Monday, February 28, 2011

What Can eLearning Learn from “7 Ways Video Games Reward the Brain?”

By Shelley A. Gable

I’m a big fan of TED talks.

A few weeks ago, a colleague pointed me to a recent talk, “7 Ways Video Games Reward the Brain,” presented by Tom Chatfield. It sounded like a great source of inspiration for eLearning I immediately clicked the link and viewed the 17-minute video.

Chatfield spends the first few minutes establishing the motivational power of video games by citing feats of time and money invested by people for the sake of games.

Then, as the title suggests, he goes on to describe seven reasons games are so engaging. Below is a brief explanation of each, along with ideas for how those principles could apply to eLearning.

--1-- Experience bars that measure progress

What it is: Many games have an experience bar that displays a player’s progress for the duration of the game (not just for a single level), and watching that bar continuously expand creates a constant source of motivation.

How we can apply it: This might not impact a short, stand-alone eLearning course. But what about a longer course with several eLearning lessons? Or a longer course where eLearning is part of a blended approach?

An experience bar might represent lessons completed, case studies resolved, tasks done correctly...or some other countable output of the course. Making that progress bar visible to others in the class could allow learners to identify peers they can turn to with questions, or offer a facilitator a way to easily view learners’ progress in a course.

--2-- Multiple long- and short-term aims

What it is: Chatfield points out that a single, long-term aim (e.g., beat the game) might bore players early. However, a mix of long-term goals with shorter-term goals (e.g., complete a level, obtain a certain number of coins, etc.) keeps the journey interesting.

This makes me think of Super Mario Brothers (old school, I know). Though the ultimate goal is to save the princess, the player conquers several levels and worlds along the way. And every 100 coins earns a free life.

How we can apply it: A previous post on this blog suggests that several smaller lessons can motivate learners by offering a clear sense of progress through a course. So, the several levels over the duration of a game seems similar to having several lessons that make up a course.

--3-- Rewards for effort

What it is: Every bit of effort earns a game player credit, which may come in the form of coins, strength, experience, etc.

How we can apply it: This brings me back to the progress bar. Perhaps answering questions or completing tasks correctly feeds into extending the progress bar. Or, these types of accomplishments could feed into a score, with a certain score “unlocking” a different type of activity for learners. For example, passing ten system simulations might earn learners an opportunity to job shadow (i.e., meet an experienced employee and engage in some on-the-job training).

--4-- Rapid, frequent, clear feedback

What it is: It’s pretty obvious what this means, and games accomplish it easily. Every move in a game immediately results in an immediate consequence.

How we can apply it: Researchers have published volumes of studies highlighting the importance of immediate and specific feedback. Most of what I’ve seen in training does a decent job with this. Learners answer a question or engage in an activity, and they receive feedback during and/or immediately after. The challenge often comes with figuring out how to continue this type of feedback on the job.

--5-- Element of uncertainty

What it is: Chatfield explains it well. “When we don’t quite predict something perfectly, we get really excited about it. We just want to go back and find out more.” He goes on to explain how dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with reward-seeking behavior, is linked to learning.

How we can apply it: This reminded me of a recent article by Jane Bozarth in Learning Solutions Magazine (from the eLearning Guild), “Surprise!” Bozarth explains how surprises grab our attention and make content memorable. She also offers advice for incorporating surprises into training.

--6-- Windows of enhanced attention

What it is: Chatfield and Bozarth are on the same page here. The idea is that an element of surprise or uncertainty sparks our curiosity, creating a “window of enhanced attention” in which we’re more likely to learn something and recall it later.

Chatfield also suggests that these windows make game players braver and more likely to take on difficult tasks.

How we can apply it: Take full advantage of this window by following surprise with critical information learners must recall on the job or practice of a critical task. Using this window for something that is “nice to know” would likely be a missed opportunity.

--7-- Other people!

What it is: Chatfield suggests that what really excites people is other people. Working with peers. Collaborating. This seems in sync with the increasing popularity of collaborative games like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft.

How we can apply it: Even if we didn’t design an eLearning course with an instructor-led blend, we can still work in a collaborative element. How about encouraging learners to discuss an eLearning course on an internal discussion board or other form of social media? Getting managers to discuss training with employees before, during, and/or after the event also adds this collaborative element.

Watch the video and add your comments...

I first watched the video a few weeks ago, I watched it again a few days ago, and the thoughts I’ve shared here are some of my initial reactions. I’d love for others to elaborate on the ideas here or share related experiences.

Chatfield is a talented speaker with a fascinating presentation. If you can spare 17 minutes, check out the video…and then come back here to share your reactions!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Recording Audio with Adobe Presenter

By Dean Hawkinson

Using audio narration in eLearning courses has been debated from both sides – some people feel that it is an enhancement that assists the learner in completing the course, while others argue that it can be distracting. Click here to read an earlier post from this blog that highlights some of the pros and cons.

Before looking at how to use Adobe Presenter for audio, let’s focus on a few ways that using audio can enhance the learning:

  1. It is great for those auditory learners in your audience that prefer narration to other styles of learning.
  2. Audio narration can help to describe charts and graphs that would otherwise require a lot of reading.
  3. It can add an element of having a “trainer” to help expand on the points that are being presented on the slides – it adds a human touch to the course.

Why use Adobe Presenter for Audio Narration?

Some instructional designers opt to record audio for an eLearning course using online conferencing tools, such as Adobe Connect or Microsoft Live Meeting. However, these options present some challenges.

One challenge is that the narrator must narrate the entire course at once, allowing little room for mistakes. Have you ever had the experience of making a mistake two-thirds into a presentation and having to stop and go back to re-record the entire session?

A second challenge with using online conferencing tools is that they do not provide an option for output to AICC or SCORM for integration into a Learning Management System (LMS). You can save the recording as a .wav file and imbed it into a course created in a tool such as Lectora, but you could be dealing with a number of headaches in trying to do that.

The good news is that Adobe Presenter overcomes both challenges. Presenter works seamlessly with PowerPoint to allow slide by slide narration. Make a mistake? Just start the individual slide narration over, and what you have recorded to that point on the other slides stays intact! Presenter also provides you the option to record your narration over the PowerPoint, and save the course directly as AICC or SCORM for LMS integration.

Recording with Adobe Presenter

Recording audio narration with Adobe Presenter is a very simple process. All you need is a microphone. I recommend using a headset microphone that plugs into the computer – the audio sounds much clearer and cancels out a lot of the background noise that is a problem with a built-in computer microphone. Presenter integrates into PowerPoint by adding a tab to the menu bar called Adobe Presenter. This menu includes a series of options for course creation. For this post, I will focus on the Audio section, highlighted here.

You can import an existing audio file or sync/edit the existing audio. For the purpose of this post, I will focus on recording live audio.

Simply go to the slide from which you want to begin the narration, and click “Record.” Presenter will ask you to test your microphone and click OK. You can skip this step by selecting Skip if you have already tested it.

Once the level is set, you will be presented with the record dialog box:

Click the red button to start recording and then click “Stop Recording” when you are finished narrating that slide. You can then play it back to listen to it.

When you are satisfied, simply click the Next button to proceed to the next slide and repeat that process for each of the remaining slides. As you can see, you are even able to add scripting for the slide to help out the narrator.

A couple of tips:

  • Make sure that “Record/Play this slide only” is selected if you want to record slide by slide (and who wouldn’t, given the issues with Connect or Live Meeting!).

  • If you stop during a slide, hitting the record button will re-record the entire slide. You cannot pick up where you left off when recording by individual slides.

That’s all there is to it! You then publish the course to SCORM or AICC for integration into your LMS…but more on that in a later post.

What tools do you use to record audio for eLearning courses?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Is your head in "the cloud"?

by Jonathan Shoaf

My career is the Internet. If the Internet goes away, I will need to make major adaptations. It’s a little scary to be so dependent on one technology, but isn’t that how most people’s careers are? For example, home builders, auto manufacturers, plumbers, and air conditioning repairmen all depend on a certain type of technology for their careers. So is depending on the Internet any riskier of an endeavor? I think only in the since that the Internet is new do people see it as risky. However, more and more people are starting to realize the Internet is not going away and will always be an important part of our lives just like home, cars, plumbing, and central heating and air have been for my entire life.

So now here comes cloud computing and once again my risk flag goes up. Am I really comfortable storing my applications and data on the Internet? What happens if I can’t get to the Internet? Well if you can’t get to the Internet for more than a day (from work, home, or mobile), then the world as we know it has changed dramatically and we may be in the midst of World War III! I think you get my point. Having my head in “the cloud” is not as risky as it appears.

I use the cloud everyday. My news and information aggregator is in the cloud. My task management is in the cloud. My social connections are in the cloud. E-mail, calendar, office docs, miscellaneous file storage...all in the cloud. I’m even writing this document in the cloud!

So what is the cloud? As with all loose technology labels these days, it’s not always obvious what they physically refer to. Remember Web 2.0...what is that? Is the cloud the same thing as Web 2.0? If that’s the case, is the Internet itself the cloud? Wikipedia describes cloud computing as “computation, software, data access, and storage services that do not require end-user knowledge of the physical location and configuration of the system that delivers the services.” Ok, got it?

Let’s take a closer look at this definition. So does this mean your LMS is in the cloud? Well, maybe. Is it installed at your corporation? Well, then that’s not really the cloud now is it? But what if your LMS is a 3rd party provider and you don’t really care where it is or how its configured and backed up...well that could be considered in the cloud. Consider your LMS could be a hybrid. It’s installed on your corporate network but uses some services from the cloud. SCORM Cloud by the good folks at Rustici is an example of this. They provide SCORM services in the cloud that can work with online applications through an API.

You may now be saying, “I have no clue where any Internet sites are...aren’t they part of cloud computing?” Well, not necessarily. Cloud computing generally means you are replacing what would normally have been done on your desktop with an Internet application. For most people this means replacing software and data storage locally with Internet versions of those. Reading the news at is not reading news in the cloud but using the Google Reader RSS aggregator to read your blogs is in the cloud. The reason, Google Reader is storing information about your favorite blogs and performing a software service that was previously desktop-based.

I know these distinctions are subtle and there is some ambiguity in the term. But I hope that you are getting the sense that information and software in the cloud is something that 5-10 years ago would have been stored on your computer. Today you have no clue where it’s stored but you love that you can access it anywhere, any time, from any device. Isn’t that great! So in a sense, my head is in the cloud. Is yours?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Employee Engagement Matters for eLearning

By Shelley A. Gable

According to most definitions, an “engaged” employee is a high-quality performer who takes personal responsibility to work toward the success of an organization.

Several posts on this blog offer advice for engaging learners through compelling eLearning design (e.g., gaining attention, storytelling, providing practice opportunities, etc.). While effective instructional tactics are critical for learning, we also know that a training event is only one piece of the puzzle. The perceptions and attitudes of learners prior to starting training can impact performance just as much as the training itself (sometimes more!).

Imagine if all your learners fit the definition of the “engaged” employee. Such a population would likely look forward to training, proactively request clarification as needed, and eagerly apply newly learned skills on the job.

It’s no wonder that researchers credit employee engagement with financial benefits related to customer service, teamwork, and productivity!

So how can organizations foster a culture of employee engagement?

To systematically enhance engagement, it must be measured (typically done through a survey)…and the organization must act on the results. Unfortunately, many companies fail to act on survey results, which can actually lead to negative consequences like frustration, disillusionment, and distrust on the part of employee respondents.

I’m not going to claim that you can transform a group into a highly engaged workforce overnight. But you can help an organization make progress.

In a study published in Performance Improvement Journal last April, organizational leaders said that employee engagement survey results weren’t actionable. They didn’t know what to do after the results were handed to them. They also said that it was easy to forget about engagement after initial communication about the survey effort had passed.

Here’s where you come in...

As instructional designers, most of us know a thing or two about goal-setting, communication, and other types of performance improvement interventions. So let’s flex these muscles in ways that go beyond eLearning.

The findings of the article mentioned earlier led to a recommendation to support employee engagement efforts through a communication plan. A communication plan that includes a few really straight-forward components:

  • How to communicate engagement results throughout the organization

  • Actionable recommendations leaders can follow to improve engagement on their teams

  • A year-round strategy for announcing positive changes resulting from the survey in routine communications throughout the company

Several instructional design theorists remind us of the importance of supporting learners after they complete an eLearning course (e.g., Gagne, Merrill, Keller, etc.). Though we must ensure this support is in place for each training effort, enhancing engagement can contribute to an ongoing sense of organizational support.

Are you involved in employee engagement initiatives in your organization?

If so, tell us about the impact you believe it can have on training effectiveness. And as always, we also welcome your tips and ideas.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Lectora – Using Variables to Restrict the Next Button

By Dean Hawkinson

Here’s the scenario: You are designing an eLearning course in Lectora, and you have a page with multiple buttons. These buttons launch required information (i.e., simulations, websites, PDF documents, videos) and it does not matter in what order the learner clicks the buttons. However, you want to restrict learners from clicking the Next button until they review each item. In this case, there is a way to create a variable to restrict the Next button until they click all items on the page.

If you would like an introduction to using variables in Lectora, click here. In this earlier post on using variables, Jay shows how to disinherit the Next button and then add a new one when the selected conditions are met. Alternatively, you can also simply hide your Next button as soon as the page displays and then show it again only when the conditions are met. For this post, we will focus specifically on the latter method.

There are actually several ways to restrict the Next button using variables on Lectora. You can set up a single variable as outlined in this post, or you can use one variable for each click action on the page. Another way to restrict the Next button without using variables is to simply use an action on the page to hide the button, and then select the last button to show the Next button upon clicking it. However, using the action on only the last button does not require the user to click the others – as long as the user clicks the last one, the Next button appears. With this method, there is no way to ensure the user has clicked ALL of the buttons on the page.

So, how do you ensure the learner clicks all buttons to launch the required information?

Use a variable.

Setting up a variable for this situation is pretty simple. First, make sure that you have a “Hide Next” action on the page. Then, create the variables.

Let’s say you have a page that launches three simulations that are required. For each simulation, you need to set up a separate variable.

--1-- Set up a variable for each simulation and title each one something simple that you will be able to identify easily, such as “Simx_complete” (replacing x with the simulation number) or something similar. Set the initial value at “0” and save each one. Select Retain Value between sessions if that applies.

--2-- For each button, you need two actions – one to show the Next button and another to modify the variable. I usually title them simply “Show Next” and “Modify Variable” so I don’t get confused when I have to maintain the course later. On the General tab, set your actions according to the image below.

--3-- Set your value for “All of the Following” and then set the variable equal to “1” for each of the “Simx_complete” variables (selected from the drop-down menus), other than the one you are currently setting.

For this example, you are setting the properties for simulation 1, so you set the values for the other two simulations (2 and 3) “Equal To” “1” so the Next button will not show when you click the Sim1 button until after the learner clicks the other two as well. When you set each button with these actions, the Next button will not appear until you have clicked all three buttons to launch the simulations, and the order in which they are clicked does not matter.

That’s all there is to it!

Using variables will ensure that learners launch ALL required information before they can proceed to the next page.

What else do you want to know about Lectora? Please ask your questions or share your tips in the comments!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

An Overview of HTML5

by Jonathan Shoaf

Apple's recent refusal to support Flash is the latest of many headaches web developers have had to endure as the web has matured but standards have been slow to respond. I mentioned this to a Flash developer at lunch today and I could see the frustration in his eyes wondering how he's going to meet the needs of his customers who use iPads. Many people in the eLearning industry are facing this challenge. Apple is stopping support for Flash on the premise that HTML5 can solve all the development challenges that previously could only be solved through Flash. Regardless of how you feel about Apple's decision and whether or not you think Flash should coexist with HTML5, HTML5 looms in the not so distant future and it is important for web developers to understand what it is.

Web developers pushing to create a better and better online user experience has resulted in a patch work of web browser specific tags and a variety of plug-in technologies scattered throughout the web. The result has been a good web experience for most web surfers; however, many headaches for those of us being asked to create cutting edge content that must work on a variety of web browsers. Standardizing these headaches so that web development is more consistant across all web-based devices is the goal of HTML5.

How did we get here?

As the popularity of the web grew and users demanded more functionality, HTML evolved as web browser manufacturers, like Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer, and members of web communities recommended and implemented new features. Many of those features would get adopted by the rest of the web community and thus become a part of HTML. The first standarized release of HTML came in 1995 with HTML 2.0. Lack of wide support for that standard led to the development of HTML 4.0 in 1999. It did a better job of stabilizing the language and is still the major standard used today.

XML influences HTML

As the benefits of XML become more apparent, many thought it would be a good idea to meld HTML and XML to create a more structured approach to web documents. This began with the XHTML 1.0 standard. Some would say this standard was not keeping pace with the growth of the web. Developers, like myself, worked to adopt it but ultimately abandoned it because of issues with its structure and in the way it was implemented by the web browser manufacturers. Between 2000 and 2004, growth of high bandwidth connections resulted in increased user demand for applications driven by technologies like Flash and AJAX. XHTML 2.0 was then creatd to address this. However, issues such as a lack of backwards compatibility made it slow to be adopted. By 2009, it was apparent XHTML wasn't going to win over the web community.

The beginnings of the successor to HTML 4.0 first started to emerge in 2004 and later it was labeled HTML5 in 2007. In 2010 with the help of major technology companies like Apple and Google, HTML5 support grew dramatically as web browser manufacturers started to support parts of the standard. Now developers are starting to take advantage of this support and looking for ways to add HTML5 functionality to their web applications.

HTML5 simplifies development

Most of what's new in HTML5 is already being done on the web. It's just being legitimized and made easier with the new specification. One example of this is the way forms work. In particular, date picker functionality is being built into the web-browser with HTML5. Until now, web developers had to create a date picker from scratch using CSS and JavaScript or they had to purchase a library of code that contained the functionality. With HTML5, all you need to do is set the input type to "date" and a web-browser that supports HTML5 (on your mobile phone, desktop, or tablet) will automatically attach a date picker to that input item.

HTML5 structures content

Previous versions of HTML, while searchable by machines, were often difficult for automated programs to interpret. HTML5 tries to improve this by adding new structural tags such as sections, articles, asides, navigation areas, header groups, headers, and footers. This organization makes it easier for accessibility applications to interpret how the content is organized allowing people with disabilities to browse the web quicker. This also makes it better for search engines to find the right content. Expect better quality searching once HTML5 is in wide use. Also, content agregators can do a more appropriate job of automatically sorting through web pages to republish and reuse the content.

HTML5 allows developers to animate

The HTML5 specification includes the ability to create a drawing area, called a canvas. This will allow developers to render graphs on-the-fly within a web page, create photo effects, and do animations. The ability to draw to the canvas is one of the reasons people think Flash may not be used as much on the web in the future. Flash is not going away any time soon; however, HTML5 does provide functinality that was previously only available through Flash. If you have a browser that supports HTML5 (you can go here to find out), check out this math-oriented game created using the canvas.

HTML5 does much more

If you're developing content for the web, there is a lot more you'll want to know about HTML5. Here are just a few more capabilities:
  • Geolocation for the increasing number of users accessing the web from mobile devices. And, this works on your desktop too! (example of geolocation)
  • Ability to provide better audio and video playback optimized based on the web device you are using.
  • Offline storage so web applications can still work even when you don't have a network connection.
  • Drag and drop which was near impossible to implement previously. For example, you can drag and drop a file from your computer into the web browser. (example of drag and drop)
Effect on WBT development

HTML5 favors tools like Lectora that are currently HTML-based. Most likely, these tools will allow you to do more with your development efforts in the HTML5 future. Tools like Captivate and Articulate, which are Flash-based, will probably need to adapt or change over to HTML5 in the long run. Apple's lack of support for Flash is already becoming a problem for WBTs built with these tools. While Flash will continue to be an important part of the web, Adobe will most likely use its strength in Flash development tools to create HTML5 development tools. Adobe is also working on tools that can convert from Flash to the HTML5 canvas. Remember, the need to switch from Flash to HTML5 could change at any time depending on the whims of the major web-browser manufacturers and what your corporation standardizes on. Sitting on the fence with decisions related to this may be the prudent thing to do.