My 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!
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.
Congrats! You win!!
This 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:
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:
As 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 email@example.com 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!
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:
I’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.
Admit 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 Simpsons, South 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.
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!
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!
This 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.
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?
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.