Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Lectora Best Practices Part 3 – Using Text

By Joseph Suarez

This is the third post in a series dedicated to best practices when using the eLearning authoring tool Lectora. Part 1 detailed how to optimize user preferences, and Part 2 went over using actions and variables. Part 3 will be all about text and formatting text in Lectora.

Using Lectora text styles
As mentioned in a previous post, Lectora text styles define the font, color, and size settings for selections of text or entire text blocks, and they automatically update all affected texts when changed. This is both a time saver, and a good way to stay consistent with text formatting throughout a course.

Paste unformatted text  (Ctrl+Shift+V)
It’s common practice to use Microsoft Word or PowerPoint to storyboard an eLearning course. Unfortunately, when you copy text from these programs and paste it into Lectora, extra hidden text formatting is carried with it. This can lead to text formatting problems, especially with bullet points. The simplest way around this is to paste text without any formatting. The universal shortcut for this (though oddly not available in Microsoft Office) is Ctrl+Shift+V.

Underline hyperlinks and only hyperlinks
A common web usability rule that should carry over to Lectora is to only underline text when using hyperlinks. This avoids confusion over what is or is not a hyperlink. As an alternative for emphasis, use bold or italicized text.

Use descriptive alt text on buttons and important images
Ever wonder why when you leave your mouse hovered over an image on a webpage, sometimes a little text tooltip pops up? Those are image alt tags attached to the HTML code. For example:
<img src="exampleImage.jpg" alt="An example image used to demonstrate alt tags">
Whatever is in the quotes after “alt=” will display when a mouse hovers over. In addition, the visually impaired rely on alt tag descriptions to describe what an image conveys or a button does. This also fulfills part of Section 508 compliance where “a text equivalent for every non-text element shall be provided.”

In Lectora, whatever an image or button is named (as displayed in the Title Explorer pane) will be converted to its alt tag when published to HTML. Therefore, images that aren’t there just for decorative purposes should have alt tags enabled and named according to what is visually conveyed. Buttons should also be named according to what they do when clicked. For example a next button should not stay named “arrow47right,” but instead named something descriptive like “Go to next page.”

Convert text blocks with uncommon fonts to images
You know that super awesome font you downloaded and want to use in your Lectora course? Well, it’s not that easy. Unless every single computer viewing your course also has that font installed, all the text that used your special font will default back to an ugly Times New Roman.

The best way to ensure fonts display correctly is to stick to web safe fonts. But if for some reason you must use an uncommon font, you can choose to render the text as an image when published. This converts the image to a transparent gif image, but has some minor drawbacks:
•    The text inside can no longer be highlighted or copied.
•    The image should now have a text equivalent for 508 compliance (see above).
•    Being a transparent gif, there will be unintended pixel artifacts around the letters which will show if placed over any non-white background.

In no way has this series been an official or exhaustive list of Lecotra best practices. They are mostly time savers and development practices I’ve picked up from the helpful community of Lectora users and discovered on my own (usually the hard way). Please comment if you have any additional Lectora best practices of your own.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Using Video in eLearning

by Dean Hawkinson

One of the growing trends in eLearning and mLearning these days is the use of video. Video, when used properly, can be a very effective tool in supporting the learning process, whether as a part of an eLearning course or as standalone videos delivered via mobile devices. I have been involved in several training projects that included video, and thought I would offer some thoughts around best practices and cautions when using video in an eLearning course.

When using video within an eLearning or mLearning course, it is important to keep it relatively short. In my experience, I have found that a single course should be no more than 30 minutes in order to keep the learner’s attention. As such, video should be short enough to be one of the supporting pieces of the overall course. For mLearning delivery via mobile devices, video is a very effective way to deliver a quick message as a standalone delivery, and I’ve found it works best when kept to 5-10 minutes for each clip.

For this article, I would like to focus on video in an eLearning course. Here are some ways that video can play a role in your courses:

  • Introduction or closing thoughts from leadership – For a course introducing a new product or program that you need to get your learners excited about, an introductory (or closing) video from your company’s senior leadership is a great way to get them motivated about what they are about to learn.
  • Demonstrate right and wrong behavior – A great example of this would be for a retail sales organization where you can show video of a customer interacting with a sales associate. Video is effective in showing both correct and incorrect behavior, and the use of humor for the incorrect behaviors can be very effective!
  • Introduce a behavior then test on reaction – Building on the customer interaction idea, using video to show part of the interaction and stopping to solicit the correct response from the learner is a great way to test knowledge and provide some practice in the process.

Let’s take a look at some reasons that support using video in your eLearning courses.

  • Breaks up monotony and “page turning” – We have all gone through eLearning courses that put us to sleep with “read…click…read…click…read…click…,” right? Video can enhance the learner’s overall experience by breaking up the monotony and can even introduce some entertainment to the learning.
  • Great way to show senior leadership support of program – It shows that the program or product you are introducing is supported by senior leadership, adding to its credibility.
  • Actual demonstration of right and wrong behavior without needing an instructor/facilitator – Video allows eLearning to provide instruction on these behaviors without the need for a live instructor or demonstration.

Alright, so we have talked about some ideas for using video and the benefits. However, using video is not without challenges. Here are a few:

  • Budget – Shooting a video requires equipment, skills, and resources beyond what is required for a typical eLearning course, resulting in a greater cost to produce the course.
  • Editing can take a while – Using video in your course does not exactly support rapid design and development. Depending on the complexity of the videos, editing can take quite a lot of time and resources to complete.
  • Logistics of scheduling the video shoot, resources, actors, etc. – Shooting video includes scheduling a time when all of your resources are available, obtaining a location for the shoot, and securing actors in some cases.
  • Where to house the video – Software such as Lectora allows you to imbed your videos directly in the course itself. Using the .FLV video format works best with Lectora but you will need to consider your authoring tool and delivery method to determine the best format to use. However, if you are unable to imbed the video and need to link to it, you need an external server to house the video.

These are just a few points about using video in your eLearning course. Do you have other experiences with using video that you would like to share?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

E-learning Developer vs. Web Developer

by Jonathan Shoaf

You know when to hire a plumber. You know when to hire an electrician. But do you know when to hire an e-learning developer? How do you know if you need a web developer?

Let's take a look at those roles. First, let's look at an e-learning developer.  An e-learning developer will have the following abilities:
  • Knowledge of how to use an e-learning development tools such as Adobe Captivate, Lectora, or Articulate. Many developers specialize in one particular tool. However, it is not uncommon to for an e-learning developer to be skilled in several tools at the same time.
  • Multimedia.  An e-learning developer will be able to use a variety of sounds, graphics, and video formats in an e-learning project.
  • Basic knowledge of e-learning deployment options. This includes developing for web, LMS, and even DVD distribution. An e-learning developer should have a basic knowledge of the versions of SCORM and know which version is appropriate for a project.
  • Knows the importance of instructional design on a project and respects the pedagogical choices made in a project.
Let's get real. You can't expect everyone who calls themselves an e-learning developer to have these skills. However, those are the skills you should look for when hiring an e-learning developer.

That's a pretty comprehensive list. So you may be asking why would I pay extra for a web developer? To answer that, let's look at some of the abilities you will gain in a web developer:
  • Knowledge of the underlying technologies of e-learning development tools. E-learning development tools are usually based on HTML or Flash technologies. A web developer has a deeper understanding of these technologies and can extend the abilities of these tools with that knowledge.
  • Integration. A web developer will know how to integrate an e-learning project with a variety of web-based tools. Got a PHP or ASP based server that need to talk to your e-learning? A web developer is the answer.
  • Multimedia. A web developer's knowledge of multimedia will often surpass that of an e-learning developer. A web developer will understand bandwidth and browser limitations related to multimedia and develop accordingly.
  • Ability to fix issues with an LMS. A web developer may have no prior experience with SCORM but they will be able to fix it or enhance it. SCORM is based on Javascript and web developers take pride in their ability to be a Javascript Ninjas.
I've found that web developer's generally have these basic skills. They often come from computer science backgrounds and schooling making them more predictable than e-learning developers. That said, you still need to filter candidates accordingly.

Do you think this will have an impact on your hiring decisions in the future?