Spring Cleaning in Winter

This last week, I’ve taken some time away from my project work to do a little spring cleaning of my WordPress site. Most of you reading this are elearning designers and developers, so you may have noticed that after you publish a file, if there’s a browser update, it can render your course/interaction inoperable. The sound or images might have gone out, or as often is the case, the whole thing won’t load.

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Here are a few things to keep in mind when republishing your elearning courses:

  1. Make sure the fonts look right. Many of the courses I had up on the site were created on a different computer and some of those fonts did not make their way onto the new one. In Articulate Storyline, when you click on the text, it will tell you which font name to look for. Even if the font doesn’t reside on your computer, it will tell you what font it used to be. This is true even though Storyline has actually replaced the named font with a substitute. I either had to find and copy the old fonts onto my new computer or replace the fonts with something else altogether.
  2. Look out for outdated information. One of my old courses made reference to an old email address and website of mine which no longer existed.
  3. Keep the published folder names the same. That way, all the links on the other websites and pages which are pointing to them will still work after you upload the new version. Fortunately for me, I kept my published folders all in the same place, so I’d highlight and copy the name of the old folder, delete that folder, then paste the old name into the new folder before uploading it to the site. I also like to delete the old version on the remote site before I upload the new version. I don’t like to leave it up to the FTP what should or shouldn’t get replaced completely.
  4. When reviewing your new published files, make sure you’re not looking at the old cached version. In Google Chrome, I’ve noticed that I actually have to delete my ENTIRE browsing history to prevent it from opening up an old version. There may be a better way, but I’ve tried to search for and delete all the files with the old name from my browser history and those older versions still would pop up. The only thing that seemed to work was to delete all the browsing history from the beginning of time! One way to know you’re looking at an older version is the browser will ask you if you want to continue from where you left off.
  5. Make sure any links in the lesson/interaction are current and functional. Being that you’re having to update and republish your elearning files, the fact that some old links may no longer be working shouldn’t be any surprise, but when you’re republishing 20 or more courses/interactions, to check for them at all may not have entered your mind.

I would be VERY interested to hear if you have any items to add to this list of things to look out for. If you do, please leave them in the comments section below.

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Am I in Sync?: Using Video in E-learning

One of my clients provides fuel and services to the exciting aeronautics industry. They LOVE video and use it extensively in their training courses. In designing a number of courses for them, I had the opportunity to do a lot of video editing. As much as I enjoy working with video, I always want it to support and not detract from the message being conveyed in each scene.

This week’s Articulate e-learning challenge is all about how to sync video up to your content. So in this article, I will share three different ways to do just that!

Back and Forth

In this first example, I had a picture and text layout that I really liked. So, I brought out each bullet with the picture and then faded in the video to support the more detailed explanation of each bullet, going back and forth between the still shot and the video.

No Bullets, Just Video

For this one, I didn’t use any bullets, but just edited the video so it would be in sync to the audio content. So when she’s talking about smiling or shaking hands, that’s what you see on the screen. I also edited the video so that the actual sound from the video comes in for just a couple seconds so you can hear the CSR saying “Hello, Mr. Smith…”

I used Pinnacle Studio video editing software which allows you to have video on separate tracks, just like in a music recording studio soundboard. I clipped out that little bit of video with the CSR greeting the customer and put it on a separate track from the rest of the video which was on a muted track. Then, for the voiceover audio track, I added a couple seconds of silence, so the narrator would pause while the CSR was talking. It’s a neat effect, and it also gets the learner’s attention!

You can add silence to any track either in your video editing software or after importing it into Articulate Storyline (which is my favorite e-learning design and development tool).

Bullets on Top of Video

In this final example, I added a semi-transparent rectangle on top of the video and animated in the bullets in sync to the voiceover. This is my most common approach.

Whatever media you are using, always strive to make it support the content. Yes, using advanced animations and creative visual effects CAN effectively keep the learner engaged in the course, but don’t get too carried away and end up distracting the learner. Let me know what you think. Do you have any other ideas or approaches to using video you’d like to share?

Presenting Dos and Don’ts

The good old “Dos and Don’ts” list is a quick and easy way to teach people how to perform their jobs. This week’s e-learning challenge was to create a novel way of presenting these lists. So, I decided to make mine about the restaurant business, directed towards those on the front lines, the servers.

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I recently saw a graphic image of two faces facing each other in b/w and I thought I could employ similar imagery to create this simple little interaction. The learner is presented with a scenario and then selects either the “Do” face or the “Don’t” face to see an example of each.

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This could very easily be adapted to give actual lists of Dos and Don’ts for each scenario even though I only offered one example for each.

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Rather than using the Next and Previous buttons, I gave learners the option to “Try Again” to see the other option for the current scenario or to go on to the “Next Scenario”. Try it out yourself and let me know what you think!

Plussing it in E-Learning

When Walt Disney’s imagineers thought they “nailed it” with a piece of animation or an attraction, he would implore them to “plus it” to give it that extra bit of magic. I like to think one of our roles as e-learning designers should be to do the same.

Click to view Blowing Bubbles Sample

Click to view Blowing Bubbles Sample

But when we start thinking about throwing in lots of bells and whistles the old fears start creeping in. “My client or company won’t want to pay for all that fancy wizardry.” “What will this do to the budget?” “What about project creep?” “Won’t this just be distracting to the learner?”

I think there is a right way and a wrong way to “plus” an e-learning piece. Yes, you don’t want to blow the budget and no, you don’t want to overdo it. Think of “plussing it” like adding an exotic spice or two at the end to enhance a good recipe. You’ve already got the basic graphic and instructional design approach figured out and most of the course is already developed.

Click to view Sample of Plussing Bullets

Click to view Sample of Plussing Bullets

Now you can sprinkle in a few bits of pixie dust here and there to add a bit of wow to the course. You don’t want it on every screen as it can lose it’s impact or simply become overwhelming. I remember seeing a PowerPoint presentation about a software piece called TrainEngine, and the designer replaced every bullet on every slide with the image of a train engine coming in from the side. It was a clever idea, but it was WAY too much.

Finally, keep in mind that your visual/audio enhancements need to support what you’re trying to teach at that moment and not distract from it.  Ultimately, your goal is to teach the learner something specific and make it memorable. In this sample below, notice how I added bits of sound to go with the images and how the bus appears to roll into the picture while staying inside the frame.

Click to view sample

Click to view sample