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(",");
Varc3RawScore.set(results_array[7]);
Varc3MaxScore.set(results_array[8]);
Varc3MinScore.set(results_array[9]);
Varc3Accuracy.set((Varc3RawScore/Varc3MaxScore)*100);
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 step...contact 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...
  • ...to get up to date on new technologies
  • ...to learn how technologies are applied
  • ...to learn industry terminology
  • ...to network with others in industry
  • ...to 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).