Archive for eLearning – Page 2

The need to adapt content to a variety of electronic devices can easily be traced back to the concerted effort for ‘mobile-compatible websites’… There is even a top-level domain established with the vision of everyone having a “.mobi” version of their website available for folks who were visiting via their handheld devices. Fortunately, CSS advances continued to enable more fluid layouts so sites could adapt to the visiting device without having to shunt them to a different URL.

While there ultimately may evolve no distinction between ‘eLearning’ and ‘mLearning’, both terms will remain until online training content is designed to be responsive to the device – a concept more commonly referred to as ‘Responsive eLearning Design’ or RED – as adapted from the better known ‘RWD’ concept (Responsive Web Design). Ideally, ‘eLearning’ should be the only term we need to cover all forms of online training.

The (forced) move to HTML5 as a primary tool in eLearning development opens a few doors – one of which being the establishment of CSS and the concept of ‘separate content from design’. Now instead of trying to access an eLearning course designed for a desktop screen by pinching, swiping, and scrolling on a mobile phone, the entire structure of the course can adapt and allow for more natural access (and that’s not to say that wasn’t possible with Flash, it’s just a longer-established principle with HTML).

And that’s also not to imply that adaptive/responsive design is the only component of ‘mLearning’ – certainly not. Being a completely different device, different functionality is possible. It’ll take a bit more work between the mobile-OS developers and the W3C, but someday having access to, say, a phone’s GPS or camera through HTML5 will allow a course to adapt its available features as well as its overall design to the device. Until then, creating an ‘App’ version of your courseware is the only option for accessing device-specific features…which is a valid option…but gets into difficulties of distribution and compatibility. Overall, developing a single product which adapts to the device is almost always the most elegant and cost-effective approach.

That aside, it’s not that developing for mobile devices is more expensive or complex; it just requires different design principles to be applied. The biggest impediment to Responsive eLearning Design is the authoring tool – very few offer any sort of adaptive design capabilities and those that do are pretty limited.

More and more of our customers are requesting their custom courseware be mobile-compatible but often that means ‘will work with iPads and other tablets’ instead of a true, globally-mobile solution. With the resolution and capabilities of tablets, the customer then likely does not need the additional effort of responsive design…which allows for greater toolset options and lower costs.
However, where true mobile-compliance is required, and thus a solid ‘RED’ approach to allow optimal product development, we often turn to our custom HTML-based framework.

When eLearning tools were starting out and their features were limited, we created a much more efficient and flexible SCORM-compliant, Flash-based framework for custom projects. With the advent of mobile and a preferred HTML approach, we’ve rewritten this ‘shell code’ for pure HTML output. So where an off-the-shelf authoring tool may be the best solution for some projects, our ‘HTML Shell’ provides the ultimate flexibility when designing for adaptive courseware. The next step on our plate is integrating TinCan (xAPI) features into the framework. Stay tuned!

Footnote: yes, there are technical differences between ‘responsive’ and ‘adaptive’ design approaches – but the essential goal is the same. Regardless of the technology and approach you use, the now age-old concept of ‘write once, run anywhere’ must take into consideration responsive/adaptive design for truly effective eLearning courseware.

Categories :

Few things make an idealistic eLearning developer cringe more than the question, “Can you convert my Powerpoint deck to eLearning that I can load into my LMS?” However, that is a very common approach and tools like Articulate Presenter haven’t gained their global reach for any less of a reason.

Powerpoint is a fine place to start with eLearning development – whether the ultimate goal is to just ‘convert’ those presentations to web and SCORM-compliant projects or to use the tool more as an initial storyboard to be further developed with more substantial tools like Storyline, Captivate, Lectora, or even custom Flash or HTML solutions.

Regardless of your eventual end-product, Powerpoint can be a very useful tool in eLearning development. We’ve worked with thousands of PPT files over the years, from straight conversions to more custom builds, resulting in several suggestions when developing your training content with Powerpoint. These steps provide a solid base content piece for actual conversion, whether you do it yourself or look for nuanced expertise, such as we offer.

  1. Design should be a foremost consideration. Give careful thought to the presentation and ensure the progression of the concepts and processes ‘flow’ from one to the next. Ensure there is proper established knowledge early on. For example, don’t start throwing out industry acronyms without explaining them first (and ideally offering a mnemonic for helping remember what they may actually stand for).
  2. Design doesn’t only mean ‘instructional’, of course, but the overall user-interface (UI) and the elements used within the piece. Consistent styles between images and fonts make for a much more pleasing experience in themselves. It’s jarring to see actual images on one slide then rough clipart on the next. Elements like information boxes may vary in size and position, but their overall style should be consistent (copy/paste can be a real help here).
  3. Related, text styles matter too – slide headers should be of the same size, weight, and color throughout the presentation. Use the styles PPT offers, or take the time to setup custom styles and apply them consistently. Another thing to watch for in consistency is formatting styles… such as, do your bullet points end with periods? Always? Consider creating a style guide.
  4. Use multimedia and ‘SmartArt’ to at least grab the learner’s attention. With multimedia everywhere these days, it’s almost imperative it pop-up in your training. Whether it’s a simple animation created in PPT or custom animation, video, or 3D elements, well-placed, relevant media can really help drive home your objectives. Of course, overdoing it can be distracting, so use it wisely.
  5. Understand and use the Slide Master. This is such a good idea for establishing ‘global’ elements and styles, Captivate incorporated the same idea in their more recent versions. And note only does a Slide Master help with screen styles, but with Notes formatting preferences too – which can be a big help when using the Notes View where speaker notes may be identified differently from footnotes, glossary definitions, or author notes.
  6. Don’t rely on the templates. The templates provided with Powerpoint can provide some ideas, but it may be better to start with a ‘blank slate’ to organize your ideas clearly, then apply the design afterwards.  There are plenty of site on the web that offer additional PPT templates but why be limited to what others offer? With Slide Masters and some basic design skills, a custom UI design for your specific course is possible, and can help it stand out from all the other “templatized” courseware out there.
  7. While we prefer to use professional narrators, you can record audio directly in PPT. That may be a good approach for a ‘scratch track’ – once you have the slides built, record the narration through PPT. You may still want to have those clips re-recorded by a pro.
Once your Powerpoint-based content is developed, use the features available in the authoring tools to enhance the courseware. Whether it’s a few simple ‘Engage’ interactions with the Articulate suite, or some mild quiz features from Adobe’s Presenter product, or more advanced interactivity using tools available from Captivate, or really advanced functionality with Flash or Javascript… Don’t forget, it’s not just about presenting the information – Learners retain more through engagement, interactivity, relevancy, and practice. Certainly consider a ‘gamification’ approach!
If you’re stuck with a somewhat ineffective PPT-based training piece and are looking for some instructional design help or ideas on improving the effectiveness through interactive and engaging elements, drop us a line!
Categories :

Best of eLearning! 2013

Monday, March 18th, 2013

2013’s “Best of eLearning Awards” survey is up and ready for your input!

Once again we ask all our loyal, or intermittent, customers and readers…should you be so inclined…give us a shout-out on questions 1 and 26:

1. Best Learning Management System (SaaS, Cloud-based, or open-source only)
  Best answer: ICS Learning Group’s Inquisiq R3 LMS

26. Outsourced Learning Services
  Best answer: ICS Learning Group’s Custom eLearning Services

Let’s see if we can get Inquisiq and ICS into the top 3 this year!

Questions 6 through 10 ask for specific types of content (IT, Leadership Development, Soft Skills, Compliance)…as we’ve created such courseware for a variety of customers, we’d love to have your votes on those categories as well.

And there are a lot of other eLearning-related questions there too…though none are required.
Thank you for your support!

Categories :

Ad-Supported eLearning

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Some interesting statistics recently released regarding ad-supported content…

“Ad-supported online video viewership has grown 17 percent year-over-year, according to a new survey by marketing research firm FreeWheel….According to the study, online videos that are 20 minutes or longer carry an average of seven ads.”

“The Interactive Advertising Bureau released new figures Monday showing that advertising supported Internet companies contributed $530 billion to the economy in 2011 and are, in some way, responsible for 5.2 million U.S. jobs.”

While those articles discuss general ‘internet companies’ and ‘video’, we see nothing hitting the headlines about ad-supported eLearning. Is that because it doesn’t exist? Or perhaps it’s just not a viable model… Has no one tried? With the plethora of media-accessible devices available, and the staggering income companies such as Google and Facebook are making via advertising…well, is it not a model worth trying?
Or perhaps it has been, and launched, and died so quickly nary a whisper had a chance to get past the entrepreneurial lips.
OR perhaps the idea has been subsumed by the MOOC concept, where courses are just being put online for free, no strings attached. How can you compete with that?
Well, for one, aren’t the MOOC courses generally pretty specialized and…heady? Or maybe not, considering the rapid growth of the MOOC universe (see Coursera, edX, and Udacity, not to mention the pioneer in that space, Khan Academy), there is surely a lot of variety out there.
As 2013 opens with promise, we’re continuing to explore the promise of eLearning; from engaging custom content development to partnerships and consulting. Interested in developing some courses with a hybrid advertising/licensing model? Drop us a line and let’s discuss! If you’ve had success with such a model, we’d love to hear from you – leave a comment if you care to share.

Categories :

Camtasia is a solid tool for any eLearning developer to include in their software toolkit. While other products may outshine it in regards to interactivity and SCORM options, Camtasia remains a premier tool for creating high-quality, engaging presentations. Techsmith has had years to constantly improve their video capture process, and it shows in comparison to many of the other screen-recording tools available. Camtasia editing features continue to improve as well, to the point where we can reserve our skilled Final Cut and Premiere/After Effects editors for more complex work and a bring in our eLearning authors to create and modify quality video for integration into a client’s custom courseware.

Camtasia 8 is now available and has made significant changes. One controversial (at least, to us) move was to remove the FLV and SWF output options – with the justification that MP4 is the better, more supported format. Overall, we can’t disagree!  We would like to have the flexibility to publish to FLV, but it’s not been an issue with MP4s overall support, and the Camtasia player handles the MP4 itself, of course (interestingly WMV is still an output option. We’ve not published to WMV in years). Along with MP4 publishing then, of course, is the option to publish to a Flash/HTML5 player for dual delivery.

The way transitions are now integrated with the production flow is terrific overall, not adding to the timeline duration…but it’s also made later edits, across clips, a bit more complicated. Overall, it’s a worthwhile change.

Unlimited tracks are a huge benefit! No more limitations to two audio tracks! Now we just have to be more careful about organization… Detailed Camtasia 8 release notes can be found on Techsmith’s site.

Aside from these feature updates, the general process to create a Camtasia project remains the same. Unlike Captivate, Camtasia records the screen exactly as a movie, so everything your cursor does is recorded. Thus, as a matter of good practice, be sure to practice your presentation (‘dry run’) before you start recording. Unpracticed recording results in a lot more errant mouse movements and clicks, which takes more production time to edit-out and fit the resulting clips together smoothly.
Another ‘best-practice’ recommendation, despite what seems to be common practice, is to not actually record the narration while doing the screen recording. Here, we develop the narration script and ‘speak it’ when doing the screen recording, but we don’t actually record the narration at the same time. We save that for either a separate recording session ourselves or use a professional narrator; then we blend the two together in the ‘camproj’ which allows for a higher-quality output and more flexibility during the editing process.

One more tip when recording your screen: be aware of what your desktop and windows are showing. Having two monitors is terrific, as we can move all icons and such things off to one monitor and leave the other nice and ‘clean’ – no random, unrelated icons or windows appearing in the background. Additionally, watch out for those Outlook (and other application) reminders popping-up when you’re recording. You may want to shut down all such applications during the recording process. And finally, if recording a website or web-application, check your browser window and turn off any unnecessary toolbars, and be sure any previous searches are cleared.

In sum, Camtasia is a solid product for eLearning development. If you use it, check out this Create Engaging Screencasts PDF they provide. Let us know what you think about this latest Camtasia release and if we can offer any insight as to whether it’s the best tool for your eLearning project.

Categories :

eLearning! 2012 survey

Friday, May 18th, 2012

eLearning! (magazine?) has released their reader survey for 2012, for the “Best of eLearning Awards” they sponsor.

Adobe points to it on their Captivate blog and we’ll give it a little push too! So for all you loyal, or intermittent, customers and readers, if you’re so inclined, take a look at questions 1 and 24…

1. Best Learning Management System (SaaS, Cloud-based, or open-source only)
  Correct answer: ICS Learning Group’s Inquisiq R3 LMS!

24. Outsourced Learning Services
  Correct answer: ICS Learning Group’s Custom eLearning Services!

Show your support as you’re so inclined. Lots of other eLearning-related questions there too…though none are required, so don’t feel you have to answer questions you may be unsure about…

Thanks for your support!

Categories :

eLearning vs mLearning

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Terminology for computer-assisted training has gone through several revisions and variations on the terms are still widely varied. Historically, there have been two components to the terminology:

eLearning Terminology Cloud

  • Variations on the adjective: computer, web, internet, technology, distributed
  • Variations on the subject: training, learning, education, instruction

Combine those two parts together into whatever term you prefer to describe such computer-assisted instructional courseware! However, the most sustained recent trend has been “eLearning” and is one we think is apt and, at least, desirable in brevity.

As mobile devices become more capable, especially as mobile devices like tablets (iPad != all tablets) become more accepted and widely used, the initial challenge was seen as converting existing eLearning applications to work on those mobile devices, resulting in ‘mobile learning’, or “mLearning”.

However, there are substantial differences with those devices, including their connectivity, their size, and how they are used in general. After some false-starts, it is now understood mobile users do not expect to sit through a half-hour lesson on their device…especially as, being mobile, they may not have a reliable internet connection for that long.

So mLearning is starting to diverge from eLearning not only in specific meaning, but in approach and design as well. Mobile devices are packed with features and mLearning offers opportunities to provide offline ‘App’-like content that can access the range hardware, like GPS features and camera options. In sum, mLearning can be considered much more effective in a contextual setting.

For example, students on a field trip could use a guide App to snap pictures of a flower to learn more about it and how such vegetation thrives in the surrounding geographic region.
Whereas an eLearning piece may be better suited for pre-trip introductory and preparatory information, and for post-trip knowledge review and interactive assessments…perhaps even referencing the data the student collected on the trip!

mLearning can certainly be a converted eLearning piece – there’s nothing in these terms that requires specific functionality…but in your training initiatives, consider the advantages of each platform – the workstation vs. the mobile device – and understand how educational material is best suited for the strengths and uses of each platform.

Categories :

An Introduction to Levels of Training

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

As one gets more involved with eLearning, the question of “what level of learning are you looking for” likely comes up more and more frequently, in one form or another. These sorts of questions generally relate to attempts to classify eLearning and the complexity of its content…which then can ideally be related to the complexity of the development process.

However, these levels are by no means ‘set in stone’; variations abound among agencies and experts. Searching the web for a set standard can be dissatisfying and downright discouraging for anyone looking for an agreed-upon standard.

Always one to be a leader, ICS Learning Group has performed this research – both between our own history and projects and through the readings and reviews of outside resources. The result is out ‘CBT and WBT Levels’ whitepaper, now available on the ICS website.

While it would be terrific if the overall industry adopted these definitions, we do not operate under such grandiose hopes – unique perspectives, experiences, and outliers may well challenge any component of our definition. Our primary purpose, however, is to not only help those involved with a general knowledge search, but also to assist our customers in understanding the process, scope, and costs related to custom eLearning (ICW, CBT, WBT, Courseware, etc.) development.

So, submitted for your perusal, review, and possible agreement (or debate), review our whitepapers at your leisure…and we certainly hope they help you along the path to solid, well-defined instructional courseware.

Categories :

In the final ‘installment’, a few more references to bolster support for just how effective eLearning can be…

The DOE has a few other interesting articles and reports as additional fodder for discussion.

Other groups and sites provide even more ammunition to the eLearning debate. Sites such as the eLearning Guild and the American Society for Training and Development often have robust articles regarding a range of eLearning subjects. ASTD has their 2010 ‘State of the Industry Report’ covering a swath of the learning arena, including nuggets like, “ASTD estimates that U.S. organizations spent $125.88 billion on employee learning and development in 2009.”

You can purchase the PDF report or download it from free via your account if you maintain a current ASTD membership.

But not all such resources require membership or purchase. The Chapman Alliance, a respected consulting group, released a report titled “How Long Does it Take to Create Learning” in September of 2010. This report covers a range of development professional and organization survey responses regarding traditional ILT, the various ‘levels’ of eLearning, and blended/hybrid solutions, including ‘development ratios’ and average costs between the variations.

And an even more exciting case study is available from ASTD’s ‘Learning Circuits’ website, hosting a fantastic write-up from Paul T. Walliker of ‘Caterpillar University’ on their internal review of traditional and eLearning solutions. Titled “Cost Comparison: Instructor-Led Vs. E-Learning”, this article is chock-full of cost breakdowns and similar comparisons.  From the study,

  • Costs per development and delivery hour: “E-learning has an advantage in nearly every area, including efficiency and velocity”
  • Factors affecting costs, Efficiency: “In general, a learner will need half the time to cover the same material in an online class as they would in an instructor-led class.”
  • Key findings: “…when similar programs are compared, e-learning is less expensive to deliver almost regardless of learner population.”

We’re keeping our eyes open for other such reports to help guide our customers to the best solution. Indeed, sometimes traditional stand-up (ILT) is simply the best answer! While we’ve seen discussions on just how appropriate specific solutions may be, from ‘bad’ eLearning design to LMS capabilities, we’ve yet to find one debunking eLearning as a valid and effective approach entirely. We suspect that is because not only is it a growing solution but an effective and, ultimately, cost-effective one as well.

Categories :

eLearning, The Better Deal (part 2)

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

Returning to this subject on exactly why eLearning is growing in not only implementation but relevance – there has been a recent surge in studies comparing eLearning to traditional instruction which, overall, help justify the initial expense and commitment to eLearning solutions.

As a nice introductory compilation, Karl Kapp has short PDF here including;

• Reduced Learning Time: “With e-learning, ‘results comparable to those of instructor-led training have been achieved in 40 to 60 percent less time.’”

• Increased Retention Levels: “Studies of major companies comparing technology-based training to classroom instruction show that learning gains were up to 56 percent greater, ‘consistency of learning’ (variance in learning across learners) was 50 to 60 percent better, and ‘content retention’ was 25 to 50 percent higher.”

The report also references discussions on ‘Speed of Work’ and ‘Half-Life of Knowledge’. While pretty much an expanded end-note, and many references are a bit dated by now, it provides an initial foundation for additional studies seeking to explore the benefits of eLearning initiatives.

In 2009, the US Department of Education released a study analysis finding that ‘good teaching can be enhanced with new technology’. While not specific to eLearning only, it does argue for a ‘hybrid’ or ‘blended’ approach to instruction, mixing traditional methods with online learning where appropriate. A few findings from that report;

• Students who took all or part of their class online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through traditional face-to-face instruction.

• Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction.

• The effectiveness of online learning approaches appears quite broad across different content and learner types.

• Caution is required in generalizing to the K-12 population because the results are for the most part based on studies in other settings (e.g., medical training, higher education).

The full PDF report is available from the website. Generally, the report found that online learning alone is at least as effective as traditional training methods and blended approaches are more effective than conventional instruction.

In a minimalist sense, then, moving to eLearning initiatives doesn’t seem to lose anything…and can at least maintain the current level of training – if not improve upon it – while also potentially providing cost savings, more flexible training schedules, and accessible re-training efforts.

In the third and final part of this series, we’ll showcase a few more studies and resources which additionally support why eLearning is the better deal…

Categories :