Jun 17, 2013

This, Not This - Open a URL from an E-Learning Course

"Can the course be linked to this document?"

Seems like a simple enough question. Of course it can! However, this can be more complicated than you might think.

Follow-up questions to this are:
  • Is the document available as a URL?
  • Is the URL on the INTERnet or INTRAnet?
  • Is the document a commonly supported media type?

And if those questions themselves don't cause you enough complication, if you don't open the link in a new window, you could have additional usability issues on your hands.

If you are running the course in an LMS, you'll almost without exception, want to open the link in a new window. In Adobe Captivate, that is done as follows:

The reason to do this is that if you open it in the current window, you may lose the ability to go back to the course or to close and score the course correctly. Web browsers can get confused. :-S

So don't do the following unless you want the URL to replace the course content you are linking from.

Simple enough?

Jun 13, 2013

5 Simple Steps to Attach a File in Adobe Captivate

Attaching a file in Adobe Captivate is simple if you follow these 5 steps. A common reason you may want to follow these steps it to link to a PDF file from your project. These steps assume you have already added a button or click box to your slide. I will show you how to attach the file to the project that you'll link to from this button or click box.

1. For the ACTION, choose Open URL or file.

2. Enter the filename by typing it into the URL field.

3. Select New from the drop down list so the file will open in a new window.

4. Publish the project as SWF/HTML5.

5. Place the file in the published folder.

Jun 11, 2013

What E-Learning Tools Do You Use?

Being a bit of an e-learning nerd, I thought it would be cool to share some of the tools I use at my work. I've been working with my current company for over a year now. For the most part, I'm working with the training of field technicians and support folks.

I've been using Adobe Captivate for basic e-learning courses. The company has been transitioning some Flash projects to Adobe Capivate over the past few years and they brought me in as an expert on Adobe Captivate to help drive more use of that tool. It's been well received and I think it will be a big part of what my team uses for the foreseeable future.

However, much of my work during my first year has been outside of Adobe Captivate. I've done several performance support projects. For those projects I've used Dreamweaver with some jQuery, CSS, and SQL. These are projects that I really love because they allow me to use more of my toolkit.

I've also worked on several video projects. In the last year I've learned how to use professional quality video equipment. But the nerd in me actually likes the video editing more. I use Adobe Premeire, Adobe Audition, and a few other tools to edit videos for learners.

So those are some of the tools I get nerdy about at my day job. What tools do you get nerdy about?

Jun 4, 2013

What I'd like to see in the next Adobe Captivate

Some early reviews are starting to trickle in about Adobe Captivate 7. I use Captivate regularly and I really appreciate its capabilities to create interactive and multimedia content.  Nothing excites me quite as much as new and improved software. However, nothing is quite as disappointing as a new version of software that doesn't address my needs.

When Adobe Captivate 6 came out, I could appreciate some of the improvements. But overall, I didn't see anything ground breaking. There are some things I wanted then and that I still want now in the next version of Adobe Captivate.

  • Ease of Use Improvements - I work with several instructional designers and they all seem to struggle with some aspects of Adobe Captivate and often need my assistance.
  • Smart Attachment of Files - have you ever tried to attach a PDF to an Adobe Captivate project?  It should be easy, but it's not.
  • No Fading by Default - Objects are set to fade in and out by default.  The problem is that this fading causes things to disappear or look funny at times.  Don't do that by default!
  • Newly placed objects should display for "rest of slide" by Default - Things disappear when you don't want them to...enough said.
  • Rollover Caption Should have Click Option -I like the rollover text capabilities but some users prefer the click to show text explanation functionality. That should be an option...either rollover or click to see text.
  • Advanced Actions Editor Improvements - The editor is often cumbersome to work with. When you need a lot of if/then statements, it can be difficult to navigate through them. Also, the UI is difficult and requires too many clicks to edit line items.

Are you an Adobe Captivate user?  What's on your wish list?

Feb 8, 2013

Using Lessons from Video Games in E-Learning

I'm a child of the 80's. Everyday I am reminded of that by the marketers who want dollars from the 30-something crowd. The fact that I grew up in the 80's puts me in perfect place to see the evolution of video games. Yes, I played Pong back in the day. The Atari 2600 stole hours of my elementary years. I remember text-based games like Zork and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Castle Wolfenstein brought in the era of first person shooter games for me. SimCity allowed me to create my own little worlds where I could tax and make money. Quake and Goldeneye brought my attention back to FPS games and the Call of Duty franchise has kept me there.

While a lot of folks talk about the negatives of computer games, let me talk about some of the positives. Text-based games like Zork taught me the difficulties of human-machine interface. From SimCity I learned some basics about budgeting and interest rates. The Call of Duty franchise has taught me about many of the weapons used in World War II. I discovered this when I visited a museum with my family and could name all the weapons on display because of my experience with them in the game. That actually took me by surprise. But my point here is that games can be a very engaging way to learn.

There are lessons that can be learned on how to use games in learning. I wrote a blog article last year about what the 80's movie WarGames teaches us about learning games. Some of these lessons are:
  • Games can be used to simulate real work situations
  • Games should be tied to learning goals
  • Games should allow learners to fail and discover winning strategies

The playing of games brings out the same human nature we have at work. That is we don't want to take the time to learn something. We just want to start doing the job and learn along the way. Recently I wrote a blog article called Learning Lessons from Black Ops. In that blog post I wrote about techniques this Call of Duty game uses to teach you about the game as you play (i.e. learning on the job). These techniques include leveraging teachable moments and encouraging you to learn from other players.

From my experience, video games and learning have many synergies. One of my goals as a developer is to incorporate game techniques in learning as much as I can. You don't need 3-D graphics to implement the most important lessons!

Jan 31, 2013

SharePoint Observations

I've started to work with Microsoft SharePoint for a lot of projects lately. I'm still fairly new to it. I've only started to seriously work with it over the last year. I thought I'd take a moment to share some observations.

People Don't Use SharePoint

People don't use SharePoint because it is not easy to access and documents are hard to find. Now, I know this is not true of all teams within organizations that use SharePoint. I'm sure it is a good solution for a lot of folks. However, what I'm observing is that people simply don't use it.

I'll use my team as an example. We've got a lot of good files on SharePoint. But most of us download those files to our computer and rarely come back to the site. My team does use it to update the status of projects...but they have to be constantly reminded to do so. Frankly, we do it so that our manager stays informed...not for collaborative work. My manager has done a great job or organizing the site and encouraging its use; but, it is rarely used for what it is designed for.

I've been asked to work on projects for other teams in my organization and I have observed the same mentality. These teams also have their own reasons for not using SharePoint:

  • The search function doesn't work well
  • Files are hard to find
  • Its not intuitive
  • Storage space is too limited
  • Permissions are always getting messed up

Some of these reasons are legit. However, many of these reasons are the result of a poor  implementation or IT issues that were not well thought out. Regardless, I bet I'd hear the same reasons mentioned by other organizations.

What are the Best Practices?

People don't use SharePoint because they have not seen best practices. IT has provided the teamsite space and told people to start using it to store shared documents. Chaos has ensued. People ask "we already have a shared folder, why do we need SharePoint just to share documents?" Good question. SharePoint is not meant to be a document repository alone. It is a collaborative workspace for teams. The problem is that most of the teams I've observed have no clue what the best practices are for creating a collaborative workspace...so they don't.

Improving SharePoint

I'm starting to be asked to work on some projects that leverage the strengths of SharePoint (document management, permission structure, versioning) but that fix some of the short comings I mentioned before. In particular, ease of use and quick access to information.

There are ways that SharePoint can be customized. Depending on the complexity of the project built-in customizations can certainly improve the usability.  You can add in content, remove unnecessary links, and more. But you still can not fully customize the look and feel of a teamsite without additional development work.  There is server-side coding that can be done to fully customize a SharePoint environment but IT owns this and there are certain expenses and overhead associated that can make this choice less than ideal.

I've been looking into SharePoint web services lately. There appears to be a lot of information that can be accessed through SharePoint web services. Since the web services can be accessed through JavaScript, no server-side coding is required. This means the overhead of getting IT involved can be avoided. However, it does require an experienced web developer. For me, this is promising for some of the e-learning and knowledge management projects I deal with.


Those are just a few of my observations starting out with SharePoint. What have been your observations?

Jan 28, 2013

Bullets are Bad, Questions are Good

Over the years I've encountered several courses about how to write good e-mails. They have all come to me in the same way -- a list of dos and don'ts. Frankly, it's not the way to describe it in a face-to-face setting and especially a bad idea in e-learning. Bulleted lists turn learners into zombies.

So the list comes in looking something like this:
  • Use correct spelling
  • Use correct capitalization
  • Avoid all caps
  • Skip lines between paragraphs
  • Avoid fancy fonts
  • Don't go crazy with the font colors
  • Use bold to show emphasis
Who wants to read a list like that? More importantly, who is going to remember this? Let's turn it into a question using examples of the behavior discussed.

Which would you prefer as a learner? More importantly, which is the learner likely to remember after taking the course? I strongly argue to do what you can to turn a bullet list into a question or some other type of engaging content. Bullets are simply bad in e-learning.

How have you handled boring bullet lists?