Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Few Lectora Tips

By Dean Hawkinson

I recently had the chance to attend a two-day course on using Lectora. Although I have been using Lectora extensively for a few years, what I know was self-taught or learned through the example of others who use the software. I never had any formal education on using it. So, attending this course was a good “back to basics” for me, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn a few tips and tricks that I did not know about Lectora.

In this post, I would like to address four different tips that I picked up:

  • Using Editors
  • Adding Notes
  • Title Properties/Additional Files tab
  • Snap To Guides

Using Editors

Little did I know that Lectora provides you with a place to designate outside applications for editing objects such as images, video and animations. You can access the Editors by selecting File/Preferences and then clicking on the Editors tab.

Let’s assume you edit a lot of images for your course. Click the folder icon next to the Images field, and navigate to the launch file (usually located under the Program Files folder in Windows, and with an extension of .exe). Once your Editor is set, simply right click on your image in Lectora and select “Edit” and it will automatically launch your image in the selected software such as PhotoShop. In addition, when you save the file in the application, it will automatically save the image in Lectora! It is that simple. You can follow the same process to select Editors for audio, video, animations, documents and text files.

Adding Notes

Imagine you are developing a course in Lectora, and there is a particular page that still needs additional information from your SME. This is where Notes come in handy. Simply go to that page and select Tools/Add a Note from the menu bar, and a text box will appear.

Simply type your text in the Note, and save your file. A little note icon will appear in the upper-left corner of the page. This note will be viewable to you when you access the file in Lectora, but will NOT be shown to your end users when you publish your course. You can even right-click on the note and select Note Color to set different colors for the note. This is a great tool for you as a developer to write notes to yourself about the development without impacting the actual course itself.

Title Properties/Additional Files Tab

Highlight the title in the “tree” of the page and right click. Selecting Properties will bring up the properties dialog box. Clicking on Additional Files will provide you with one location to add any PDF or other file that your participants will launch during the course. Simply click on Add File and select the file you want to use.

On the page where you want to launch the file, simply go to the properties dialog box and select the file from the drop down list.

Snap to Guides

If you are like me, you live by the Guides in Lectora when developing to make sure your text and images line up properly. Using Snap to Guides takes your text or image and aligns it with the Guide if you drop it anywhere close to it. You don’t have to worry about spending time making those tiny adjustments making sure it fits!

Select File/Preferences and choose the Grid/Guidelines tab. Then, check “Snap to Guides.”

Know of any other small tips or tricks for Lectora? Feel free to share!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

What does the 80's movie WarGames tell us about learning games?

by Jonathan Shoaf

I recently watched the 1980's movie WarGames with my son. As a dad, I often use movies like that as an opportunity to teach something new to my son. So we talked about the military, the Cold War, and then my son started naming countries and wanted to know if they were an enemy or ally of the United States. Of course, I explained that things were not that simple.

The movie is about a young computer hacker, played by Mathew Broderick, who unwittingly accesses a NORAD supercomputer controlling United States military nuclear weapons during the Cold War. This computer, known as WOPR, plays the game Global Thermonuclear War continuously so that it can learn the best way to win (should the Russians attack).

As a child in 1983 I was captivated by the science and drama of the movie. But today as a geeky e-learning developer I can't help but think, "the computer is learning from playing games, I bet there's some great lessons here that can be applied to e-learning games and simulations."

First, games can engage the human brain in a more complex way than other types of training. The game evoked emotions in the characters that effected their judgement. Changing the DEFCON level of the entire United States military and giving a command that could kill thousands of people can be emotionally charged events. A page by page learning activity may not have been able to address the complexity of these emotions. Because the characters dealt with the emotions in the game, they will now be better prepared to handle the situation in the future.

It wasn't just emotions involved, the game also exposed scenarios that there were not procedures for. For example, what do you do when the radar image is not confirmed by the military forced at the location on the radar? This game forced the participants to think through these types of abnormalities.

Lesson 1: Games can be used to simulate real work environment situations.

The WOPR computer had the ability to learn from many different games. At first glance some of the games do not seem appropriate, for example, Tic-tac-toe and Chess. What would a computer at NORAD learn from these games? Well, it turns out that these games teach basic strategy skills that can be used during a conflict. So in fact they were appropriate. And these games built up in complexity all the way to the game Global Thermonuclear War. So the series of games were designed to teach skills that would build off of one another.

Lesson 2: Appropriate games should be used to engage and teach, not to purely entertain.

The game Global Thermonuclear War has an associated learning goal. It is the same as the moral of the movie: a global thermonuclear war almost always results in mutually insured destruction. This means that no one ever wins. The point is to avoid that type of war at all costs. In fact, during the movie, that lesson appears to have been learned and used by the commanding General in charge at NORAD.

Lesson 3: Games should be tied to learning goals.

In WarGames, the game was being played as an emergency unfolded. This created chaos and confusion for the characters involved. The game was frankly inappropriate at that time. A game is not a performance support is a learning opportunity. Games are not a good fit for situations where there is no time for trial and error.

Lesson 4: Games should be delivered at the right time.

In order to learn, you have to be able to fail. In the movie, the WOPR computer had to fail playing the games Tic-tac-toe and Global Thermonuclear War several times before it learned it's better not to go to war in the first place. Games should be designed so that skills are hard to master. Think about the popular game Angry Birds. Nobody goes through the whole game perfectly the first time. It takes time and repeated failure for the correct strategy to be discovered. Remember the old adage "telling isn't training"? Well the same thing can be said for games, "succeeding on the first try isn't training".

Lesson 5: Games should allow learners to fail and discover strategy at there own pace.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Extending Lectora with an iFrame

By Joseph Suarez

What’s an iFrame? While it may sound like the next must-have device from Apple, you won’t see a line forming around the block for it anytime soon. That’s because it’s just some useful code capable of extending the functionality of your Lectora-built eLearning course.

An iFrame is an HTML element that allows you to place a page within a page. You can even nest iFrames within iFrames to have a page within a page within a page. Fortunately, it’s not as confusing as Inception. In fact, if you’ve recently copied the code to embed a YouTube video, you’ve already used an iFrame.

And don’t worry; unlike its neglected cousin the <frame> tag, iFrames are fully supported in HTML5 and here to stay. This means anytime you need to pull content from an external source into your Lectora course, an iFrame is a simple and safe solution. Some handy uses for iFrames in Lectora pages include:
So how do you add one yourself? Within Lectora, you’ll need to add an External HTML Object to the desired page. This will display as a weird placeholder box while you’re working in Lectora (and in Preview Mode), but will display correctly once the course is published and viewed in a web browser. In the new External HTML Object’s properties, set the Object Type to “Other” and add your code.

In the case of YouTube, Google Docs, or some other user-friendly external site, the code will be generated for you to copy and paste. Otherwise, you’ll need to do a little bit of hand coding. Start and end with the opening and closing tags (<iframe> & </iframe>). Then within the opening tag, you add the source of the external content, height, width, etc. Check out this helpful site for more detail.

<iframe src="" width="780" height="400" frameborder="0"></iframe>

If you’ve published your course and received an error message of some kind, chances are your code has a syntax error or the URL to the external content isn’t valid. Simply tweak your code and try again. The amazing possibilities of iFrames in Lectora are too numerous to let a little code debugging stop you!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Becoming a Learning Architect

By Dean Hawkinson

I recently came across a review of a book written by Clive Shepherd called The New Learning Architect. In this book, Shepherd makes the point that we, as instructional designers, need to shift our focus from simple course creation to that of an architect who designs an entire learning environment, similar to the way an architect designs environments for living and working. I began to reflect on the 11+ years that I have been an instructional designer and how the role has changed dramatically over that period of time.

A Brief History

When I first started in the role of an instructional designer, we developed courses. All of the learning took place from the CBT or in the classroom (for those of you who remember, that stands for computer-based training – preceding the WBT, or web-based training). We were really “order takers” in the sense that we received a request for a course and developed it.

Then came performance consulting, a new buzz phrase that attempted to turn instructional designers into consultants who would investigate performance issues and work towards interventions to close that gap, both instructional and non-instructional. This was a hard sell to our clients, and it took (and still takes) a lot of selling and convincing to get their buy-in to trust us as consultants.

Then came Web 2.0 and social media, which sent instructional design into another direction. The idea of collaboration and informal learning took the stage, and again our role shifted. We began to feel that we needed to take what was going on in the world of social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and move it into learning. We also began to realize the value of informal learning, or learning that takes place outside of the formal WBT or classroom environments, and started to capitalize on how we could capture that tacit knowledge sharing for the benefit of the learners.

So…what are we doing today?

Instructional designers today have found themselves doing several things as part of their role that they would have never dreamed of doing even a few short years ago. Let’s look at some of these roles:

  • Online Discussion Facilitation – Social media has become a major component in learning environments today. As such, designers are finding themselves doing things such as facilitating online discussions to encourage informal learning and collaboration to enhance their courses. Designers also find themselves in the role of selling the value of social media interaction to their client organizations serving as consultants in this area.
  • Beyond eLearning Courses – In previous years, designers would develop an eLearning course, publish it, and their job was done. Today, we recognize that this is not enough to ensure learning takes place. Designers are utilizing collaboration tools and developing informal learning environments so that today’s learners can talk to each other about what they learned in the eLearning course and learn from each other. Designers are creating these collaborative environments both online and face-to-face. The learning is no longer taking place only from completing the course, but from the valued interaction with more experienced employees or with fellow learners.
  • Educating Trainers – Technology has changed over the years, and trainers who are used to one method of delivery (classroom) have had to adapt to new technologies such as delivering virtual courses via Adobe Connect, Microsoft Live Meeting or other software, and facilitating from tablets rather than books. Designers are finding themselves in the role of teaching these trainers how to use the new technologies and selling the benefits.

For anyone who has been in Instructional Design for several years like me, what are some other roles that you have taken on to become a learning architect? Feel free to share your experiences.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Do Learning Styles Matter?

By Shelley A. Gable

At first, learning styles seemed to be a hot topic because theorists were interested in defining various style typologies and prescribing instructional implications. Hence, we have a lot of literature describing modalities, brain hemisphere preferences, Kolb’s styles, Gregorc’s styles, and more.

Lately, a lot of folks are writing about the fallacy of learning styles. The idea is that no one can find an empirical study that supports the need to cater to learning styles. Many of these folks also point out that we typically design workplace training for large audiences, negating the need to design for specific learning style preferences.

So, is it worth learning about learning styles?

I vote yes.

I can’t think of a situation where I would design training to cater to any single learning style, because of the fact that workplace training is typically for a large audience. However, I do believe that my awareness of the various typologies, and the preferences that exist, helps me design variety into training.

I used to diligently design for different types of learning styles, for the sake of making sure that the training would be effective for just about any type of learner. I’d try to create a balanced mix of individual and group activities, explanations that tap into both concrete and abstract thinkers, experiences that could please convergent and divergent types.

I still try to create this balance of experiences, but now it’s not so much out of a desire to reach every learner. After all, for most of us, our learning capability isn’t limited to a single quadrant on a typology grid. I may prefer to solve a problem on my own, but I am capable of attempting to do it with a group.

I still aim to create a mix of experiences simply because we know that reinforcing a concept from multiple angles is good for learning. If you think of long-term memory as a network, you can imagine how we can more effectively cement new knowledge if we connect to it from multiple directions. Doing so makes us more likely to foster improved retention and recall.

So in my mind, designing for a variety of learning styles isn’t necessarily about trying to reach a lot of different types of learners. Rather, it’s about trying to reinforce content for every individual learner in multiple ways.

Where do you stand on the learning styles debate? It’d be fun to see other perspectives!