Recording Audio for Web-based Training – Best Practices and Lessons Learned

I had the great pleasure of presenting at the annual ISO/RTO Training Working Group waveformconference on July 24, 2015. During this meeting, I provided details about how I have worked to improve the audio quality of my web-based training modules.

Below are two files which can be downloaded from the session. The handout includes the checklists and the references for the presentation. The links in the presentation to the supplemental materials shown in class are functional.

Thanks again for the wonderful opportunity! I hope those of you present will share some of your experiences in the comments below.

See you next year!

Advertisements

The Index is Understood – An Easy Way to Shorten Hyperlinks (and make them look nicer, too!)

Whenever I see a link like this: http://www.iso-ne.com/mkts_billing/mkt_descriptions/index.html, I’m reminded of my K-12 English class when learning about subject pronouns (or somesubject thereabouts), “The I is understood!”. This basic grammar principle is similar for websites, except in this case I mean “index.htm”, “index.php” or “index.html”. I think it also works for home.htm and home.html, but test first!

Often, my presenters prefer to have the entire path of a link visible in our printed materials, but we have lots of subfolders in our CMS! It’s important to make it look nice, and that means removing any excess URL.

So, these three links will work, and they will take you to exactly the same place:

no index.html

index.html is unneccessary in this example.

Which would you rather see when you are reading? Which would you prefer to try and type?

So, when you are adding a hyperlink in, say, PowerPoint, you can remove the index.html from the end. Of course, if you do not like showing the full path of a URL, you can always change the Text to display to anything you so desire!

Caveats:

The way you post a link in some materials will have an impact on search engine optimization and SEO results. I do not have this concern, but if you do, I recommend you read this article: http://www.webmasterworld.com/google/4255317.htm.

If the word before “.htm” or “.html” is not index, this probably will not work (home is the only exception I’m aware of)! Likewise, if my file extension is not a common web-file extension (.htm, .html, .php), I cannot remove the file extension. For example, I cannot change these URLs:

(these are non-functional URLs; none will work)

Finding Free Stock Photography Online

Where do you get your stock photography?

This question comes up nearly every time I discuss training with a fellow trainer or instructional designer. I usually pick and choose from one or two canned answers, but really, there’s a science behind it. I love science, and I love pictures, so I’m pretty good at coming up with out-of-the-box ways to get really nice photos for free.

Here’s some techniques I use when looking for artwork online.

Remember to always ask and receive permission before using pictures, and provide credit to the photographer or publication.

  1. Search Wikimedia Commons. Many of these are covered under generous creative commons licenses. This looks like its growing.
  2. Use Google Image Search Advanced Settings
  3. Search Google Image Search using a picture’s URL
    I plan to write a separate article about this, but it’s a love at first site thing 🙂 A site I follow on Facebook posted a beautiful picture from NASA. Here’s what I did to find it on Google Image search:

    1. Right-click on the image and select copy image URL
    2. Open Google Image Search
    3. Click the camera on the right-side of the search text field*
      *For those using the Chrome browser, right-click on the image and choose “Search Google for this image” for a faster search.
    4. Paste the URL you copied in step A and click Search.
    5. Reap the rewards 🙂
  4. Use photos from Facebook friends and contacts who take good pictures
  5. Find local photography clubs that will let you use their photos. Colleges and high schools are options.
  6. Find .gov sites related to the type of photos you are looking for. Most if not all (not sure about laws) government sites are in the public domain, so photos they own are available for public use. For example, NASA’s Media Usage Guidelines page provides guidelines for using NASA photos.Here is the beautiful photo that inspired me to write this blog post:

    satellite from space with lights from nasa 1980419_805568286130851_8333884728513564778_o

    Image Credit: NASA

    Here are some .gov sites (including .us, which is state) which offer free media images (go to usa.gov and search for “media images”):

    1. http://www.vdh.state.va.us/news/MediaImages/index.htm
      Medical Images from VDH
    2. http://www.justice.gov/dea/media.shtml
      Interesting selection of images…
    3. http://www.dvidshub.net/about/copyright
      Lots of military images – clearinghouse I found from the NASA site
  7. Be frugal, but be open to spending a little money. Of course, our department pays for an iStock Photo account. While I do not endorse them, I use their site and have been happy with the quality of the photos we’ve purchased from them. Sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet and pay $20 for “the right image”. However, also remember, one slide, visible for about 45 seconds, now costs an additional $20.

With a little creative searching in the right places, you’d be surprised how many photos are out there for you to use.

Do you have any other search ideas? Post them in comments!

Micro-learning, Nano-learning, Mini-modules, QR Codes, and How Mobile Learning is Influencing Training

A year or two ago in 2011, I threw the term “mini-mods” at my boss. “What are mini-mods?”, he asked. I went on to proudly tell him that I thought up the term. I envisioned our oppressive (but awesome :D) training videos could be broken down into smaller, easy-to-digest, easy-to-reuse modules, or mini-modules. We could break down our materials, and that would enable us to use them on different platforms (mobile was all the buzz, and still is), different formats, etc.

Since them, I’ve had to come to terms that this was not my brilliant, original idea.  I found an article from 2006 which refers to nano-learning (exotic!): http://www.cedma-europe.org/newsletter%20articles/Clomedia/Nano-Learning%20-%20Miniaturization%20of%20Design%20(Jan%2006).pdf.  This article by Elliott Masie  provides five areas which would benefit from nano-technology, and it provides great examples for each.

Today I came across another short article by Mark Berthelemy about micro-learning from 8/2012: http://www.xyleme.com/blog/buzzword-micro-learning.  The most important quote from this article is, “Basically, micro-learning describes a method of learning, whereby concepts and ideas are presented (or retrieved) in very small chunks, over very short time-scales, often at the point of need, or at the point of maximum receptiveness.”

Of course, Mark mentions that micro-learning has been around since 2004. So much for my ingenuity!

Both of these articles have affirmed what I’ve been thinking all this time:

  • It is easier to learn in smaller chunks.
  • It is easier to plan smaller modules.
  • Mini-mods are easier to build.
  • It is easier for a SME to commit to development when it’s short and direct.
  • It is easier to place these items, to reuse them on a variety web platforms (think YouTube supplemental videos)

I love it. And… it gets better.  Recently, after I read a couple articles about how the tourism industry was using QR Codes in tourist spots, and I began to picture my training progams, even shared laptops working in the same fashion.  It’s the perfect, quick, small, PRINTABLE way to provide a link to your super-cool, to-the-point multimedia from anywhere. Plus, I think they are expanding what QR codes link to (I am still learning – please don’t quote me!). Here’s an article about how Philippine City provides QR Codes to tourists: http://qrcodetracking.com/tourism-philippine-city-uses-qr-codes/

Now, imagine putting both together. Make a small, 3 minute video clip about an energy concept (that’s my job!). Publish it online. Attach a QR code to it. Use it in classroom materials. Use QR codes for the bathroom stall micro-learning. Print them on labels and attach them to things to gain that “at the time you need it” learning edge. Put them in your user guides (scan the QR code to get detailed steps). I can think of a million uses for this! Make a QR Code here: http://www.visualead.com/qurify2/

It may have been a tougher sell in earlier years, but technology is catching up and providing ways to push us in directions few of us have even imagined. Put it all together, and you can come up with something extraordinary – even if it isn’t all that new!

Have you used micro-modules or QR codes to innovate your learning?  Please tell me how!  I love to impress my boss with reused ideas 🙂

Behold the Power of the SME Interview

Since February 2012, I have had the luxury of shadowing a colleague as she developed an ILT (instructor led training) program.  From start-to-finish, I was included in nearly all meetings, brainstorming sessions, walk-throughs, dry runs – you name it.  When the day-long training program was delivered, it was a huge success.  By the end of the year, this should become an online training program.

From what I learned from this training, I have applied it in a new project.  Prior to kicking off the session, I’m engaging in high-level “interviews” with SMEs (subject matter experts) and other personnel.  When it’s time for the kickoff, I intend to have an outline for them to review, just like what is done with the ILT.  It’s something that I feel I’ve missed doing in the past, but just getting organized makes me feel much more confident going into this new project.

When my boss first mentioned shadowing my colleague, it sounded like a great opportunity.  I was a little worried that I would end up with less focus on computer based training programs.  I have a programming degree.  Sure, there’s a lot to be learned organizing a training program; however, I love the imagination that I can add into an online training.  How much could I really gain from this experience?

After our kickoff meeting, we began meeting with our SMEs.  Over, and over, and over, and over, and over again.  We brainstormed analogies we could use.  We built a case study that was well received (and wonderfully illustrative, if I do say so myself).  At first, it was a little (boring? time consuming? repetitive?) hard to understand the purpose.  Towards the end, I realized that I could comprehend the material better and ask better questions to get ideas on content.  It allowed us to branch out and try a couple new things in the classroom that were exciting to me.

Most importantly, I realized something critical.  From  February to June, I was learning what needed to be done for any training, regardless of delivery.  When the interview stages are skipped, it’s very difficult to guarantee content is pertinent – or factual in a worst-case.  Without pertinent content, it’s harder to get a user to buy into an online training program (some of our online programs are 4-5 hours long!).  Having seen both sides of the coin, it has really opened my eyes to where my time initially should be invested.

So now I’m on two new projects, one of which is the web delivery of this training program.  I am very fortunate that most of the work has been done for me!  The content is in order.  With the feedback from the ILT and all of my notes from previous discussions, I have everything I need to make a successful web program.

Converting Captivate and Flash to HTML5 for mobile delivery

I just recently came across a company called Easel Solutions.  They are an Adobe partner that provides eLearning training and consulting in addition to free webinars.  I was a little worried that the Flash webinar I attended would be hype for a product, but my worries were unfounded.  The links to the webinars below can also be found on the bottom of the Easel Solutions blog site:  http://blog.easelsolutions.com/resources/

All of us in eLearning know that Flash to mobile is the holy grail for future training programs.  I’ve been exploring this for a little while now, an I am at a point where I am putting together a plan.  My challenge is to take web based training that is developed in either Captivate or Articulate and republish it so that it can be delivered on a mobile device.  The second priority is to make sure that certain trainings can still be tracked in our LMS, using SCORM 1.2.  Unfortunately, our Cornerstone LMS does not allow me to login with Safari 😦

Mobile eLearning Strategies:  http://easel.adobeconnect.com/p8q3jyjj5lk/
I wish I’d taken this free webinar first, so I listed it first.  It is more of a needs analysis assistant. It poses several important planning questions (stuff in green is where my work is heading with this):

  • Who is asking for mobile eLearning?  How fast is that number growing?
    Not sure how much demand is here.  There may be a business need that would not be recognized by the end user.  For example, having access to a job aid on a mobile device (especially for field jobs) may be a great thing.  Force-feeding a one-hour long knowledge-dump training program that is 70MB (too big!) in size may not be the best way to jump into mobile learning.  For each course intended for some/all mobile delivery, careful planning will be involved, as well as lots of testing!!
  • When is it time to implent? (This is not “If”) If I can wait, will new features become available in the meantime that will make it easier for me?
    A good example of this is the Adobe Labs tool for Captivate that will convert the SCORM zip to HTML5 – which can be read on mobile devices!  It’s only an add-on, but that means that a newer version of Captivate will probably have this as a publish feature.  Very exciting to do now, but it could save many man-hours to wait, instead of doing our own trial-and-error.
  • What can be implemented technically?  Do I need to redesign some or all of my content, or can I use existing Flash-based courses?
    File size, screen resolution, graphic/animation effects, graphics file type considerations, LMS integration, personnel capability, and much more are all factors to consider.  We currently use Articulate for most of our web based training needs.  I love Captivate and am currently exploring republishing some of our material into Captivate.  I have a feeling, Captivate is going to work better with the conversion tools from Adobe, and it already works better with Flash.  However, I am also testing some stuff that is published from Articulate.
  • What makes sense to have for mobile content?
    For my programs, task-based training, user guides, and operations checklists would be a prime example of things that make sense for mobile (instant-need information)… plus, it would free up computer resources for system operators (and avoid IT security restrictions and issues) if a person could access training from their mobile device. 
  • Will this work with my LMS?  Do I even need to use my LMS (yes, if you want to track completions and other stuff from students!)?
    I would love to have a combination of all-of-the-above!  Do I need to track when a user downloads a checklist or job aid?  NO.  Do I need to track when a user has completed a 30 minute course?  YES.  We currently use a Cornerstone LMS solution, which I can’t log into the site using my iPhone.  Does it make sense to put a course out for mobile delivery that requires tracking?  I think not, until Cornerstone upgrades and we adopt the upgrades at work.  It could be a while before we go this route.  In the meantime, it’s important to consider what aspects of a course need the LMS versus what supplemental materials can be hosted externally.
  • What do I need from IT?
    Remember, you need wifi access or a data plan that provides the internet to end users before you can ask them to go online and find your course!  XAMPP (localhost server) is used for testing – would I even be able to get this on my computer, or is it a security restriction?  Do I need sanctioned test devices (iPhone, iPad, Android, etc) from IT? 

Convert Captivate Files to an iPad App:  http://blog.easelsolutions.com/videos/?p=f_XpBm66dQI
I found this video after participating in the Flash webinar (below).  It was exactly what I needed.  After watching this 14 minute training, I was able to successfully publish and convert a three slide test powerpoint to captivate to HTML5.  WOW!  It took about an hour of messing around to do it.  Although there are lots of limitations to the Adobe Labs HTML5 converter, if you think about publishing your training to video formats first and other tricks, it’s absolutely possible to have a successful training conversion.

Optimizing Flash Content for Mobile:  http://easel.adobeconnect.com/p9bpz3dksuv/
I signed up for this a month ago, and I was very impressed with the information I got.  As a bonus, my husband (a webmaster) will also benefit from this as well.  Although I have Flash at home, I do not currenlty have it at work.  I will probably be begging for it shortly, but in the meantime, it gave me a lot of ideas about tools available for converting Flash content.  At the very least, I can publish .swf files out of Captivate, so the information was still very relevant and useful.  This webinar requires more in-depth knowledge of Flash.  I thought it was awesome, though.

Special thanks to Dustin at Easel Solutions for his fantastic, free materials and webinars and great info on his blog.

Instructional Objectives, Test Questions, and Lesson Plans

I was very fortunate to be a part of a three day instructional design course on developing instructional objectives, test questions, and lesson plans.  The course delved into the Systematic Approach to Training (SAT), and it really drove home the need to create bombshell instructional objectives, followed by test questions (two for each objective for us!) – before any content is ever developed.  It was great to hear this best practice reaffirmed.

One thing that had me worried was that my web based training modules were not for credit, and the ID course was geared towards credit-based instructor led training (ILT).  My courses are required but not for-credit.  Although I do need to update the ILT version of my web based training modules in addition to revising my videos, the scope of the course I took was definitely different than my current role.

It turns out it was super helpful to me!  Objectives are the base of a course. They should be completed in the design phase, along with test questions.  Using specific verbs and having a complete objectives (with a condition, a performance, and a standard) help participants understand what they are getting into, but it also outline what the instructor is getting into!

No matter what, instructional objectives and test questions have to have a direct relationship and be consistent with one another.  For example, if you have an instructional objective that says when you are done you should have memorized a list, the test question must make them write the list – matching or multiple choice won’t do.  If you have an instructional objective that says when you are done you should recognize a list, then you can use multiple choice, matching, etc for test questions.

The most important thing impressed on us with the lesson plan was organization.  I really think a lesson plan could or should also be the common denominator between an ILT, a web conference, and a web based training module.  The lesson plan provides scope.  Although it sounds a little difficult, it was recommended that courses without lesson plans be retrofitted with one.  That could take a little work, but I see why!

After taking the class, I found out that one of my web modules was going to be offered for credit!  What a great surprise!