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2012 eLearning Tools Landscape: The Rise of HTML5

TO LISTEN TO AN AUDIO VERSION, PLEASE SCROLL DOWN.  NOTE THAT  REFERENCES TO FLASH REFER TO FLASH AS AN OUTPUT FORMAT (.SWF) FOR eLEARNING PURPOSES.

APPLE.  IN THE LIBRARY.  WITH A LEAD PIPE.  If life was like the classic board game “Clue,” that might well have been the headline in all our eLearning journals at the end of 2011.  In place of the unfortunate Mr. Boddy, the crime scene photograph would have shown a white chalk outline in the shape of Adobe Flash.  There’s a semi-happy ending to this news report, though: to paraphrase a certain Monty Python plague victim, Flash isn’t dead yet.

But by the same token, the late Steve Jobs and his Apple team dealt Adobe a crippling blow when it refused to support Flash Player on their iPhone and iPad devices, citing heavy resource requirements and potential security vulnerabilities.  (And for a moment, let’s ignore the fact that even without playing Flash on it, I need to recharge my iPhone 4 once or twice a day!)  So, is Flash dead, or dying?  Not in the immediate future.  Think of all the legacy content out there.  But last November, when Adobe finally raised the white flag and announced that it was abandoning its development of the Flash Mobile platform, it became clear to everyone in eLearning that the development tool landscape is beginning a tectonic shift due to the growing importance of mobile learning, or mLearning.

If Flash is the Giant, then the young Giantkiller with the slingshot and the great aim is HTML5.  And there’s a certain irony here: it’s not even a clearly codified, formalized markup language yet.  In fact, bearing in mind the reality that “change is the only constant,” HTML5 may well end up being a freeform, organically expanding entity for a number of years to come, as new codes and capabilities are added.  We may need to start calling it something catchy like “HTML Universe” (in a techie nod to the Stargate franchise) or “HTML Utopia,” or some other name that will represent an ever-evolving entity.  Because let’s face it: do we really want to find ourselves talking about HTML16 or 156 anytime soon?  I know I don’t.  It’s true that right now, HTML5 still can’t do all the things that Flash can.  But it can do a lot of them.  Flash’s sun is setting, and HTML5 is the new sun rising on our eLearning horizon.  At least for this rotation.

So how are the eLearning development tools we use today evolving to meet our need for engaging, interactive eLearning content that can play on any website or any mobile device?  If you’re an eLearning Guild member you should download and read Nick Floro’s new tools report for 2012.  It’s an excellent snapshot of where we all were at the end of 2011.  (And if you’re not a member of the eLearning Guild by now, you really should be!)  I’m going to take a closer look at the HTML5-readiness question for 2012, based on some hands-on Beta testing that I’ve been doing with both Adobe and Articulate.

For some year now, many of us have been using Adobe Captivate for our eLearning projects.  The current build, Captivate 5.5, incorporates widgets and other programmer-friendly tools to expand the interactive capabilities of your eLearning course.  But Captivate now also sports a spartan new gray Photoshop-style interface that I find is challenging to many corporate Subject Matter Experts (or SMEs).  And it doesn’t publish to HTML5.  I’ve been participating in testing of Adobe’s standalone HTML5 Converter tool, which is extremely simple to operate.  With each new test version, more interactive features are being included.  But as of this writing, there are still many Captivate features that cannot be converted.  Adobe has also just started Alpha testing for Captivate 6.  What’s the bottom line?  By the time it hits the shelves, Captivate 6 will need to include seamless and comprehensive HTML5 publishing as one of its standard options.  Anything less at this point would would give the competition too much of an advantage.

I’ve also been taking a look at Adobe’s new animation tool, Edge, which is in a pre-Beta Preview.  Edge offers a clean (but again somewhat cryptic and SME-unfriendly) interface for creating animations using a combination of HTML, scripting, and cascading style sheets (CSS) instead of Flash.  I went to Adobe’s Edge Preview launch here in NY in the summer of 2011 and worked with version 1 briefly at that time, but it did not yet offer interactivity or the ability to include audio and video.  Preview version 4 was released on January 19th, and includes the first interactive features, so I look forward to checking that out.  But audio/video is still not part of the package, and Adobe is well aware that the tool will not be ready for the public until those features are included.   While Adobe seems to be positioning Edge as a standalone tool, for my money, it should also be included in the next releases of both their Creative Suite and the eLearning Suite.  To not do that when so many customers have partnered with Adobe to help make it happen would seem both ungrateful and unwise.  How Edge fares in the market will depend on the final list of features, its ease of use, how it’s packaged, and what tools the competition puts out in the meantime.

Adobe has undoubtedly felt heavy breathing on its neck over the past year from Articulate’s upcoming tool, Storyline.  I’m participating in the Beta of this tool as well, so I am not allowed to say much at this time.  It’s not divulging any secret, however, to say that per its name, Storyline includes a library of poseable characters, and is designed for the creation of story or scenario-based learning.  That’s a long-awaited feature right there.  I can also say that the tool is designed with the SME in mind, with an extremely user-friendly interface.  Articulate intends to make Storyline content publishable to your choice of Flash or HTML5 by the time it launches later this year.  Its screen capture feature can’t do everything that Captivate does at this point.  But Adobe should  be extremely concerned about the competition shaping up here, both in terms of product vision and functional design.  Again, all will depend on the final list of features, and the price point.  Articulate is saying that Storyline will be priced comparably to their other suite components, so we’ll see.  If they keep the price low enough, I foresee this tool being a genuine game-changer for the eLearning marketplace.

Of course, competition is great for everyone because it brings out the best and brightest from each company, and makes each tool better.  That’s good news for those of us who can’t afford to buy them all.  And I’m discussing only a handful of tools!  There are of course a lot more out there, including tools at higher and lower price points, and also cloud-based development suites offering HTML5 publishing. So let’s have a vision moment: what should be happening as we move forward?  Ultimately, the applications that come out on top will need to be affordable and offer the ability to enter your content once, then simply apply a desktop or mobile template with the click of a button. Whoever can design applications that publish to your choice of Flash or HTML5 and minimize the need for rework when publishing to different devices will carry the day.  At this point, products that publish only to Flash are basically writing their own obituaries, and will rapidly fade from the market as mobile learning becomes a more popular delivery method.

What will we be saying about 2012 a year from now?  Perhaps not even Professor Plum or Miss Scarlet can figure that out.  By then, HTML5 may have met its match.  But when we eLearning professionals look back on this year, chances are we’re going to remember it as the year we discovered a body in the library.  And the game changed again.

Agree?  Disagree?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Leave a comment!

 

My E-Learning Voiceovers Program Was a Great Success!

If you’ve read any of my recent posts, you know I was asked to teach a full-day pre-conference certificate program on How to Create and Deliver e-Learning Voiceovers Like a Pro for the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions 2011 conference.  I had 13 wonderful students from across the U.S. and Canada.  I had designed an extremely hands-on program, which gave everyone lots of opportunity to practice new ideas and tricks as I taught them throughout the day.  We worked on writing and rewriting scripts to turn them into compelling voiceover copy, we worked on basic relaxation exercises and vocal techniques, and we worked on the essentials of recording and editing voiceover files.  Then I held an extended lab in the afternoon where participants worked on creating scripts and audio content while I walked around the room, working one-on-one with each and every student to answer questions and provide suggestions and guidance.  At the end of the day, each student did a mini-presentation, playing and discussing the difference between audio files they created first thing that day, and then again at the end of the day, using the same script.  The improvements in every case were audible and substantial.  I was proud of all the students for the progress they demonstrated in the space of just one day!  I was also both pleased and humbled when I read all of the anonymous student feedback the following day; it means a lot to me to have made such a positive impact with my teaching.  I salute each and every one of my students for working so hard, and for doing such a great job!

NOTE: If you were one of my students, and would be willing to let me put your “TakeOne” and “TakeTwo” files (either anonymously or with your name, as you please) into a little mini-presentation I’m thinking of creating about the class, please contact me.  It will likely include a very brief overview of the topics, some of the written feedback, and audio samples.  There’s no better evidence than the great work produced in class that day!

I’m not usually the type to wear a “slogan” T-shirt, but when I arrived in Orlando, I found a Disney store that allowed you to create your own design, and so I created the one shown in the picture here, and proudly wore it for my class: “E-Learning Without Human Voiceovers?  That’s Like a Grin Without a Cat!” 

My thanks to Heidi Fisk of the eLearning Guild for inviting me to teach again this year.  It was a fantastic experience, and I’d love to do it again.  In the meantime, I do coach on eLearning voiceover skills one-on-one, or for a team; you can find more info on my Coaching tab.

My Presentation Skills Classes at Learning Solutions Were a Hit

I’ve just returned from attending the Adobe Learning Summit 2011, and from being both presenter and attendee at the eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions 2011 conference.  I had a fantastic time.  Both conferences had excellent keynote speakers:  Steven Berlin Johnson on the collaborative nature of innovation, John Medina on applying “brain rules” to learning, Nancy Duarte on visual impact, and Michael Wesch with a moving final talk on the implicit social responsibility behind social media.  There were also some very good peer-led sessions as well at both conferences.  Plus, it’s always exciting to see the new eLearning products from the vendors at the Expo.   Articulate’s upcoming “Storylines” and Michael Allen’s long-awaited “Zebra” are both coming to market this year, and you should keep an eye on both of those software applications; they have enormous potential. 

At the Adobe Summitt, I was delighted to meet Shameer, Akshay, RJ, Allen, and a lot more of the brilliant folks behind Adobe’s wonderful Captivate software.  They were great to talk to, and extremely responsive to everyone’s suggestions for future enhancements.  I’m sending them a list! 

It was fantastic to have the two conferences co-located in the same week; I hope that becomes an annual plan.  The perfect Orlando weather didn’t hurt, either. 

In addition to my full-day pre-conference certificate program on voiceovers (see my next post for a write-up!) as part of the Learning Solutions conference, I also led a one-hour Presentation Skills 101 class each of the three days of that conference, helping e-Learning professionals overcome the classic roadblocks to delivering an engaging and inspiring presentation, regardless of the topic or medium.  The attendees participated actively, contributing great examples from their own experiences, and gave me great reviews afterward.  I like to think that there are a lot more e-Learning professionals out there now who can get up in front of any audience with confidence and really make a difference.  I was very pleased that Nancy Duarte’s conceptual talk about the importance of “resonating” with an audience was a perfect companion talk to my own sessions, which provided hands-on ways to do it!

I also met a lot of great people from all over the place, and hope a lot of us can stay in touch here, on LinkedIn, and on Facebook, now that the conferences are over.  My only regret: I couldn’t fit the gorgeous Orlando weather into my suitcase to bring home with me!  😀

NOTE: If you attended one of my Presentation Skills 101 sessions, I’d love to hear from you about how you’re implementing the tips & tricks I shared.  I’m always happy to bounce around new ideas, or offer suggestions, if I can be of further help.  If you didn’t attend, but this sounds like coaching you need, please see my Coaching tab.

My thanks again to Heidi Fisk of the eLearning Guild for inviting me to present these sessions, and to Juli Balding, Ina Brasher, and the rest of the gang at the eLearning Guild for the fantastic support throughout.  Well done, all!

My eLearning Voiceovers Full Day Workshop at Learning Solutions 2011

As mentioned in a previous post, based on the success of the introductory eLearning voiceover sessions I offered at two eLearning Guild conferences in 2010, I’ve been asked to offer a full-day certificate program on the topic as part of the Learning Solutions 2011 conference.  I’ll be offering my workshop on Tuesday, March 22nd, from 8:30am-4:30pm at the Walt Disney World Hilton in Orlando, Florida.

My hands-on workshop will offer participants practice in:

  • Preparing Your Script for Speaking 
    • Editing the text for impact
  • Preparing Your Voice
    • Diction exercises from the Pros
  • Preparing to Record
    • Setting up your “studio”
    • Noise filtering
  • Recording Your Voiceovers
    • Practice with different content types: orientation, compliance, sales
  • Editing and Enhancing
    • Removing silences & sounds
    • Adjusting levels
    • Altering pitch & timing
    • Normalizing
    • Saving the final file
  • Working with the Pros

To learn more and to register, click the logo on this page.  Because I want to have all participants actively involved and working throughout the day, and so that I can give each participant personalized feedback, I’ve told the eLearning Guild that I am only accepting a maximum of 15 students.  I encourage you to register ASAP to reserve your place in this workshop.  If you have been given the responsibility of recording voiceovers for your company’s internal eLearning projects, I can give you the confidence and skills to take the quality of your work to a whole new level.  I’ll be posting more information on this blog between now and the workshop, and I will also be communicating directly with all those who register.  If you have any questions in the meantime, feel free to post a comment on this site, or e-mail me directly.  Sign up today and join me on March 22nd.  And if you know someone else who should be taking this certificate program, spread the word!  Reservations will be first-come, first-served.

Adding Diversity to eLearning Projects with Characters

I’m enjoying consulting on a variety of eLearning projects for Hess Corporation; very nice people, and interesting challenges.  I’m always impressed at how strongly large corporations like Hess and MetLife are committed to an ongoing policy of re-examining their processes and enhancing their eLearning to better engage and empower the target audience.  And the fact that they seek an “outside eye” like mine is another sign that they’re not looking to repeat themselves or rest on their laurels, which is great news for their employees.

One easy way to make your eLearning “speak” to your audience: add character.  Make sure your images, and your voiceover talent, reflect the breadth of your company’s talent pool–not just male/female, but also different cultures and different generations.  If your course has two narrators, why make them two men of roughly the same age, basically indistinguishable from each other?  When you differentiate them, you create more unique and interesting characters, and you also reflect more of your employee base.  If one narrator is a young Caucasian man from New York, perhaps the other is a middle-aged or older woman from India.  Perhaps one is the mentor and one the “newbie” at the company; and don’t assume the young person is always the new kid!  Of course, the personalities you choose will differ depending on the course material being presented, and on your target audience for a given project.  But it’s a double win when you embrace the many different kinds of diversity and give your course narrators and images some real, and relevant, character.

My eLearning Guild Voiceover Seminar is Friday October 8th

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Heidi Fisk of the eLearning Guild has asked me to give an encore presentation of my seminar Giving Voice to Your eLearning, which I originally gave at the Guild’s March 2010 conference in Orlando.  My online encore will be this Friday, October 8th, as part of the Guild’s October Online Forum on incorporating media in eLearning.  This will be different for me from the March presentation, as this time of course I won’t actually be in a room with participants.  At the online forums, participants don’t have speech capability, but they do have chat and polling ability, so I’ve retooled my presentation to align with the online conference technology.  I’ve also added a little bit of new content, and am looking forward to sharing my introductory session with Friday’s participants.  Many thanks to the tireless Tammy Olson of the Guild, who has worked with me to prepare and test the tech aspects of my presentation.  I couldn’t have done it without her! 

If you’re participating in the online forum this Thursday and Friday, my session is #402, at 11:30am Eastern on Friday, October 8th.  You can still sign up and see the full agenda by clicking the Online Forums image on this post.  I hope to “see” some of you there!

Voiceover for e-Learning for Kids Guided Tour

Click here to visit the e-Learning for Kids web siteIf you have or know kids grades 1-6, check out this great free e-Learning site! I contributed the voiceovers for the Guided Tour, and all the content is created by e-Learning professionals volunteering their time, which I think is fantastic.  Kids don’t need to register to use the site, so parents don’t have to worry about any personal information being collected, etc.  It’s a global initiative to give kids access to fun, free learning experiences from any pc with an internet connection.   Congrats again to Michael Williams, Director of Courseware Development, and to everyone involved in this worthy web site.

To visit the site, click the image on the right.  To see (and hear!) the Guided Tour, find the same Guided Tour image on the site’s home page and click on it there.  Enjoy, and spread the word!

e-Learning for Kids Guided Tour Voiceover

When I presented my eLearning voiceovers seminar at the eLearning Guild’s March 2010 conference in Orlando, I met a lot of bright, creative, super-friendly people.  One of those folks was Michael Williams, who is Director of Courseware Development for a great non-profit called “e-Learning for Kids.”  They run a web site of free interactive elearning for grades 1-6.  The content is created by elearning professionals who generously donate their time and skills to this globally-available learning resource.  The courses are colorful, fun, engaging, and 100% free.  Kids don’t even have to register to take the modules.  They just go to the site, choose a grade or a subject area, and dive in.  I was impressed with the course samples I saw at the conference, and I’m also a big believer in educational outreach for kids.  I give free readings at elementary schools twice a year for the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, and also visit schools to give talks.  So, I gave Michael my card, and told him to drop me a line if he ever needed voiceovers for a project.

Last week, Michael contacted me to ask if I’d be willing to create the voiceovers for a new Guided Tour they’re creating for the e-Learning for Kids web site.  I said sure!  I sent him a couple of sample audio files to give him an idea of the vocal timbre I thought most appropriate, and he agreed those were right on the money.  We finalized the script, I laid down the tracks, and I sent the finished Mp3 files along to Michael.  I included an alternate “take” of the last audio clip, with an additional “tag” that he loved, so that’s the one they’ll use in the Tour.   Once the Tour is posted on their site, I’ll do another update!  If you have kids, or know kids, grades 1-6, I recommend you take a look at their site.  What a great free resource!  Click the image to visit their site.

Performance Review Process Simulations for MetLife

I’m currently working on a series of a dozen simulations and job aids documenting the process and procedures around MetLife’s year-end performance development process.  I am designing and building these simulations, as well as writing the scripts and providing the voiceovers.  My goal here is to clarify and simplify a complex process so that associates, managers, and stakeholders (feedback providers) all understand their unique roles and how to accomplish their tasks in MetLife’s online performance system.  This project means lots of time working in Captivate and recording voiceovers, which I always enjoy!

My Voiceover Seminar Encore for the eLearning Guild

Heidi Fisk of the eLearning Guild called the other day to say that the seminar I gave at the eLearning Guild’s spring Learning Solutions 2010 conference was so well received that they’d like me to reprise it as part of their October 2-day Online Forum on using media effectively in eLearning.  The dates work out for my calendar, so I was delighted to accept!  I got great feeback from the seminar I led in Orlando, and I look forward to sharing my seminar Giving Voice to Your eLearning with a wider audience online in the virtual conference world.  Thanks to everyone who shared their feedback about my Orlando session; this return engagement would not have happened without your support.  Heidi and I have also started talking about my offering a more advanced, hands-on coaching session in spring 2011.  Stay tuned for more on that possibility!  In the meantime, you can click the image on the right to see information about the upcoming Online Forum.