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Make eLearning for the iPad for FREE July 14, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Terrible Speed of eLearning September 28, 2010

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning, Theory.
Tags: , , ,

Sales reps should appreciate this post. This post has been ruminating around in my head ever since an executive suggested turning some classroom training into podcasts back in 2005. But this is not a rant–a long time in the making. It’s a turning point piece, toward a fresh era of elearning. The executive’s reasoning for podcasts was simple: so sales reps out on the road could listen to the training in their free time between sales calls.  

Really? Free time?  

Mobile Learning Classrooms

Traffic from eLearning

Even if there was such free time, who wants to spend it digesting elearning while driving? And what would happen to traffic conditions if every car became a mobile classroom?   

What was really bothering me, though, was the sub-text. eLearning is supposed to get squeezed into everybody’s busy schedule. The same elearning that saves money on travel and that allows for self-paced learning is also supposed to get tacked on to everyone’s day like a wretched after thought.   

It reminds me of when a meeting gets tacked on to lunch, creating a lunch meeting. What you get is a bad meeting and a bad lunch.   

Much early elearning has been catch-up material like a recorded webinar or a copy of a PowerPoint presentation. These are rudimentary forms of elearning, perhaps better described by the more generic “distance learning.” Still, these examples and others like podcasts of lectures, unless packaged well, are just partial versions of the original, and learners chomp at the bit to fast forward to the nitty-gritty content.   

It’s 2010, and elearning is expected to move at fast forward to the nitty-gritty pace.   

And woe unto you if the elearning you make or deliver has a hiccup. You will have 47 emails and 36 voicemails in a heartbeat if your elearning module has even one sterile button. Yes, elearning must be fast-paced and perfect, for the audience for elearning is ravenous and rowdy.   

Trigger Happy Mouse Clicker

Ready for eLearning

What if elearning wasn’t an after thought? What if your elearning wasn’t squeezed into a day? How would it be to have learners look forward to their next elearning module? If they did, what would that look like?   

I have seen students in a college library spread out and sink into some learning, in a cozy corner with open books surrounding a pad of paper and a cup of coffee. It’s romantic to picture. Can that be the case for elearning? Can you picture an e-learner like that?   

What I see now is e-learners coming to their computers with a twitchy, click-happy finger. Learners’ eyes dart across the screen for key content and that next button as if they are all in some cosmic race to spend the least amount of time on the elearning module. The e-learners of today need an e-methodone of sorts to ease their approach and to slow down the terrible speed of elearning.

LMS Spotlight: Litmos September 10, 2010

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning, LMS Spotlight.
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The face of the LMS is quickly changing. Five years ago, I could name only a half-dozen LMS options. Today I find new ones every week, and I estimate that there are more than 200 viable LMS choices.

I just completed an investigation of 35 LMS solutions, and found many cool companies and versatile tools. What I saw, and what I liked to see, was that many new LMS companies are trimming the fat off the traditional LMS behemoth. The newer LMS software offers only the options people actually use. And many offer complete hosting, which means you can make a decision without the interference/blessing of your IT department.

One of my favorite options is Litmos. The founders of Litmos created a tag line: “Love your LMS.” I thought: Yeah, right–an LMS is for bitter hatred. But not so with Litmos. This LMS is so stripped down that it might seem too limited by some users. But I think it’s tight focus is a challenge to elearning professional to assess what they really need from an LMS–and how much they want their LMS to get in the way.

Litmos is so light and agile that I was able to set up a demo site, add a few learners, add a couple of SCORM courses, and send a few email notifications all in less than 30 minutes. Minutes later, I was accessing the LMS on my smart phone. The Litmos experience is amazing–so different from the LMS nightmares I was used to with the larger LMS beasts out there.

Next, I was following Litmos on Twitter to learn more. Litmos posts updates on Twitter and on their blog, written by the “happy blogger” and General Manager, Nicole Fougere. I reached out to Nicole, and she provided me this nice summary of the strengths and features of Litmos:


  • Our mission is to build the most easy-to-use LMS in the world and have fun along the way
  • Litmos is Software as a Service (SaaS)
    • On-demand system delivered over the web
    • Instant access to trial, no downloads required etc.
    • Regular product and feature upgrades rolling out
  • Bare-bones LMS – development started with just the features you absolutely need to be successful
  • Easy navigation and intuitive design
  • Outstanding customer service
  • Young, small and agile team – rapidly growing company


  • SCORM 1.2 Certified by ADL
  • Custom themes and branding
  • People management tools: bulk import, groups/teams etc.
  • Drill-down and more selective custom reporting
  • Monthly billing based on active usage – only pay for those people who use your system each month
  • eCommerce – currently PayPal supported with a view to adding more payment providers shortly
  • API access – integrate the LMS with other systems
  • NEW: Basic mobile support for iPad, iPhone and Android – videos look great!

I recommend test driving Litmos. It has inspired many ideas for me. Check out this You Tube video:

Hot Topics in eLearning for 2009 December 4, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Tony Karrer posted a list of the trending hot topics in eLearning for 2009, based on stats from his eLearningLearning.com site. Nothing is too surprising, but it’s very helpful how Tony linked to some of the more popular articles and blog posts related to each topic.

Below are the hottest trending topics we saw in 2009, but be sure to visit Tony’s full list to see even more great info.

Hot Topics in eLearning for 2009

  1. Twitter
  2. Social Media, Social Networks, Social Learning, and Informal Learning
  3. Google Wave
  4. SharePoint
  5. Video
  6. Mobile , Mobile Learning and iPhone
  7. Changes in Design and Instructional Design and our Roles
  8. Webinars and Virtual Classrooms

Any predictions on what we’ll see as the hot topics in 2010?

Heading to the Corporate University Summit May 16, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I will be heading to Chicago on Tuesday for the Corporate University Summit, a corporate learning and development conference. I will be presenting a session on mobile learning on Wednesday, and I plan on spending the rest of the time making connections with peers and absorbing as much I can from the other presenters.

Here are some of the sessions/presentations that sound most interesting to me:

If you will be attending the conference, please say hello! If you will not be in attendance, let me know if you have questions about the conference or any of the presentations. I will be happy to get answers and report back.

Read more about the Corporate University Summit

Basic mLearning with BlackBerries January 10, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I’ve spent the past few weeks figuring out how to design and deploy content that can be accessed on BlackBerry phones. I’ve run into some obstacles, but overall it’s been a good experience. I thought I’d share my adventures here and talk about some of the speed bumps I encountered (to hopefully save you some time and frustration).

I’ll assume you…

  • Have done up-front analysis and determined your organization has a need that can be addressed by mobile learning (mLearning)
  • Have an audience that primarily uses BlackBerry phones
  • Have a basic level of technical knowledge, including the ability to write HTML (or use an editor like Dreamweaver)

Heads up, Mac users

The BlackBerry tools and simulators are for Windows only. The only way to run them on a Mac would be to use a PC emulator like VMWare Fusion or Parallels.

Download a BlackBerry simulator

If your entire audience is using the same model of BlackBerry, you’re in great shape. If they’re using a variety of models, you’ll have a little more work to do. Start by downloading and installing the BlackBerry simulator(s) matching the model(s) of your users. Go to the BlackBerry Development Tools and Downloads page and click Download the BlackBerry Device Simulators. Fair warning, you may have to update your Java (JDK) version; the installer will prompt you if the update is required. Once you install the simulator, go ahead and open it and take a look around.

Here’s a screenshot of the BlackBerry Storm simulator:

BlackBerry Storm simulator

Browsing the web using the BlackBerry simulator

In order to browse the web using your BlackBerry simulator, you’ll need to download and install the BlackBerry MDS Simulator. Go back to the BlackBerry Development Tools and Downloads page and click Download the BlackBerry Email and MDS Services Simulator Package. Install the software, and again, you may have to update your Java JDK.

Once you have the MDS Simulator installed, you should be able to follow these steps to browse web content on your BlackBerry simulator:

  1. Start the MDS service by going to Start -> Programs -> Research in Motion -> BlackBerry Email and MDS Services Simulators 4.x.x -> MDS
  2. Open the BlackBerry simulator by going to Start – Programs -> Research in Motion -> (Your model number)

Troubleshooting the MDS Simulator

The MDS Simulator caused tons of headaches for me. Here was the biggest issue: I would start the MDS Simulator and a command window would quickly open and then close. After tons of research, I found that it was throwing an error (due to a Java issue) and then immediately exiting. The device simulator would start fine, but I was unable to use the web browser to browse web sites (ex. CNN.com or local content). It was very frustrating. After much research, our team figured out how to fix the issue. In case you run into the same problem, give this a shot:

  1. Open this file: C:\Program Files\Research In Motion\BlackBerry Email and MDS Services Simulators 4.x.x\MDS\run.bat
  2. At the beginning of the file, after the call setBMDSEnv line, add this code: set JAVA_HOME=”C:\progra~1\Java\jdk1.6.0_11″. Make sure this path matches your version of Java on your machine.
  3. (Re)start the MDS Simulator.
  4. Open the device simulator.
  5. Try browsing a web site – you should be in good shape.

Now that you’re up and running…

You can browse web sites now, so you’re ready to start developing content. I highly recommend using a tool like Dreamweaver to develop your content. It’ll help you write clean code that is more likely to display well on a mobile device like a BlackBerry. Once you’ve built a few HTML pages, upload them to a server and then browse to the pages using the BlackBerry simulator. At this point, you’re in great shape! Make modifications to your content, design, code, etc., and then refresh the page in the simulator. Repeat until you’re happy with the results – and then begin testing on real devices to make sure everything still looks good. Finally, email the link to your users so they can access the content.

That’s it!

I’m curious to hear about your experience. Let me know if you give this a shot, and please ask questions, share problems, etc.

DevLearn 2008 – Day 3 Recap November 14, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Today was the final day of DevLearn, and technically, it was only a half-day. I presented Session 702: Virtually Anywhere: A Case Study of Mobile Learning at Qualcomm, along with Barbara Ludwig. (The slides are below; I’ll try to get the handouts posted soon.)

Unfortunately, I missed the keynote by John Medina, author of Brain Rules. I talked with several people who raved about it, so I may have to pick up a copy of John’s book.

Because I wasn’t able to learn much new info today (I was a bit preoccupied with my presentation and getting to the airport on time), I will defer to two bloggers who did manage to post today. Surf on over to read Clark Quinn’s blog and Brian Dusablon’s blog for updates on Day 3 of DevLearn. And again, don’t forget the other DevLearn bloggers mentioned in this list.

While I liked all of the sessions I attended, I have to say that I enjoyed the people at DevLearn more than anything else. This was an incredible event for networking. I can’t even begin to list off all the people I met (my apologies), but please know that I enjoyed meeting each and every one of you!

Also, I can’t say "thank you" enough to Brent Schlenker and the rest of the eLearning Guild staff for putting on such a great conference. Your hard work definitely paid off!

DevLearn 2008: A Case Study of Mobile Learning at Qualcomm October 17, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I will be presenting Session 702: Virtually Anywhere: A Case Study of Mobile Learning at Qualcomm, at DevLearn 2008 next month along with a co-worker, Barbara Ludwig. Here’s a quick summary of what we’ll cover in this session:

Mobile technologies are transforming the way we work. But are we harnessing their potential to transform the way employees learn?

Discover how Qualcomm Incorporated, a digital wireless technology company, is extending the reach of training outside the classroom, using a variety of mobile devices including cell phones, iPods, and eReaders such as the Amazon Kindle. See how Qualcomm uses mobile technology to deliver learning resources employees need when they need them, and turns those "in between," otherwise wasted moments into micro-learning experiences.

We will look at how Qualcomm overcame challenges in implementing mLearning, such as designing for disparate platforms and devices, integration with the larger corporate learning infrastructure, security, and keeping ahead of rapidly changing technologies. In this session, we will conclude with a look at new trends in technology such as Web 2.0, social collaboration and networking, games and simulations, and location awareness, and we will examine their potential for mobile learning.

We’ve learned some great lessons while working with mLearning over the past several months. (In fact, Qualcomm was doing mLearning waaay before I got there.) I’m anxious to talk about our experiences, and I hope I can help others save some time and/or frustration. Stop in and say hello before, during, or after my session if you’re there. I’m glad to chat about anything (m/eLearning related or not) and meet new folks.

mLearning Lessons Learned June 18, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
Tags: , , , , , ,

I’m in an interesting position right now: I get to work on designing our organization’s mobile learning (mLearning) strategy and I get to develop mLearning applications, but things aren’t working 100% as I would’ve imagined. I’m finding there are more roadblocks that I expected and they’re popping up in unusual places. I want to document my experience here…and I appreciate any feedback / tips you can provide.

So, here’s what I’ve recently learned:

  • If you’re thinking about implementing mLearning, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Don’t use mLearning because you think it would be cool, or because somebody else is doing it. Otherwise you’ll find yourself wandering around with the proverbial hammer, looking for nails to hit. I recommend that you research mLearning a bit and then see it as another tool in your toolbox. Use it when it is the best solution for the situation.
  • The hardest part isn’t the technology. The hardest part has to do with politics, logistics, and security. Be prepared to involve several departments and get ready to face barriers. Just stay creative and look for ways to work around these road blocks. Read case studies to see how other companies have overcome obstacles and seek out blogs, articles, etc. Share the info with peers (ahem). 🙂
  • To SCORM or not to SCORM, that is the question. When developing mLearning applications, decide early on if you need to track usage in your LMS. If so, you’ll need to research something like Pocket SCORM or OnPoint’s CellCast Solution. Fair warning, though, this definitely adds complexity to your project. You may even want to consider the SCORM tracking to be the second phase of your mLearning deployment.
  • Know your audience and the devices they own. Create your mLearning solutions based on this info. If your learners have a wide array of devices, aim for the lowest common denominator: Use voice and text-based solutions rather than fancy animations, web-based content, and downloadable applications. There are podcasting solutions that allow for delivery via phone call, and there are SMS text-based learning solutions that can be quite effective, too. Remember Occam’s razor: "All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best."

I hope all of this doesn’t come off as being too negative, but I’m trying to be very open about my experience. Please chime in – I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Starting Slowly with mLearning June 6, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Over the past few weeks I’ve built a few small mobile learning (mLearning) applications and I’ve learned several lessons along the way. Here’s a brief recap:

  • First, as I’ve mentioned before, the point of mLearning is not to create a 45-minute course that can be accessed on a cell phone. mLearning is best used for performance support: quick, easy look-up tools for your learners are a good place to start.
  • Second, it’s easier than I originally thought. I’ve found that a small web page – when formatted properly – can be the simplest way to start with mLearning. Give it a shot: Create a basic HTML page, put it on a web server, and then go to it using your phone (if the phone is web-enabled). That’s it. Of course, if you add images and Flash, things get more interesting. Take it one step at a time and you’ll see that it’s not too bad. (Now, don’t get me wrong, there are some parts of implementing mLearning that get complicated, but I’ve found the hardest parts are related to politics and logistics.)
  • Third, people get really excited when you demo what you’ve created. After doing a demo of your work, ask people to start thinking of additional mLearning tools that would be helpful. I got some great ideas from colleagues just by giving them a quick demo and then following up with questions. I kept hearing, "It would be really cool if you could (do XYZ)."
  • Finally, Adobe’s Device Central is very helpful for testing. Device Central is an emulator that allows you to test your mLearning apps on your PC and see how they’ll render on a variety of cell phones.

Have you tried building mLearning apps? If so, share some tips here!