Voices in my Head

When Queen released “A Night at the Opera” the album that exposed the world to the classic rock anthem “Bohemian Rhapsody” the liner notes emphatically stated that “no synthesizers were used on this album.” So, I’m going to tell you the same thing about my voice-over portfolio, with the exception of the tympani roll, all the music was created with one simple tool, my voice.

Click to view my voice portfolio

Click to view my voice portfolio

E-Learning with Character(s)
Over the last few years, I have created or helped out with quite a few e-learning projects which have required me to tap into the voices in my head. I really don’t have the pipes for doing the narration part, but I have come up with quite a wide range of character voices in creating interactions & games for David Anderson’s e-learning design challenges.

E-Learning Feud Characters

E-Learning Feud Characters

In this portfolio, you’ll meet a couple game show hosts, a nerd, a jock, an old man, a goofball of a guy, some assorted animals, and …BERT.

The Gist
Rather than just clicking on the examples and jumping right into the interactions, I thought I better explain a little what each interaction was about, what my role was in their creation, and a little bit about my thought processes. Jackie Van Nice gave me the idea of creating a separate bit of theme music, sort of a slower more “contemplative” version of the theme song at the beginning to go behind my voice as I give the run down on these various interactions.

Bert gets all Dracula in yo face

Bert gets all Dracula in yo face

I designed this portfolio so you can just click right into the interactions if you want. You don’t have to sit and listen to the “director’s/actor’s comments” first. The bottom line is, just jump into it and enjoy.

Click to view my voice-over portfolio

Click to view my voice-over portfolio

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Munch on This!

This week’s e-learning challenge was to create a cereal box with an e-learning theme. So I decided to throw in a bit of alliteration as well. Mine’s a little reminder to all of us instructional designers to use our imaginations, throw the learners into real-life scenarios instead of putting them to sleep with endless bullet points. That’s all. Pretty simple eh?

Bert's Bullet Blasters

Bert’s Bullet Blasters

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

Making Bullets More Imaginative

As an e-learning designer, I see more bullets than most police officers do in a lifetime. So much of our work involves taking old bullet-heavy power point presentations and transforming them into fun, vibrant e-learning courses.

Click to view sample

Click to view sample

One problem with bulleted lists (especially the wordy and long ones) is that it can be overwhelming for the learner to have to read the bullets and pay attention to the narration at the same time. If you’ve ever tried to read a newspaper article while someone is talking to you, you’ll know what I mean.

My usual approach is to replace the bullets altogether with pictures, especially if the narrator is already saying the same thing as the bullets. When you use pictures this way, you want the pictures to reinforce (and not distract from) what is being said by the narrator.

But sometimes the client really wants to see those bulleted lists up there. So, I came up with this hybrid of images and text. The samples below were from three different courses, one each on water, energy, and school site investigations. Just click on the pictures to launch them.

Here’s one about water:

Click to view sample.

Click to view sample.

Here’s one about doing an investigation, thus the magnifying glass:

Breathing life into bullets

Click to view sample.

Here’s one about energy:

Click to view sample

Click to view sample

I hope you enjoyed these. Let me know what you think!

You can check out anytime you like…

So, you’re taking an e-learning module on ethics for work and you get to the end of the course and… well, you just took the final quiz and it looks like you passed, and… you’re finished right?… but how do you know for sure? It’s kind of like that Eagles tune Hotel California.

It may seem a bit too obvious for most e-learning designers, and maybe that’s why they forget it. But from the learner’s perspective, how do they know when they’ve finished the module? You’ve got to let them know!

In this week’s e-learning challenge, David Anderson asked us to come up with a creative and interesting way to tell the learner they’ve completed the module. Here’s how I did mine.

I decided it should say “Congratulations, you passed with flying colors” the assumption being they had to take a final quiz before exiting the course. That lead me to search out a free-to-use image of a bird in flight that I would animate.

click to see the finished product

click to see the finished product

Breaking up the Image in PowerPoint
I used PowerPoint’s “remove background” tool to remove the bird from the scene it was flying over. Then I right clicked the image and saved it as a picture (PNG file). Then I duplicated the slide three times and used that same “remove background” tool to isolate the two wings and the body and saved them as images as well. 

bird removed from background

bird removed from background

Creating the Animation Cells in PowerPoint
I created a new PowerPoint file, found a suitable picture of a rainforest from overhead to put in the background of all the slides, then imported the PNG images of the two wings and body to put on top of it. Then I duplicated that slide and adjusted the wings slightly on each and saved all those slides as PNG images.

animation cells in PowerPoint

animation cells in PowerPoint

Animating the Image in PowerPoint
Then I create a third PowerPoint file, imported the slide images I just created showing the wings in different positions, and set each picture to animate in “after previous” (instead of the default “on click”). Using the “save as” option, I selected the WMV file extension to save the PowerPoint as a video instead.

Importing into Storyline
I then created a Storyline file, and imported the WMV file. I set the video to start playing automatically. I also added a trigger telling Storyline to play the video again after it stops, so that the video would loop indefinitely. Lastly, I used the eyedropper tool to match the colors of the player and the text bubbles with the bird and the trees in the picture. Click here to see the finished product.

And now, in case you’re wondering, you’re done reading this article. You can go home now.

E-Learning Feud

This week’s e-learning challenge from David Anderson was to present a top 10 list. I decided to present the top 10 things you can do in Articulate Storyline in the context of a Family Feud-type game setting. Besides creating the actual module in Storyline, I used a combination of Macromedia Fireworks and Microsoft PowerPoint to edit the graphics. And I recorded original music for the theme song and all the character voices in Cubase SX.

click here to play e-learning feud game

click here to play e-learning feud game

Graphic Editing in PowerPoint and Fireworks
The game show logo was created using PowerPoint’s Word Art for the chunky font. I actually copied the logo making one version with an orange fill and a second one in yellow, then imported them into Fireworks where all the other shapes and fills were created and layered. I used an existing Family Feud logo as inspiration to create the layered look.

e-learning feud logo

e-learning feud logo

One graphic editing tool I love in PowerPoint is the “remove background”. Oftentimes I need to crop an image, but don’t want to just crop it into a rectangular shape. I had this picture of an audience that I needed to crop around the heads instead of a straight line, and the “remove background” feature allows you to do this easily. Then you can just right click on your cropped version and save it as an image.

Audio Recording and Editing
With very affordable digital editing software, these days all you need is a simple interface to go from a ¼ inch cord into a USB you can plug into your computer, a couple good mics, and you can make professional recordings easily at home. I’d like to thank Jackie Van Nice, an excellent voiceover talent and e-learning designer, for doing all the female voices. I did all the male voices and played all the musical instruments.

Audio editing in Cubase

Audio editing in Cubase

Cubase is a great tool because you can do very precise edits, remove all the surrounding background noise, apply compression, do the most subtle of crossfades, and a add host of other effects to your recording.

Storyline Variables and Triggers
To switch from the slide with the Johnson family to the Smith family, I created True/False variables named after each character with an initial setting of False. Then I created a trigger on the last slide for each character, changing each variable to True once the timeline for the last slide started.

Johnson family slide

Johnson family slide

Basically, you’re telling Storyline when the last slide for a particular character has been visited. Then I created another trigger on the Johnson family slide that tells it to automatically go to the Smith family once all the Johnson family members have been visited.

Then, after all the Smith family members have been visited, I wanted Storyline to go to the final slide for the game. So I did the same thing I did on the Johnson family slide; except I told the Smith family slide to advance to the final slide once all the characters  (for both the Johnson and Smith families) have been visited.

Resources
If you want to get the most out of Storyline, I strongly suggest taking Daniel Brigham’s Advanced Storyline course at Lynda.com for step by step instructions on variables, triggers, and a host of other tools. Also, the forums at Articulate’s E-Learning Heroes site are very helpful.

Working with Video in PowerPoint – Part Two

In my previous blog, I talked about how you can actually create videos in PowerPoint, save them as WMVs, and import them into other programs.

I also had another idea I wanted to try out in PowerPoint for my band’s music video. I had this image of six picture frames. I thought it would be cool if I could import six videos of us singing in the dark and put them into the picture frames to give it a spooky feel.

Picture frames with transparent ovals

Picture frames with transparent ovals

Using PowerPoint’s Remove Background, I was able to remove the oval shaped part of the picture frame image so that when I put the videos behind the frame, you’d see them through the oval hole. Just click on the image and the Format tab appears, click the Format tab and you’ll see the Remove Background option on the far left, click it to start making your adjustments. Once I removed the oval center of the picture frames it was time to start putting in the videos.

Importing and Editing the Videos in PowerPoint
To import each video; I clicked the Insert tab, and clicked the Video dropdown. I selected Video From File and browsed out to the WMV file I wanted to import and clicked Insert. The video appeared. Just like with any image in PowerPoint, I was able to resize it and crop it into a variety of shapes. I did the same process for all six videos; importing, sizing, and cropping them to fit within the picture frames.

Playback and Animation Settings
I wanted all six videos to start playing immediately and in unison. So, with all six videos selected, I clicked the Playback tab, and selected Automatically from the Start dropdown menu. Then I clicked the Animations tab, and selected With Previous from its Start dropdown menu on the far right. This way, when I save this whole thing as a video file, all six videos will start playing right away.

After adjusting the playback and animation settings, I right-clicked on the image of the six picture frames and clicked Bring to Front from the pop-up menu. I did this part last because it was easier to work with my videos while they were still in the front.

Finished product with singing faces

Finished product with singing faces

Exporting from PowerPoint into Video
And just like in the previous lesson, I clicked File/Save As to save it as a WMV (Windows Media Video) file. Because of the six videos on this slide the saving process took a good amount longer, but as you can see, it worked out great!

As always, let me know in the comments if you have any questions about this whole process. I hope this inspires you to create some incredible videos using PowerPoint.