Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What I think about Avitars

I just got an e-mail from a long time customer asking me what I think about an article they read on Avitars. My response is:

Please forgive my cynicism ... but an article about how wonderful Avatars are that is written by the CEO of a company that makes Avatars seems somewhat self-serving. Also, note that "developers" like this. Where does it talk about whether the audience likes it? The stuff about the MTV-generation being different, in my opinion, is recycled. Yes, younger people are more familiar with texting, social networks, and faster multi-tasking, but this (my opinion) is because they are at a stage where they have more free time. (Remember when our parents complained about how much TV we watched instead of going outside and tending to the vegetable garden?) Once they get older, and get busier (like most employees at work are), they have less time for games, distractions, and other entertainment. Unfortunately, what matters is making the content interesting, and above all accessible. I don't expect people to learn (really understand and develop their own ramifications from) web-based content the first time they read it. What makes web-based content useful is that they can get to it on an as-needed basis. Avatars and recorded video, from our anectodal experience (hearing from our customers) do the following:
1. Slow down the learning - the user has to wait for the audio track to get to the content. Imagine if Google was audio based rather than text-based. How long would it take you to find what you're looking for?
2. Reduce the need for the person to process the information through the brain. If someone reads to me, I don't have to read. I find that the best way for me to learn something is to rewrite it. If I just am listening, I can drift away (check my inbox, play free-cell, etc.)
3. Distracts the co-workers in cubicles around them. When the course loads, suddenly the audio kicks off. Everyone hears it and is distracted.
4. Provide visual stimulation, but not critical thinking development or fact transfer.

My belief is that in the MTV generation, unless people are couch-potato-ing (watching music videos), what they want is faster, smaller chunks of info. When you start transmitting to PDAs, and it takes 5 minutes for the audio track that lasts one minute to download, you may find a loss of effectiveness.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Understanding the Differences between Mobile Platforms

A study done in 2007 on mobile platform usage found that Symbian (used in Nokia phones) had 70% of the mobile OS market. Linux (used by multiple vendors such as Sharp and Samsung) had 15% of the mobile OS market. Research In Motion's Blackberry had 5% of the mobile OS market, while Microsoft Windows Mobile and CE (used by Palm, Compaq, Samsung) had 5%. Since this study came out, new players including Apple (iPhone) and Android (Google's operating system) have been introduced. In many countries outside of the US, cell phones are used 100 times as often as desktop computers.

The window size in different mobile browsers can vary from 320x160 to 600x480, or even landscape mode of 480x600. Beyond the screen size, there are different levels of support for visual elements such as styles, dynamic content (JavaScript), and images. I predict that over the next few years more mobile devices will support multi-media. The question will be if they will support the same multi-media formats you currently have on your desktop computer or if they will develop their own plug-ins. Here is a summary of the features (and limitations) found on mobile systems today:

• Blackberry has a custom mobile browser. Their browser has poor JavaScript support, does not support Flash, supports zooming, but provides no special handling of frames, and ignores style sheets (CSS). This means that content cannot be "hidden" through style sheet control. This is a problem if you wish to provide both textual and graphic links.
• Microsoft has a number of different mobile operating systems. Windows CE is found on devices built prior to 2005. Windows Mobile 6 was released in 2007, and Windows Mobile (Next) is under development. All of these platforms contain browsers that are versions of IE4/IE5/IE6 resulting in many limitations. On Windows Mobile 6, the browser is better, but it is a limited version of IE6. The Microsoft browsers have poor JavaScript support, do not support Flash, do not support zooming, and ignore style sheets (CSS). Windows Mobile 6 supports CSS but does not provide any special handling for frames. (See Minimo for an alternative.)
• Minimo is a port of the Firefox (Mozilla) browser for Windows Mobile devices. The Minimo browser is available for Windows Mobile 5 and later. It is easy to install and fully JavaScript enabled. This means that dynamic content works well. The Minimo browser is capable of performing decent zooming, and has good style sheet (CSS) support. Minimo is one of the best browsers available. The only downside is that it needs to be downloaded and installed on the Windows Mobile platform before usage - but it is free.
• Symbian is the name of Nokia's operating system that includes a browser. The browser is a good browser with reasonable JavaScript support and provides excellent zooming.
• Apple's iPhone uses a proprietary operating system and the Safari browser. iPhone supports multimedia separately from the browser. Overall, this is an excellent platform since it has good screen size, good style sheet (CSS) and JavaScript support, and the touch screen makes it easy to use.
• Palm's operating system is called Garnet. It includes a browser. The Garnet browser has poor style sheet (CSS) support, but it does a nice job with frames by putting them at the bottom of the page. It has weak support for dynamic HTML. Like Apple, Palm’s devices have touch screens to make navigation easier.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Designing mobile eLearning courses

Before embarking on creation of a mobile accessible course you will want to understand how the learner's experience changes when they view your course through a mobile device. Mobile devices are typically used in a very distraction-filled environment. Learners may be on a bus, on a train, at the store, eating lunch, or at work. The mobile device screen is very small. This limits what the learner can see and can make it difficult to read a large amount of content, view graphics, or see moving graphics.

Course content behaves differently when the display window shrinks. Graphic artists and many course creators like to design eLearning courses so that all aspects of the visual layout are tightly controlled. They like to precisely specify the position of each character. This is called absolute positioning. Absolutely positioned pages work well for printed brochures, but don't work well for environments where the learners have different screen/display sizes. Because the designer has specified positioning for a specific screen size ahead of time, the browser cannot rearrange the content optimally for the end-learner's current screen size. Absolutely positioned content may require horizontal scrolling to read, or may simply be illegible because the font size is too large or too small. Along the same line of thought, many test questions are built with tools that only work on specific browsers. For example, tools assume that the learner uses only Internet Explorer 7 or later or has flash installed. Mobile devices (event those that use Microsoft Windows Mobile) use older, simpler browsers making many web pages and web forms unusable.

Additionally, in a mobile environment your content will be most effective if you only provide a small amount on each page. While learners can scroll horizontally on a mobile device, it may be difficult to follow the content if they have to scroll too much. The rule of thumb, is to provide about twice the amount of content that can be viewed on the screen: If an average mobile screen supports 300 characters, limit your pages to 600 characters. This leads to content that is short, quick, and fast. Mobile devices have different size and capability limitations. Some browsers will resize the fonts, some support zooming, some don't respect style sheets, some have a portrait layout, etc. Avoid multiple columns, since they will require horizontal scrolling.

There are a few simple rules to follow when creating graphics for mobile devices. Avoid placing important text inside graphics. That is, it is possible to put text inside a graphic to serve as a label. The mobile browser may shrink graphics so that they fit on the small display size. Any text that is in the graphic will also be shrunk, potentially to a size that is illegible. On other devices, if the graphic is too large, the visitor will need to scroll horizontally and vertically to see it. This can become frustrating for your learner since horizontal scrolling is annoying and is not supported on all mobile devices. So, graphics should be designed for low resolution screens.

None of the currently available mobile devices support multimedia that is part of web pages. This means that content requiring plug-ins such as Flash, PDF, Java, and most movie formats do not work across the platforms. The movies that are becoming popular on iPod require a proprietary movie application, separate from the browser. This means that rich/multimedia should be avoided.

The overall layout/look-and-feel of your site can also be a challenge. If you plan to use the same content for the desktop and the mobile learners, one option is to have two different style sheets, with the appropriate one loading at run time. In a properly designed site, the style sheet specifies layout, positioning, font sizes/colors, backgrounds, borders, and many other display attributes. It is important to understand that style sheet support is not uniform across mobile devices. Because of the non-uniform support, you might consider creating two separate eLearning courses: one for PC access and one for mobile access. Some basic considerationswhen creating a template for mobile devices:
· Most branding can be done through font and background colors
· Use small or unobtrusive graphics and logos
· Avoid navigation bars that may take up a large percentage of the screen. If you want to include complex navigation, place these at the end of the page content so that learners have access first to the primary content.
· Avoid background graphics.
o The end learners ambient light will vary depending on whether they are indoors or outdoors.
o A background that causes low contrast difference between text and decoration may make content impossible to read.
· Pull-down menus don't necessarily work on mobile devices (because of uneven JavaScript support), so consider using arrows to take learners through a tour of your course.
· Graphic navigation icons should be simple arrows or a descriptive word such as “next” or “back”.
· Navigation frames work well on some devices, but not others. It's best to place them below or after the main content.

When you build your content using recommended web practices it will work effectively on all platforms. Content that follows W3C recommendations including HTML implementation, style sheets, and relative positioning is the most accessible from the largest number of platforms. If you are already using a tool, confirm that it works on all mobile devices. You may need to do your own testing since most vendors have focused on the desktop market.

Also consider the connection speed for your visitor's device. Many mobile devices only have access to low bandwidth services. Your visitor might only have access to download speeds comparable to what most people had in the mid 1990's. Since access speeds vary tremendously, make sure your content can be downloaded quickly.

Tests can work over mobile devices, but they need to be implemented using standard HTML. A big caveat is your LMS. Most LMS's do not work in a mobile environment since they created their environment in tools (AJEX and Rich Media) that do not work on mobile devices

Monday, November 3, 2008

Why Mobile ELearning courses

Analysts, reporters, and computing futurists believe that mobile applications are the greatest path for growth in the computing industry. Their focus and enthusiasm centers on applications that can be installed natively on the mobile devices, rather than on the use of the mobile device as a communication gateway. For example, many articles feature software that tells you how many of your "friends and acquaintances" are currently within 500 yards of where you are sitting. However, mobile devices may have a role that is much larger than as a platform for handy applications. Mobile devices can provide highly portable, low cost Internet access, thereby opening up huge new information consumer bases.

Many of the mobile applications being featured are productivity tools like scheduling or notification software or entertainment tools like music players and games. In order to run, these applications need to be purchased, downloaded, and installed on the mobile platform. Each mobile platform/operating system requires its own, natively compiled version of the application. The applications need to be redesigned and rebuilt for each target platform (e.g. Blackberry, Windows Mobile, Android, etc.). While most of the focus on mobile computing has been on specific applications, the most obvious, and potentially most important application has been forgotten: web access.

Most learners are accessing the Internet to take eLearning courses. ELearning courses provide organizations, government, and individuals a training portal to the world where they can provide trainer their learners. An organization's course is accessible to learners through a web browser (e.g Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari), regardless of the operating system (MS-Windows, Mac, etc.) the visitor is using. This access to training is provided without the learner purchasing, downloading, or installing anything since most computers are delivered with a web browser already installed. The same is becoming true for mobile devices.

The need to download or install an application before accessing a course is one of the major reasons that learners abandon a course. In fact, when learners need to install a plug-in in order to view the content, they only do so 10% of the time. This means that the hurdle of installing a plug-in or media viewer is enough to prevent most learners from taking a course.

Most eLearning courses currently work well on a desktop computer with a moderate resolution screen, but work poorly on a mobile device. This is primarily because of design decisions course creators have taken when they built the course. Most course creators assume that learners have the same size/resolution display as what they have on their computer. They only test the course with their computer, at their preferred browser setting. For example most courses only work properly if the display device is at least 700 pixels wide. (Most mobile displays are less than 400 pixels wide). So, to read a line of text, the end-learner will need to scroll horizontally, something very difficult to do on mobile devices that don't have a touch-sensitive screen. Another big reason courses are being designed in unfriendly manners is the rush to Rich Internet Applications. This just means content that requires plug-ins like Adobe Flash or Java in order to display. These applications provide pretty movies, visual stimulation, and responsive content, but add little content value. Currently, most mobile devices (including the iPhone) are unable to play rich media as part of web pages. This means that courses that require plug-ins are inaccessible to mobile consumers.

An even bigger problem exists with tests. Most test questions are built in tools that output flash, are browser specific, or use other rich media formats that are inaccessible to mobile devices The end result are test where a learner is unable to set the focus on an entry box, and typing doesn't work. Tests are also being designed to use the latest instantaneous feedback mechanisms such as AJAX. These technologies are not yet supported on many mobile browsers. So, when a learner wishes to take a test when they are in a mobile environment they can not do so.

If you are building courses, you need to ask some fundamental questions:
- Why are you building these courses?
- Who is your learner?
If you want learners (employees, customers, prospective clients, and partners) to take your courses you will need to ensure that your course works in your learners's environment. With maturity in cell-phone/mobile device technologies, your learners will be moving away from their desks, and will want to learn when they are mobile. This means that courses that have worked nicely until now will needs to be able to handle the changing learning environment.

Currently about 15% of the cell phones in the US have a web browser. Most people exchange their cell phone for the latest model every two years. This is why Internet accessible mobile device adoption is growing exponentially.

Your training strategy need to ensure that you are not repelling learners. If your courses do not work with mobile devices how many learners will you not be accessing in the future? If you require that they download and install an application or plug-in so that they can take a course, how many learners have you lost? The questions you need to ask to see if you should be looking at a mobile training strategy is:
· Are your learners sitting at a desk or are they out and about?
· Do your learners use cell phones or other mobile devices?
· What do they currently read on their mobile devices (nothing, short e-mails, long messages?)
· Do they currently use mobile devices to send e-mail?
· Does their mobile devices have a browser (is it a smartphone)?
· Do they have or are they looking at purchasing a mobile device with a browser?
· Would they want to access training when they are away from their desktop computers?
· Are your courses useful to a mobile audience?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes you should consider expanding your course options to support mobile devices.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Using Audio tracks for your eLearning

I get frustrated every time I hear about an eLearning course that is little more then a voiced over PowerPoint. Have you ever taken a voiced over Power Point? Can you remember anything that was presented? Remember your learners when you are creating eLearning.

Audio tracks with eLearning is a really weak solution because it:
1. Reduces knowledge retention - students become very passive participants. "If I can wait and have someone read to me, why should I pay attention".
2. Reduces productivity: people read at about 3 times the speed of spoken word. A narrated course will take 3 times as long as a text one. "Why take 15 minutes to do a course when I can take 45?"
3. Reduces accessibility: When you create a narrated course with lots of pictures, random access based on topics of interest becomes harder. You have to wait for the course to get back to the item of interest that you wanted, rather than being able to navigate there in 3 clicks/5 seconds.
4. Removes searchability: Adobe recently announced that they are developing technology so that Flash items would become search-able. Finally, after 10 years of Internet, they're starting to think about how people may use it. Meanwhile, outfits such as yours have been pushing flash based courses (PPT-to-Flash converters) because of the high levels of "interactivity" they provide. That's a joke!
5. If recorded video is such a good product, why don't we just record all the college/university professors one time, and then just play the recordings for the students? Why? because it sucks and nobody will pay attention to some boring video. Putting the boring video on-line doesn't make it any less boring, it just makes it easier to turn off.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

delivering content to mobile platforms

There are two approaches currently to delivering content to mobile platforms:
1. Require that the student download and install an application to their PDA so that courses can be displayed.
2. Rely on the built-in browser for delivery of content, without requiring each student to install additional software on their platform.

Option 1 gives more multimedia delivery capabilities, but limits the platforms that can be supported since a delivery application will be required for each type of platform (e.g. Blackberry, Windows Mobile 5, Windows Mobile 6, Palm, Symbian, iPhone, etc.) This option also has the enormous hurdle of requiring that the student download and install the application before they can even try to access the content.

Option 2 is only now coming into being a possibility because the browsers on these platforms are finally getting mature enough to handle web courses. This option requires the least modification to the end-user's platform, and will therefore result in the greatest success in content delivery.

In terms of course design, the main concern is the size of the end-users screens. Since this size can vary, a design paradigm based more on "web design" rather than "graphic artist design" is necessary. That is, the content should be laid out visually and implemented using the "best of web" ideas, such as allowing the browser to rearrange the content so that it fits the screen to require the minimum amount of horizontal scrolling. Also, the use of multimedia needs to be limited because of bandwidth and delivery/plug-in restrictions. None of the major mobile platforms play Flash yet as part of web pages. Some of the platforms have minimal, or no style sheet support.

The ReadyGo Web Course Builder produces content that can be delivered equally through standard desktop web browsers and through mobile platform browsers. Basic question types such as multiple choice, multiple selection, true/false, text entry, and numerical entry function well on all the major PDA platforms and can be tracked with the Server Side Testing module. Because of limitations in the browser capabilities, we do not recommend trying to deliver SCORM or AICC courses through web browsers. That is, the mobile platform browsers have limited JavaScript engines, so the two-way communication necessary between the course and the LMS will only work well on platforms such as iPhone. Even with these limitations, ReadyGo courses deliver and function well.

Courses created with ReadyGo also have the capability to have their style sheet (look and feel/layout) changed at run-time. By providing multiple links to the course (each with a different style sheet), the same content can be delivered to PDAs, high resolution screens, customers requiring large print, etc. The advantage of this is that the content only needs to be managed and generated once. As soon as it is updated, it will be updated for all the different platforms without additional effort.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Course creators outside of the US

India should be proud of its newly gained visibility in the IT field. Likewise, India should keep a paranoid eye out. The American expression would be "easy come...easy go..." The other expression I would throw out as a caution would be "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." That is, India may pull jobs away from the US because of cost advantages today, but tomorrow they will be pulled away from India by China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, etc. As India's personnel gain experience they will need to compete against staff from the US, Europe, and eventually Russia (which has always had a deep pool of very educated, and very under-utilized talent).

Property and intellectual rights issues should be strongly considered. In the US, because of the legal system, developers have to avoid copying anyone else's ideas and intellectual property. This concept is taking time to take root outside the US & Europe. There are some extremely creative personnel in developing nations, but there is also a large population of new developers that have no issue "borrowing" designs from other developers. Culturally, they see nothing wrong with it...nobody gets hurt. It is not a physical object. Ideas are seen as "community property". Software/courseware is still seen as an intangible object, therefore open to replication.

Yes, it would be good for US personnel to make courses less "American", however, the reality is that the US is a bit of an "island". We Americans love to export ideas/culture, but are rather hesitant about importing ideas/cultural values. Reality #2 is that business goes where the market is, and until the Rest Of World ("ROW") economically grows past the US/Canada GDP, the strongest pole of attraction will still be the US market. And thus, products sold to the US market will still need to be acceptable to the American consumer.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Choosing Authoring tools

Regardless of what you choose, when you are reviewing tools, be weary of
the really slick 2-minute demos. Some tools look really easy and slick.

Watch the course 4 or 5 times to see how it holds up to repetition.
Will your learners be able to use the content as reference material
during their daily tasks? Think about what makes Google usable- if
animation was useful, wouldn't Google have the found links fly in?
Choose tools where the content delivers quickly (ie. the end user
doesn't have to wait for a download before the content starts) and the
student can skip over material they already know.

I see authoring tools fall into several categories:
1. PowerPoint Converters: Articulate, Breeze, etc. Authoring is done in
PPT, and these "tools" just convert it into a slide show, perhaps adding
a test at the end. Breeze is more of a synchronous delivery mechanism
(like WebEx, Citrix GoTo, etc.). Instructional design is pretty much
non-existent. Why does this matter? If all you care about is
completing the author's task, it doesn't matter. If you want ROI, and
to get learners to actually use the content, you need to make a good
experience for the learners. I recommend using these tools only if your
presentation is 2-5 minutes. Beyond that, the learners will drift away.
You can actually use just PPT 2003 or later without resorting to other
tools if this is your objective.
2. Animated Screen-capture movies/Simulation: Captivate, Qarbon Viewlet
Builder, Camtasia: These tools create elements that you can add to
your course. They make good components to put on sub-pages so that
those students interested in further details can drill down to them.
These tools are a little more difficult to use (properly).
3. WYSIWYG tools ("PowerPoint on Steroids"): ToolBook, Lectora,
Authorware: These tools present you a pretty much blank screen and let
you set up the instructional design from scratch (or from an
pre-existing template). Generally, you should story-board before using
these tools. I've seen that these tools have a print-paradigm
assumption. This means that courses they produce only display correctly
on certain size monitors, and can't be re-sized. One way the tools get
around this limitation is to take over the entire screen, so that the
student can't really use the course as a guide to an application they
are learning.
4. Web-paradigm tools: DreamWeaver, ReadyGo: These tools produce web
content that delivers properly on multiple browsers regardless of screen
size/resolution. Multi-level navigation is easy to build (so that the
user isn't locked into a linear course flow - they can choose what is of
interest to them). DreamWeaver is probably too difficult for most
occasional course developers to use.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

How to Condense Training

A good way to condense the training is to break it into an on-line part and an in-class part. The on-line part can start with a pre-course session that brings all the users up to a level of knowledge of basic terms and ideas that are required to take the in-class part. After the in-class portion, another on-line course can be given to ensure that the learners remember the pertinent points, have more examples available about application of the pertinent points, and have a chance to refresh/gel the concepts covered in the intensive in-class portion. The adage about "tell them what you're going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them" is very applicable here. In the pre-course, prepare them for the main course. This can include a lot of foundation material. For the employees who already know the material, they can quickly skip over (and they won't feel like you wasted two days of their time with it), while for the employees who aren't yet familiar, they can spend as much time as they need to get up to a basic proficiency level. One of the keys to making on-line training successful is to present each concept 4 or 5 different ways since each learner will benefit differently from the various presentations. Instead of just having PowerPoint slides posted on-line, each page should have content (or links) such as main ideas, case studies, step-by-step procedure, detailed explanation, history of the approach, a quiz (non-graded), a test (graded), a field study, or an exercise. This gives the learners enough opportunities to view the material that they can learn it without having to have an instructor hold their hand through every detail.

As you look over the course outline, it should become apparent what material is the most critical. This material can be presented in the pre- and post-course, but it is essential that it be presented in the face-to-face sessions.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

XML - why do I keep hearing this?

I keep hearing "XML XML XML".  Yes, it is a good file storage format -
but it only becomes a displayable content when you combine in style
sheets. A series of XML pages does not make a course any more than a
series of text pages does. Downloading and editing XML in a text/XML
editor (like Notepad) is a somewhat cumbersome approach that I wouldn't
impose on an SME.

Besides, with all the extensibility options for XML, we're back to a
tower of Babel. For example, suppose there is a 3.25.
All we know is that someone called it a value. How did they calculate
it? We don't know. What can we do with it? We can display it with the
format for "value", whatever that may be. Instructionally, it still has
no meaning. The big advantage I see to XML is that you can get
open-source (free) parsers. So you can break down XML files into the
component variable/value pairs without starting from scratch. However,
you still need to understand what to do with each variable/value pair in
order to gain any advantage from it. XML is not a solution - it is an

So, I would say "Microsoft Office converters" do NOT fall into the
authoring system categories. Without going outside the Microsoft Office
tools themselves, you can already save as XML, MS-HTML (their own
special flavors), etc. You'll need to consider Excel, PPT, Notepad,
WordPerfect, WordStar, TeX, and MS-Word appropriate eLearning Authoring
tools if you consider a format converter a tool also. A tool should at
least add some instructional value (e.g. trackable test questions).

The category I missed/excluded was LCMSs. These are database
repositories from which you are able to create courses by assembling the
pieces that have been placed into the database. Their installation and
support costs/requirements can be quite high. I prefer a stand-alone
software approach (like MS-Word, MS-Excel, ReadyGo) to authoring
documents, spreadsheets, etc. Also, I like to review the content before
it is published to ensure that I don't produce ransom note appearances
by just bundling together a grab-bag or content.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Building courses fast

There is more to speeding up the turn-around than using specific tools. The real key is to design the development process for fast turn-around. Several of our customers have used the "Content Factory" approach, and have been able to move from creating 50 courses per year to 450 without adding personnel.

The first step is to decide which courses are "traditional" and which are "rapid". Traditional course will have a longer shelf-life, so one can afford to include more high-production elements. These courses can take up to 2 months to create. Rapid courses are for fast-moving material. They can be created in a matter of hours. The key to the fast turn-around is to dispense with high-production elements like professional multimedia and voice overs.

Traditional course creation typically requires that the content/text people deliver their material to the graphic artists who then assemble the courses with high visual production costs/values.

The course production for rapid content separates the "visual" element, staffed by graphic designers and the "textual" or "content" portion. A tool like the ReadyGo Web Course Builder allows the subject matter experts or the "text" people to assemble the graphics with the content and output the course in a few hours. This way, instead of requiring 2 months for 2 people to create a course, one individual can create a course in a single day. Graphic elements are re-used. They surround the text, which contains the primary information. By implementing the primary content as text rather than graphics (e.g. Flash) the courses can be maintained and updated much more quickly.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cost justiyfing an LMS

The costs of LMSs are typically much higher than advertised. A rule of thumb is 1x for the hardware, 2x for the software, and 3x for installation services (and that doesn't include content conversion.) That is, if you paid $50K for the hardware on which you ran the software, you would need to pay $100K for the software, and then $200K additional for installation, configuration, and running of the software.

With LMSs, the typical installation process takes 2-3 years. They need to merge their database system with your company's database. This requires custom consulting services since the database designs are usually quite different. This cost needs to be factored in. However, if you want to use the LMS as an independent system (that is, every time someone gets hired or leaves your company, you have to record this fact on your LMS rather than inheriting it from the enterprise employee system), then you can reduce the installation process to a 1-2 month period.

When choosing an LMS, it is important to define your needs, rather than deciding what LMS-vendor-provided-features you'd like. For example, the majority of LMSs will only store a single score and a single pass/fail status for each student/course. So, after you spend many 100's of thousands of dollars, you still won't be able to use the LMS to carry out a survey or see why nobody got higher than 90% on a particular course (was it a bad question? Did you not cover the information in your course?). Before investing in a full LMS, I recommend starting off with a testing assessment system that has full reporting capabilities. For a few thousand dollars you will get a much better idea of your needs.

And then, there is the cost of converting courseware. I have seen no cases where off-the-shelf courseware (e.g. MS-Office Basics, Accounting Basics, etc.) are used at the levels envisioned. Typical usage that I have seen is about 15% of what was desired. Most training content is custom to the company. So, you should become familiar with course creation. In doing so, I recommend taking a course on web instructional design (or visit http://www.readygo.com/isd). There are many factors about the web experience that need to be taken into account in order to get return-on-investment for your courses. Simply converting PowerPoint and adding an audio track will be very easy and inviting to the course authors, however, will be a repellent to the company's employees. When viewing web courses, the more control you give the user, the more efficient they will be (in zeroing in on the content they need), the higher their satisfaction, and the higher the chance that you will earn back the cost of your investment. If they have to sit through 1 hour of an automated slide show, of which they already know 90% of the content, you have just wasted 54 minutes of their time, and learners will not forget this the next time you offer them eLearning.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Monday, July 7, 2008

Quick and dirty Office converters

What I (and learners) find unsatisfactory is the tools that take a
single Word document, turn it into a single-page course, put in the
minimum SCORM API initialize/finish calls, build a 10 line XML manifest
pointing to a single file, and then call this a "SCORM course". The course creators
goal appears to be SCORM Conformance, rather than instruction. I also
find LMSs that only track the very minimum required by the specification
to be a disservice. For many course authors, whose goal is to get the
"SCORM Conformant" deliverable off their desk, this kind of tool is
certainly attractive. From the studies our customers have done
(comparing these approaches to instructionally sound tools), the
learners are quite unhappy with it. I think people can do better than
the bear minimum.

The specifications (SCORM/AICC) are available so that you can create
useful courses, so that you can see what the students are doing, and so
that you can tune your course based on how the students perform. The
ReadyGo tool has been tested with lots of LMSs. We have seen what they
can and can't do and have customized our interfaces (available to all
customers) for many of the LMSs in order to take advantage of the
different implementations. (The author only needs to select a different
LMS from a pull-down menu. The tool does all the other necessary work.)

A large number of LMSs only store the very minimum required by the
specifications. There are a few LMSs that actually go to the effort of
capturing the student's responses - and a few of them even provide
reasonable reports to the course administrator.

Quick and dirty Office converters can produce "SCORM
conformant" content. What I question is whether they produce good
training. I also can't see that the effort has been made to take
advantage of different behaviors that are achievable within the
specifications. I just think that "Lowest Common Denominator"
approaches will produce employees functioning at the lowest levels. I
also think it will scare learners away from eLearning - a few years ago
I took an on-line course that was mostly audio. Unfortunately, the
computer I was using didn't have speakers. I took the test without
reading the content, and considered the whole exercise a waste of
time...and I had additional motivation to see what they had done with
the course implementation-wise. Scaring people away from on-line
training by creating bad content is a good way to guarrantee your own
unemployment in the long run.

Al Moser

Thursday, June 26, 2008

About authoring tools

Within eLearning, I believe that there are certain tasks that will not
be accessible to the generalist user - primarily graphic arts work.
However, the tools available are now enabling the Subject Matter Expert
to be able to do something they previously could not: create coherent,
well implemented, multi-page content. The standards (SCORM/AICC) aren't
changing how development is being done - but they do help make it
possible to track more, different content using a variety of LMSs.
(These standards are relatively young.)

A good approach is to give tools to the SME/Instructional Designer so
that they can input, maintain, and update the textual content of the
courses. Good tools also allow them to manage additional
graphics/multimedia created by specialists in those areas, without
burdening the SME/ID with graphic work. There are still many tools
(advertized as "easy to use") out there that are only accessible to a
graphic designer in order to do the textual content. This is a problem
because graphic designers with instructional design and subject matter
expertise are hard to find.

The real value for the standards are, and will be:
1. Interoperability of content (communication for tracking)
2. (Currently becoming available:) Communication to allow more dynamic
content (a database-driven server-based system can alter paths of
3. (Future:) Interesting ways to combine content and provide more data

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Fake SCORM limitations that mask LMS or authoring tool limitations

A number of people think there are SCORM limitations when the real limitation is the LMS or authoring tool who then blames it on SCORM.  One of my favorite fake limitations has to do with screen size. There is nothing in the SCORM specification that requires a fixed size
screen. The concept of the fixed size screen is a hold-over (with
enormous inertia) from the print paradigm. That is, graphic designers
have gotten accustomed to specifying layout of every pixel of every
letter with respect to fixed size pages. Most tools have been adapted
to this concept: to maintain the precise duplication between the
authoring environment and what the page looks like at delivery,
regardless of student's settings, you have to specify a fixed size.
However, this is really bad web etiquette:
1. Pages either take up too much of the screen (requiring horizontal
scrolling to read a single line) or too little (a small box within a
larger screen area).
2. Accessibility and respect for student's browser default settings are
ignored. If a user wants his default font size to be 20pt, but the
course is built with the print paradigm, their desire will be ignored.
Then, it will be difficult for them to read the content.
3. Content doesn't rearrange if the student wants to put their course in
one half of the screen so that they can work on other tasks in the other

Please see the ReadyGo authoring tool that creates SCORM conformant
courses that resize to the student's browser size. If you want to, you
can also select a template that uses a fixed size screen.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Getting courses out fast

As with PowerPoint content creation, the fastest way to handle the turn-around and review cycles is to let the subject matter expert drive. That is, if the SME is in charge of assembling, editing, and publishing the content, you will get the fastest turn-around. However, for this to be effective, the process has to be broken down. In PPT production, the level and use of graphics/multimedia is typically minimal. For web content/eLearning, people want to do a lot more. The difficulty is that SMEs are not typically good at creating multimedia (nor should they be).

Typically the solution to this limitation is then to have the graphics/multimedia experts create the courseware, however, now you are stuck with several problems:
1. Lack of familiarity with the content: Inappropriate graphics/multimedia end up being incorporated into the course
2. Desire by the graphic artists to show off: They want to show what they are capable of doing. This drives up the costs, and is contrary to "rapid" concepts.
3. Communication breakdowns between SME and implementer. We all know about the 20 iterations due to the spell-checker that replaces the correct technical term with one that is a more common, but closely spelled word.

The SME can be empowered to be the manager/assembler of content, but there is a little bit of training and up-front assignment of tasks that needs to be carried out.
1. Most SMEs are comfortable with PPT, and don't want to move past this one-dimensional, face-to-face presentation style. With eLearning, the content has to be 3-dimensional (hierarchical page structure, plus links to other resources) so that a self-study environment is successful. (If you handed out your 3x5 speaker notes with a recording of you reading the content, would people find this engaging?) The SME has to provide multiple presentations of the same content so that people with different learning styles can adapt the content to their needs. This actually is not that difficult to explain to SMEs.
2. Separate the task of graphic/multimedia creation. The SME can provide descriptions of what additional visuals they want that can augment the content. (Flying bullets and page transitions are visually distracting and do not provide additional information. A moving flow diagram might be useful, as would a blow-up of an assembly.)
3. A standard look-and-feel template needs to be decided ahead of time. Otherwise, the SME will end up spending all their time trying to figure out which layout for the content they want. What I mean by this, is that they will fixate on placing a forward arrow 3 pixels up on one page and 3 pixels left on the other, and never implement the content of interest. Keep in mind that with eLearning (if done properly) there is no need for the content to control the learner's environment -- that is, your content should adjust to the end-user's screen preferences rather than forcing a one-size-fits-all screen size and content size on the learners. Learners like the web because they control where and what they see. If you take the control away from them, they will lose interest in the courses you are trying to provide.

Then, with a proper tool that does the bookkeeping for how the pages are managed, how the tables of contents are built, etc. an SME can actually control the process. Since the SME is the expert in the material, the fastest production will occur when they can create, control, and revise the material. We have found that people with a journalism approach akin to the nightly news are excellent at creating and managing rapid eLearning. In contrast, people whose approach is more like a full length feature movie production are more appropriately applied to traditional eLearning (CBT delivered over the web). Our customers have reported being able to produce 20 courses in one month with a staff of 1 person using the above rapid approach. Previously, they were using a traditional approach that yielded 1 course per month per developer.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

My take on analysts and their reports

What I have seen is that there are a few different categories of
analysts. Keep in mind that they have businesses to run (and if they
can't keep their businesses operating, we don't get the benefits of
their work):

1. The analysts who reflect what the "big boys" are doing. This group
is considered vendor neutral, except that they will tell you that the
most widely used tools are the best. By doing this, they will not
offend any of their customers who bring them in to review their
approaches. Currently, they are showcasing Microsoft PowerPoint, because
that is what so many trainers are already using. There is no discussion
of learner satisfaction (which is pretty poor when it comes to
asynchronously delivered presentations.) They are promoting the status
quo, and driving the decision makers to follow the pack: "driving by
looking in the rear view mirror". This approach is "safe" from a
business point of view. (They would have recommended horse-and-cart as
the best car in the 1900-1920 time period.)

2. The analysts who reflect what they are paid to. This group masks
paid advertisements as "white papers" and "studies". Our company has
been approached by some of these companies who are writing reports about
all the tools in the market. We are told that if we don't purchase a
$20K "case study" from them about us, there is a chance that our tool
won't show up in their study. They have followed through on their threat.

So, when people review analyst reports, it is important that they keep
this in mind. Just because an analyst has written about a tool in their
report, does not mean that the tool is being unbiasedly endorsed as the
"best" approach or even as an "effective" approach.

The Brendon Hall authoring tools reflect what the vendors submit to them. They
provide an excellent service as a collection of what is available (and
are worth the money), but should be considered in this light. Many
vendors will market-spin when it comes to what they submit, e.g. they
will say they are completely ADA compliant when they produce a separate
single file that is the text from the entire course, but the course
really delivered is all chained graphics (not ADA compliant). Similarly
they will say they are SCORM conformant, but they track no student

Regarding W3C standards, I am glad that finally people are asking about
building web courses that actually consider "web" design. The W3C
standards really do lead to learner satisfaction and accessibility (e.g.
look at Google - does it use flying bullets?). Learner satisfaction and
accessibility lead to return on investment and to lower
maintenance/support costs.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

five thoughts on eLearning

1. The "tell-test" model works best when it is a
"tell-repeat-test-tell-repeat another way-test..." method. It has been
proven over the years to work better. Replacing it with Wikis,
podcasts, walkman-casts, virtual campuses, etc. doesn't replace it. It
just delivers it differently. Can you do tests from Wikis or PodCasts?
(I don't think so.)
2. I believe people have become disenchanted with e-learning because
companies put the "cart before the horse". I see that billions of
dollars were spent on LMSs before any courses had been created. This is
like building a railway network without having any locomotives. There
is nothing wrong with the web technologies - just with the way they were
sold. Similarly, courses were built as evolutions from presentations
instead of evolutions from web pages. A self-propelled presentation is
a bad way of training, just like correspondence courses, cassette-based
courses, VCR courses, ... A web page with multiple navigation paths,
repeating the information several ways, followed by frequent tests is
much more compelling. It is called "Instructional Design". That is
what has been lacking from many of the products out there. No matter
how good the technology, if you present content poorly, it will not give
3. Should we jump to new technologies? New technologies have their
place. However, if we use them without considering instructional design
- or what the end-user is actually doing - they will be no more
effective. For example, we have seen that if you have audio in a
course, the student's eyes drift away to other tasks. Soon their mind
drifts away too. If they are forced to read, without other
distractions, knowledge retention increases dramatically. Wikis are
great as reference material look-ups (as long as they don't get clogged
with garbage.) PodCasts allow asynchronous delivery of speeches, but I
would be cautious because of the easy distraction factor. Social
networking will work great for improving chances of the employees
getting their next job. Wikis, PodCasts, Bulletin Boards, Chat Rooms,
Multimedia etc. are excellent technologies to augment the basic content,
but should not be considered a replacement. Moving to the next level
of technologies reminds me of a phrase I once learned: "I'm working on
my second million dollars....I gave up on the first".
4. Page-turners, if done right can be effective. PPT by itself does not
make a compelling presentation - it takes content and an effective
presenter. If you get rid of the live presenter (recordings don't
count), it is harder to make the material complete. If you take
advantage of web navigation and hierarchical design, you can fill in for
the missing live instructor. Leaving all your testing for the end of
the course is less effective than mingling multiple questions in the middle.

Page-turners can be really bad if you are limited to putting 3 bullets
on a page. The web allows you to structure your content so that you
break it up in instructionally meaningful ways. PPT and tools like it
force you to break up your content so that it fits on a screen. Don't
blame "page-turners". Many authoring tools were designed and
effectively sold because they look so much like PPT with a test at the end.
5. Yes... see #4. Distracting multimedia and flying bullets are
exciting for the course author, but they are really annoying for the
student who has to see them 3 or 4 times.

5.I think many LMSs and instructors have been looking at the web
technologies to fit their current instructional models instead of
molding their instructional approaches to fit the web. That is, LMSs
force courses to be a one-time event. You take the course, you take the
test, you're evaluated, you're done, you never see the content again.
The web should be used to flip this around. Once you know where the
content is (e.g. google), you go there when you need it. You should be
able to take the tests as many times as you want. You should be able
to use the material in a just-in-time fashion. Why memorize the
material, if you can find it quickly? Proper web instructional design
considering "just-in-time use" makes this possible. A linear "page
turner" discourages this approach. A "page turner" with additional
navigation and proper tables of contents can achieve the advantages of
web technologies. But if the content is bad, it doesn't matter how you
deliver it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Why use a web authoring tool for eLearning?

Why use a web authoring tool for eLearning? I use MS-Word, but not to create courseware.
I don't use MS-Word for standup presentations either. Why? because
there is no instructional design or web delivery structure inherently
built into it. It reminds me of the early days of PowerPoint, when
everyone said, "why do I need another tool? I can just use WordPerfect
to create the presentations. You see, they're just as good as your
PowerPoint ones." This is why a WordProcessing staff was still needed -
because the WordPerfect built presentations were lousy. Just as today,
the courseware built in PowerPoint or even your beloved MS-Word leave a
lot to be desired. Once people started using PPT, they saw the benefit
of a tool designed for the purpose. I believe that once people start
using proper eLearning tools designed for web delivery they will see the
benefit of a tool designed properly for the purpose.

To your questions: "Does it work? Does it say time and money?" I would add:
1. Has employee (rather than course builder) productivity been increased?
2. Are the learners giving positive feedback?
3. Are the learners re-using the content on an as-needed basis?

Without positive answers for all these questions, the approach/tools
will only lead to corporate frustration, and a long delay in adoption of
eLearning in a manner where it will succeed. By success, I mean become
a part of everyday processes and have tangible measurable benefits beyond:
1. Course developer didn't have to learn a new tool
2. Course developer got deliverable off their desk in record time
3. Course developer has no more courses to build because rest of staff
found the content boring, insulting, and difficult to use.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Why are people asking for XML?

I wouldn't mind if everyone was saying "MS-Word, MS-Word, MS-Word".
What concerns me is that XML is a behind-the scenes recommendation. It
is like saying "roman alphabet". It gives you some structure, but does
not solve your problems. Solutions can be built utilizing it as an
intermediate step. The same solutions could be built using any other
data storage mechanism. If you look at the "X" in "XML", it stands for
"eXtensible". This means that any one can make their own proprietary
version (like Microsoft has done), immediately defeating the
interchangeability that everyone praises XML for. I think XML is good,
but it is only a step towards people being able to talk to each other
(or in this case machines or programs). Currently I find HTML to be a
better standard because its purpose is more tightly defined, and there
is wider agreement on how it works.

XML by itself does not save any money. If I sent you a SCORM manifest
written in XML, MS-Word would have no idea what to do with it. If I
send this same document to a browser, all it can do is display it. If I
send it to a SCORM conformant LMS, now there is a system that can do
something with it. Just because something is XML does NOT mean that it
will work everywhere with everything or even that it will save any
money. If XML were a standard, maybe it would solve the problems that
need to be solved. As it is, the communication is only improved when
both sides speak the same variant of XML.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Applying Classroom training to eLearning

Over the web, it is much easier for the extroverts to
dominate the conversation and for the introverts to hide. One of the
big advantages of eLearning is precisely that the students can study at their own
pace and NOT be forced into someone else's as is the case in classroom
training. What you need to think about is how, when, and if you want to apply classroom metrics to web
based training.

I have talked to very many customers who are dealing
with regulating bodies that are applying the following requirements from
classroom training. Perhaps they need to think a little more deeply
than just transferring classroom concepts to the web.
1. Track how long a student takes a course. (This is supposed to be
self-paced. Does everyone have to work to the average time? It should
be about what they learned; not how long it took them to learn it.)
2. Ensure that the person didn't cheat. (If you assume everyone is
dishonest, then DON'T do distance-based testing. If you're willing to
accept people's affidavits of being who they are, taking the test alone,
and taking the test "closed book", then distance-based testing is
acceptable. Most people are honest.)
3. Make sure people don't steal the content and re-use it. (Just as
with published books, there is no sure-fire way of protecting published
material. These days, printed material can just be run through an
optical character recognition package with a cheap scanner, and it is
now easily reproducible.)

Some ideas that will work on the web:
1. Test test test. Give several tests throughout the course (not just
at the end of the chapter/course). It is OK to repeat the questions.
At the minimum the students will learn the material because they had to
answer the question so many times.
2. Test questions should be tied to the content. If you want to force
the students to read the content (rather than just skipping to the
tests), make the quesitons content-sensitive. That is, instead of "What
regulation applies to a company exporting widgets of Type B to India?"
the question should be "What regulation applies to Widget's
Incorporated, discussed on page 3.6?"
3. Randomize questions and answers to that answer keys posted by the
copier are useless.
4. Require that material be presented in 3 or 4 formats: Bullet points,
white-paper, step-by-step procedure, interactive exercise, etc. Since
different people learn from different expository styles, a variety of
styles will make the content more effective.
5. Blend self-paced study with moderated sessions. It would be easy to
require a 1 hour session with a live moderator as part of a training
program. The classic requirements can then be applied to the moderated
6. Web-based tests must capture what the student answered. Many systems
only provide a "score". I believe this is lame. By tracking all
answers provided, the students can be evaluated better, and the test
questions can also be evaluated.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Wouldn't it be great ...

Wouldn't it be great if LMSs and course
developers got away from the print paradigm (fixed, pre-defined size)
and evolved to the web paradigm (size based on end-user
preference/needs). Nothing in SCORM or AICC requires fixed screen sizes
- these are just a compromise because so much eLearning is implemented
by graphic artists (rather than subject matter experts or instructional

It is nice that Flash content can resize, however, I believe it still
has serious accessibility and searchability problems. Blind readers
cannot obtain the content nor can search engines without an external
(XML, for example) dump of all the text. Typically this dump does not
contain the content instructional organization that an HTML-based web
course would contain. For fully sighted students, a search engine that
can bring them to content based on keyword search is an enormous
productivity boost. We should really be tapping the power of the web
(just-in-time research/training) rather than trying to hammer presential
training precepts (fixed size content, fixed seat time, test only at the
end, etc.) in order to have successful eLearning.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pop-ups within Training courses

Random pop-ups advertising undesirable content/products are more a
feature of random web surfing than of going to a known location for a
specific course.

Unfortunately the web is being destroyed by the "solutions" to unethical
behavior. So, while a pop-up may be a good idea for training, default
browser settings have annulled it as an option.
1. Microsoft has set their defaults to disable all cookies from
non-Microsoft sites. Cookies can be very useful for training that is
taken across several sessions.
2. Microsoft has set their defaults to disable "Active Scripting" (aka
JavaScript) while at the same time enables "ActiveX Controls" (aka the
mechanism by which spyware installs itself on your computer). Without
JavaScript, you have to use plug-ins (like ActiveX or Flash). ActiveX
should be disabled because it is a really bad security risk. It is
designed to seamlessly merge Word, PPT, Excel, Outlook, etc. with the
web/outside world. Of course since you could write a complete operating
system within Word, this opens the door. Java, on the other hand, is
designed to not allow the web into your hard drive, but it is getting
really hard to deploy because the MS operating systems avoid supporting
it. The newer MS-operating systems are easier to lock-down, making it
impossible for a regular user to install the plug-ins.
3. e-mail filters/spam blockers are blocking lots of legitimate e-mail.
Many spam blockers don't let the sender know about the blockage, so
there is no way of knowing if your e-mail is being ignored or if it
never arrived.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tips for creating effective content

eLearning works best when...
1. Content is broken down into 10-20 minute chunks (a "courselet").
Interruptions usually happen faster than that, but 10-20 minutes is the
general concentration span before saturation (or boredom) kicks in.
2. Courses are built so that they can be taken over several sessions
3. Content is searchable so that students can come back to it when they
need details. That is, instead of making them memorize a series of
steps for a procedure, teach them where they can find those steps
written down. When they need it, they should be able to get it.
4. Content is delivered at the student's pace, not the instructor's.
Avoid self-propelled PowerPoint (especially those with flying bullets
and dancing pigs.) Instead provide more web-like delivery (like Google
5. Content shows up quickly - avoid long downloads like videos or a
Flash that has to download entirely before playing.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Creating courses that work well on the web

Wouldn't it be great if LMSs and course
developers got away from the print paradigm (fixed, pre-defined size courses)
and evolved to the web paradigm (size based on end-user
preference/needs). Nothing in SCORM or AICC requires fixed screen sizes
- these are just a compromise because so much eLearning is implemented
by graphic artists (rather than subject matter experts or instructional

It is nice that Flash content can resize, however, I believe it still
has serious accessibility and searchability problems. Blind readers
cannot obtain the content nor can search engines without an external
(XML, for example) dump of all the text. Typically this dump does not
contain the content instructional organization that an HTML-based web
course would contain. For fully sighted students, a search engine that
can bring them to content based on keyword search is an enormous
productivity boost. We should really be tapping the power of the web
(just-in-time research/training) rather than trying to hammer presential
training precepts (fixed size content, fixed seat time, test only at the
end, etc.) in order to have successful eLearning.

Friday, April 11, 2008

advantages of eLearning

Here are some advantages of eLearning:

1. Asynchronous content can be available 24 hours/day. This way, in organizations lie hospitals all 3 shifts of staff can view content during their down time. Also, employees can view the content from home, when a live presenter would be unavailable.
2. If done properly, the content can serve as a just-in-time reference. That is, instead of people memorizing all the procedures, they can learn where to look it up (e.g. a search engine on your training site). Then, they can look up the details as they need them. (Avoid PPT converted to web-viewable content - it is not complete enough for self-paced material or as reference material. Trainees will skip
through it as quickly as possible.)
3. Trainees can view the content over and over until they understand it. Present each topic in 4 or 5 different modalities (e.g. simulation, video, step-by-step procedure, picture sequence, etc.) This way you can reach all different learner. (In face-to-face training the instructor can only address the majority needs.)
4. Content done properly can reach the disabled without needing extra

If you only provide information in an eLearning format, it is important that the content use best of breed web approaches in addition to sound instructional

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Where Wikis fit in

Wikis can work as reference repositories (not as training courses), but
the following is needed:
1. A writing style that everyone must adhere to.
2. A librarian person who can review and delete content that is
3. Discipline by ALL people involved to ensure that content is not
inadvertently deleted or changed to follow one person's opinions.

If the above conditions are not met, the wiki will suffer from:
1. Material will become obsolete from lack of care
2. One or two people will dominate the content
3. A mischievous (or disgruntled) employee can undo or sabotage all the
work done by the others

Where Wikis will not work is as training material. There is no real
flow or instructional organization. A wiki can soon become an
umanageable jumble of random articles and opinions, just like many
collaborative web sites have become.

Additionally, there is no requirement that the trainers create/maintain
the wikis. If the trainers hand off all wiki creation to the subject
matter experts, they will soon find themselves obsoleted, unless they
make a good case for the need for instructional design.

In my opinion, wikis can be useful as an adjunct to training courses.
Similarly, the training courses (if produced as web content rather than
as face-to-face content ported to the web) can become the material for
just-in-time training. A good course building tool will allow a simple
search engine to index the content in the courses. Once you have
searchable material (and a search engine), web courses become true
"just-in-time" training.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Creating a collaborative course development process

Creating a collaborative course development process. While good tools can help, it is fundamental to have a process that properly assigns the various tasks in the collaborative process to the individuals involved. "Good separation of the tasks into those done by subject-matter experts (who should ultimately be responsible for assembly and maintenance of the courses), graphics experts (who are currently responsible for the assembly and maintenance), quality assurance, and other roles will improve the process dramatically."

As for tools, there are two basic types available, including "server-based" tools and "desktop-based" tools.

Server-based development tools, he says, include learning content management systems (LCMSs) and wikis. Yet, while such tools are quite seductive, strong and firm processes need to be put into place in order for them to work successfully, warns Moser.

"If everyone is using a browser-based authoring tool to modify the same collection of course content, there is a high risk of concurrent development resulting in disjointed courses. These tools also suffer when changes are desired to large graphics/multimedia files because they require re-upload of the entire file before any preview can be done."

A desktop approach, on the other hand, is similar to the way in which people typically create and manage complex Microsoft Word or Microsoft PowerPoint documents. Each contributor is given an assignment by the project lead, and these assignments vary from several chapters of text and/or development of specific multimedia to creation of specific graphics and/or designing a course navigation look and feel. Each contributor then uses the specialized tools for his or her tasks (e.g., Microsoft Word for text development; Flash, Camtasia or ViewletBuilder for simulations; and Photoshop, Illustrator or PaintShopPro for graphics). Finally, a desktop-based e-learning or Web-content authoring tool is used to assemble the content.

Friday, April 4, 2008

So what is wrong with the Next button?

Just exactly what is wrong with a "Next" button?  I agree that if it is
the only navigation available, the student is boxed into an
organizationally vacuous course (e.g. PowerPoint). If you don't have a
"Next" button (and a "Back" button), then you just have a collection of
interlinked pages with no instructionally recommended order.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

PDA/Smartphone support for web courses

Each PDA/Smartphone seems to have different capabilities in their
built-in browsers. Some like iPhone have good support of JavaScript, so
it is possible to use HTML-based SCORM courses (like those produced by
the ReadyGo Web Course Builder) directly from the device without the
need for installing another player. Meanwhile Flash-based courses will
be beyond the reach of any PDA/Smartphone for a few more years. I don't
know of any PDA that supports Flash through their browser.

We have posted a course with our experiences (to-date) at

We're impressed by the quality of the Minimo browser (firefox/Mozilla
for Windows Mobile), but unfortunately, our experience is that an
overwhelming majority of end-users will not install new applications on
their cell-phone.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Randomizing test questions with SCORM

With SCORM/AICC tracking, you can do limited randomization based on pooling. That is, on the test page, create more questions than what you want to display. Then, set the number of questions to display to the desired quantity. When the page displays, certain questions will be randomly hidden. So there is some level of randomization without the need for our Server Side Testing module. ReadyGo's SST module provides a more complete randomization ability, and more complete result storage/reporting (every answer to every question every time it is submitted.)

True randomization cannot be done with SCORM/AICC because this requires involvement from a web server. Prior to SCORM 2004, there was no LMS support for anything approaching randomization. With SCORM 2004, we see from the specification that it is technically possible, but it is not pretty. Each question has to be on a separate page, and the LMS would have to randomize the order of page delivery. I don't know of any LMSs that support this. As a side note, ReadyGo spent a large effort implementing as complete a version of SCORM 1.2 as we could, and we then found that the majority of LMSs only supported a very minimal subset of what we transmitted. In many cases, the extra information we sent the LMSs caused the LMS to crash. The customers who experienced this typically came to us to fix the problem since their LMSs dont give them support. The irony is that our tool costs $500, and they are paying upwards of $150,000 for the LMSs.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

new terms for existing technologies

Discussion groups have been around since before the web (they were
called "bulletin boards"). You could access them through gopher before
http existed. Wikis are just bulletin boards that are organized more
randomly (less by thread). Blogs are just server-based authoring
through a browser with a limited number of pages. I would not
categorize either of these as "Web 2.0".

I fear the "Web 2.0" is being hijacked by vendors just as "Rapdid
eLearning" has been. The terms have been distorted to fit marketing
purposes. I would refer you to the following:
For a more practical definition of Web 2.0 as it would apply to
eLearning: http://www.readygo.com/e-learning-2.0.pdf
For a more practical definition of Rapid eLearning:
(Note that the eLearning portions are part of a larger course that has
next/back buttons, tables of contents, and other links. Also, if you
start from http://www.readygo.com/isd your responses to test questions
are tracked. Like a Wiki, but with tracking and navigation. This was
built and is maintained using the ReadyGo authoring tool.)

Monday, March 24, 2008

PENS - A better SCORM?

PENS will be a good complement to SCORM.

SCORM covers the following:
1. What page do you launch as the start of each SCO.
2. What files are needed for each SCO
3. How the SCO should send information (and receive it) to the server so
that the server can store it.
SCORM 2004, adds conditions for going from one SCO to another. (I
believe this is what Christie was asking about.)

There are still several other issues that are currently handled in
proprietary manners. The main one is "how does the LMS know that there
is a new package available?" This is what PENS would address. In terms of security, I cannot envision a condition where the fact that a new course is available to an LMS would
need to be encrypted - there is no personal data in this transaction.

I have seen tech support requests where customers need to know how to
load a course built with our tool into their LMS. We have to refer them
to their LMS vendor.

Future issues:
1. How does the LMS report the data it has received or export it for
2. What return access does a learner have once they have taken
(completed) a course?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"The more things change, the more they stay the same."

Are younger people different then us? Todays pervasive networked communication has to affect their learning behaviors. I suspect that it could even change the 'learned' elements of their cognitive processes.

Early versions of Sesame Street had a lot of very short
(1-2minute) segments. This meant that the kids were trained to have
short span attention, then jump to another topic. The newer Sesame
Street episodes have longer segments, e.g. "Elmo's World", that last
15-30 minutes. Anecdotally, I notice that my 4 year old's attention
span tends to mimic that of the activities and adults around her.

When I was in college, everyone was walking around plugged into a
newfangled revolutionary device called the "Walkman". Everyone was
talking about what a difference this was (as if the transistor radio in
the '50s didn't exist). I watched its prominence fade away when I was in
grad school, and everyone today seems to have forgotten about it.

It just reminds me of the old expression (and I tried to Google it to
find out who said it first, but there were too many links without

"The more things change, the more they stay the same."

Monday, March 17, 2008

streaming class content ...why?

I am curious as to why so many people want training to be live, streamed content
over the internet? Isn't this a little bit like asking "what is the best
way to listen to radio using my television set?"

Much of the power of the Internet is that the content does not need to
be delivered live. In order to deliver live video content, everyone
needs a very high bandwidth connection (or a tiny display screen for the
content). Textual content contains more information/knowledge per byte
than any other form of delivery, and it can be searched so that people can
get to the content they need much faster.

I am hopeful that trainers/instructors will evolve past the concept
equating PowerPoint slides with narration to web based training. This
is like equating McDonalds(TM) food with nutrition. There is so much
more power that the Internet provides beyond streaming an in-class

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The power of online learning that most people miss

The point I'd really like to drill into the learning community's mind is that
presential (face-to-face) training achieves limited knowledge retention.
I believe the typical measure is that 20-30% of the material presented
is remembered. A PPT-Flash, Video, or PodCast element has similar if
not lower effect. the power of eLearning is that if done like web
content, the students can come back to it over and over. This raises
the efficiency from 20-30% up to 70-80% (my estimate from anectodal
evidence). Then, because the learners know where they can find/access
the content, the remaining retention is unnecessary because they can
find it quickly, either through hierarchical navigation or a search
engine. A PPT or video movie does NOT provide this easy indexed access.

Most SCORM and AICC-based LMSs (and the SCORM community at large) seems
to have missed this point. This is represented by the behavior of most
LMSs where the student is measured on "completion" of the course, and
previous tracking results are overwritten when a new session occurs.
Also the examples where each page of content is a Unit/SCO, and the LCMS
puts the courses together for the sake of author re-usability severely
handicaps the more important learner reusability. When the LMS or LCMS
has to deliver each page as a separate session, rapid student access and
continuity of concentration are impeded. The AICC and SCORM
specifications do not force these implementations, but a large portion
of the community has assumed these approaches because they fit into
their large database paradigm.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Getting video's to work in an eLearning course

When it comes to video and multimedia, the biggest hurdle is the end-user's computer/connection. You may find that if you use the latest
Codecs and Windows Media Player 11 generation, many of your students won't get to see the video. Similarly if you make the video 1600x1200 pixels, the students will give up before the multimedia has a chance to download. While there are no absolute numbers, here are a few recommendations:

1. Most end-users have Flash installed on their computer. Other media players (like Windows Media Player) are not as consistently installed. So, if you can convert the videos to flash, you'll get a better success rate. Keeping the size around 300 pixels gives a good compromise between view-ability and download speed. (These fall under plug-in/embed).
2. I recommend that every video be justified. That is, is it necessary to present the material as a video? or would it be sufficient to present a series of snapshots? A video is presented at the author/producer's pace. Self-paced training is most effective when the student can control the pace of delivery. If the video is a welcome message from the president of the company, does this add any value to the course? I limit video usage to showing assembly procedures or body gestures that can't be shown cleanly any other way. There is a high cost both in production and delivery time for videos, so they need to be thought through well.
3. Java applets are good if you are getting learner interaction. Otherwise, their cost is difficult to justify.
4. In terms of a camera, I don't have experience with them. Since you'll be reducing the size to something that can be delivered quickly over the web, however, the down-sizing will remove any advantage that one camera has over another. You may want to get a video capture card so that you can record at high quality, and then edit the video on your computer to reduce the size.
5. The main software I recommend is a format converter that can take the output of your camera and convert it to Flash or WMV (if you know all your users will be using Internet Explorer on MS-Windows) format. I would definitely try a bunch of different editing packages before purchasing one.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


If the focus is on "fun and food", you will attract people interested in "fun and food" rather than the other people who are more interested in improving productivity, advancing careers, networking within the company, etc. I would first try to find out why people aren't interested in the courses you give. My guess is that the top reasons are that they are not convenient given the worker's busy schedules, and that they don't seem worth the effort. By "worth the effort", I mean that the topic is either too broad or too narrow. For example, if you offer a course on Excel, it will probably be too broad in scope for the engineers (and therefore boring). If you specialize is about doing database type queries using Excel, it will be too narrow for the administrative assistants (and therefore boring).

I am a strong believer in web-based training because it allows you to overcome the problems related to convenience and scope (if done correctly). First of all is convenience. If the course is built so that the student can get to it any time they need it and so they can jump quickly to the topic of interest, it becomes more attractive to them. When they can get to the topic of interest in 3-4 clicks, their time on course will be 5-10 minutes, and they will have gotten what they needed. If you instead give them a bunch of 1 hour recorded PowerPoint slide shows, you will forever repel your audience from your course offering. People just don't have blocks of 1 hour to sit down and watch a narrated "PPT-mentary" about the topic you're trying to present, even if it has lots of flying bullets and dancing pigs. Additionally, content retention is typically 20-40% from the first presentation of the material. If it takes 1 hour to get to a specific piece of material, you are guaranteed that the learners will only visit it once. (Flying bullets and dancing pigs will ensure that the 20% they retain is about the dancing pigs.) If the material is really convenient, they will come back to it over and over. In the repetition, their knowledge retention will increase.

Secondly, structure your content so that it can reach different audiences based on their needs. Include pages with bullet points that give the highlights of the subject. On this page, add links to sub-pages that give the topic in more details. That way, if someone really wants to delve into it, they can. The sub-pages should provide alternate presentations: A screenshot simulation, a step-by-step table, an interactive simulation (e.g. Flash), a case study, a homework task, a quiz, a test. Each of these presentation styles will reach a different audience, thereby making your courses more attractive - people will be able to control their own learning.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Modularity and reuse

Modular content can be reused most effectively when
a) it has such fine granularity (e.g. a sentence), that it blends in
well with the other content.
b) the re-user understands it thoroughly enough, including the context
in which it was written (by this point, they might as well have written
it themselves).
c) the re-user knows it exists

From my point of view, the content management paradigm is a solution
looking for a problem, pushed by vendors of database-driven systems. I
can see the case for reusing graphics and multimedia exercises (fed from
a repository), but the current craze about reusing textual content (and
about making one-page SCOs so that they can be put into a repository)
results in "ransom notes"; especially when the database system is
responsible for assembling the reused content.

What I do see that works well is when someone reuses someone else's
document or chapter when the necessary changes are small. For example,
most law offices don't rewrite every document from scratch. It makes
sense to re-use documents like wills, contracts, etc., that have evolved
over many years. Still, reuse requires that the re-user fully
understand the implications and subtleties of the document being reused;
otherwise, they may commit the customers to terms and conditions that
are undesirable.

What about reuse by the learner - e.g. they come back to it multiple
times or they view it on their browser, PDA, printed paper, etc.?

Monday, February 25, 2008

What to think about when deploying Web 2.0 technologies

Before you "optimize eLearning" through the use of Wikis, Blogs,
PodCasts, video feeds, IMs, XML, SOAP, AJAX, and other "new"/"improved"
methods, it is really important to understand:
1. How can these "optimize eLearning"
2. How will you manage them
3. How will you measure success
4. How you will add the next "hot" technology
5. How will you prevent the system from becoming a garbage repository
that is first overwhelmed with everyone wanting to post their latest
thoughts on the lint residing in their bellies and then is ignored
because the only content it has is people's musings on belly lint?

Wikis: Will you have a librarian organizing posted content and verifying
that it is correct? How will you limit posting access so you don't get
some whacko (like me) uploading incorrect, opinionated, and possibly
insulting content?
Blogs: How will you take the word "I" out of people's postings (e.g,
"This is my first experience posting a blog, and I am really thrilled to
death about it") That is, how will you make the blog content useful as
an instructional element. If you go to the Brandon-Hall network, you'll
be amazed how many postings are of this character.
PodCasts: Will you have professional announcers recording things, or
will you subject your audience to amateur, scratchy, poorly organized
rantings? How will you ensure accessibility both in terms of iPod
ownership and ADA?
Other technologies: Do you understand the implications of these

Have you thought about just creating good content that the audience
might be interested in reading and referencing?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Sco's and Print Paradigm

I just had an online conversation with an experienced trainer who told me that a new colleague fresh from his MS ISD program says that the idea of different levels of objectives is print based and
passé in the on-line world. Of course I have an opinion on this:

In my opinion, there is nothing "print-based" about having multiple levels of objectives. The SCORM/AICC specifications does not preclude this. In fact SCORM 2004 would seem to encourage this with their concept of score roll-up.

Paradigms that are print-based would include:
1. Linear navigation in a course. When printed, you read documents from start to finish. With web-based, you
should be able to jump around based on your needs as a learner.
2. Absolute positioning of graphics/text. With print, you know what size paper it is going on, so it is nice to specify that the graphic should be 5.23 inches by 6.54 inches, and placed 1.23 inches from the top. With web-based ,you have no idea what browser size the student will use, or even if it will be on a computer/PDA/cell phone. Therefore, with web-based, as the designer, you have to be open to flexible layout, and even run-time modifications of layout.
3. Modules are visited once. When you have a print-based test, once the person has filled it out, they can't fill it out again. The documentation goes on the shelf. With web-based, they should be able to return to the content whenever they want. In fact, if you place a search engine on your course, you will see more re-usability from the learner's perspective (that is, they re-visit the content for just-in-time-learning).

So, following these ideas of analysis, having multiple levels of objectives would be much more forward looking. Flat hierarchies are a print-based concept (how many web sites have you seen that consist of only one long page, or you have to read in a specific order?)

My observation about the "vogue" today is that there is great emphasis on the "look" of the course (animation, pretty pictures, links to Nike commercials, link to a social network site) rather than on the organization of the content. Course appearance is a much simpler concept to understand than instructional organization, so that is what a larger segment of the population emphasizes. However, crap dressed up in pretty finery is still crap! Well organized, usefull material, even if it doesn't use the latest in action-script will still produce good ROI.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

getting started - do you want to use Freeware?

Typically, open-source/freeware contains about 80% of what one needs (the easy 80%). The other 20% of what one needs typically takes 90% of the development work. So, if a vendor offers the consulting service, and you sign up for it, you will be their customer for a long, long time (and they will make lots of money off your generosity). Unfortunately, I have even seen many commercial packages (e.g LMSs, LCMSs) that also fall into this category.

My suggestion is to start with a basic web site. I wouldn't look for a
single source solution. The market is evolving too quickly. However,
when you do choose components, make sure that you will be able to export
your content in a format that can be edited/manipulated outside the
particular Wiki/authoring system/blog that you have used. Otherwise,
you'll be trapped. The technologies are generally so modular that you
can add/remove them from your site without concern about breaking the
rest of the site.

I would concentrate first of all on how you will create content that
will be accessed (and desirable) to the community. Next, figure out
what learner interactions you wish to track. From here, you will get a
good idea of how to proceed next. If you put a search engine on your
web site, you suddenly have a knowledge management system (as long as
the content you created is searchable). Add a bulletin board, and you
can have threaded discussions. Add a chat room software package and you
can have "office hours". If you take a look at http://www.readygo.com/
you can get a good idea of how to structure content so that it is
accessible/searchable, etc.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Community Based eLearning

I believe that Community Based eLearning is a positive addition to a training environment.  I think that when instituting community based eLearning.  It is important that someone should ensure that the content has instructional value. If
someone posted an advertisement about cars in a newsgroup, the
moderator could (and should) prevent it from being widely broadcast. If I received hundreds of inappropriate e-mails from a newsgroup, I would apply my own level of censorship, and un-subscribe myself. That is precisely why I recommend some
filtering - so that the eLearning site does not become repulsive to its

A properly set up site that allows unfiltered posting should have a blog
area for first timers, and this should not be the principal area of the
site. Frankly, I no longer read the main general discussion area on the
BH network site because it is so unfiltered, and it takes too much
effort to find the useful opinions from among the "I'm thrilled to do
this..." postings.

I have already signed up as a volunteer for several discussion groups
about Rapid eLearning and Practical eLearning. Wouldn't it make
more sense for your B-H experts who wrote the reports on the new
technologies (and seem to advocate adoption) be in a better position to
guide these discussions (and could simultaneously recommend purchase of
their reports)?

I much prefer a newsgroup style of discussion simply because
responses are pushed to my desktop via e-mail. I can read them when I
want, and respond in near-real time if I can. It is a more
"event-driven" system. I don't use a newsgroup if they require that I periodically log
in and review the entire site to find out what is new. I don't have any interest in reading "this is really great" or "thanks for this information" type additions.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Synchronous vs Asynchronous training

The big difficulty I see is the concept of taking a face-to-face
presentation approach, and just delivering it over the web. That is,
turning your in-class delivery into an over-the-internet approach. You
can indeed keep your presentations "synchronous", but you could also consider expanding them for "asynchronous" delivery.

Synchronous delivery does work effectively if:
1. Everyone has a good network/audio connection
2. Everyone is NOT at their own desk. That is, you can ensure that the
audience is not multitasking and answering their e-mails
3. Everyone speaks your language at the same proficiency level,
including slangs and idioms
4. Everyone can allocate the 1-20 hours for which you will be presenting

I believe the real power of eLearning (as with the real power of Google
search) is that the material can be available whenever the learner is
available (asynchronous), rather than only when the instructor is
available. If you restructure your content (giving multiple
presentations of the same material using different approaches), give
good nonlinear navigation (so the audience can go where they want rather
than where you want), make the material light (so it delivers quickly,
and does not require special computer reconfigurations), and several
other modifications, you'll be able to reach a larger audience not
constrained by time schedules, not overwhelmed by prerequisites that
aren't possessed, bored by material that is already possessed.

If you plan to continue giving synchronous training only, my suggestions
1. Give the training to several people sitting in the next room, and
every hour or so, find out what they like/don't like.
2. Have one of those people give the training - you need to be the
audience too, in order to experience what the audience sees.
3. Try checking your e-mail, answering your cell phone, talk to your
boss, etc. while you are an audience member. How easy is it to
re-engage with the presenter?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

a few things to think about for Synchronous training

The main point I want to advocate is that when your audience is at a
distance, you will get much less nonverbal feedback, even if you use
audio. This is where a good presenter can shine by asking the leading
questions. With chat you can still do this, and you can reduce the
effects of accent and idiomatic differences. Also, chat requires much
less bandwidth, so now you can include a larger audience.

My experience is that requirements for live audio and live video usually
exclude about 40% of the potential audience. When I have tried live
audio, there is usually one participant that will require 45 minutes of
individual support to get their computer working.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Think about it - is online different then classroom

A big problem with online training is that people are not
really modifying their approach to fit the new media. I've given this
analogy before, but it bears repeating. Have you seen clips of early
television? They had cameras trained on a symphony orchestra playing
music, followed by cameras trained on radio announcers reading stories.
This was television's effort to move to the new medium with as little
modification as possible. Many people felt that it was not worthwhile
to buy televisions because they didn't provide more than radios. So why
do you want to move your live training to the internet? If cost is not
an issue, the participants should be happy to travel to your location
and match your schedule. However, I still know lots of companies that
are budget conscious - I just want more people to have access to training.