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The Return of Code March 14, 2011

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning Tools.
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So much work has been done to take code out of the equation. We’ve become a WYSIWYG generation with all the convenient tools for web and elearning development. This WordPress blog you are reading is a perfect example, and the proliferation of blogs in the past 5 years is a direct result of WYSIWYG tools.

These DIY tools are getting better and better, and there are more and more of them. Still, I see coding making a comeback.

Why is code going to become more important and popular? Three reasons:

1. Cookie Cutters Not Cutting It

Rapid elearning tools offer anyone the capability of publishing flash modules, SCORM or AICC compliant. But, for many, the templates and functionality have replaced instructional design. Although modules  can look amazing, integrate multi-media, and offer interactivity, designers and developers find the tools guiding the development: what the tools can do replaces what designers set out in storyboard. Coding allows for custom work within the rapid tools.

2. The Many (Inter)-Faces of mLearning

The most intriguing mobile device, the iPad, doesn’t support Flash, demanding app development or web-apps developed for many devices. Since the competition is finally showing up, Motorola Xoom and Samsung Galaxy, for example, web-apps might be ideal so any device learners have can display the elearning. Native apps, though, offer the most in user experience. Organizations might want to invest in a specific mobile device so communications and elearning can be created for that device.

3. The Web Teaches HTML

Just google HTML or how to code and you will see what I mean. The web is full of HTML tutorials by passionate coders. From simple HTML to more advanced CSS code, you can find help for any stage of your coding needs. If you are a beginner, you have some easy reading to do. If you are getting better, you’ll want some HTML Goodies. I also imagine elearning teams will hire coders to come in and create some HTML templates that the team can copy and paste and edit for variety. It seems far easier to edit existing code than to come up with it in the first place.

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LMS Spotlight: Litmos September 10, 2010

Posted by Eric Matas in eLearning, LMS Spotlight.
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4 comments

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:

Strengths:

  • 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

Features:

  • 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:

Introducing the SCORM Cloud December 9, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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4 comments

I had the pleasure of meeting Mike Rustici this year at DevLearn. Mike runs Rustici Software and he’s a total SCORM ninja. In our conversation, Mike mentioned a new service that is offered by his company – the service is called the SCORM Cloud. It was easy to see Mike was pretty excited about this, and after hearing some of the details, I think it definitely provides us with some interesting new ways to deliver and track learning content.

How to describe the SCORM Cloud…

If you didn’t have to use an LMS to offer learning content, where would you want to do it? A Facebook page? Your WordPress blog? Via an iGoogle widget? Maybe, but you’d lose the ability to track and record and assess, right? Enter SCORM Cloud, which lets you take learning outside the LMS and put it pretty much anywhere you want.

How does that happen? Essentially, your course content sits out on the cloud (much like your Google Docs or your Flickr pictures), and SCORM Cloud lets you deliver it wherever you want. SCORM Cloud tracks and records the same things SCORM 2004 (or 1.2 or AICC) would in your LMS and reports them back. So you can score quizzes, track interactions or set sequencing for any content you upload to the SCORM Cloud. No LMS required.

As of now, Rustici Software has already integrated SCORM Cloud with several open source LMSs such as Moodle and Sakai. And they tell me that they are close to having it ready to work with WordPress and iGoogle. The current integrations are open-source and flexible enough to allow for customizations, and you can even build your own integration if you want to use SCORM Cloud somewhere they have haven’t considered yet.

(There’s a fee for using SCORM Cloud and it is priced based your usage and needs. And it is far cheaper than going the whole-LMS route.)

I’d recommend that you check out the SCORM Cloud if you’re feeling overly constrained by your LMS; it will help you break out of the traditional eLearning model and take advantage of some of the new 2.0 tools that are now available on the web. Kudos to Mike and his team for thinking up an innovative solution like this…

Check out the SCORM Cloud web page to learn more, sign up for a free account, and view pricing information.

eLearning Skills Then and Now June 11, 2009

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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4 comments

Have you noticed a change in the focus of your eLearning skill set over the past few years? I’ve noticed a change in mine. I’m doing more work with existing products and services, instead of developing things from scratch. And I find that I’m doing more research and development of learning technology tools now that so many options are available. I’m also doing less and less work with the LMS. I’d like to know: Is it just me? Have you seen your role change? And if so, how?

Here’s a summary of my most-heavily used skills, then and now, ordered by most-used to least-used:

Old skills

  1. LMS skills (SCORM / AICC)
  2. Development skills (ex. HTML / CSS / JavaScript)
  3. Adobe Flash
  4. Adobe Photoshop
  5. Adobe Captivate
  6. Troubleshooting
  7. Project management
  8. Internal marketing and communication of learning initiatives

Current skills

  1. Project management
  2. Research and evaluate learning / technology tools
  3. Internal marketing and communication of learning initiatives
  4. Development skills (ex. HTML / CSS / JavaScript)
  5. Troubleshooting
  6. LMS skills (SCORM / AICC)

How about you?

The Perfect Learning Management System (LMS) July 21, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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17 comments

I often find myself daydreaming when dealing with LMS problems. I say to myself, "If I built an LMS, it would…….." Ah, if only it were that easy. This line of thinking leads me to these questions: How would you design your perfect LMS? What features would you include (or exclude)? How would it differ from current LMS products on the market?

I’ll start this off, but I really would love to hear your thoughts. Who knows, maybe (if we’re lucky) some LMS vendors are listening!

My perfect LMS would…

  • Support the AICC, SCORM 1.2, and SCORM 2004 specifications 100% accurately. I don’t want to deal with the "Oh….we chose not to implement that particular part of the spec."
  • Work great in all modern web browsers (ex. IE 6 / 7, Firefox 2 / 3, and Safari).
  • Support single sign-on (LDAP or otherwise), so learners could use an already existing username and password.
  • Have an open API, in case I wanted to integrate it with my intranet or develop add-on modules.
  • Be extraordinarily easy to use. Common tasks should take no more than a couple mouse clicks. I should be able to teach my grandma how to use the LMS in 5 minutes or less.
  • Be affordable and accessible to any organization, no matter their size or industry. I don’t mind if the price scales up based on the number of users, but the baseline shouldn’t start at $80,000.
  • Have excellent 24/7 support, by phone and email. Crazy, I know.

What else? Let me know!

Wanted: An eLearning All-Star February 22, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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An opportunity has opened up for an eLearning Specialist at Ferrellgas in Kansas City. It’s a great position and Ferrellgas is an excellent company; if you’ve got the skills and you’re in the Midwest, you should take a look.

From the Ferrellgas Career Connection web site:

eLearning Specialist

Key Accountabilities:
This position is responsible for creation of e-learning courses. The incumbent will produce highly complex training initiatives to be delivered online, through CD or in the classroom. This position requires a minimum of a 4-year degree, 5+ years of experience in training and development and 1+ year experience of e-learning development.

Essential Functions:

  • Maintain LMS and other online tools.
  • Research and recommend appropriate e-learning development software.
  • Design engaging, interactive and effective instructional materials that can be used in a web-based, computer-based and/or distance learning format.
  • Ensure the instructional integrity of course development projects through defined standards, systematic design and clear, concise writing of scripts, narratives and storyboards to ensure continued quality and speed of delivery.
  • Produce highly complex training initiatives to be delivered both online, through CD or in the classroom. These programs will prepare employees to provide exceptional customer service, promote Ferrellgas products and services and operate company systems and software applications.
  • Plan projects and establish schedules for projects with aggressive deadlines.
  • Create and execute test plans.
  • Monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the curriculum by creating and implementing measures to track outcomes and to ensure alignment with business objectives.
  • Communicate frequently and effectively with Manager to ensure that goals and objectives are being achieved.
  • Partner with and maintain strong interaction with subject matter experts and other team members.
  • Other job related duties and projects as required.

Ideal candidate will have:

  • Minimum 4 year degree, preferably in Graphics, Interactive Media Design, Instructional Design, Communications, or Organizational Development.
  • 5+ years experience in training and curriculum development.
  • Minimum of 1 year of e-learning development experience required.
  • Experience in project management, training, and curriculum development preferred.
  • Excellent communication and organizational skills required.
  • Applicant must be energetic, reliable, creative, deadline-driven and able to multi-task in a fast-paced team environment.

Benefits
We offer an excellent compensation and benefits package, Employee Stock Ownership Plan, and bonus program.

To learn more, go to the Ferrellgas Career Connection site and click Corporate Opportunities.

Hands-on with Assima Training Suite October 27, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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We recently purchased Assima Training Suite (formerly known as Assima Wizard Training Suite) at work. We’re planning on using it to create training for our upcoming PeopleSoft upgrade. We evaluated several tools, and it came down to Captivate and Assima Training Suite (I’ll call it ATS from here on). We chose Assima’s product mainly because its simulations are much more realistic: ATS “clones” software applications and provides a very realistic working environment (sandbox) for the learner. It’s pretty amazing. I’ve written about ATS before, but now I’ve had a chance to take the software for a more thorough test drive (plus, I attended a 3-day training session). Let’s take a closer look…

Which version?

We’re using version 4.x of ATS, which seems to work fairly well, but I hear that a new version is in the works. From what I understand, the new version significantly improves the user interface, functionality, and reliability. Our training session went well, but we ran into several glitches. Sometimes the glitches were our fault, but other times they weren’t. My overall feeling is that ATS is a killer app that needs just a bit more maturation. It’s so close! I’m very much looking forward to the new version, hoping that it further solidifies the product.

Features

Here are some of the basic features of ATS:

  • Extensions
    ATS has two recording modes: object-based recording and screen capturing. Object-based recording is the ideal method by far, but it requires that you have a special extension in ATS for the application you want to simulate. For example, we needed a PeopleSoft extension. (Be aware that you may need to purchase additional extensions for the different applications you want to simulate. I think ATS only comes with one or two extensions by default.) Screen capturing can be used with any application (as long as you have access to its executable file), and it provides you with very basic screenshots of whatever you recorded.
  • Simulations and Tutorials
    After preparing a storyboard, you’ll start using ATS by recording a simulation. To do this, you’ll open your target application (ex. PeopleSoft) and step through your task; this part is very easy. Next, you’ll create a tutorial for your simulation. This is where you put in the narrative (instructional text) for the learner. This part is based upon the simulation you recorded, so you do not have to re-record your task (cool!). And again, it’s very easy. If you realize that you need to make changes to your simulation or tutorial, you can use the SimDoctor tool to edit individual objects on each page. SimDoctor lets you add form elements (ex. checkboxes, text fields, radio buttons, etc.), and you can also remove objects on the screen. The SimDoctor tool is definitely one of the highlights of ATS, and I’ve only described about 10% of its capabilities.
  • Demonstration / Practice / Evaluation
    After you’ve recorded your simulation and created your tutorial, ATS is able to output your learning materials three different ways: a Demonstration module is the show me, the Practice module is the let me try, and the Evaluation module is the test me. And remember, you only had to record the task once to get all of these outputs. Very impressive.
  • Microsoft Agents
    ATS uses Microsoft Agents to display information to the learner while they’re working through a module. You can select which character to use, or add your own. The most common one is Merlin, the wizard. You can use generic agents, too. There’s an option that presents the instruction inside a yellow post-it note, which looks pretty decent, just in case you’re not a fan of the Microsoft Agents.
  • Publish Types
    ATS has several publish options: pure HTML/JavaScript, an option using their ActiveX plug-in, a CD/executable option, and a “Java Loader” option which uses….you guessed it: Java. (Note: During our training session, we found out that each of these publish types has their own idiosyncrasies. Sometimes buttons, links, styles, and graphics would look slightly different between the publish types. For most people, it would probably not be an issue.) There is also an option to make your final product AICC- and/or SCORM-compliant. The file sizes for published simulations seemed to be fairly decent (ex. ~1-3MB for a simple task).
  • Documentation
    ATS also has a feature called GenDoc that can automagically create help documentation for your users. GenDoc can output to several formats, including PowerPoint, Word, and HTML. It combines your application screenshots and instructional text into a nice package, and it does it very quickly.

Pros and Cons of using Assima Training Suite

Here’s a run-down of the pros and cons from what I’ve seen so far:

Pros:

  • ATS has the best approach to simulation development when compared to the rest of the products on the market (Datango appears to be the only company in the same ballpark). Assima seeks to truly simulate software applications – and they do a very good job at it. When the learner interacts with the simulations, you’d swear they were sitting in front of the real application. For example, Assima often uses a demonstration of the Windows application, Notepad. In the Notepad simulation, you can click on each menu and explore many of the menu sub-items, just like you were working in the actual Notepad application. Apply this to complex software and/or web applications and you can begin to see the possibilities…
  • Using ATS, you can record once and output to several formats (ex. Demonstration, Practice, Evaluation), and then generate your documentation. This is a major time-saver compared to other tools I’ve used in the past.
  • Assima offers great training. Although we ran across several issues, our trainer did a great job of keeping things rolling and reporting issues to their support personnel. After attending the training, I’m confident I can use the tool with ease.
  • Assima really appears to have their act together when it comes to support and documentation. They offer an online support center that is very well thought-out and the help section within the application is great.

Cons:

  • ATS seems to be a great product, but it is priced WAY too high. I don’t want to give specifics, but I’ll put it this way: We purchased 4 licenses. We could’ve bought a house in the Kansas City area for the price we paid. Yikes.
  • ATS has been around for a while in Europe, but the product still seems…young to me. Basic tasks sometimes led to application errors (which we were able to overcome most of the time). For the price, ATS needs to be rock-solid. I hope they’re getting there soon. Assima will be unstoppable if they can make ATS bullet-proof and lower its price.
  • I don’t get the impression that there’s a strong ATS development community. I’m not sure if this is because Assima is a relatively young company (they started in 2002) or if it’s because the price is too high for average users. I hope this changes soon.
  • ATS can only be used to capture application simulations. So, if you want a tool that can create great application simulations, consider ATS. If you want a tool that can create good application simulations, good soft-skills simulations, and generic screen capturing abilities, consider Captivate.

For more information…

The Assima website is a bit vague. It is text-heavy, and it lacks demos, screenshots, detailed product information, and pricing details. That’s a major turn-off. We found out about the product through another vendor, who arranged a live demo for us. Otherwise, I probably would have ignored Assima after spending a minute or two on their site. If you are at all interested in ATS, I suggest contacting them for a demo (either in-person or via webinar). It is worth your time just to see what ATS can do.

We’ll keep working.

We’ll continue to explore ATS over the coming months. We hope to find out exactly what caused our issues – and solve the problems before we get too deep into development. If we can do that, I’m really anxious to see where this goes. ATS has so much potential.

Start the discussion!

Have you used ATS? Can you provide tips or tricks? Do you have questions about ATS? Drop me a line.

Large-scale Applications Training September 20, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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14 comments

I’m about to face an enormous challenge at work: Our company is getting ready to do a major upgrade to our core business operating system (PeopleSoft). This upgrade has been in the works for quite a while now, and it’s time for our department to start discussing a plan to train hundreds of employees on the new system. I don’t know much about the new system, but I understand that it is quite an overhaul; one estimate said we would need 80+ hours of face-to-face training. However, due to logistics, time, and money, it appears we will be training about 80% of these employees using a combination of self-study eLearning courses and webinars (using Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional). Everything will be tracked in our LMS.

Sure, this is a big task, but here’s why I’m concerned: If you’ve ever used a system like PeopleSoft or SAP, you know that it’s not very engaging. In fact, applications training like this can be excruciatingly boring, especially when taken as a self-study eLearning course. These courses generally consist of step-by-step instructions where the learner watches a task as it is performed, and then they try the task on their own in a simulated environment. This type of training can be effective, but with this upgrade, we will have a HUGE amount of training for the end-user. I’m worried that we’ll bore people to tears and that they’ll mindlessly follow along with the step-by-step directions…and then not retain anything. Luckily, I’ve got a few more weeks to get my thoughts together.

How would you tackle this? What ideas do you have?

Need an LMS? Look at Inquisiq EX. June 28, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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3 comments

I’ve heard so many LMS horror stories over the past year that I thought I’d share the great experience that I have with my LMS vendor at work. We use Inquisiq EX, which is offered by ICS Learning Group. Inquisiq EX is a very affordable LMS which is available as a hosted service or as a behind-the-firewall installation. We installed it almost a year ago, and it has turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve made. (This is not a paid advertisement, I swear.)

Features

Inquisiq EX has all of the basic features of an LMS. You can upload and track SCORM-compliant lessons, manage information for live training sessions, manage users and groups (or connect to an external user directory), organize courses in a course catalog, and more. If Inquisiq EX doesn’t have a feature you desire, chances are ICS can develop it for you. They’ve done a bunch of custom work for us, and it’s been well worth the money.

Customer Service and Support

I’ve had nothing but excellent customer service from ICS. They’re always quick to respond, via email and phone, and they never get sick of my questions (which surprises me).

I won’t hide the fact that we occasionally encounter small bugs with Inquisiq, but thankfully we haven’t run into any show-stoppers. If we do encounter issues, ICS responds immediately and provides a fix. (I think we’d all be fooling ourselves if we thought there was any type of bug-free information system.)

ICS also has an online ticketing system for tracking support issues and an online knowledgebase.

Convenience

I fully realize that there are some excellent (and free) open-source LMSs out there. However, I run a one-person eLearning department and I don’t have time to tinker with the LMS software or be responsible for its uptime; that’s not my area of expertise. Inquisiq gives me the ability to focus on my courses – and not worry about the LMS.

Do Your Homework, But Remember Inquisiq EX

The eLearning Guild has done some great research on LMS vendors. Check out the research reports if you are seriously in the hunt for an LMS, but make sure you take a look at Inquisiq EX. I don’t believe they are featured in the report because they aren’t one of the BIG players. (Brent Schlenker – if you’re reading this, please get ICS Learning Group some visibility!! They deserve it, big time, for having such a quality product.)

Read more about Inquisiq EX here.

Redbird DevNet: SCORM Heaven June 19, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Redbird Software recently launched Redbird DevNet, a one-stop shop for all things SCORM. DevNet has an aggregation of the latest SCORM-related news and blog feeds, job postings, and excellent SCORM documentation. The site will soon feature discussions forums as well.

Redbird DevNet is still under development, but this is certainly a great start. There aren’t many resources out there on the web devoted 100% to SCORM, but this site aims to fill that gap. The ADL site is certainly helpful, but I get the feeling this will be a better place to stay up on news, changes, best practices, etc.

I wrote about Redbird Software in an earlier post. Be sure to check out Trident – The SCORM IDE, if you haven’t already.