Mar 30, 2011

Articulate Quizmaker and Saba

I really like Articulate Quizmaker '09 software. I'm bummed to say I have not been using it much because the focus of the content I've been creating is more on software simulations and not a lot of traditional quiz functionality. However, I'm using it with my latest project and I am reminded again how easy it is to create slick looking quizzes using Quizmaker.

I'm working with the Saba LMS for this project. As most developers know, each LMS has a different "attitude" and behavior. Out of the box, Quizmaker was not exiting well when the user clicks the "Finish" button at the end of the quiz. Quizmaker is not alone, I've had this issue with other content I've used in Saba.

To fix this problem, I had to edit how Quizmaker closes. This was a simple edit that took about two seconds. To find out where to place my scalpel, that took a little bit longer. I'm using SCORM 1.2 as my output format. When Quizmaker creates the SCORM 1.2 package, it copies into the package the contents of the folder located at:
C:\Program Files\Articulate\Articulate Quizmaker\Content\lms
In this folder there is a javascript file that contains variable definitions called Configuration.js. Open up the file in your favorite editor and look for the following line:
var EXIT_BEHAVIOR = "SCORM_RECOMMENDED";
To make the Quizmaker window close correctly and completely in Saba, I had to change it to:
var EXIT_BEHAVIOR = "ALWAYS_CLOSE_TOP";
Once you make this change in the Articulate folder, the next time you publish to SCORM 1.2, the new configuration.js file will be included in the package.

Mar 29, 2011

Preview of Articulate Storyline at LS 2011

I was really impressed with the demo of Articulate Storyline at the Learning Solutions 2011 conference this month. Tom Kuhlmann gave a nice personalized walk through of what the product can do. Here are some of the highlights I remember:
  • It has the same easy user interface you would expect from Articulate but it is much more powerful. Tom created an Engage type interaction in just 1 or 2 minutes.
  • The product is also introducing variables which will make it more competitive with Lectora or Captivate.
  • It contains the ability to do screen snapshots and videos.
  • Output to iOS and HTML5 will be a part of it, although some challenges remain to make it do everything Flash can do (that seemed to be common with all e-learning products I saw demoed).
This product will not be replacing the Articulate Studio. In fact I understand they are currently in development of the next version of Studio. Storyline is different in the fact that it makes it easier to create more interactive content and not tied as closely to PowerPoint. The lack of interactivity has been the biggest critique I've heard of Articulate '09.

I'm hoping to get a version to beta test to really see it in action!

Mar 21, 2011

Notes from Adobe Learning Summit 2011

I'm back in my hotel room after a long day at the Adobe Learning Summit.  Adobe is doing a lot of good things with e-Learning and those things were on display today in Orlando.  I've decided to summarize some of my notes I took at the conference today.  You can also read play-by-play tweets from the folks who are a part of the twitter-verse.

Video and Audio in Adobe eLearning Suite 2

  • Rick Zanotti of RELATE corporation presented on best practices for video and audio in Captivate
  • When possible, load audio/video into the library and create instances of it in your learning to save duplications and file size
  • Use the preloader to download audio/video that is at the beginning of your project so that it is ready when the learner starts using the content
  • Use Soundbooth for batch edits
  • Add "ponder" time after audio plays to allow the information to be absorbed by the learner
  • Slide video is a great way to start with a single video and insert slides at various points

Creating Mobile Content with Adobe Captivate 5 for Android Devices

  • Josh Cavalier of Lodestone Digital presented on some of the issues involved with developing Captivate projects for Android devices
  • Flash 10.2 is a good step up from 10.1 and improves Flash usability
  • Mobile lends itself best as a performance support device
  • Consider larger font sizes greater than 24 pts for readability on Android's smaller screen size
  • Replace default Captivate playbar with larger buttons in the Captivate project

Captivate Widgets 101: How to Create Your First Widget

  • Yves Riel, owner of Flash Factor, gave an informative presentation on creating Captivate widgets and lessons from his experience
  • Widgets have 4 different modes: preview, edit, stage, and runtime
  • Widgets can be either static with no communication with Captivate, interactive with communication with Captivate, or a question that can communicate question data with Captivate
  • Take advantage of libraries like Widget Factory and cpGears to make coding easier

Flash Snippets with Adobe Captivate 5

  • Frances Keefe of the University of Massachusetts Boston gave a fun and entertaining presentation on using code snippets in Flash to quickly create objects to import into Captivate
  • In the window menu, select code snippets
  • A Flash tween fills in the animation be*tween* two object states.
  • Use code snippets to add drag and drop, play movies, add timers, move objects, and more

Mar 17, 2011

Saba Player Templates and Best Practices

The question is “what is the best way to create a video based training course in Saba?” When first answering a question like this, I like to look around for best practices. I have a lot of video based content.  The videos are 3 to 5 minutes long and I have 40 to 50 videos in a course. In this case, I was unable to find a best practice when it comes to packaging as SCORM to deliver in an LMS.

Key Issues to be Addressed

The two issues I’m wrangling with are usability versus cost to deliver.  I want my learners to have a consistent look and feel for video based courses.  I want them to easily navigate the course files.  To lower the cost of delivery I want a faster turn-a-round on development time, I want it simple to test, and I want to reuse my work as a template for other projects.

My Approach

I’ve decided to use Lectora for this project because it has a good frame work for handling video based content.  This is the approach I’ve decided on:

  • Turn each video into a SCO
  • Each SCO has two pages
    • A launcher page - this page will not be shown to the learner, this page is only used to launch the second page
    • A video page - this is the page that shows the video to be displayed to the learner
  • Use a player template in saba that will serve as the table of contents for the course

Challenges

I want to launch the video in a window that is sized for that video.  In Saba I do not have the ability to specify the size of a SCO window that is “popped up” from the table of contents.  I also want the menus disabled and specific sizing and scroll bar options.  So in Saba I am only loading the SCO, when the SCO is loaded, the video window pops up based on the code I wrote using Lectora.  I would prefer to let Saba handle the popup and sizing of the code to save on my development time.  It seems uncommon for LMS vendors to provide this functionality.

Another issue I have yet to resolve is that Saba is automatically launching the first SCO when the project is started.  I would prefer the learner to choose the SCO they would like to launch.  It seems there would be a toggle in Saba for this but I don’t see it as an option in my player template.  I’m left wondering if there is a configuration issue with the deployment of Saba I’m working on or Saba requires that at least one SCO be open at all times.

Is this the best practice? I don’t know. Is this the only way to do it, no.  Regardless, it seems to work well for me and the result is easy and consistent usability with minimal development effort since Saba is handling the table of contents and consolidating the scoring.

Mar 15, 2011

ADDIE, Beware of the Video!

Getting other departments in my organization to get on board with e-learning is a goal of mine.  It’s been a little over a month since my organization has been providing web based training through our new LMS.  Being the training developer, I have naturally become one of the leading advocates for getting the organization's training content online and available to employees.  The new LMS has become a great working model that departments can look at to get ideas about what they can do with web based training.

First batch of interest - videos

The first batch of interest in e-learning has come from some of the technical teams of our information management systems.  They have an intense interest in getting video based instruction to end users.  They use tools like Jing and Camtasia to create videos.  Previously they were deploying the videos as exe files and sending them through e-mail or placing them in user databases that are difficult to search and access.  Getting this content in a web based format is appealing so that employees can easily access it from any location or device inside their employee portal.

Mixed feelings about video learning

I’ve got mixed feelings about this.  On one hand, there is interest in the new LMS.  On the other hand, taping videos together is not the best way to do online training.  Videos are good in that they are easy to access and to the point.  However, basic questions are not being asked:

  • Who are our learners?
  • What actions should they be able to perform?
  • Do they understand the context in which these videos are presented?
  • How can we make learning stick so they are not dependent on videos?
  • How can be provide feedback, identify weaknesses, and provide remediation?
  • What does a first time learner need to know?
  • What does a veteran learner need to know?

If they were following the ADDIE model, they would just be left with DIE!  The analysis and design seems to have been too quickly passed over.  The video content is just a response to handle frequently asked questions.  It's quick and easy and it has it's place; but, it's not training.

It appears that the challenge of getting people to use web based training is done.  The battle for quality training has begun!

Mar 10, 2011

Thoughts on Managing Ideas and Tasks

It seems I’m always looking for a better project and task management system. I’ve been through Task Coach, Mindmapping software, Microsoft Project, Remember the Milk, Task Merlin, Producteev, and now Manymoon.  These are all great products but none fit all of my needs. I’d like to think that some where out there is the right system for me; however, I’d be a bit of a fool to truly believe that.

Managing Idea Productivity

After reading the book “Don’t waste your Talent” by McDonald and Hutcheson, I was able to identify that I have high idea productivity.  I always have an idea popping in my head. Of course, they’re not all great ideas but I’ve got to do something with them.  They can’t all fit in my head.  This need to explore many different ideas is one of the reasons I’m so interested in freelancing.  And no, high idea productivity, is not a code word for ADD!


My desks at work and at home were covered with little notes of ideas.  A good task/idea management system was the perfect place to store these and get them out of my head. This is one of the reasons I have a hard time finding the right task management product. I need idea management integrated with my task management because I never know when idea will become a task or vice-versa.

Trying to manage ideas as well as tasks means a large portion of my project and task management is not actionable in the traditional sense. Sure, maybe the next action is to think about it and research it further, but the reality is that I don’t have enough time to fully research all of my ideas.  So it’s not about managing action, it’s about storing my ideas and the progress I've made on ideas so that when the time comes to pursue it, I can build from where I last left off.

Traditional Project Management

I also have the need to do project and task management in the traditional sense. I need to track time, make estimates, list next actions, chart milestones, delegate tasks, and yes, I occasionally need a Gantt chart. So I need a good structured system at times.  It would also be nice to use an application that helps me manage development processes like ADDIE.  An application that is aware of these processes can help keep me on track.

Consolidated Dashboard

Another requirement I have for managing projects and tasks is that I want only one communication dashboard.  I don’t want multiple calendars, multiple applications for tasks, multiple ways of getting notifications, and so on. This is one of the reasons I think Manymoon is promising because it allows me to use my existing Google Docs, Calendar, credentials, and LinkedIn contacts. Being in the cloud like this will stink when I have an Internet connectivity issue, but it is great when I’m connecting from different devices.  It is not uncommon for me to use 3 or 4 different devices to access my information in one day.

So the search is still on for a partner who will help manage the ideas coming out of my brain and remind me the next steps I need to take to turn ideas into reality.  I’m enjoying the nice dinner conversations I’m having with Manymoon but I know in the back of my head that these relationships often leave me feeling incomplete and wanting more.

Mar 7, 2011

Authoring Tools and Compatibility

When eLearning designers and developers think about using a rapid development tool such as Lectora, they often think about the time savings they get when creating a visual pleasing project and the ability to create reusable components.  A rapid development tool is a great way to quickly breath life into your storyboard.  One advantage that many of these tools bring, but is not always thought about, is that these tools can make complying with browser and system requirements a breeze.

System Compatibility Built In

How many times have you had to think about how to make something look right or work right using javascript or CSS?  You have to test it in a variety of browser configurations to make sure it works properly.  If you use the HTML/javascript based Lectora tool, you know that it meets specific system requirements for viewing.  Lectora Publisher specs say the viewing system requirements are "cross-platform compatible with Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 and higher,  Firefox 1.0 and higher, Safari 1.2 and higher, and Google Chrome."  So by using Lectora, you remove some of the browser compatibility worries from the development process. The same goes for Captivate.  When you've created your project, you can export to the version of Flash and ActionScript you want to support.


Caveats

There are a couple of caveats to pay attention to:
  • If you use any special coding, flash, video, or widgets with your authoring tool, you can introduce browser compatibility issues.
  • If you do have a browser compatibility problem, then you are often reliant on the tool vendor to fix it.

Mar 3, 2011

Where's the support calls? Not that I'm complaining.

At the beginning of February I launched several new web based training modules on a new LMS.  This training is available to nearly 22,000 employees.  I've been in the web business long enough to know that something will happen that I didn't anticipate.  Usually this is because of an odd configuration by an end-user.  It can be a toolbar with a pop-up blocker causing problems, a corrupted plug-in, unusual accessibility settings, or a whole slew of things.  But to my surprise there have been hardly any support calls in the first month.

After doing some brainstorming, here are some possible explanations as to why support calls have been very low.

Support Structure

The support structure in my organization is distributed among the school locations.  While there is a central support team, the local technology coordinator serves as the first line of defense for support issues.  This person is well qualified to be a first responder and help diagnosis the issue.  If this person solves the problem, it never is reported to me.

Organizational Culture

As with many academic institutions, employees are geared to work with those around them before calling for help.  "Can you get this to work on your computer?  Then why isn't it working for me?"  For better or worse, employees tend to work within their silo to solve problems.  Unfortunately, if its not solved there, it often becomes abandoned.

Being Proactive

In the development of the training, I took time to understand my learners and draw from my web development experience.  I know the standard system setup in my organization so I was able to gear the training towards those capabilities.  My years of experience have helped me anticipate issues that might arise and I was able to address them before they became a support issue.  I also spent some time writing quality help files that are referenced from each learning module.

The employees in my organization are often not technology-savy at all.  Sure, there are a growing number of folks who are good with computers but a large portion of my audience or technophobes and some don't even believe online training is a good solution.  I say this because I'm reiterating that the low number of support issues is not due to a tech-savy audience.

What do you think helps reduce support calls in your organization?

Mar 1, 2011

Control the Geek and use Wisely

You know a technology geek when you see one because when they see a new cool technology, their eyes light up.  They think new technology is sexy and they want to find a way to incorporate it into their lives.  This is what makes them so knowledgeable about technology...they love to tinker with it.

Technology geeks find ways to use new technology where they can.  They are the first to learn to Tweet, use the cloud, and remote access their home computer from their smartphone.  Studying and putting new technologies into action is a great way to learn it; however, just because a technology is new and cool, does not mean it should be the solution to your business need.

Show Restraint

We geeks have to show restraint.  We can't jump on the first release of Flash 10 or ActionScript 3 to take advantage of the new features and leave or users behind who require minimum support for Flash 8.  Just because Articulate is easy to use and creates cool eLearning projects, doesn't mean we should use it to do a true to life software simulation.  Twitter is an awesome way to communicate but simply want work any many corporate cultures.

When Ready...Apply

As technology geeks, we need to use our love of learning new technologies in a different way.  We need to first diagnosis the business need, then pull from our experience with new technologies to suggest the best solution.  Going to iPad?  You'll want a tool that can produce HTML5 code.  Creating a software simulation?  You'll want a tool that does a great job of doing screen captures.  If we always make a diagnosis before having a tool in mind, we are more likely to please our customers and co-workers.

Paradigm Shift

Of course, sometimes the business request itself is biased towards a particular technology.  Often a business need is tied to old technology or an old way of doing things.  In these cases we technology geeks can pump up our brain muscles and make a case for trying something new.  Review with the client the business need and resultant action needed by employees.  In many cases one of the new cool technologies is exactly what they need and you can help push the company to bigger and better things.

Go get your geek on but keep it in the toolbox until you understand the business need!