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My New Interactive Sample Teaches Grammar With Humor

Grammarwonky Title SlideAdmit it. Sometimes nice, bland characters aren’t all that interesting or engaging.  I’ve been an actor for more than 30 years, and I’m a character actor, which means I don’t play those handsome, kind-hearted “leading man” roles.  I play the offbeat people, which suits me perfectly. Ask any actor you know whether he or she would rather play the hero or the villain. I’ll bet you at least 75% will answer: “The villain, of course!” That’s because the villains tend to be a lot quirkier and more interesting, and therefore more memorable to the audience. And we all want to be remembered, right?

Yet when it comes to creating memorable narrator/host characters for eLearning, most corporations are afraid of presenting a character who is anything other than clean-cut, polite, and endlessly reassuring. After all, companies assume the narrator should always act as a direct representative of the company, and model only the best of corporate behaviors. But think about it: a lot of the workforce today has grown up glued to shows like The SimpsonsSouth Park, and Family Guy. Audiences have always loved characters with a few rough edges, and I think that’s truer now than ever.

Over on the Articulate Forums, last week’s eLearning Heroes Challenge from guru David Anderson was to create a sample teaching a few elements of good grammar. I’ll freely admit that I’m one of those people who silently corrects other people’s grammar in my head all the time, so even though I was busy, I had to accept that challenge. And for some reason, thinking about teaching grammar made me think about Lewis Carroll’s famous poem Jabberwocky–a poem that can’t be criticized for any grammar issues, because it’s made up of nonsense words! Go figure. But the Jabberwock creature of the poem seemed like a good model for someone who is monstrous about insisting on good grammar.

So I decided to create a grammar teacher who is anything but sweet and supportive. He’s an obnoxious, unapologetic grammar nerd. Or, as I coin the term in my new interactive eLearning sample, a Grammarwonk. And I decided to write a “riff” on the famous poem while I was at it.

Click the image on this post, or go to my eLearning Samples page, and see if your own grammar skills can tame the Grammarwonk. And then think about the world of possibilities that opens up for your eLearning when you consider using more colorful–and sometimes, even less pleasant!–characters for your next project. Of course, sometimes you need to walk the straight and narrow corporate line.  But then again–maybe that’s exactly when you shouldn’t.  Remember: learning is best when it also works as entertainment. That’s a simple fact of human nature. Get in touch with me, and I’ll help you leverage that fact for your next project!

PS: Make sure you click on the little “i” info button on the last slide for some cool “easter egg” information.

Free Gamification Course on Coursera.com Starts January 26th!

Folks: If you’Gamification Course Verified Certificate - Smallve been wondering about the principles of Gamification and how to apply them to your eLearning and other projects, you really owe it to yourself to take this free MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) by Professor Kevin Werbach on Coursera. It is fun, challenging, and will give you lots of understanding and ideas.

It is starting 1/26, and you can still sign up.  Do it now!   You’ll be very glad you did.

Fun With Flat Graphics and Manager Training!

I got carried away again. The Articulate eLearning Heroes Challenge (#50) for this week was actually very simple: create an image of a workspace using the very popular (thanks, Apple) flat graphic design style. Easy, right? This is actually not a style I’ve really embraced, so that made it a good reason to take on the challenge. But as Articulate’s Tom Kuhlmann had just released a set of flat graphic assets for free use, I didn’t want to replicate what he had already done. That made it even more of a challenge.

Creating some flat graphics was more fun that I expected! For instance, I started making a flat photo frame with four images in it, and when I had it in front of me, I realized that if I put a blue gradient into each of my four rectangles, the picture frame suddenly became a window to the outside world. Granted, I can be easily amused.  Eventually, I changed the window to a cork board because I needed the real estate. But it was surprisingly fun playing with simple shapes and assembling them in various ways to create other objects. Even so, graphics for their own sake wasn’t holding my interest long term.  So I decided to make it an interactive, exploratory workspace sample, and to give it a specific context.

Suddenly, Articulate released the long-awaited Storyline version 2!  I opened it up and laughed–the entire interface now boasts a “flat” design! Once I started looking around, I got lost, the way I get lost when I walk into Costco and see all those big, long aisles and all those shelves….  So while I’ve barely scratched the surface of the nifty-looking new features, I did find time to incorporate two motion paths, and a slider.  Motion paths were pretty easy to sort out; wrapping my head around the workings of the slider was a learning experience for me.  But the end result is quite fun.  I also incorporated an elegant calculator, courtesy of eLearning Locker.  Creating a mini, flat version took some time, but arranging the little squares became a kind of zen exercise.

Anyway, better late than never, here is my submission for the flat graphics challenge.  My thought was that something like this could serve as the beginning of a new manager training program.  After the manager explores the workspace, then we could present them with a number of different scenario-based challenges, using the team characters and information introduced in the workspace.  Branching would make it possible to play out different sets of results from the manager’s choices.  I know, I could have stopped with just creating a flat workspace.  But once the ideas start percolating….

To launch my new sample, just click on the image in this post.

Thanks for another fun challenge, David Anderson!

New eLearning Samples Page Overview Video

The latest eLearning Heroes Challenge (#49) on the Articulate Community Forum was all about using your webcam as a quickie teaching tool.  Moderator David Anderson keeps coming up with such great and creative challenges!

And while I love being creative, the practical side of me is always saying “Make something you can use on your web site!”  So I decided to make my webcast into a mini-tour of my eLearning Samples page.

I used Articulate Replay to record this little project.  While I remembered quickly that, like Articulate Storyline,  it can’t record captures from my Mac environment, working within Windows it came together pretty quickly.  I also learned that recording it all in one take wasnt working out–as a performer, I had no problems presenting it, but in each of three tries, my Macbook Pro’s mike input ended up with static in the audio at one point or another.  And as this first version of Replay doesn’t really have advanced editing tools, separating out the simultaneous audio track wasn’t going to happen.  Still, this exercise was about learning, and I learned a lot.

Of course, I came up with a basic script beforehand so that I wouldn’t be fumbling for words.  And I had to set up my neutral backdrop and a bit of lighting.  And wait for that helicopter to get out of earshot.  But once all the elements aligned, it fell into place, and I have to say Replay made it very easy to shift focus and add transitions.  Have a look, and let me know what you think!

Storyboarding 101 – Creating Your eLearning Blueprint

Storyboard PPT ImageThis week’s eLearning Heroes challenge (#48) on the Articulate Forum is all about the basics of Storyboarding. This is an essential topic, and one always worth revisiting! Here are the questions posed by moderator David Anderson of Articulate, and my answers:

How do you define scripting, storyboarding, and prototyping? 

Scripting: I define “scripting” as the proposed wording of the voiceover script that will be used, slide by slide. Some people include the onscreen text in this definition. As long as you’re clear and consistent with your clients, so that everyone is on the same page, either can work. But coming from a performing arts background, for me the script is what is said.

Storyboarding: This is another term that comes from the performing arts, specifically the movies. Filmmakers typically have a visual shot-by-shot “storyboard” based on the written script, including visual mockups (even just stick figures) making it clear what the visual (and emotional) event is for each frame: an explosion, a look of surprise, a handshake, a close-up of an eye with a tear rolling down, etc. The storyboard is the blueprint for what the cinematographer and his or her camera crew will be looking to replicate faithfully on film. The same is true for eLearning: the storyboard represents slide by slide (or frame by frame) what the learner will encounter in the finished course–including onscreen text, visual/media elements, notation of any actions/interactions, and the voiceover script.

Prototyping: Even if you create a highly visual storyboard, it’s still only a static blueprint of what you (or your developer) will be building in your eLearning development tool. Before you develop a whole course, always develop a working prototype–a few sample slides (say 2-5) from your storyboard that give your client a “feel” for what the learning experience will be like hands-on for their target audience.  It should include draft onscreen text, image(s), and a sample interaction and/or quiz question that you plan to use. If time allows, and the client doesn’t know your work, scratch audio can be helpful, too. But for a quick prototype, it’s mainly about the look and feel.

Which method do you prefer?

I view these three elements as complimentary components of a whole, so to me it’s not an either/or situation. I use them all, and recommend that you do the same.

 

Do you use different types of storyboards? When do you use each?

I try to keep my process as simple and client-friendly as possible, so I use the template that best suits the project.

For soft skills training (ex: compliance, orientation, policy, etc.) I typically use PowerPoint, because every client is comfortable with it. I put the text and images on the slide, with an appropriate marker for any proposed interactive element. In the Notes section, I put the voiceover script for that slide, and in a separate bracketed paragraph, any developer notes–for instance, explanation of how an interaction will play out, how onscreen elements will appear or disappear, and align with the voiceover script. Clients can add their comments, and then once we have finalized the storyboard document, I strip out the bracketed developer notes. An alternative I sometimes use if time is tight: I storyboard right in my developer tool, then use the Word export to create a very basic storyboard document that the client can mark up. The drawback to this approach currently is that while the client can mark up the voiceover script, they cannot edit the text on the slide in the Word document, because it’s just a static image.

For simulations, I have created a separate (but still simple) MSWord template with columns for Audio File Name, Process Step #, Voiceover script, Action, and Comments. This serves as my “shooting script” when I capture the step-by-step screens needed for the simulation, and ensures that I’m not missing a step or interaction. Since there aren’t any visuals to use for a simulation storyboard until I record the screen captures, I will typically capture just one screen and mark it up with sample text, highlights, arrow, etc. as a style guide, so that the client understands what the look and feel of the whole simulation will be before I do the full set of captures. I’m including a screenshot sample of both kinds of storyboard templates with this post.  Tip: I always record my audio separately, in a standalone audio tool (Audacity, Audition, etc.) rather than in the developer tool.

 Sellon Solutions Storyboard Logo for Blog

How do you storyboard interactivity?

When I have a slide with an interaction, I will typically draft the basic proposed interaction in my developer tool (for example, Articulate Storyline), and then I will do one of two things: (a) paste static screenshots onto slides in my storyboard, or (b) create an Mp4 clip of the full interaction, so that they can understand and evaluate the look and feel of the interaction. I use SnagIt for the Mp4 mini-movies, as Storyline currently doesn’t output to Mp4–something that hope will be in the next version! As I noted above, I typically include one sample interaction in my prototype, so that the client can interact with it hands-on and decide if that approach suits their target audience. Once the client is happy with the overall proposed look and feel of how interactions will be presented in the course, then a single screenshot of the interaction, along with a description in the Notes section, will usually suffice after that.

 

What are your top three storyboard tips for new course creators?

  1. Keep your documentation simple and clear. Why use three documents when one will do? Why force your client to wade through endless lists of graphics asset file names, over-compartmentalized layouts, or complex developer instructions? Include information as needed, but put the tech stuff at the bottom so the client can easily skip it.  Keep your client focused on the course’s impact, not on what’s happening behind the scenes.
  2. Visuals are crucial in eLearning. Wherever possible, use the actual proposed images/media to make sure that your storyboard accurately reflects what the target audience will see. Coming up with images that speak to the client is often one of the biggest challenges in storyboarding. Using a template that only includes image placeholders would be a waste of everyone’s time.
  3. Make sure that your storyboard’s imagery and word choice (both onscreen and in the voiceover script) are genuinely engaging and compelling.  Great eLearning starts with a strong script and images that resonate with the target audience. The animations and interactions you might add are icing. By the time your client finishes reviewing your storyboard draft, they should have a clear sense of the emotional journey you have created for their target audience.

 

Thanks for another terrific challenge, David!  Now, I’m going to pose a challenge to Articulate in return. I have submitted this as a feature request, and think it would be enormously helpful to all Articulate Storyline users and their clients: Add a Developer Notes tab to the development stage (the content on this tab would never output in the published course), and adapt your Word export feature so that it outputs both the Notes (voiceover script) and any Developer Notes in their own cells below the slide image.  Finding a way to make the output images editable in the Word document would be a real bonus, too! Then the Word export feature would become an even better storyboarding tool, saving a lot of people time and money.

Folks: If you find my thoughts on this topic useful, I encourage you to leave a comment on this post.  And consider subscribing to my newsletter using the form on the right side of this site.  It’s free. It’s quarterly.  And there’s no spamming involved.  Ever.

Check Out My eLearning Portfolio Right Here On My Web Site!

David Anderson, that clever devil also known as Community Manager over at the Articulate Forums, has gotten me hooked on his eLearning Challenges.  Time doesn’t always permit me to join in, but I did last week, and here I am again this week.  Maybe it’s the start of a trend.

This time the challenge was to publicize our eLearning portfolios.  Well, sure–why not!  While the content I create for my clients is always proprietary and cannot be shared online, I have created a few sample eLearning treats for you to experience, explore, and enjoy on the eLearning Samples page of my web site.  I’m always adding new items when my schedule allows, so if you haven’t checked it out lately, see what you think, and let me know!  An eLearning Portfolio is an organic, ever-changing thing.

In addition to providing access to our portfolio, each of us was asked to create appropriately sized graphics to advertise our work, and to post them on the media we use.  I’m not currently a Pinterest user, but I created my graphic, posted it on David’s Facebook link, and I tweeted it on Twitter.

I had to laugh at the number of us in the Forum group who have been wanting to get around to this little bit of shameless self-promotion for some time–but real life projects tend to get in the way.  It took David’s challenge to spur us into action.  And luckily a bunch of us were able to take up the challenge this time.  It’s great to see all the different styles of portfolios people have created, many of them like me using Articulate Storyline for the samples.

You can read about the challenge on the forum by clicking here.

Thanks for another great (and very useful) challenge, David!

 

Play My Fun New Call Center Game Demo

Call Center Game DemoThis week’s eLearning Heroes’ Challenge on the Articulate Forum (Challenge #47, for those of you who are counting) was to create a quick sample of a call center module.  After all, sooner or later most customers have a need for some form of call center training.  Thanks, moderator David Anderson, for another great challenge!

Since I believe that people learn best when they’re enjoying themselves, I decided to take a humorous route.  I chose to leverage the nifty avatar characters that come packaged with Articulate Storyline (each character has some images on headset; invaluable for call center trainings–and something missing from their photo character images).  And since I was going for a spirit of fun, I chose to use a great set of comic book layout templates that are also available to download from the Articulate Forum.

The result is brief–it’s only a sample, after all–but packs in four different scenarios and a whole bunch of good advice for the call center trainee.  For a real training, lots of things could be expanded–for example, the feedback could be customized to each scenario.  I could add a badge or point system based on the learner’s performance.  Sound effects could heighten the experience.  Background colors and settings could add another layer.  You get the idea.  Here I present only the all-important opening interaction with the call center rep and the customer, but for a real project I would build out a longer interaction, branching with each question with varying customer responses, based on how well the call center trainee handles the customer.  And of course, the comic book approach is just one of many–but it would resonate particularly well with a population that enjoys comics and graphic novels.

If you have a couple of minutes to spare, check out my new sample.  It may give you some good ideas.  And it’ll almost certainly give you a chuckle.  You can click here to view all my eLearning samples, or click the image to launch just this one demo.

New Interactive Sample of Exploratory Exercise Just Posted!

Exploratory ExerciseAs you may know, I enjoy using Articulate Storyline to create eLearning solutions for my clients.  And Articulate has built up an impressive eLearning Heroes community of users on their web site.  Each week in the forums, Community Manager David Anderson posts a new eLearning challenge.  Anyone who has a little spare time is invited to participate.

I’m usually too pressed for time to join in, but I’ve enjoyed checking out some of the creative solutions other community members have offered on the various challenges.  This week, however, the challenge was about audio setup tips, and while I was late to the game, I had an hour to spare.  After all, I’m an actor and I do professional voiceovers.  So I jumped in and came up with a response.

The challenge was to provide three things:

  1. A description of your audio setup
  2. A photo of your setup
  3. Three audio setup tips

I decided it would be fun to combine all three by creating an interactive photo of my desktop.  Now you get a peek at just how messy my desktop can get!  I took a photo of my setup, then opened it in Storyline, and used their Markers feature to add 16 interactive points of interest.  You can explore one or all of them.  Mousing over a marker provides a description, and clicking on it opens a window with more details and helpful tips.  (Granted, I provided more than three tips!)

I’ve posted this exploratory exercise on my eLearning Samples page.  You can view it there, or jump directly to the exercise by clicking here.

Enjoy!

Packt Publishing Has $10 10th Anniversary Sale Now Through July 5th

10 days 10 years - Home BannerI’ve just learned that Packt Publishing purveyors of design and development books, eBooks, and videos, is celebrating their 10th anniversary by offering all eBooks and videos for $10 each, from now through Saturday, July 5th only.

They don’t yet have a book out on Captivate 8, but they do have a couple on Captivate 7, and also one on Articulate Storyline, not to mention a host of developer-friendly topics.

To take advantage of this sale, click here and make your purchases by July 5th.

Free Graphics Package Through July 15 on iPad Insight

SummerFreebieI’ve been finding a lot of good deals on the iPad Insight / Stack Social site lately. If you’re looking for high-quality graphics that are free for both personal and commercial use, check out their latest freebie deal. You do have to register on their site (also free) and share the link or follow them to download the assets, but I have to say the large selection is surprisingly high quality, and a lot of elements could be handy in eLearning!

To check out the Summer Freebie Design Bundle, click here.

NOTE: This offer is available only through July 15th!