWeekly.com’s most popular posts is eLearning Jobs. It is even far more popular than the follow-up that B.J. posted called More eLearning Job Resources. Both posts offer links to sites that show elearning job listings galore.

But what do you do once you’ve found a job you want?

We’re here to help with that. In addition to continuing to find the best sites for job searches in our field, we thought we’d forge ahead and write more articles about landing those jobs, preparing for the interviews, and developing a portfolio.

In the meantime, I want to use this editor’s note to solicit contributors. (It’s related!)

I learned from conducting interviews and from sitting in meetings trying to reduce the candidate pools that it’s the little extras that make people stand out. In particular, the people who stand out most are those who have participated in professional groups, done research, or written articles about industry topics.

Contributors can be writers who post once, post more than once, or post regularly. Perhaps you’d like to start a recurring column? Don’t worry about ideas…we’ve got more than we can write about! Let us know your interest by emailing editor@ericmatas.com.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Best,

Eric Matas
Managing Editor

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.