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In eLearning Images The Eyes Have It
What if I told you that a major global corporation made a surprising change to its policy regarding use of stock photographs in their company’s eLearning projects, against the advice of its own talent development team?  What if I told you the new policy states that photographic images of people must not show recognizable faces.  If any face is shown, it must be that of a company employee.
Could this happen at your company?  What would it mean to your eLearning?  It would be a mistake for a couple of compelling reasons:
One: Time and time again I have seen companies insist on including images or video of an actual employee, only to have the person in question abruptly leave the firm—or be let go.  Suddenly, the course contains someone no longer representing the firm, and who may have even departed acrimoniously.  There could also conceivably be legal issues to retaining images of that former employee in the courseware.  As a rule, you’re leaving yourself open to time-consuming and expensive revisions.  The same is true for in-house voiceovers, by the way.  Why go there?
Two: If you take a course that has human figures in it, but you never see faces full-on, what is your reaction likely to be?  What’s missing? Something enormously important.  The eyes.  Whether or not you believe that “the eyes are the windows of the soul,” when it comes to communicating, nothing speaks more universally and clearly than our eyes.  I’m an actor; I know.  You’re an audience member and a human being—I bet you know, too.  So if you don’t ever offer your learner eye contact in your eLearning, you’re missing a HUGE opportunity to build empathy and connection.  After all, in asynchronous eLearning, there’s no instructor at the front of the room making eye contact, and making sure the learner is engaged.  Among other tools, we need to rely on a compelling professional voiceover, and on images of people to whom our learners can immediately relate.  If you don’t emphasize the human factor in your training—regardless of the topic—then you are further distancing your content from your intended audience.  You are pushing away the very people you want to engage, persuade, and motivate. Your content may look sleek and elegant, with all those shadowy, non-specific figures.  But your content will be missing a life-giving glimpse of soul.  Does that make good business sense?
Woman with electric guitarTake a look at the two pictures I’ve included with this post.  Both have a very positive energy, which is great.  The image of the woman jamming on the electric guitar could absolutely have a place in your eLearning.  But how much emotional impact does it generate compared to the other, where you can see the woman’s and the child’s eyes—in fact, they’re looking right at you?  Which image makes more of an emotional connection with you?  Which one resonates more with you?
Young mother and daughter in cityI didn’t make up this scenario; it actually happened at a major corporation recently.  What was the executive reasoning behind that company’s policy change?  They are still allowing use of stock images, so it’s not about wanting only custom images.  Do they not realize that emotional connection is our greatest “secret weapon” in eLearning?  (As it is in theatre, film, advertising, and life in general.)
I’ve been in the eLearning field for over 15 years, I’ve been a professional actor for over 30 years, and I’ve been observing other people all my life.  And if there’s one thing I know, it’s this: when it comes to communicating, the eyes have it.  Here’s hoping the executives at that corporation realize their mistake and put the decisions for eLearning course design back where they belong: in the hands of the company’s learning and talent development experts.  And if executives at your company are trying to do the same thing, make them read this article.  Maybe it will help them see the light.
Learn Rules and Tools of Engagement at Our Next ATD eLearning SIG Roundtable May 18th!
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 Does your eLearning start like this?
Welcome to this training on X.  It is important for the company that you understand all about X.  Here are your objectives.  There will be a quiz at the end.
How appealing is that to your learner?  What if, instead, you started your course in a way that stimulates your learner’s interest and actively engages them in your topic?  Sound difficult?  It’s not–it just takes a little creativity.
Join us for the next ATD NYC eLearning SIG session on Wednesday, May 18th for our Interactive Roundtable on the Rules and Tools of Engagement.
How do our Roundtables work?  Simple!  We use a “flipped classroom” approach.  Download the simple pre-session assignment here using the link included below.  It will explain the brief assignment and provide you with some great materials to get started.  Then send in your 1-3 draft slides by Tuesday, May 17th.  Everything you need to know is in the PowerPoint download–along with a lot of free images and more!
Download the kit, have fun creating your draft, and we’ll look forward to your sharing it with us all on May 18th.  Our Roundtable environment is always friendly and supportive, and you will walk away with your head full of great ideas from your other eLearning SIG members.  We will also send out the final composite PowerPoint with everyone’s examples afterward to all attendees.
Stop lecturing your learners and start engaging them today.
Download the Pre-session Project Kit here:  Rules and Tools Pre-Session Project
Register for this event on the ATD NYC web site.
Even if you don’t have time to contribute some idea slides, we’ll still look forward to seeing you on the 18th!
Supercharge Your eLearning By Including Custom Job Aids

Job Aid Sample ImageOn January 206h, my ATD NYC eLearning SIG co-chair Mark Cassetta and I partnered with Hal Christensen of the Performance Support SIG to offer another of what I’ve come to call “interactive roundtables”.  In these roundtables, rather than inviting a speaker, we give ATD NYC members a little bit of “homework” on a selected topic, and then we all get together to share what we’ve contributed–a “flipped classroom” approach.  We discuss what works well with contributed samples, and share ideas for enhancements.  Everyone walks away with a pack of examples, and great ideas they can leverage for their next eLearning course.  We held extremely successful eLearning SIG roundtables on both Instructional Design Fixes and Gamification in 2015, and for the first meeting of 2016, it seemed only right to focus our spotlight on the grossly-underappreciated workhorses of learning: Job Aids.

Why job aids?  “They’ve been around since the dawn of time,” I hear you say.  “They’re so old-fashioned in this digital age,” I hear you say.  “They’re not sexy,” I hear you think to yourself.  (Yep, I’m listening.)  Well, the reality is that job aids have only become more important in this digital age–because now a job aid can appear in more formats than ever, and they are easier to share than ever.  And with very little effort, you can even make them look sleek and appealing.

What exactly do I mean by job aid?  I mean any kind of material you create to support and reinforce your key teaching points with your learners once they’re back on the job.  A job aid should always be clear, and to the point.  A job aid is not usually the place for history, theory, background, etc.  A job aid should focus on reminding your learners how to get the job done (step-by-step, if needed) quickly and efficiently.  No frills.  Just the facts.

Why do job aids remain so relevant?  Because every training course is subject to the same simple, unfortunate fact: a huge percentage of the eLearning we offer up so lovingly is completely forgotten back on the job.  By simply including one or more job aids in your eLearning, you’re empowering your learners to download the just-in-time support tool they will need later on to reinforce what they’ve learned–at the moment they actually need it!

Whenever I work with a new eLearning client, one of the first things I explore during my needs analysis is whether the client might only need a good job aid or two.  Honestly, sometimes that will fill the knowledge gap in question quite well–and building a whole eLearning course in those cases is not an effective use of time, resources, or budget.

But even when eLearning is the appropriate solution (or part of a blended one), I always look for opportunities to share some of the key information of the course in job aid format, usually a PDF downloadable from within the course itself.  I’m alway amazed when a client says they don’t see the need for job aids!  Any opportunity you have to offer inexpensive, effective performance support is an opportunity you should seize with both hands.

What kind of job aid you need will, of course, depend on your training content.  It could be, for example:

  • A checklist
  • A worksheet
  • A step-by-step how-to guide
  • A “Yes/No” decision tree/process flow
  • A set of best practices reminders
  • Or something else that best suits your content

And the format could be (among others):

  • A PDF file (almost universally readable)
  • A brief video clip (Mp4 plays on almost any device)
  • A podcast (Mp3 plays on almost any device)

The point is, job aids are almost infinitely flexible, and now with the digital age, and the advent of mobile learning, they can be in the form of video and/or audio support, as well.  Well-designed job aids can provide great “snapshots” of your key information points, and help ensure your eLearning course (or classroom training) continues to resonate weeks and months after the learner takes your course.

We had a great joint eLearning/Performance Support session on job aids.  There wasn’t an empty seat in the room (a lovely meeting space graciously provided once again by CUNY–thank you!!).  Hal, Mark, and I offered a brief overview about the purpose and scope of job aids, along with a few samples we examined.  You can view and download a PDF of that PowerPoint file here:

Job Aid Overview

We had a host of great submissions shared by attendees, in a wide variety of styles and format.  Discussion was both animated and enlightening.  And often quite funny.

If you’re not already a member of ATD NYC, I urge you to explore all that’s available to you with a membership.  For one thing, in addition to the excellent Chapter meetings, there are all the different SIG meetings–including eLearning, Performance Support, and more.

And speaking for our eLearning SIG, in 2014 I started offering our sessions simultaneously as in-person and webinar format. So even if you don’t live in the NYC area, you can still benefit from our eLearning SIG’s sessions online, and share in all the great brainstorming.

Our next eLearning SIG meeting will be in March, on a topic to be decided by our members.  I hope to “see” you there!

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Giving Stock Photos a Unique Look for Your Learning Projects

Ever since Microsoft discontinued their clip art gallery, we’ve all been scrambling to find inexpensive or free stock photos. But in a way, this is a good thing. The images in that clip art gallery were looking dated and dull. And once you start checking out other options, you realize there’s a gorgeous world of visual inspiration from a much larger pool of talented artists and photographers.

You may already have sites you like. I have been finding photos that work for me at Unsplash.com  and Deathtothestockphoto.com. Both offer free sets of images every week or so.  The latter also offers a fee-based subscription plan.  If you want to swim in a larger pool, check out Stockup stock photos.com; it’s a handy collection of free stock photo sites.  Whatever sites you use, always check the permissions for each image. Some require attribution, some don’t.

Once you find some good sites, how do you know what images to pick?  Here’s a suggestion: if your course’s script doesn’t already include a theme on which you can build, you can still look for groups of images that have a common vibe to them and create your own visual metaphor for your course.

For example, suppose you’re doing a course on awareness, or alertness, or even just communication. It’s easy to find a series of images involving cups of coffee.  Add some text, and you have a title page.  But you also will need to make some choices about font and font color. You could do something like this:

stocksample1

But it’s not as legible as it needs to be.  So you could lighten the image and try a different font color:

stocksample2

The bottom line of course needs to be readability, so play around and see what looks best. If you don’t already have in mind a color scheme, you can easily create one, even without using Photoshop or a similar high-end tool: simply drop your image onto a PowerPoint slide, right-click it and easily alter the photo’s look dramatically with the image editing tools:

stocksample3

And once you settle on a visual style you like, you can alter your other images to align with that style. For instance, here’s an image I can use for all my section introductions:

stocksample4

As you can see, with a little creativity you can collect free stock photos from various sites and turn them into a cohesive visual theme for your project, which will give your course a real touch of class. Now that you’ve been released from using the same old clipart in every project, get out there, explore your options, and have fun being creative! And if you have free stock photo sites you love, share the URL in the Comments below. Thanks!

PS: Tom Kuhlmann over at Articulate and I seem to have had similar things on our minds this week. For more on finding and using stock photos, check out Tom’s blog.

Free Gamification Course by Kevin Werbach Returns to Coursera!

Gamification Course Verified Certificate - SmallLearning folks! If you are serious about understanding and using principles of Gamification in your learning projects, Prof. Kevin Werbach is offering his superb and FREE online course on Gamification at Coursera starting this month (November)!

Yes, this does require a few hours of work each week for the six week duration–but the assignments are fascinating and fun. You will walk away with a head full of great ideas that you can actually use. I consider this course a “don’t miss” for anyone in the learning field.

Enroll now.

No-Budget Gamification Roundtable at ATD NYC Meeting on November 17th!

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These days everybody is talking about Gamification, and how applying elements or principles of it can enhance your learning interactions.  And it’s true: used strategically, Gamification can make your learning both more fun, and more memorable.

But often people think they have to sign on with an expensive external provider that offers all the bells and whistles of a gamified environment to reap the benefits.  And since most people in learning and talent development teams don’t have the budget for it, the conversation about leveraging Gamification often stops there.  But it doesn’t have to.

This November 17th, I’m offering a session I call “No-Budget Gamification” and it’s going to be a roundtable hands-on discussion and work session among meeting attendees, rather than just sitting back and listening to a speaker.

So how will it work?  As we did with my earlier session on fixing common eLearning design mistakes (which was a huge hit), we’re taking a flipped classroom approach.  I’m providing a PowerPoint deck that includes a very simple template, a simple example, and some handy reminders of the basic principles of Gamification.

All you need to do is think about one of your own projects, and complete the simple 1-slide template with ideas for how you might use elements of Gamification to enliven your learning project.  That’s it!  Then on November 17th, we’ll get together (in person and virtually via webinar) to compare solutions and brainstorm even more great ideas.

This approach is simple, fun, and genuinely effective.  By the end of the meeting, you’ll have at least a handful of great ideas for how you can leverage the principles of Gamification to enhance your own learning projects–without spending a dime!

If you’re a member of ATD NYC, or if you’re thinking of joining (non-members can audit one session for free), make sure you register for the November 17th meeting ASAP so that we can save a place for you.  The event should be listed in the ATD NYC events calendar by Tuesday, 11/3.

And be sure to download the “homework” and free Gamification info deck well in advance so that you’ll be ready to play at our meeting: No-Budget Gamification Homework Assignment  In fact–why not download it now and get started.  Even if you can’t make the meeting, you’ll find a lot of great information on Gamification in my slides.

Have fun, and we’ll “see” you on November 17th!

Delivering Your Information With a Fun Soundboard

Voiceover Soundboard ScreencapMy schedule these days is busy enough that I’m not always able to take part in the weekly eLearning Challenge over on the Articulate Forums. But there have been a couple recently I couldn’t resist as a voiceover artist.

For one challenge, the task was to create a simple example of a soundboard; in other words, a single slide that offers various soundbytes when you click on objects. The other challenge was to create a voiceover portfolio.  I decided combining the two challenges would be a perfect way to create a little reminder of the variety of voiceover styles I offer.

Creating the Soundboard:
I sourced some fun graphics from the various free icon sites, gave them all the same kind of shadow in Powerpoint, and then used Articulate Storyline 2 to put together my simple soundboard. In Storyline, it took me all of two minutes to select all my arranged icons and convert them to a button set–meaning only one button can be clicked at a time. Storyline automatically created my “Selected” and “Visited” states for each button. To the viewer/listener, everything happens on a single slide. On the back end, I’m actually housing each audio clip on its own sublayer.  That way the audio will automatically stop when the visitor clicks a different icon to explore a different audio clip.

I also decided to forego the traditional “player” frame, designing this sample to appear frameless instead by making the player elements transparent.  The result is simple and clean.

Think of all the creative ways you could present a lot of information on a single slide this way in your next eLearning project–for example, a series of motivational clips from your company’s senior executives.  It’s interactive, it’s fun, and if you have good audio clips, it can also be memorable.  And isn’t that what you want your eLearning to be?

About my VO Work:
When I’m asked about the “quality” of my voice, I generally respond: it depends on the project!  For typical eLearning narration, my voice is warm, confident, and encouraging.  For other projects, I can provide a much more quirky, character-driven voice.  I always suit my VO to the project.  I love recording in studios with an engineer running the booth.  But for a lot of my projects these days, I work out of my home office/studio.  I keep things simple: I start with a high-quality MXL USB.009 mike, which has a headphone jack on it.  That way I can listen via headphones as I record without dealing with the half-second audio playback delay that USB causes.  I use a foam soundproofing box, a pop filter (to minimize “popping” from plosives like “b” and “p”), and Audacity or a similar audio recording software.  When it comes to finalizing my VO clips, I always use a noise removal filter to take out any subtle room sounds, and of course I cut out any background clicks or other noises I might have made while recording.  I take out some breaths, and leave others in–I find that removing all the breaths make the recording sound less human and immediate.  I also normalize all the tracks for consistent final sound levels.  I believe strongly that the better performance you give, the less editing you need to do–and that translates into better-sounding VO!

Click the image on this post to have a listen–and if you need my voice in your next project, you know where to find me!

Enjoy.

Free Animated GIFs to Motivate Your Learners

This week’s eLearning Challenge on the Articulate forums was to create an animated GIF image file. There was a further requirement that it be a “reaction” shot–the kind of thing you see all over the internet these days. I decided rather than using goofy footage from a popular film or television show (which can introduce all sorts of rights issues), I would create a few quick animated GIFs that were motivational, and could be used safely in a business’s eLearning project without (a) fear of offending anyone or (b) fear of legal action.

Of course, then I needed to fill the gap between knowing what I wanted to do and knowing how to do it. I’ve never created an animated GIF before. I figured it would be great if I could leverage some of the cool animations that come built into Apple’s Keynote software, and simply capture something quick in animated GIF format. (Of course I could have taken the same approach with PowerPoint, but I like the animations better in Keynote–now if only Articulate Storyline could import from Keynote!!) A quick Google search later, I learned about a free program available from the Mac App Store called GIFGrabber. The reviews were great, so I downloaded it and gave it a test drive.

Turns out, while the features are very limited, it was as easy to use as advertised.  I simply added my text to a slide, chose Keynote animations, then used GIFGrabber to capture the animations playing.  I didn’t have much time, so I simply created three motivational messages, and used the same fun animations for each.  Between the font and animation options, the possibilities are almost endless.

I also learned that when posting animated GIFs online, you need to post them at full size in order for them to play.  WordPress was eager to downsize them, but I quickly realized that was stopping the animation.

I’m sure with some playing around I could reduce the file size, etc.  But for now, here they are.  If you like them, feel free to download and use them in your own eLearning projects.

Enjoy!

Great Job!!
Great Job

 

Well Done!!

Well Done

Congrats! You win!!

Congrats You Win

 

Free Your eLearning Navigation From the Straight and Narrow

Sample Exploratory NavigationThis week’s eLearning Heroes Challenge on the Articulate Forums was all about course navigation. And you know what?  It’s always a good time to talk about navigation. If you are still creating all your eLearning courses with a strictly linear path, then you’re missing a major opportunity to engage adult learners.

I know what you’re thinking: “But it’s a Compliance course, and people just need to get through it as quickly as possible.” Change your mindset. Free yourself and your courseware from the limits of linear thinking. Regardless of the topic, you need to make your learning interesting and engaging for your learners, or they won’t remember your key points a minute longer than the answer to the last quiz question.

Sure, sometimes a linear 1-2-3-4-5 etc. progression of slides makes the most sense. But if you’re looking to involve your learners, and encourage them to remember your information, help them invest in the course, even just a little bit.

How do we do this? In this simple sample, I give the learner free choice to decide on the order of topics, and use branching to deliver the content, while still ensuring that they complete all the material successfully before moving on through the course.  Offering them the opportunity to explore as they please is a small gesture with a large impact.

Adult learners like a course better if it gives them at least a little bit of autonomy, the ability to make their own choices. Think about it–do most people really like to be told what to do, or where to go? Even in a Compliance course, where the stakes for demonstrating mastery of the topic can be high, you can still give your learner some choices.

You can also entertain and engage your learner while you’re at it. I regularly recommend using a scenario-based approach to learning. Why? Because everyone loves a good story, for one thing. And a good story can offer opportunities for you to involve the learner in creating the outcome you seek.

In the example I’m sharing here, I’ve created a very basic template in Storyline 2 that you could use for a Compliance course, or any other type of course. I’ve picked the topic of Information Security, which is a concern for all businesses, regardless of size. I kept the look and feel very neutral and professional. I present a simple menu page that introduces three characters, and invites the learner to click on the characters in whatever order they choose, to explore a risk scenario and help that character avoid making a terrible mistake. So without overdoing it, I’ve introduced a story element, and a little bit of drama to pique the learner’s interest. In my sample, I’ve set up a simple one-slide scenario and one quiz question for each character’s path, but obviously you could do a lot more if needed–although remember that brevity is always a goal.

Using characters introduces a human element. Making up a real-world scenario the learner would easily recognize makes that character and situation all the more real. Asking the learner to step in and prevent the character from making a big mistake involves them in affecting the outcome of an event they feel could actually happen in their workplace. Note my word choice there: regardless of the topic, you need to get your learners to feel something if you want them to remember.

In this sample, I’ve set up the questions to allow infinite attempts. You could also add meaningful feedback for wrong choices to enrich the experience. What you’re subtly doing is making your points, and allowing your learner to explore and fail in a safe environment, while setting them up to succeed, even if they miss on the first try. And when they succeed, I congratulate them and award them a badge for preventing a disaster (a little touch of gamification).

Once they explore all three scenarios, and earn all three badges, then and only then, a button appears inviting them to move ahead with (or perhaps complete) the course. Isn’t that a lot more interesting than rigidly controlling the navigation and forcing your learner to proceed 1-2-3-4-5 in lockstep? This way, you’re still subtly controlling the environment and the learner’s experience. You’re still ensuring they cover all the material. But you’re giving the learner a stake in the game, allowing them to make choices, engage with your content, and come out as heroes.

Next time you start a project, try looking at your course content and navigation in a new light.  Consider:

  • Free-choice navigation systems like the one shown here (or a map, or a diagram, or whatever your imagination devises)
  • Believable, recognizable characters
  • Scenarios that will grab your learner’s interest
  • Little touches of gamification

Sure, creating a course with branching takes a bit more work to design and build. But the end result will be a course that your learners might actually enjoy and remember!

To view the sample template in action, click the image at the top of this post.

Here’s a high-level look at this simple template’s structure:

Sample Exploratory Navigation Structure

Upcoming 5/13 ATD NYC Webinar: Common eLearning Design Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

ATDNY LogoAs you may know, I’m co-chair of ATD NYC’s eLearning SIG (special interest group).  Every other month, co-chair Enid Crystal and I put together a program exploring the challenges and rewards of including eLearning in your company’s blended learning solutions.  Sometimes we invite speakers, and other times we host roundtable discussions on hot topics.

On Wednesday, May 13th, at 5:30pm, we’ll be hosting a roundtable about how you can avoid making some of the most common eLearning design mistakes.  To add to the fun and participation, we’re presenting this roundtable with a bit of a “flipped classroom” approach, meaning you can do a little homework prior to the meeting, and then we’ll all share our ideas and discuss them together at the meeting.

If you’re an ATD NY member, we hope you’ll join us.  And even if you’re not, you’re allowed to participate in one ATD NY session for free.  Since our focus is on eLearning, we hold our meetings both in person and virtually, to allow as many people as possible to participate.

So, how will this all work?  Simple!  I’ve created a PowerPoint file showing six common eLearning design mistakes.  You can download it right here:  Common eLearning Mistakes Sample Slides

Pick at least one of the slides in this sample deck, and create your suggested revision that makes all the same points, but in a way that will deliver the message more effectively.

Then, email your slide(s) to me at andrew.sellon@atdnyc.org no later than Monday, May 11th at 12 noon Eastern Time.  

I’ll collate all the submissions so that we can review and discuss them together at Wednesday evening’s meeting.  And even if you don’t have time to revise a slide, feel free to join us for the discussion.  We all learn a lot from our peers every time we hold one of our roundtables.  And of course, after the event I’ll share the collated PowerPoint deck so that you can remind yourself of the great solutions you can apply to your next project.

We hope to “see” you there!