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ATD eLearning SIG Meeting on The Rise of Web-Based Development Tools

On July 26th, ATD NYC eLearning SIG co-chair Mark Cassetta and I gave a standing-room-only session on The Rise of Web-Based Development Tools.  Mark gave an excellent demo of the web-based tool Adapt.  And I followed up with a brief look at the Rise web-based tool included with the Articulate 360 suite.  There are of course other web-based eLearning development tools surfacing, but we felt these two were the strongest ones out of the gate.

Adapt has been around longer (since 2013), and as Mark demonstrated, is currently far more fully-featured than Articulate’s Rise tool.  The fact that Adapt is open source and offers a fully-functional free version should send you running to check it out.  Rise is not free; it’s only available with a subscription to the Articulate 360 suite.  But as I demonstrated, this new tool already has a great look and feel, and allows you to put together great-looking modules in a fraction of the time you’d need developing in Articulate’s Storyline, or Adobe’s Captivate or similar products.

Mark and I pointed out that in addition to providing for faster, cheaper development, web-based tools are also designed to create content that is fully responsive in design–the courseware will automatically adapt its layout depending on whether your learners access it from a laptop, a tablet, or a smartphone.  In this day of one-the-go, just-in-time training, this mobile-friendly element is huge.  And the learning curve for both tools is surprisingly low.

You can read more about Adapt here: https://www.adaptlearning.org

And you can read more about Rise here: https://articulate.com/360/rise

Our next ATD NYC eLearning SIG session will be on Wednesday, September 27th–put that date in your calendar now!

New eLearning Overview Built with Articulate Rise Featuring Fully Responsive Design!

It’s a great time to be creating eLearning; development tools continue to evolve, and a new player on the scene is a real game-changer–especially if you need high quality mobile learning.  As if  Storyline wasn’t great enough, with their new Articulate 360 suite, Articulate now offers us Articulate Rise.  The main difference between Storyline and Rise is this:  Rise is an entirely online course development tool, and the content published from Rise features a fully responsive design.  That means whether your learners access a Rise course using a laptop, desktop, tablet, or smartphone, Rise automatically detects the type of device and delivers the course optimized for viewing on that type of device!  It’s practically magical.

Now, Rise can’t currently compete with Storyline in terms of more advanced features and types of interactions, but for basic, linear informational courses needing a bit of stylish interaction, Rise offers a number of elegant templates and a lot of room for creativity.  And because it’s template-driven, it means building a course with Rise takes less time–and less money.  Of course, you can still add your own branding and color scheme.

Another difference to keep in mind: since audio files do not autoplay on mobile devices, so any audio you include in a Rise course will require the learner to click to hear the audio file.  But that’s a small price to pay for eLearning content that looks great on any device.  (And of course you should never put critical information only in audio for any eLearning course.)  Thanks to tools like Rise, high quality mobile learning is now within every company’s reach.  And Articulate continues to enhance the features of Rise, so this is truly only the beginning.

Click on the image in this post to see the sample Rise course I created.  It’s an updated version of my eLearning Overview.  This brief course will walk you through the process of creating eLearning–and give you a great look at Rise in action at the same time.  I think you’ll agree it’s quality eLearning in a very stylish package.  I’ve already used Rise with some of my clients, and they are thrilled with the results.  Take my sample course for a spin, and let me know what you think!

If you want to learn more about Rise, it will be one of the tools we discuss at our next ATD NYC eLearning SIG meeting on Wednesday, July 26th.  Watch the ATD NYC web site for details and to register.

Recap of Recent ATD NYC eLearning SIG Sessions

As you may know, I’ve been co-chairing ATD NYC’s eLearning Special Interest Group (SIG) for a few years now; first with Enid Crystal of BlackRock, and now with Mark Cassetta of RBC.  We put a lot of work into our sessions, and attendees tell us they get a lot out of them.

In March, we hosted one of our popular roundtable discussions on the topic Making eLearning Interactions Meaningful.  As a group, we put together a list of common types of eLearning interactions, and then had a lively (and illustrated) discussion about how we might use each of those types of interaction in a way that adds relevance and resonance for a particular project.  After all, not every type of interaction is an easy match with every learning topic.  We looked at and discussed samples brought in by some of our creative SIG members–it’s always great to see ideas in action, hands-on.  Attendees told us afterward they left with their heads full of new ideas for how to choose an interaction type based on their topic and what they’re trying to say.  That’s what we love to hear!

In May, we held a session called Video 101: Lights!  Camera!  eLearning! which was very well attended both in person and online.  Video is becoming more and more popular as a teaching tool, as it becomes easier and easier to for us all to create.  Look at YouTube, after all.  It’s become a great, global training resource.  We talked about when it’s a good idea to consider adding video, and about the common challenges that arise when you decide to include video clips as part of your eLearning (like file size and formats).  We spent a good amount of time looking at a wide variety of sample video clips being used for different types of micro-training moments: endorsement, informational, step-by-step training, role-play, guided tour, quizzing, and more.  We also talked about the basic gear you need if you want to shoot your own video clips, and examined a typical lighting setup for a good-looking “talking head” clip.  Once again, attendees told us they left armed with a lot of great ideas for enhancing their own elearning back on the job.  We recorded this session, so if you’re an ATD NYC member, it will be available soon on the member web site.

If you’re in the NYC area, don’t miss out!  We only hold six eLearning SIG meetings a year, and every one of them is crammed with great ideas and great discussion.  If you’re not already a member of ATD NYC, consider joining.  The annual cost is quite low, and while there are many great Chapter events, and other SIGs, the eLearning SIG meetings alone are worth the price of admission.

Our next eLearning SIG meeting will be on Wednesday, July 26th.  Mark your calendar, and watch the ATD NYC web site for details and registration.  Our topic will be The Rise of Web-based eLearning Development Tools, and it promises to be another great session.  In fact, I have a new blog post coming up in which I’ll share an example of a course built with Articulate Rise (see what I did there?), a great new web-based development tool that offers fully responsive design.  Stay tuned!

Class Up Your Learning With Free Images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art!

In case you missed this news item in February, I decided to do a quick blog post about it.  Those of us creating a lot of eLearning content (and training materials in general) are always looking for inexpensive–or better, FREE–stock images to enliven our learning content.  True, the new Articulate 360 Suite includes a Content Library with some decent images (more on 360 in another post), and Adobe’s package also offers a stock image option–though a lot of that one seems to come with a price tag.  Death to the Stock Photo started out strong, but for me their image bundles have grown less interesting lately.  Likewise for Unsplash–sure, the photos are often swell, but how many 8mb mountain landscape shots do we need in corporate eLearning?

Sometimes help comes from unexpected places.  In this case, it comes from NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.  In February the museum announced it was making a treasure trove of copyright free (or copyright waived) images available to the public on their web site, for FREE.  Another reason to love that venerable institution (and seriously, if you haven’t ever been, it’s the El Dorado of art, and you really should spend a few hours there next time you’re in town).

To check out what’s available, visit their Collection and then check the box for “Public Domain Artworks” from the list of filters on the left.  Once you’ve done that, select other filters on the left to further narrow the results, browse to your heart’s content, and download what you need for your project.  The museum will continue adding images to this free databank over time.

Will you find lots of images of corporate businesspeople?  Well, no.  But if you’re creating a course with a metaphor, you could make great use of some classical art–and “class up” your learning content in the process!

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.

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.