Taking a Breather – Editing Text to Speech

I am a huge advocate of using professional narrators for my courses. Because everyone thinks they can do narration, the field is swamped and very competitive, so you can get some very talented narrators at very reasonable rates. But despite my best efforts to convince them, some clients just don’t want to spend the money.

Tibet4

Now that Articulate has added computer-generated text-to-speech narration, a lot of clients have gone that route. The problem is, the speakers often come off as soulless. Part of the reason for this is that the text-to-speech narrators, unlike us human beings, don’t have to BREATHE! This can make listening to text-to-speech narrators stressful and exhausting. It’s very hard to keep up with the information you’re hearing when the speaker rarely pauses even for a second.

The Magical Comma
I figured out a great and simple way around this problem – add a few commas! When I add text-to-speech, I will import the text from the Notes section (or copy and paste from somewhere else) and inside the text-to-speech entry field, I will read the narration to myself, noticing anyplace where I’m naturally pausing, and add commas in all of those places.

I like to add the extra commas in the text-to-speech box instead of earlier on in the Notes section, because oftentimes I want the text-to-speech voice to pause even a little bit more often than normal punctuation would require. So in this version you can ignore the regular grammatical rules on when to use commas, and just apply them as you see fit to get the narrator’s pacing just the way you think it should be.

Check out this little before-and-after sample, where you can hear what a different a few extra commas can make towards making your lessons more listenable and enjoyable.

Rubik’s Blues

I love watching science programs. I remember one show in particular was all about human perception and how we humans can be fooled by optical illusions. This week’s Articulate eLearning challenge was to create something using Pantone’s 2020 color of the year, “Classic Blue”.

RubiksBluesInteraction

I created this hotspot interaction around a Rubik’s Cube with different shades of the COTY. See if you can guess which of the three boxes is the lightest. It’s not as easy as you think!

 

 

 

 

Interactive Timeline on Human Rights

I have PBS to thank for my love of US history. It all began with Ken Burns’ series on the Civil War and a two-part American Experience series on FDR. Since then, I’ve also eaten up Presidential and other biographies by many of the commentators on those shows from HW Brands to Doris Kearns Goodwin. I learned one very important thing, that the freedom and equality we enjoy in this country was not a reality the day that Jefferson said all men were created equal, with unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And neither did it happen when Lincoln proclaimed the slaves free during the Civil War.

Stanton and Douglass

Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglas – two giants of human rights

The Challenge
So when David Anderson at Articulate said this week’s challenge was to create an interactive timeline, I knew what mine was going to be about. This timeline is by no means an exhaustive one. I tried to stick with dates when the people of our whole country enjoyed a certain freedom. So when I put 1900 as the year when the Married Women’s Property Act was enacted, it really started in New York in the mid 1800s, but the rest of the states didn’t pass their own versions until later, the last one being in 1900. I had to reduce the timeline entries into fewer, more significant entries to avoid getting bogged down into too many details. Hopefully, this entry will serve to whet your appetite to learn more.

SmartGraphicTimeline

SmartArt Graphic created in PowerPoint

The Build
I used PowerPoint’s SmartArt to create the graphic model. Then I exported pieces of the model into Storyline and assembled them there. I used layers to reveal the detail on what happened each year with a simple click-and-reveal trigger. Originally, I tried to get all the years on one screen, but it proved to be too much content, with the text rendering too small to be readable. So I split it up into separate screens, four years on each page.
Check it out here and let me know what you think!

Fighting Wildfires in Alaska

You are a fire manager in Alaska and three wildfires have broken out across the state. You don’t have the resources to fight them all, so you have to prioritize. This interaction is a combination scenario/quiz question incorporating video, music and a sorting interaction.

FireManagementScenario

The Challenge
This week’s eLearning challenge was to create a quiz question with customized feedback. In this scenario, I used the existing feedback layers giving the learner the opportunity to try again if they get it wrong initially. When they do get it right, it takes them to the “correct” feedback layer with a Continue button which takes them to another slide with more detailed feedback in the voiceover and a video giving a bird’s eye view of the landscape and communities we were talking about.

Too Much Information!
There simply was not enough space to incorporate all the feedback the client wanted on the feedback layer itself, so I simply moved that feedback onto a separate slide accessible via the Continue button. For the video, I just took some high resolution still shots of the Alaskan landscape and using the Ken Burns technique, panned across and zoomed in and out of the different shots to add more interest. Check it out here and let me know what you think!

Does Music Belong in eLearning?

I’ve never met anyone who said they hated music. Everyone at least likes music, but does it have a proper place in eLearning and if so, where and when should you use it? Certainly there are as many opinions on this topic as there are style preferences in what different people like to listen to. Since this is MY blog, I’ll tell you what I think and you can tell me what you think in the comments below.

MusicianBanjo.png

Because eLearning development tools like Articulate Storyline use separate slides or screens to place your content into, it doesn’t allow you to have uninterrupted background music playing throughout your module. This has never been a problem for me, as I don’t think music should run through the whole thing.

Introduction and Conclusion 

I like to include background music at the beginning and ending of each lesson. At the beginning, it sets the mood for the learner and when it returns at the conclusion, it indicates a sense of accomplishment and that things are wrapping up.

BackgroundMusicScenario

Scenarios and Quizzes

Most of the lessons I create have quizzes, and I like to include a little background music while the narrator explains how to take the quiz, what the passing score is, etc. Sometimes a client will also request a few branching scenarios where learners can practice what they’ve learned in a real-life situation. I’ll often use background music as the scenario is being introduced and again on the feedback slides to indicate if they made the right choices.

During Videos

Occasionally, a client will give me a video where there are bits of narration interspersed with periods of silence. I like to add a little background music if for no other reason than to tell the learner that the video is still running and to keep paying attention.

Watch the Volume!

Be careful not to overwhelm or distract the learner by having the volume on the background music too loud. You want the learner to be able to easily hear what the narrator is saying. As a rule of thumb, I tend to reduce the volume on the background music by 80%.

Before I finish, being the music geek that I am, did anyone catch what other music-related title I’m eluding to in the name of this post?

A Scenario to Make You Shiver

Whether or not you properly deice and anti-ice an airplane can mean the difference between life and death for the passengers and crew. I had the opportunity to create several eLearning courses for a client in the aeronautics industry and in this lesson, they had me to create this scenario to bring home the importance of the deicing/anti-icing process.

DeIceScenario1

This week’s eLearning challenge was to create a Branching Scenario following Tom Kuhlmann’s three Cs of Challenge, Choices, and Consequences. Branching scenarios give the learner an opportunity to practice what you’ve been teaching them in a real life situation where there are numerous actions to choose from.

DeIceScenario2.png

For each incorrect and correct decision, you can give the learner feedback including telling them what could/would happen as a consequence of their decision. And you can give them the opportunity to retry as many times as it takes for them to get it right.

DeIceScenario3

These scenarios are really very simple interactions to build. Each choice links up to a different branch where you can give them feedback. Branching scenarios can also get more complicated if you decide to branch more than once. For example, if you had a scenario with more than one decision that had to be made along the way. Like a tree, each time you branch off, you exponentially increase the number of feedback paths you need to create, and some of those paths can even take the learner back to a previous slide in the scenario.

I suggest if at all possible keeping to just two or three options each time they have to make a choice, and to keep the number of decision points to the minimum you can get away with. These scenarios should also be brief as possible. You’ll notice I set up this scenario with a minimum of background information to get right to the point. So, check it out here and let me know what you think.

DeIceScenario4

So Many Layers, So Little Time

Like an onion, too many layers can make an e-learning developer cry. You’re creating an e-learning lesson in Storyline and your client has a number of slides with multiple layers. Your client requires that the learner visit all of the layers on each slide before they can advance to the next.

Normally you’d disable the Next button in the Storyline player so that it won’t work until all the layers have been visited, or you have a customized Next or Continue button on the slide itself with an initial hidden state that switches to Normal after the learner has visited all the layers.

Layers1

Each red dot reveals a separate layer, that’s 10 layers!

True/False Variables
To accomplish this, you create a separate True/False variable for each layer and when the timeline begins on each layer, or when learners exit each layer, you have a trigger that switches each variable to True. Well, it’s easy to see that if you have a lot of layers and a lot of slides with layers, you could end up with 100+ variables to create. Fortunately, there is a much better way, and it works!

Number Variables
Instead of creating True/False variables for every layer, create 1 Number variable. Let’s say you have 10 layers, simply create a Number variable (I’d name it after the slide you’re on, but you can call it anything) with an initial value of 0.

Layers2

Why Greater Than or Equal To?
Then add a trigger on each layer to add 1 to the numbered variable you just created. And finally, on the base layer, add a trigger which says to change the Next button to normal when that variable is greater than or equal to 10.

In case the learner decides to visit one or more of the layers more than once before advancing to the next slide, it’s a good idea to use the “greater than or equal to” setting on the trigger. Also, if you try to set up this trigger, you’ll notice you don’t immediately have the option to set the value of the variable, you can only change it, uh oh!

Layers3

Not to worry, you just set the variable to change, then you Add + a Condition that says the variable is greater than or equal to 10 and you’re done.

Layers4

Click + and add a trigger condition

Disabling the Next Button
In case you don’t know how to do this, you can add a trigger on the base layer that says to disable the Next button at a certain point on the timeline. I usually set it to be disabled within the first second. You can do this by either entering the time (When Timeline Reaches) or adding a cue point to the timeline and setting the trigger to disable the Next button when it reaches the cue point.

Layers5

If you’re using a customized button, and not the one on the Storyline player, just set the initial state of the button to Hidden, and have it change to Normal after the variable has reached 10 or more (or whatever value you need based on the number of layers).

It’s also important to make sure all the triggers are in the correct order to work. In my lesson, I have the trigger to disable the Next button appear ABOVE the trigger to change it to Normal.

I hope I made this all very clear and easy to understand, but let me know in the comments if you have any questions.