Wednesday, October 26, 2011

eLearning in a Geodesic World

By Dean Hawkinson

I recently had the privilege to attend a two-day workshop conducted by Dave Meier, the author of “The Accelerated Learning Handbook.” Mr. Meier challenged us to always focus our material on how the learner can build his or her own learning. For eLearning, it shifts our paradigm from a course being a learning “event” to creating an entire learning environment in which the eLearning course is only a piece of the learning.

Geodesic Thinking

Mr. Meier explained that previous learning environments reflected a linear mindset. Traditional classroom and eLearning environments come from this thinking. The classroom consisted of an instructor imparting wisdom to the students, and eLearning was simply a manner of completing a course in a very linear fashion. However, we now live in a very geodesic world, as demonstrated by the image below.

In a geodesic world, we are all resources for each other. The internet and tools like social media have created this world where we are all inter-connected. We are now designing for communities rather than individual learners. We all learn from and rely on each other for our learning. We want to create learning environments where we can get people to be responsible for the whole learning experience by social interaction and support in learning new skills.

eLearning and Geodesic Thinking

Much of Mr. Meier’s material focused on instructor-led environments, but he had some great ideas for making eLearning more geodesic. Here are a few of his suggestions:

  • Before starting the program, have learners interview one or two others who have successfully completed the program. Have them ask for some ways to get the most out of the program.
  • Chunk the information into segments (10-15 minutes each) that requires the learner to do something active upon completion such as:
    • Solve problems that require them to access reference material they have to use on the job
    • Go into the workplace and interview other employees using survey or research questions that you provide to them
    • Download a document that requires them to fill in the blanks as they complete the program
    • Create a job aid to be used on the job and shared with others
    • Go into the workplace and make a couple of observations and record these in an online file
    • Have learners create a colorful pictogram summarizing their learning; they can later copy it and share it with others
  • Have two people complete the eLearning program together on one computer. Structure it so they each have something to do for each other. Provide tools such as flash cards or provocative questions to challenge one another.
  • Arrange for two or more people who have just completed the same program to meet face-to-face or on a conference call to discuss what they learned and how to apply it on the job.
  • Have learners gather in a room and go through the eLearning program together. Have them stop periodically to talk with each other about what they are learning or to answer questions or solve problems provided by the program.
  • Ask learners to make short, imaginative YouTube presentations for each other to reinforce and extend the learning material included in the program.

What are some other things that have worked well for you to create a geodesic environment for your eLearning programs?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Wrote about Storytelling for eLearn Magazine

By Shelley A. Gable

Although teaching through telling stories is as old as the human race, storytelling as a learning technique is receiving renewed attention in the training industry.

As an instructional designer, I’m among those who have zoomed in on storytelling. Because of that, several posts on this blog explore how storytelling benefits learning and how to design stories into eLearning.

And since it seems that many of you share that interest, I wanted to let you know that I was recently invited to write an article on the topic for eLearn Magazine.

Click here to view the article, Storytelling in eLearning: The why and how.

Interested in revisiting the posts on this blog on the topic? Click here for a list of posts related to storytelling.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Designing mLearning for Touch Screens

by Joseph Suarez

These days, more and more organizations are pushing eLearning content onto devices with touch screen interfaces such as smart phones and tablets. It’s an exciting, and sometimes daunting, time to be involved in eLearning development.

However, in the rush to create mLearning that “runs on the iPad,” it’s important not to forget we’re no longer creating training for a mouse and cursor environment. Here are some differences between using a mouse and a touch screen to take into consideration:

No More Mouse Overs or Hovers
Since there is no cursor on a modern touch screen device, there’s no hovering effect achieved when a cursor enters and exits an element like a button. All those nice button color changing effects and specialized actions trigged on mouse enter and exit won’t function correctly on a touch screen.

New Interaction Metaphors and Terminology
Avoid using mouse metaphors such as click, right-click, or hover. New metaphors for touch include tapping, sliding, swiping and flicking. These are collectively known as gestures.  At the time of this writing, most eLearning development tools don’t currently take advantage of gestures, but that’s something to look forward to in the not-too-distant future.

It would be strange to see someone with a mouse in each hand controlling two cursors on screen, yet that’s exactly what multi-touch allows for. Each finger acts like its own mouse cursor, and they can work together to form more gestures like pinching to zoom. Again, this isn’t something that is easy to utilize for eLearning at the moment, but it has huge potential down the road.

More Space around Buttons and Links
A hand moving a mouse cursor only needs a few pixels of space to comfortably click a link or button. However fingers need more space or “hit area” to allow the user to tap on what they need without accidentally triggering something else. Keep this in mind when placing buttons next to each other or creating a list of links.

Whether you or your organization is creating new eLearning for mobile or repurposing existing content, be sure to keep the touch interface in mind. And remember, the “M” in mLearning doesn’t stand for mouse.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Uses for Audio in eLearning

By Shelley A. Gable

I recently completed an eLearning course (as a learner, not as an instructional designer) on project management. The entire course was narrated. I enjoyed the narration at first – given all the time I spend reading and typing, it was nice to mainly listen. But I changed my mind after five or so minutes.


First, the audio narration slowed me down. The concepts taught in the course were relatively simple. I felt I could’ve skimmed a text version of the content and retained just as much.

Second, the images on the screen were not instructional. So, while the course avoided the mistake of reading text that appears on the screen (which we know can hinder comprehension), the many images that animated onto the screen throughout the course seemed to be more decorative than meaningful.

Since I didn’t need the visuals to understand the audio, I decided to listen to the course like a podcast while glancing at email and other stuff. Eventually, I got further sucked into the multitasking and found myself half-listening to the course (at best).

So when is audio worthwhile?

Although I had never designed an eLearning course to include full audio narration, the experience reinforced that I probably shouldn’t go down that path in the future. It also got me thinking more concretely about instances where audio does make sense for learning. Here are some ideas...

Dialog. Perhaps the course you’re designing includes scenarios with dialog. Using audio for the dialog can draw learners’ attention to that element of the scenario and increase the realism of the scenario (for conversations that occur aloud in real life).

Storytelling. If the course includes a story, you could use an audio or video recording to convey the story to learners. This allows learners pick up on emphasis and expression that is difficult to convey with text. Enthusiasm exuded by the storyteller might even be contagious for learners.

Demonstration. In the training I completed, the images were more for decoration than instruction. But if you have a flowchart, diagram, or other instructional image, it may make sense to use the full screen for the image while the audio explains it to learners. This can help you avoid blocking areas of the image with text.

What to keep in mind...

The list above is far from comprehensive. The principle to follow is to use audio only when there is a specific reason to use it. When you consider that incorporating audio is an additional project expense (e.g., time to record and edit, increased output file size and storage space needed, etc.), it makes sense that we should have a specific justification for its use.

When do you use audio in eLearning? And how do you decide whether to use audio?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When are System Simulations Appropriate?

By Dean Hawkinson

System simulations, created using software such as Adobe Captivate, serve several purposes when used in eLearning. They are a great way to learn system navigation without using the actual system. You can create simulations in several different ways, depending on the type of interaction you are looking for in your course.

Types of Simulations

Demonstration (aka Show Me) - Learners watch this type of simulation as a video. A learner can watch the steps in a procedure with text describing what is happening. Or, you can use audio using a recorded narration or text-to-speech technology. While this may be a good way to introduce system navigation, it lacks the interaction required for the learner to truly get “hands on” experience in using the system.

Guided Practice (aka Try Me) – This simulation guides the learner through a procedure. It is as if the learner is actually clicking in the system, but it includes text and/or audio to tell the learner what to do. This is by far the best way to use a simulation in an eLearning course to teach the user navigation, because it includes click-by-click instructions either by text or audio. It is a safe environment where the learner can make mistakes without interfering with actual customer information in a live system. However, it is ineffective at truly testing a learner’s skill, as it is guided.

Assessment (aka Test Me) – This simulation, similar to the Try Me mode, has the learner click through a sequence of steps to reach a desired result. The difference is that there is no guidance. The learner has to rely on his or her own knowledge to complete the simulation. This is the most effective way to identify if the learner has truly learned to navigate the system. However, you can only set it up to follow a specific path; and with no guidance, the learner can become confused and can get “stuck” in the simulation if he doesn’t follow the correct path and cannot proceed. Fortunately, you can overcome this with feedback “bubbles” that appear when the learner clicks in the wrong places.

Simulations vs. Other Alternatives

Let’s assume that your client informs you that there have been some changes to the system used by sales associates. He knows that simulations have been effective at teaching the system to new hires, and he is asking for a simulation to describe the changes to the system. Upon discussing the changes, you find that there are only a few screens changing and only a few fields on each page. Your audience is already familiar with the current system.

Would you create a simulation for this?

What if the system changes are extensive and the new system looks and feels completely different?

These are the kinds of questions you should consider when it comes to simulations. As I discussed in a previous post about technology advancement, we should never choose the technology to use before understanding the goals training must accomplish.

When deciding whether to use a system simulation, consider the following factors:

How complex is the navigation you are trying to teach? Is it a simple step-by step process with two or three steps? Or, is it a very involved process that includes decision-making and branching? A complex process is often a good fit for a simulation. If it is a simple procedure, consider creating a job aid with screen shots that highlight important areas of the screen and include simple directions. Just make sure your job aid does not turn into a novel! Keep it succinct, focusing on the screen shots and keep text to a minimum.

Do you have access to a training or test environment that allows you to capture images of the procedure without impacting customer accounts and/or proprietary information? If not, creating simulations can get quite challenging. Software like Captivate lets you create simulations with a series of screen shots. Without a training or test environment, you may end up spending a lot of time cleaning up the screen shot images and making sure they all match in size and resolution. You may also spend a lot of time taking out proprietary information if they come from a live system. In the end, this may be the only alternative you have to teach the system if there is not a test or training environment available.

Does your audience have the hardware and software to access the simulations (i.e., do they have Flash capability)? Captivate publishes simulations as Flash files as the default, so you need to ensure that the computers your audience uses includes the capability to play Flash files. Remember, for mLearning, Apple products such as the iPhone and iPad do not run Flash. However, newer versions of simulation software allow creation of HTML5, which alleviates this issue.

What experience do you have in selecting simulations as a learning tool?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Creating Transparent PNGs in PowerPoint

by Jonathan Shoaf

PowerPoint gets a bad reputation from all the mind numbing presentations millions have been subjected to. This has less to do with PowerPoint's limitations and more to do with a lack of creativity on the part of many presenters. PowerPoint is a very powerful presentation tool that can be used to really enhance the way data is presented.

Think Outside the Box

PowerPoint is also useful for creating cool visual effects outside of a presentation. I often use it to organize my thoughts into visuals or to show someone a concept I'm working on. I also use it to create graphics for my e-learning modules.

This post will provide step-by-step instructions for how to create transparent graphics in PowerPoint and save them as a portable network graphic (PNG) file for use in an e-learning module. Transparency can really enhance the look and feel of your content. I will show you how to make a semi-transparent cloud like the one below.

Creating a Cloud

Let's go ahead and create a cloud. Do this by going to the Insert tab, choosing Shapes, and selecting the cloud shape.

Now adjust the colors and formatting to create a white cloud. To do this, select the cloud and then make sure the Format tab is selected. Change Shape Fill to white.

Next, adjust the outline by selecting Shape Outline and choosing the color gray.

Finally, lets make it a semi-transparent cloud. Right click on the cloud and choose Shape Format. Select the Fill options. Look for the Transparency setting and set it to 50%. This will allow part of the background to come through the cloud when we place it on another image.

Saving the Cloud

The cloud has been created in PowerPoint. Now we need to get it out of PowerPoint and into a format we can use. Right click on the cloud and select Save as Picture. For the Save as type, choose PNG Portable Network Graphics Format. This graphic format works on all of today's browsers and will preserve the transparency settings. JPG and many of the other formats will not preserve the transparency. Click Save to save the file.

Now that you have the cloud graphic outside of PowerPoint , you can use it with your e-learning development tool to create transparent effects.

The background without clouds:

The background after adding PowerPoint clouds: