Nov 11, 2009

Social Self-Paced Training

Social networking and online self-paced will merge into social self-paced training. I am convinced of this. After all, online self-paced training is content just like a YouTube video, a picture on flickr, a blog posting, or anything else. It can and should be commented on, rated, and shared.

In my posting on the Is Social Media Making You Think from the ILS blog I talk about how e-learning professionals need to be thinking about how to include social media in their e-learning strategy.

Informal social media doesn't replace formal online self-paced. Social media does significantly improve the learning and retention of online self-paced. This is the future, how do you make it happen?

Oct 13, 2009

What's in your Pocket? Part II

I discussed what the Google phone is in What's in your Pocket? Part I. There's a reason I'm finally ready for a web savvy phone. The reason is that the web and mobile technology are now converging in a big way. The ability to access web search, contact information, calendar, RSS feeds, documents, weather, and other personalized information is getting a lot more practical. Frankly, I'm tired of having more than one calendar and list of contacts.

With Google Voice technology things come together in a even bigger way. Among the many features of Google Voice is the ability to have a single phone number forward to any phone (or multiple phones) depending on your choice. You can select contacts from your Google contacts to go to either work or home phones depending on how you label them. Cool stuff! Traditional phone companies should have done this a looong time ago.

Check out the following video about the convergence of the web, social media, and mobile technologies. It's a fun time to be a web developer! Developing for the desktop web browser is only part of the equation now.

Oct 8, 2009

What's in your Pocket? Part I

If you read my post Joining the Revolution in November then you know that I've been looking forward to upgrading my standard mobile phone to a web enabled phone. The two web phone technologies I've been keeping my eye on are Apple and Google. Apple is a well proven quality product; however, with the announcement from Verizon that they are producing a Google phone this fall, my thoughts are swinging the Google way. I'm already a Google power user so having that functionality in a mobile device will be a perfect fit for me.

So what makes a phone a "Google" phone. It's the Android OS that makes it a Google phone. The Android OS is an open source project backed by Google. Unlike the iPhone which is an Apple only product, Android is designed to run on any device that chooses to support it. For example, one of the anticipated Verizon Google phones will be made by Motorola.

Check out this video on Android 1.6 and its functionality.

See more videos at the Android developer web site.

Oct 2, 2009

Momentary Value

I'm making a second effort at Twitter. I've got too much information coming at me right now so I haven't been all that excited about adding tweets to my daily dashboard. I'm already behind on my RSS feeds and can barely get to Facebook at the end of each day. So adding Twitter seems like a complication I don't need. However, since I'm keen on studying how people learn and share information on-line, I'm redoubling my efforts to find value.

Am I alone? Doesn't all this information on the web give you a headache? Do you really feel comfortable relying on filters and keywords to guide what you learn? This seems to be the issue of our time...where do we draw the line between information value and information distraction?

Each generation deals with this to a certain extent. At one time people didn't want a phone in their house because they didn't want the disruption. What? A phone in my house that can ring at any time? Why would I want that? The current generation is slapped in the face with this--texting during movies, while driving, while in meetings, while playing with your kids, while eating dinner, while waiting in line, while on the potty, and on and on. How many of these are you guilty of? Do you really benefit from that exchange of information more than the activity you are supposedly paying attention to? If you were waiting on something then "yes". If you were spending time with a loved one then don't be so sure.

So I'm exploring value versus distraction with regards to Twitter. So far I've found both. I've deleted several tweeters who although they offer value, offer way to much distraction. I'm not sure what the threshold is yet for how to determine value. There's quantity versus quality to consider. However, it seems that if a tweeter is offering less than 25% value, I'm really starting to question whether or not I should follow them.

Social Context Is Important

Value varies depending on the context of the social network I'm using. In Facebook I'm dealing almost exclusively with friendships. I'm actually interested in where they ate out for dinner last night and how many home runs their kids made at the ball game. In LinkedIn I'm thinking about my career. I'm not primarily interested in those personal things.

Right now my Twitter account is schizophrenic. I'm using it for both personal and career reasons. This is actually where I've been having problems with Twitter. Where does Twitter fit in? The value I find in tweets changes during the day depending on what I'm doing at the time. Momentary value, now there's something to think about.

Sep 24, 2009

Storyboard vs. Stakeholders, Round 1

I led a storyboard review meeting with several of the stakeholders of a "using e-mail" project I am working on. The feedback was very good and was a reminder as to why you review the storyboard before starting development.

I had split the course into two sections: 1) e-mail policies and legal concerns; and 2) simple etiquette. As seems to happen in many of the review meetings I have, the discussion didn't go in the direction I thought it would. I thought discussion would center around the content contained in each slide (which it did eventually). Instead, if started with questioning the organization of the project into two sections. I was pleased to see this topic come up because it is good to catch significant contextual issues early in the project. Without context, learners will be confused about the purpose of the training.

While one suggestion to combine the two sections into one section was appealing (and would be acceptable). The decision was made to keep the sections separate but to try to answer the question "how does this relate to e-mail" in the policy section more obvious for the learners.

It turns out that I did not have to make significant changes to the content of the storyboard. But there were significant changes to the context in which the learning experience will occur. That is good to know before starting development.

What are some of the things that show up at your storyboard review meetings?

Sep 19, 2009

It's not Voodoo, It's JavaScript

Have you ever wanted to use JavaScript in Lectora? There are a couple of tricks you'll need to know. Check out my post It's not Voodoo, It's JavaScript on the Integrated Learning Services blog.

Sep 16, 2009

Storyboard and Blogger's Block

I'm writing a storyboard for a course I'm designing. Although I'm more of a web developer than an instructional designer I'm stepping in to fill a need at my company. I am a little bummed that it takes time away from the development side of things. However, I really enjoy using my creativity to come up with a way to teach a topic that is engaging and helps the learner make memory connections to the content. I'm using PowerPoint to layout the flow of the course using a storyboard format. The first slide in my storyboard template contains the following note:
  • The web-based self-paced course should not be designed to behave like a PowerPoint presentation.
  • Use this template as a place to outline the course, course interactions, and indicate sequencing. Each page should show what learners will see, hear, and do.
  • This storyboard will serve as the playbook for all the members of the team during development.
  • Use the notes section for development notes and to indicate feedback the learner will receive.
These are the most important things I want to remind whoever is writing the storyboard. Do you use similar reminders? What's on your list?

FYI: It appears I've had blogger's block for the last couple of months. But instead of trying to write through it, I just stopped making posts to this blog. I will try to blog through it in the future to avoid large gaps without a new post. :(

Jul 17, 2009

Busting my Brain with Flash

As a web developer learning Flash has been on my radar for quite some time.  Now as an e-Learning training developer knowing Flash will allow me to do better quality training interactions with learners.  So I'm off and up and learning.  I thought I would share some of my thoughts about my progress towards learning Flash.

First, I started with a good online resource that shows instructional videos and allows the learner to work through sample files.  I'm using which has turned out to be a great way to learn most of the Adobe products.  The instructor shows the very basics but also some of the shortcuts and best practices for using the tool itself.  This has been a great way to get started.

One thing I realized from the videos is that programming in Flash is really broken up into two parts: Flash animation and ActionScript.  So far ActionScript seems very familar since I am used to object based programming languages and scripting languages like JavaScript.  I feel very comfortable with that and I think that once I know the Flash object model (or have access to a reference) I'll be good to go.

Flash animation is the big brain buster for me.  I'm familiar with editing images, photos, and interactive web sites.  However, dealing with animations is proving to be the key concept I'm going to have to learn to master Flash.  So I'm learning tweens, shapes and key frames but it's not all gelling yet.  The first project I wanted to do in Flash has proven that I'll need more than just to master the animation portion.

I'm at the level now where I can do an interactive Flash animation using simple shapes, symbols, buttons, and action script.  However I'm not yet at the point where I can do a complex animation.  For example, a scene where you see someone using a computer from behind the person's back and then zoom in to show the monitor full screen.  I'm still working on that one.

Next, I'm going to order a few books from to try to push myself to the next level.  I'll also need to start doing some small projects in Flash because this seems to be one of those things that requires a lot of practice.  Any thoughts from those of you who have been down this road before?

Jul 8, 2009

Joining the Revolution in November

I've finally decided to commit my dollars to the mobile revolution. About two years ago I decided not to get an iPhone and save the extra $30-$50 a month in increased phone bills that would have resulted. My contract with my current mobile phone provider ends in November and now I'm having trouble waiting to upgrade to the iPhone.

When I renewed my contract with my current provider I was hoping they would come out with a competitive product but it never materialized. Oh, a new Blackberry device...meh. And my current provider seems to be more concerned with restricting services and monetizing them than in actually providing me a great product and service...meh. Now when they lose me as a customer they'll probably blame it on the economy. It's not the economy, its the result of focusing on their market share instead of on the needs of their customers. I understand the business logic here but it can back fire if you don't offer customers what they want. Ok...enough of my frustration with big wireless companies. Thank goodness for companies like Apple and Google that really seem to have their fingers on the pulse of the mobile revolution.

So, back to the iPhone. I may be overexcited about the iPhone. After all, I've only seen them and played with them a few times. But I'm a big Google user and to be able to get GMail, Calendar, Docs, Maps, and Reader while I'm on the move would be awesome. The ability to access Facebook and LinkedIn is great also. There are more benefits I really like. I can take advantage of the speed of my local wireless network. And they have a great developer network and large number of free and cheap apps that are very useful or entertaining. Oh, and then there's my music collection.

Ok, so sure I can get the applications I mentioned on other phones but those other phones seem to be in a different league than the iPhone. They are not as easy to use and the providers of those phones often complicate things by charging differently for each service the iPhone has out of the box. I'm still amazed that my current provider would do things like disable Blue Tooth so that I am forced to use their e-mail service to get the photos off my phone...argh...ok I'm digressing again.

Jul 2, 2009

Where is Your E-Learning Environment Going?

I've learned over time that it is important for me to take time to view what I'm doing from different perspectives. Often we developers get caught up in the micro-perspective of what we do. After all, focusing on what happens after the user clicks a button is what I get paid to do. However, when we wear many hats (like both instructional design and development) we are better served to think about things holistically. I know it is important for me to check that my rudder is directed in the right position in this big pond of e-learning. So with that in mind, I've created a map of where I think the e-learning future is for my organization (a large public school system). I have drafted it in the diagram below.

Currently my organization is working on setting up a formal learning system that will manage instructor led training, web-based training, and virtual classroom training. This is the short term goal. The future is still murky for my organization. While informal and continuous learning do occur in my organization, I believe there is an e-learning solution that can enhance continuous learning. This can be done through just-in-time content and collaborative content like wikis and blogs bound through a social network. This is not just a technology solution. It will require a bit of a culture change and will require buy in from the trainers, SMEs, and other mentors who will be asked to lead the charge.

So there is a high level outlook of my best guess of the future of e-learning at my organization. Writing the event for clicking a button is in the small (but important) box I call "Online Self-Paced". What is your best guess for the future of your organization?

Jun 29, 2009

Morning Joe and Calculations in Lectora

How can you use Lectora to convert kilobytes to megabytes? On the surface this seems like a basic question not worth expanding on. However, the solution in Lectora involves using variables in a creative way so I thought I'd share my thoughts. I'm also testing the waters with a morning cup of Joe today. I had stopped drinking coffee because it made me a little edgy but it's so good I'm reverting back today. Hopefully I won't go off the deep end!

Open a new Lectora project (or use an existing one) and add the following items to the page:
  • A text entry field (Add > Object > Form Object > Entry Field). Accept the defaults but change both the entry name and associated variable name to "kilobytes".
  • A button (Tools > Button Wizard). Choose any button. Name it "Calculate".
  • A text block (Add > Object > Text Block). Name it "Result".

Next, you need to add a variable (Tools > Variable Manager). Name it "calculate_megabytes".

Now its time to play with actions. This is where the logic resides in Lectora. Create an action group (Add > Group). Name the group "Calculate Megabytes". With the group selected, add the following three actions to the group (Add > Action).
  • In the first action, use modify variable to set calculate_megabytes to the value of the text entry field. You have to use VAR() to get the contents of the kilobytes variable. That is a little trick that will come in handy down the road if you continue to work with variables in Lectora. Be sure to spell the variable correctly including case sensitivity.

    • Action Name: Set Megabytes Variable
    • Action: Modify Variable
    • Target: calculate_megabytes
    • Value: VAR(kilobytes)
    • Modification Type: Set Variable Contents

  • On the second action, use modify variable to multiply calculate_megabytes by 0.0009765625. One kilobyte is 0.0009765625 megabytes. It takes 1024 kilobytes to make 1 megabyte.

    • Action Name: Kilobytes to Megabytes
    • Action: Modify Variable
    • Target: calculate_megabytes
    • Value: 0.0009765625
    • Modification Type: Multiply Variable By

  • On third third action, use change contents to set the text block equal to calculate_megabytes to reveal the calculation result to the learner.

    • Action Name: Show Result
    • Action: Change Contents
    • Target: Result
    • New Contents: calculate_megabytes

Be sure to check and make sure the actions are in the correct order in the action group. Otherwise, the calculation will not work correctly. The correct order is "Set Megabytes Variable" then "Kilobytes to Megabytes" then "Show Result".

Finally, connect the action group to the button. Open the button properties and select the On Click tab. Choose the action "Run Action Group" with the target "Calculate Megabytes".

You're good to go. Preview the project and test it out. My pace of typing has started to increase. The coffee must be kicking in.

Jun 25, 2009

Where o' Where do the Buttons Go?

I'm working on a template that will be used for all my online self-paced training. There is an issue that is nagging at me. Where do I put the navigation buttons? I've already decided that the learning audience I'm developing for needs to have crystal clear navigation where buttons include text labels so that it is very obvious how to go back to the start page, exit, get help, or go to the previous and next pages. I've done mockups where the navigation buttons are at the top and the buttons are at the bottom.

For me, it feels right to have the buttons at the bottom because the user doesn't have to deal with them until they have read the content on the page. This puts the content first which is good. However, I've noticed if the buttons are on the bottom and the window is resized so that the buttons go off the screen, this creates confusion for the learner. I'm starting to believe I'm over thinking it and it really doesn't matter. Thoughts?

May 5, 2009

Shadowing by Robot

I came across an interesting video from IEEE Spectrum Online that explains a robot used for video conferencing. You can think of this humanoid robot as the answer to the question "what do I do when I want to video conference with someone but I need to be mobile and let that person follow me around?" It's a pretty cool concept. (Blissfully ignoring cost) I see this being useful in the training world. For example, a lot of training is done through shadowing another employee. A robot like this could allow some one to shadow an experienced employee remotely. But keep on your toes, that robot following you may just be your boss!

Of course I can't help but think this is the first step towards human-cyborg relations. A robot that talks to the internet for you so that you can video conference. C3PO Version 0.01?

Link to video

Mar 25, 2009

Getting to Know Twitter

I signed up for Twitter to see what all the buzz is about. I've been using it about a week and I still don't quite get it. Well that's not entirely true. I do get how it can be a useful tool to communicate and share ideas. I don't yet get why it is hyped as much as it is. I don't see it being much different than the status updates that already exist in networks like Facebook and Linked In.

The value of Twitter seems to be highly tied to the people you follow. I've been following some people in my industry this week; however, I really haven't had anything ground-breaking come across my desk yet. I've found more value in the blogs I'm following. Maybe I need more colleagues and friends using Twitter before I find the value. And I'm not sure why this bothers me so much but I don't like that many people using Twitter love to share hyperlinks. I don't have the time to check out what's at the end of every hyperlink that is tweeted. I don't find value in that. Am I alone?

I'll keep Twittering for the next few weeks and see what happens next. I do like the fact that Twitter seems to be a little more personal than social networking and blogging. I do think there is value in seeing what people are up to day to day. It can give me insight into improving some of my day to day activities. I know what projects people are working on so I can ask them about issues while they are still fresh on the mind. But I don't think this is golden nugget of Twitter. I think there is more I'm missing.

Mar 17, 2009

Storyboarding and Objectives

I've started reading Creating Successful E-learning by Michael Allen.  It is an interesting read so far and Allen's thinking seems to be very pragmatic.  A thought hit me while reading the book that maybe I've given too much attention to the storyboard in my course development process.  I'm even thinking I don't need a separate storyboard step since the course itself serves as the storyboard.  Because of this, I think I'll go back to the development process I'm writing and give more attention to the learning objectives than to the storyboard.

I'm using rapid development tools which make it easy to change the course on the fly.  If I have to change a learning objective late in the process it is a bigger deal than changing the way a learning objective is presented to the learner.

The current training project I am working on has brought this to my attention because the learning objectives were a little fuzzy from the start.  I am taking a brick and mortar classroom based course and putting it online in a self-paced format.  It was decided that I would not cover everything in the course for the first release of the online version; however, as I was developing it I realized that I needed to cover some of the omitted objectives from the classroom based course after all.  If we had spent more time on the objectives earlier, we might have caught this problem.  I don't want learners to feel they are missing out when they take the online version of the class.

What's your experience with objectives in relation to the course development process?

Mar 13, 2009

Lectora Score to LMS Basics

I have completed developing my first course in Lectora and it is ready to run inside the LMS. The LMS I am using is Saba. This is important to note because each LMS handles SCORM content slightly differently and some SCORM related settings must be adjusted appropriately. For this course, I am not requiring a passing score for an assessment. Instead, I am requiring the learner to have simply completed a series of simulations and a non-binding assessment at the end. So once all sections of the lesson are complete, the user will receive a score of 100% and a status of complete. To set the score and status in the LMS the following variables need to be modified:
  • AICC_Score = 100
  • AICC_Lesson_Status = completed
The AICC_Score variable is a percentage between 0-100. If I had a Lectora test or assessment in this course, then the variable would be set automatically. I do not, so I am setting it manually.
The screen shot below shows the AICC_Lesson_Status variable being updated in Lectora. Notice that this variable is set to "completed" and not "complete", "passed", "finished", or some other value. This variable must be set to "completed" for Saba to correctly interpret the course status.

Mar 11, 2009

eLearn Authoring Round-Up

As my organization selects an LMS and gears up for web based training, I've been looking at a variety of authoring tools for online training. I was naive enough to think that tool existed that would have everything I want. I imagined something similar to Microsoft Word or PowerPoint that was designed for eLearning. Such a tool does not exist yet. I'm sure this is due to the complexity of web based learning content, the variety of requirements out there, and the market size of eLearning. However, there are several tools on the market that have a lot to offer. For this post I tool a look at the following products:
  1. SoftChalk
  2. Articulate
  3. Lectora
  4. Captivate
My Findings
SoftChalk and Articulate are the easiest to use and are good for basic courses. Both have a different focus (HTML vs. Flash; Word vs. PowerPoint). Check out Articulate if you are interested in leveraging PowerPoint or in doing voice presentations. Lectora and Captivate have a steeper learning curve but allow for more advanced interaction with the learner. With the release of Captivate 4, Lectora and Captivate have become very similar products. However, Lectora provides a bit more flexibility for customizing that Captivate.
Summaries of Each Product
  • Easy to use
  • Works like Microsoft Word
  • Provides an good organizational structure for courses
  • Content is easy to add and includes multimedia, flash, and questions
  • QuizPopper, TextPopper, and Activities are easy to add
  • Exports to HTML and is SCORM compliant
  • Easy to use
  • Works like Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Provides an good organizational structure for courses
  • Content is easy to add and includes multimedia, flash, and questions
  • Uses PowerPoint so user authors in PowerPoint (very nice integration)
  • All of PowerPoint's slide features can be used in authoring
  • Excellent for doing voice overs with annotations
  • Includes Quizmaker and Engage for adding flash based interactions
  • Exports to Flash and is SCORM compliant
  • Works like Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Provides an open organizational structure that can be customized to users needs
  • Content is easy to add and includes multimedia, flash, and questions
  • Actions can be determined based on variable values
  • Variables allow sequencing and decision making based on previous responses by learner
  • Imports PowerPoint slides
  • Exports to HTML and is SCORM compliant
  • Excellent for software simulations
  • Works like Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Provides an open organizational structure that can be customized to users needs
  • Content is easy to add and includes multimedia, flash, and questions
  • Actions can be determined based on variable values
  • Variables allow sequencing and decision making based on previous responses by learner
  • Imports PowerPoint slides
  • Exports to Flash and is SCORM compliant

Mar 4, 2009

What exactly is a friend?

I was asked to give a Web 2.0 workshop yesterday for a group of school technology coordinators. Web 2.0 is a huge topic to try to cover in an afternoon. This is especially true when you discuss the benefits and caveats of using this technology in the classroom. As I was talking about how students are using social network sites like Facebook, I found myself wondering exactly how we determine who our "friends" are.
There was a friend I recently made contact with that I haven't seen or spoken to in nearly 25 years. I was in the 5th grade last time we were true friends. While I consider him a good friend, do I really know who he has become in the last 25 years? There are many friends and old acquaintances that I've run into on Facebook. Many I've been longing to reconnect with and I accept as a friend without further thought. But still there are many who I only knew vaguely in the past and while I'm kind of curious who they've become, I don't feel comfortable sharing photos and updates that I really intend for true friends. So do I friend them just out of curiosity? I've decided I want to be a little more picky about who I "friend" and who shows up in my status updates. I've got a busy life with information overload and I feel that reining in my "friends" list just makes things less complicated. What are your thoughts?
I make an exception for my Linked In profile because I use that profile professionally and often make business or trade contacts. I'm not sharing personal photos with these guys, I'm exchanging ideas and networking so I define a "friend" differently in that environment. Does any one else do the same?

Feb 5, 2009

e-Learning Benefits and Challenges

e-Learning is an important consideration in education for several reasons:
  1. Implimented correctly, it can reduce some of the costs associated with education
  2. It allows schools to educate people they could not previously (e.g. people that work for a living, people geographically dispersed, etc.)
  3. Many students communicate better in a web based environment than in the traditional classroom.  Studies have shown that students who would not raise a hand in class will be very active in posting to discussion boards for example.
e-Learning is a challenge for educational institutions because the technology involved can be difficult to manage and use.  A lot of training or practice is required to get proficient in e-Learning solutions.  Also, self-paced WBT courses are very time consuming to create and really only make since when there is a large learning audience (e.g. at a large corporation).  For example, Flash based applications need to target customers that have a large learning audience to justify the expense.  Virtual classrooms are often a more cost efficient solution in many cases.
e-Learning is an active and growing industry.  It may take a hit with the economy being like it is but it will re-emerge very strong.  Since managers are really starting to think about ROI for e-Learning you will see a continuing growth in the systems that manage the e-Learning experience.  Also there will be a shift to what works best for the smallest cost.  This is why a lot of people think the informal learning that social networks bring will be the bedrock for the future of e-Learning.  Social networks are mostly personalized and self-policing and don't require the ongoing cost associated with producing and maintaining rich interactive content in self-paced learning modules.  That's not to say that self-paced learning modules that use Flash are going to disappear.  They will not, but they will be used in a blended learning environment that adds a social/informal aspect.
So, online courses will continue to be offered.  Furthermore, I think e-Learning technologies will continue to grow as instructors start offering more blended classes that take advantage of the best aspects from the traditional classroom and the best aspects of the e-Learning technologies.  As virtual worlds (e.g. second life) become more prevalent in e-Learning more and more subject matter will be able to be taught on line.

Jan 30, 2009

Take Pleasure in what you do

I work out in a gym most mornings before work.  As I work out I'm always observing those around me (and no, not in the creepy way).  I take pleasure when I see a person who started out as a timid newbie at the gym turn into a more healthy person who enjoys working out.  For example I've noticed a swimmer that could hardly swim a lap that now does long workouts back and forth across the pool like she's been doing it all her life.  Training at the gym has made these people healthier and happier.
Being a part of the employee training community, I also find great pleasure when people who were timid about their technology skills turn into confident employees that:
  • Enjoy putting together engaging PowerPoint presentations
  • Use Excel to track their job responsibilities
  • Or, no longer have to ask another employee how to order items from the procurement system
And even better, I smile when these people then start passing on their knowledge to other newbies.
So take pleasure in being a part of the training community because you are giving confidence to people who will then take more pride in their jobs.

Jan 26, 2009

eLearning Learning

Tony Karrer has created a web site called eLearning Learning that collects postings from a variety of eLearning professionals' blogs and organizes them in one place.  Learning Developments is now featured there.  Tony describes his site as follows:
"eLearning Learning is a community that tries to collect and organize the best information on the web that will help you learn and stay current on eLearning."
eLearning Learning can be a good place to search for eLearning specific information that has been posted on many of the members' blogs.  You may find it useful to do a search here before expanding out to the rest of the Googlized Internet.

Jan 23, 2009

A Budding Relationship for Captivate and Lectora

I've been working with Lectora and Captivate to create my eLearning content (see Jan 13th I'm not yet Captivated by Lectora). In that post I identified three possible techniques for passing the score/results from Captivate back to Lectora for processing:
  1. Use the e-mail command in Captivate and overwrite the JavaScript function for sending the mail.
  2. Use Javascript calls from within Captivate to write to variables in Lectora.
  3. Call a Javascript flash API from Lectora to pull the values out of the flash object.
Since then I have tried out the first two techniques and have the following to report. Using Send E-mail from Captivate Using the e-mail command works great as advertised in sflowers post in the Trivantis Community Forum. There is also another example of this same approach I found useful in a post by Tim Mushen. I used Captivate 3 to verify this. Summarizing the sflowers e-mail approach you get:
  1. Create Captivate animation
  2. Setup Captivate to use e-mail for results
  3. Publish and insert into Lectora
  4. Create custom HTML header scripting element to insert JavaScript Function
Here's a few additional things you might find helpful:
  • Use the alert() function to test out that the Lectora JavaScript code is functioning correctly before writing the "real" code
  • Understand how to reference Lectora variables in JavaScript. If the variable is c3Accuracy when created in Lectora, then the variable is referenced as Varc3Accuracy in the JavaScript code. Remember the "Var" prefix. See code below.
  • When previewing to test this out I exported to HTML and ran on an Apache server on my local desktop.
Sample sendMail() code to be inserted in Lectora:
function sendMail() {

var stripCoreData = gstrEmailBody.replace("Core Data", "");
var stripQuotes = stripCoreData;
while(stripQuotes.indexOf("\"" ) != -1) {
  stripQuotes = stripQuotes.replace("\"", ""); // remove quotes
var results_array = stripQuotes.split(",");
trivNextPage(); // advance to next page
Using JavaScript Calls I was able to use JavaScript calls from Captivate to set Lectora variables. However, I have not yet figured out how to access the scoring variables from inside Captivate. I'll need more research to do that. What I can do is monitor a click event in Captivate and set variables in Lectora and advance to the next Lectora page. I'm using this to track when the learner has completed the Captivate simulation. This way I can prevent the learner from advancing in the course until the simulation is complete. The two major steps are:
  1. Set a click box to execute JavaScript in Captivate
  2. Create a Header Script option in Lectora to execute those commands (optional)
For some reason I had trouble running more than one line of JavaScript from Captivate so to work around it I just call a function from Captivate and use that function to run multiple commands. In Captivate:
In Lectora:
In the screen shot above, simCreateReqComplete is the name of the variable I use in Lectora to track if the simulation has been completed.  If it has been completed then the user can advance to the next part of the course.
I could spend a lot more time explaining this in detail but this is all I have time for today. I think if you look at the two examples for using the e-mail method you'll have a good idea of how to implement that. Please comment if you have any questions or suggestions for better approaches.

Jan 21, 2009

Authoring Tool Quandary

I've spent some time over the last couple of months researching authoring tools that fit eLearning development needs. I whittled the list down to a few core tools.
I like Articulate because of its ease of use and integration with PowerPoint. I think more people will be able to participate in the authoring process by using a tool like Articulate. Nice job Articulate.
I like Lectora because it seems designed for advanced eLearning by providing a structure for tracking variables and actions on objects. I'm confident I can do just about any thing using Lectora but there is a bigger learning curve and projects may take longer than using a tool like Articulate. It seems that many of the newer eLearning tools are Flash based whereas Lectora is HTML/JavaScript based. There are advantages and disadvantages to that. I'm wondering where Lectora sees itself in 2 or 3 years. Still, a very pragmatic choice.
I like Captivate 3 because it does a great job of recording simulations and allows for annotations. Simulations will be very important for technology training. I've found Captivate very easy to use for this purpose. I realize Captivate can also be used for creating the entire eLearning package but it does not seem as strong for that purpose as Articulate and Lectora. Great product.
Now that I feel like I've got a good grasp on the tools out there, Captivate 4 has been released. On the surface it looks like a great release that can handle the majority of my needs. I'll be evaluating it soon to see what it can do and how it does things. How good is the Word import? What all can you do with variables and actions? Have the simulation recording tools changed?

Jan 15, 2009

Previewing in Lectora

I'm still wiggling my way through the ins and outs of Lectora. The Lectora support team has been very helpful. I've discovered some things I'd like to share.
Limitations on built-in preview. Up to a certain point, the built in preview functionality works great. But once you start doing advanced techniques such as using flash to set Lectora variables, the preview will not work.
Limitations on HTML preview. So the next step is to publish to HTML and preview it from the local machine. However, web-browsers have built in security that prevents some Javascript code from running locally. So things like flash communication and use of the Lectora VAR() function will not work when run locally. I believe most browsers have settings that can be adjusted to make this work but setting those hampers you security when you are on the Internet.
Web Server based preview. So now I've switched to previewing my content from a web server. I installed the Apache web server and send my Lectora HTML output to a folder under the htdocs on Apache. This allows me to view the content as the end-user will see it and I can catch errors earlier in the process. However, it's not a substitute for testing it out in the actually LMS. If I had to test it in the LMS every time it would take way too long.
Do you have a method for previewing that has worked well?

Jan 13, 2009

I'm not yet Captivated by Lectora

I'm putting together a self-paced web-based training course for how to order textbooks using a PeopleSoft application. I'm using Lectora to develop a SCORM package that will eventually be imported and used in the LMS. The course will contain several simulations I am creating in Captivate 3.

So far I've found Lectora to be a good course development tool. There is definitely room for improvement but it is meeting my needs right now. The problem I am facing now is how to communicate with the flash objects I use in Lectora. Specifically, I want to find the status and grade that the flash application has assigned to the learner. I am trying to use some flash I've created in Articulate Quizmaker and Captivate. For now, I'm focusing on the Captivate integration.

Currently I see a few ways to integrate:

1) Use the e-mail command in Captivate and overwrite the JavaScript function for sending the mail to instead write out to variables I create in Lectora. See Topic: Captivate to Lectora Instructions on the Trivantis Community Forum. This looks very promising but is a hack and I'd prefer to avoid hacks if possible.

2) Use Javascript calls from within Captivate to write to variables in Lectora. This may be a better route but I'm still trying to get this to work. In theory it should be working but instead of writing to the variable, it is writing to the screen as a new HTML page. I know that sounds bazaar and I expect after a little more trial and error I'll have found out how to accomplish this.

3) Call a Javascript flash API from Lectora to pull the values out of the flash object. This is the preferred method because all the logic can stay in Lectora which is my main authoring tool.

There is some documentation that I can't seem to find that would help me in these tasks. For #2, it would be nice to have a Lectora developer's guide that would list what Javascript calls I can make. For example, unless you inspect the behind the scenes code, you won't know that Lectora attaches a "Var" prefix to its variables in Javascript. So, test1Score becomes Vartest1Score. These are important things to know! Also, apparently I there are calls to advanced to the next page, exit, and so forth. I need some documentation on this. Next Lectora Support.

For #3, I need a Captivate developer's guide that tells me how to extract variables out of a Captivate flash object from Javascript.

So, I've got some tasks ahead of me. Any advice is appreciated.

Jan 6, 2009

Cool Tool: Jing

Technical issues can often be communicated better with pictures than words by themselves.  TechSmith offers a tool called Jing that is great for capturing pictures on your desktop.  Jing can record areas of the screen for single images or full video with audio.  Jing is incredibly easy to use.  I've used it for documenting processes, web based training courses, technical support, and my blog.  I've been using version 1.6.8198.
What makes Jing cool:
  • The very first thing Jing ask you for is what area you want to record.  You can easily select a window, a component of a window, or a customized area of the screen.
  • You select whether you want an image or a video.
  • Images can be quickly annotated using a small set of annotation tools.  There is nothing fancy here.  It is very practical.
  • Images can be saved, uploaded, to the web, or copied to the clipboard.  I find myself often copying to the clipboard and pasting into and e-mail or Word document.  Jing makes the process of capturing and pasting into e-mail incredibly fast.
  • Video can be paused, stopped, and restarted.
  • Audio can be recorded simultaneously while the video is being recorded so you can talk through what is being demonstrated.  This makes it very easy to add step by step instructions.

Jan 2, 2009

Lessons from Three Months of RSS Feeds

As I mentioned in my last post I've been using Google Reader for three months now to manage and read many blog postings.  I thought I'd share some of the lessons I've learned.  Following blogs in the eLearning industry is useful...
  • get up to date on new technologies
  • learn how technologies are applied
  • learn industry terminology
  • network with others in industry
  • find people with similar backgrounds as me
I have also learned more about how learners (employees) might use RSS in the workplace and I've learned the dangers of information overload.  I'll be able to use this knowledge as my organization goes forward with eLearning initiatives.  I'll be able to better guide learners on the difference between personal and professional blogs and how to best manage several feeds at once.

How I Caught Up on my RSS Feeds

After about three months of active blog reading I've finally caught up on my RSS feeds.  When I first started subscribing to blogs I found so many interesting topics that I wanted to read everything.  Time quickly became a frustrating factor.  Now I want to share a couple of ways I've been able to manage the information overload that is common when subscribing to many blogs.
Quickly determine if the blog post your looking at is pertinent information for your job over the next year.
While a lot of the postings about learning 2.0 are interesting, it's not my primary task so I've learned to skim it more loosely.  My organization is more than a year away from having the right systems and environment for that.  So, I read just enough to get the latest buzz and then move on.
Become an expert skimmer.
After three months I've really improved on my ability to skim for important information.  I've also found myself thanking authors that write for skimming (Karrer) and getting frustrated by authors that tend to not get to the point quickly enough.
Don't be afraid to miss information.
There is more information out there than you can consume.  I found myself not wanting to miss any information contained in the blog postings I read.  However, I finally had to accept the fact that I will miss interesting thoughts and ideas.  But it is better to take away a few good nuggets than to try to grab all the nuggets and potentially lose the important ones by running out of time and brain space!
Note: I use Google Reader to manage my feeds.  I've found The 10 Most Useful Google Reader Productivity Tips by Mukherjee to be very useful (especially the j and k shortcuts to quickly move through postings).