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.

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!

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.

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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

The Revealing Science of E-learning

If you’ve ever witnessed a plague of lighthouse keepers or traversed the topographic oceans only to find yourself in the court of the crimson king, you may appreciate what I created for this week’s Articulate e-learning challenge.

PROGressBarFront

Our MC, David Anderson asked us to create an e-learning interaction that used awards and/or progress bars in a creative way to reward learners and show them how far they’ve gotten in a lesson. Well, I thought this challenge being about progress bars, I should create the ultimate PROGress bar (ie: progressive rock, get it?).

So many times when I’ve seen documentaries about popular music or the 1970s in particular, all they ever talk about is punk and disco and totally miss the fact that the major progressive rock bands were selling millions of records and packing the hugest stadiums in the world. It was what Bill Martin aptly labelled a “popular avant garde.”

The PROGress Bar
For my progress bar, I decided to have seven levels of achievement with an illustrious title for each; ranging from Prog Novice to Prog God. I used the sun from the cover of King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues in Aspic to denote where the learner was in the different levels. So the suns go along the bottom in a row with all of them grayed out except for the current level the learner is on.

PROGressBarMuirQuestion.png

Hint, Hint
Knowing that a deep knowledge of progressive rock is generally not the forte’ of most people and that my audience was going to be mostly other e-learning designers, I didn’t want them to get discouraged and opt out of the lesson right away. To remedy this, I added obvious hints to the feedback layer of the questions and gave them two tries to get the right answer.

PROGressBarQuestionFeedbackHint.png

Being the serious prog-nerd that I am, I had too many questions. Anyone who knows me personally knows I can go on and on about this topic. When I was done, I realized that I HAD to have at least one extra question. So it made sense that to get all the way to Prog God, that the learner should have to answer an additional question to get that ultimate title. To represent where they were at in the lesson, I highlighted one half of the final sun on the PROGress bar.

PROGressBarHalfSunHighlighted.png

Original Music
For anyone who’s interested, the music on the introductory slide is a piece I wrote and recorded called “Satisfaction.” It was supposed to be one of those epic 20 minute tunes, but is yet to be completed. At any rate, enjoy the lesson and definitely let me know what you think!

Lakes of Methane You Say?

As Sun Ra used to say, “Space is the place” and I wholeheartedly agree. Thanks to some adventurous souls who conceived of, built and operated the numerous successful spacecraft which have revealed to us Titan’s, Io’s and Europa’s secrets, we not only have some beautiful images of our celestial neighbors, but have added immensely to our knowledge and understanding of these remarkable and exotic worlds.

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Adaptive Learning Paths
When creating e-learning lessons, you always want to think about your audience and their needs. Often learners have different levels of knowledge and experience. How can you create a lesson that adapts to their different skill levels, so you don’t waste the more-experienced learners’ time going over a bunch of information they already know?

E-learning designers have created adaptive learning paths (or ALPs) to accommodate these different learners’ needs. In this week’s e-learning challenge, David Anderson from Articulate asked us to create an example of an ALP.

Asking Questions First
First you have to assess where the learner’s knowledge level is at. The most common approach is to simply ask them a series of questions, and then based on their answers, only direct them to the parts of the lesson where they need help. In my example, I asked them three questions.

Moons_Solar_System_Titan_Question.png

Confidence Levels
Sometimes learners will answer a question correctly by chance without really knowing the answer. I noticed one of my fellow designers, Jackie Van Nice had added confidence levels into her submission. So I added that feature, but to keep mine simpler, I only gave them two confidence-level options to choose from, either they’re certain they know the answer or they aren’t.

Under the Hood
So how did I make it work? I used a combination of states, variables and triggers.

Each question had three possible answers. Each answer had two states; Normal and Selected. The Selected state had an outline around it so learners would know they had it selected. Also, each of the two confidence levels had Normal and Selected states.

Secondly, I created three variables, each named after the moon being talked about in the questions; Europa, Titan and Io. All three variables were True/False variables with the initial state set to False.

Finally, I created simple check marks on the summary slide that would appear on top of each section of the lesson. All three check marks had two states: Hidden and Normal. If the learner needed to review the section, the check mark would appear (Normal), but if they already knew the material and did NOT need to review the section, the check mark would be Hidden.

Moons_Solar_System_Summary.png

I then added triggers to each of the three check marks. So the Europa check mark for example, would have a trigger set to hide it if the correct answer on the Europa question was selected AND the “I got this” confidence-level was selected. Because in that instance, the learner both got the question right and was sure of their answer, and thus didn’t need to review the Europa section.

Moons_Solar_System_Europa_Selected.png

After I set the triggers for the three check marks, I thought I better add a fourth trigger for those learners who didn’t need to review any of the lesson because they already had it all mastered. In that instance a box would appear telling them so. That box had two states; Normal and an initial Hidden state. I then set a trigger so that the box would only appear (change to Normal) if all three of the variables were set to True.

I’ve done enough talking, check out the lesson here¬†and let me know what you think! I’d also like to thank Jackie Van Nice for sharing with me her transparent Storyline player to create this lesson, that was real time-saver!

Designing More Engaging Software Simulations

This week, David Anderson’s Articulate E-learning Challenge was to create an engaging software simulation. I used Storyline to create two software simulations, one which also gives the learners the opportunity to try it out themselves and a second one which merely demonstrates what to do, but also adds a closed captioning element for the hearing impaired.

Video Editing Software Simulation
Pinnacle Studio allows you to edit video professionally at a low cost. I created this demo to show users how to use their player and then gives them the opportunity to try it out themselves. Try it out here.

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Video Editing Software Simulation

For more information on how I created the simulation, visit my previous blog post.

Map Tools Demo with Closed Captioning
I designed this software demonstration/tutorial with closed captioning for Texas Parks and Wildlife. To make the course accessible to people with both hearing and visual limitations, I added closed captioning at the bottom of the screen and also used Storyline’s built in option to name all the graphics on the screen. You can view it here.

MapDrawingDemo

Map Tools Demonstration with Closed Captioning

To read about how to add closed captioning to a Storyline e-learning course, visit my previous blog post about it.

Redundancy and Coherence

Two principles of good e-learning design are to avoid redundancy and to keep things coherent and uncluttered. This week’s e-learning challenge was to present these good instructional¬†design principles in a piece of e-learning. I decided to create before and after examples of two of the principles David Anderson outlined.

Redundancy
Although this may seem like an obvious thing to avoid, I see it in A LOT of e-learning courses. Back in my college days, we had a biology professor who had these extremely wordy PowerPoint slides and then he proceeded to read every word on them verbatim. It drove the whole class nuts, a lot of students scored poorly on his tests, and he seemed completely dumbfounded as to why. Instead of reinforcing the information, redundancy distracts from it. Here’s the redundant “before” version.

Click to view redundancy example

Click to view redundancy example

And here’s the much-improved “after” version.

Click here to view the solution

Click here to view the solution

Coherence
I’ve seen this principle violated most when IDs try to incorporate storytelling or branching scenarios for the first time. In e-learning, the stories only exist to reinforce the learning experience, not to detract from it. Strip the story down to its essentials, removing any extraneous details. Here’s the cluttered, long-winded “before” version.

Click to view It's Not a Novel

Click to view It’s Not a Novel

And here’s the elegant, much-improved “after” version.

Click to view the solution

Click to view the solution