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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 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!

An Easy Way to Create Free Custom Icons for Your eLearning Course

This week’s eLearning Heroes Challenge on the Articulate Forums was about creating custom icons for your eLearning courseware. It’s a great project; after all, you want icons that have the appropriate look and feel for your unique course, and even with all the great free resources available on the internet, there might come a time when you can’t find an icon set that’s just right.

And of course, we’re not all artists. So if the thought of creating a custom set of icons sounds daunting to you, let me show you how quick and easy it is using only PowerPoint. We were encouraged to use PowerPoint for this challenge, for maximum shareability of our finished icon sets.

Just insert a shape on a PowerPoint slide. Then format it to your liking using the Quick Styles feature and the Format Shape options on the right-click menu. And if you’ve never explored the various Wingdings sets that come with PowerPoint, this is a great time to do it–there are all sorts of handy characters (telephones, printers, arrows, and much more) in there, just waiting for you to find them. TIP: Don’t settle for just picking a Wingding set and typing a character on your keyboard. You can also hold down the Shift key as you press your keyboard keys to get a whole second level of Wingdings in each character set!

If you’d like to download the icon sets I created in PowerPoint for this challenge to use in your own projects (including instructions on how to make your own), click here: Icons – Andrew Sellon

And here’s a peek at one of the two sets in the download:

Custom Icons Screencap



How to Create Icon Sets

Maybe You Don’t Need That eLearning Course

FootmenI’m contacted regularly by organizations who tell me they need me to create an eLearning course. After inquiring about the details, sometimes I surprise them by suggesting that they don’t really need a formal, full-blown eLearning course at all. You should always ask yourself the same question (or contact me, and I’ll ask!).

If what you need to share is really “information only,” then instead of creating a custom course, consider whether you might actually be able to make your key points in a simple, illustrated job aid, published in PDF format. Record a simple podcast. Create a little self-playing presentation in PowerPoint or Keynote, and save it to a movie format. Use formats like PDF, Mp3, and MOV or Mp4, that your learners can access at their convenience from virtually any device, including smart phones, iPads, and other tablets.  This approach can be time and a lot of money.

Even when creating a full eLearning course is the appropriate solution, I always encourage you to think in small, bite-size chunks of information that your learners can readily “digest.” I’ve composed a rhyming couplet to help you keep this in mind:

Less can often amount to more,
And keeping it simple will help you score.

If you don’t have the time or resources in house, I’d be happy to work with you on creating one or more job aids, or on scripting and recording podcasts or presentations that will both engage and inform your target audience. Don’t get me wrong–I love creating eLearning!  But you should always match the solution to the need. To paraphrase the old saying: you wouldn’t use a cannon to shoot a fly, would you?  Not all learning events require a formal invitation, or a formal approach.

image 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 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!

image 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.

image 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!


image 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.