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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.

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Mozilla Ubiquity as an On-Demand Learning Tool August 28, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Earlier this week, Mozilla (the makers of Firefox) released Ubiquity – a small application that allows you to quickly perform web-related tasks without having to surf out to different web sites. Watch their video for a quick introduction.

So, can this relate to learning? My answer would be absolutely! My main job is to help people learn (acquire knowledge and skills) and then apply what they know on the job. Sometimes this is done by providing them with the right tools. Ubiquity is one of these tools. It gives learners faster access to a wide range of information; it empowers them.

Now here’s where things get interesting: Mozilla has built Ubiquity in a way that allows outside developers (you and me) to add commands and actions to the tool. Think of this scenario: You have a user who is interested in taking a class on leadership skills. Imagine if they could pull up Ubiquity and type lms leadership to bring up a list of classes offered at your organization related to leadership. Or imagine if they had to look up information that was specific to your organization: They could type widget XYZ to immediately pull a spec sheet for a product. Ubiquity allows them to grab information very quickly without having to surf around to different web sites. This is on-demand learning!

If you’re using Firefox, install Ubiquity and then take a look at the tutorial. (If you’re not using Firefox – get it now! It’s definitely the best web browser out there.)

Have you tried Ubiquity? What do you think?

(I plan on developing some Ubiquity commands in the coming weeks. I’ll report back on what I find. Please let me know if you do any work in this area. I’d love to know more…)

Jing: My New Favorite Application May 1, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I usually don’t get very excited about new applications, but I’m pretty pumped about Jing. Download it now if you haven’t already: both Mac and PC versions are available. So, what is it? Jing is a free application that masterfully lets you take screenshots and record desktop capture videos (up to 5 minutes long). What’s so special about that? Jing then automatically uploads your screenshot (as a .png) or video (as a .swf) to a location you specify – and then it copies the item’s URL to your clipboard. You can have Jing automatically place your captures on an internal server at your organization, or you can take advantage of a free account at ScreenCast.com and post your work there. Jing is incredibly easy to use, and I think you’ll see its value within the first minute or two you use it. In fact, this description is more complicated than actually using it. So I’m going to stop there. Go download Jing now! (And, no, I wasn’t paid for this endorsement!)

Jing is brought to you by TechSmith, the makers of SnagIt and Camtasia Studio. Special thanks to Anton Bollen at TechSmith. I met Anton at AG08 and his excitement about Jing was obvious…and contagious!

Rapid eLearning: How do we organize this stuff? March 8, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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I keep an eye on several eLearning blogs, and I noticed a convergence between a few posts this week that relate to something I discussed not too long ago (Short Bursts of eLearning).

First, Clive Shepherd wrote a post (Rapid e-learning means more than quick tutorials) where he talks about using a variety of tools for creating rapid eLearning. He emphasizes that we now have a multitude of development tools which allow novices and professionals to build job aids and other just-in-time learning materials. These tools are generally easier to use and more available than our more traditional tools that are used to create courses or tutorials.

Second, George Siemens wrote a post (A World without Courses) that has generated a good discussion. He notes that people still gravitate toward the traditional eLearning course model, and wonders aloud if this is still the best approach for all situations. He asks an important question, related to smaller chunks – or short bursts – of learning, that is still bouncing around in my head: How do we organize this stuff? In a large organization, I could easily see scores of job aids and performance support tools. How do we make all of this easily accessible for learners? Not all of these tools would talk to the LMS, I imagine. And I’m not looking for a way to track individual usage and scoring; I’m looking for a way to organize these resources for the learner. When they need help, where should they go? Is it as "simple" as creating an in-house centralized repository to house these resources? (Wow, that sounds eerily similar to an LMS.)

Do we need to apply the Google search approach to learning, and allow the learner to search for what they need? I’m guessing this is an (untapped?) area for a vendor to step up and address. If there’s a product or service that offers something like this, please chime in and let me know…

Short Bursts of eLearning February 2, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Several people have written about their predictions for eLearning in 2008. Many predictions are the same as last year: more use of open source LMSs (especially Moodle), more use of immersive learning simulations (games), the continuing rise of eLearning 2.0 tools, and more use of mLearning. I agree with these predictions for the most part, but one prediction has really stood out for me. Jane Hart submitted her predictions to Kineo this year – and I really think she’s on target. Jane predicts that we’ll see more "short bursts" of eLearning:

(We will see)…more embedding of these “short bursts” of e-learning into the workflow for performance support – really making them “just-in-time” and “on demand”

I see the industry moving further away from the traditional course model and more toward this on-the-fly model (which basically means job aids and electronic performance support systems). Sure, this is related to rapid eLearning (using simplified tools that are aimed toward non-techie developers), but we’re providing support to the learner at the time of need instead of placing the final output an LMS. I won’t say this is a revolutionary idea, but it’s an idea that makes sense and it feels like a natural progression in the evolution of eLearning. I think many of us assumed that the longer an eLearning course takes to build the more effective it’ll be. Of course, we know this isn’t true, and I think we’re ready to flip this idea on its head. Sure, tracking usage of these short bursts may be an issue because they’ll operate outside of an LMS, but as long as it helps the learner, should we care?

Good prediction, Jane. I’m anxious to see where this goes.

DevLearn 2007 – Day 2 November 8, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Holy cow – today went by FAST! It was a blur but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Here’s a recap:

  • I began the morning by dropping in on a discussion led by Clive Shepherd on the use of Facebook and social networking applications in learning. It was a great discussion and Clive is quite knowledgeable on the subject. I don’t use Facebook myself, but I was surprised and encouraged to hear about the possibilities it presents. Just like wikis, Facebook allows learners to contribute their own information and collaborate with others, which shows good potential. We also discussed the fact that there’s still a definite generation gap with tools like this, but we believe that’ll fade with time. It was good to kick ideas around regarding social networking and learning. Many of us think there’s a lot to benefit from in this area, but I don’t think any of us know exactly how to use it in a training scenario (yet).
  • Paul Saffo gave an interesting keynote on the progression of media usage and how it may ultimately affect learning. He discussed a shift from media consumption (ex. watching TV, reading web pages) to media creation (ex. YouTube, Wikipedia, etc). Paul believes the eLearning world could strike big in this movement, especially as people begin to better understand the importance of learning-how-to-learn. He said our industry is "Standing on a whale, fishing for minnows." Hold on!
  • Later in the day, I attended Clive’s session, 30-Minute Masters for Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). Clive, along with Cammy Bean, came up with this concept, and I’m already a big fan. They suggest that we (training professionals) spend time with SMEs and teach them basic instructional design skills and then provide them with rapid development tools such as Captivate and Articulate. Granted, you can’t get too deep into instructional theory, but you can definitely give them some high-level design dos and don’ts. This way, SMEs are able to quickly create training and (hopefully) address the basic needs of most individuals within the organization. This frees up the training staff to focus on more complex training solutions, high-end courses, immersive learning solutions, etc.

    Later in this session, we began discussing the management of content (ex. training modules, job aids) generated by SMEs. Clive suggested that their content could be dumped into a large repository and we could allow users to search it, just like they search Google or YouTube. He also suggested allowing learners to rate the content (ex. 4 out of 5 stars). This way, higher-quality content (training modules) float to the top and are featured in the system. This approach would weed-out (or bury) poorer quality modules. I like this idea, and I don’t think it’d be that hard to implement.

    Clive set up a wiki for the 30-Minute Masters – check it out.

  • Silke Fleischer held a session where she covered several (Adobe) rapid development tools and showed excellent examples of how they can be used to create podcasts, eLearning modules, audio clips, and short videos. Some of the tools included Captivate, Visual Communicator, Contribute, SoundBooth, and others. My big A-HA moment came when she showed how Contribute can be used as an editor for writing and editing blog posts. How cool! I’ve never been happy with WordPress’ editing capabilities. It’ll be nice to use the Contribute editor instead; it looks very intuitive.
  • Finally, I attended a session on Instructional Alternate Reality Games (I-ARGs), put on by the folks at Exceptional Software / Media Edge. WOW, this is cool stuff. They covered the ARG concept in full, which is just SO cool, and talked about ways in which it can be used for training. These folks are the first ones to tackle ARGs in the education/training world. I think there’s major potential here… I’m going to keep an eye on this stuff.

    Here are a few links related to ARGs and I-ARGS:

Oh – and then I went out for drinks with several other eLearning bloggers. Good times! Now, it’s time for sleep. Good night!

Free PDF: Top 100 Tools For Learning 2007 September 11, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Jane Hart, from the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies, released a free PDF summary report of the Top 100 Tools For Learning 2007. Jane did a ton of work to gather, research, and organize this information – and it shows. This is a great reference for anybody who wants to learn about new and exciting tools for sharing and teaching information. You will undoubtedly learn about several new tools, and there’s an excellent breakdown that shows which tools are free, which cost money, and which platform each tool utilizes (ex. PC, Mac, or online).

The report is a fantastic resource. Take a look – and share it with your co-workers! (I did!)

Also, here is another reminder to take a look at Jane’s directory of over 1,700 learning tools. I’ve written about it before, and I continue to be a big fan. Thanks, Jane!

Free eBook: The Insider’s Guide to Becoming a Rapid E-Learning Pro August 31, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Tom Kuhlmann, the host of Articulate’s Rapid E-Learning Blog, recently released a free eBook called The Insider’s Guide to Becoming a Rapid E-Learning Pro. The eBook is well worth your time whether you’re an eLearning newbie or a seasoned pro looking for a quick refresher. It covers several best practices for working in eLearning, and it is a very quick read.

Rapid eLearning has a negative connotation in some circles; many people associate it with boring page-turner PowerPoint "courses." (In fact, the term Rapid eLearning is still up for grabs. See this post for a few ideas of its definition.) Don’t let the Rapid title scare you. Thankfully, much of the eBook focuses on general design principles that lead up to the development of eLearning materials. And I was impressed to see that development tools are not discussed until page 33 of the 46-page eBook.

Tom does a good job of emphasizing the importance of aligning your learning materials with your organization’s (or client’s) real goals. This is pretty standard stuff for most folks, but I’m glad it is included – especially for people who are new to the field. Tom also covers basic needs assessment / performance gap information, explains best practices for working with your clients, and provides tips for measuring the results of eLearning.

Grab the eBook here.

(Note: You have to sign-up for a free newsletter to get the eBook. The newsletter is pretty decent from what I’ve seen, but you can always unsubscribe if you’re not interested.)