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!

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First Time Hosting an All-day Instructor-led Course

Yesterday was the first time I was host for an all-day training. Although my past experience may have helped me prepare for all this stuff, there were some things which surprised me. I’ve been the instructor for five-day software training events, some where it was business analysis followed by training. I was the instructor for a 14-week A+ certification course. I’ve taught 8-week Microsoft Office adult ed classes. I’ve hosted countless numbers of WebEx training sessions, and I have somewhere around 30 eLearning courses under my belt.

Being the host of an all-day event required pulling from my personal experiences, but it also made me realize that there was far more expertise involved. Here’s a diary of the day.

The course was scheduled to start at 8:30am. I was at work until almost 7pm the day before setting up the room and adding last minute printouts to the student handbooks (individual presentations are also posted online).

  • 07:30am: Planned time of arrival to work
  • 07:42am: Actual time of arrival to work (thanks, Springfield traffic)
  • 07:46am: BSOD (blue screen of death) when I tried to print the script for the class
  • 07:52am: Finally got the room. A SME was already there before me. In my head, I was chagrined.
  • 08:02am: Confirmed with IT that everything was up and running.
  • 08:15am: Realized the laser pointer was not functioning. Went on a pilgrimage to find AAA batteries.
  • 08:20am: The two brand new sets of batteries did not fix the laser pointer. I announced to the class to eat food… I will be back. I went on a second, high-speed pilgrimage to find a new clicker.
  • 08:29am: My second pilgrimage failed, so I ran back to get to the front of the room, thinking, it’s okay, we’ll make due without the clicker.
  • 08:30am: I turned on the slide show for my presentation, and the keyboard and mouse stopped responding. I buried my head behind the laptop (though everyone could see the projector) and my brain went into IT Troubleshooting mode.
  • 08:30am: I determined that some setting in reused slides was the problem. I turned on Rehearse Timings during my presentation… it was the only way I could get the keyboard and mouse to work.
  • 08:32am: My worst fear – I started two minutes late! I rolled through my module almost apologetically, forgetting the best practice to not point out flaws. The timer window in top-left corner of the presentation was a constant visual that something went wrong.
  • 08:40am: My first SME took the stage – right on time! Did anyone else notice that I ran through the room introductions like a drill sergeant? STATE YOUR NAME. STATE YOUR TITLE AND DEPARTMENT. STATE THE YEAR YOU STARTED. NEXT. NEXT… MOVING ON. Ouch.
  • 09:20am: I set the timer on my iPhone but forgot to shut it off when the module was done, so after directing that all mobile devices be set to silent, mine started beeping. Chagrin, again.
  • 09:21am: I realized I needed a bin to place the evaluations, so attendees started placing them in different spots. I corralled the evaluations and apologized for not providing a bin.
  • 09:30am: As soon as the next presentation began, I ran off and stole the first plastic “thing that would be the evaluation bin” from next to a random printer.
  • 09:32am: I realized that the bin that I stole had about three years of dust on it. Made a pit stop to clean it.
  • 10:35am: Thinking the SME was lagging behind, I held up a sign that said, “SPEED UP”, and then my SME finished 5 minutes early. Chagrin, again. I decided to limit my use of this agreed-upon cue for every other SME.
  • 02:10pm: Forgetting to reset my timer app, I based all of my cue cards off of an 1:10 class when it should have been an hour. Thinking he finished early, this SME was the first to finish late… and it was because of ME!!!! (Chagrin x 100)
  • 04:08pm: I took the stage 12 minutes early to present a small piece on our company’s website redesign. This was the first instructor-led course I presented since August, 2009. As I began to show the main navigation of the site, I looked out to see some of my attendees looked like they were going to fall asleep, die, or kill me. I cut 2/3 of the demo portion of my presentation out, completely sure I was going to get a score of 1 out of 5 and a resounding, “What the heck was that crap???” from the group.
  • 04:30pm: The class was done! And, on a beautiful summer day, I let everyone out 1/2 hour early.

So, this sounds like it should have been a disaster? It certainly did to me. However, for as devastating as all these things were, I had a few people tell me it was one of the best training programs they’ve attended. My evaluation was over a 4.5 out of 5.

In retrospect, I think I may have been the only one to notice most of this.

  1. I need to be more confident. My husband will probably read this and say, “I TOLD YOU SO… AGAIN!” A knowledgeable and well-respected colleague noted that I have the skills needed, but I need to have confidence that I’m competent. I continue to work on and struggle with this..
  2. Instead of sweating the small stuff and beating myself up, I should instead appreciate my problem-solving capabilities. Nothing that went wrong was the end of the world. It felt like it to me. Simple mistakes made me feel stupid, incompetent, and inexperienced. I’m actually kind of good at what I do (and that was the hardest thing to write on this page).
  3. SMEs do not all think or present the same, and the more I can accommodate their needs, the better they will present. Some have 20 years of instructing experience while others have just begun. What became very important during planning was to understand how each SME presents and to support each style.
  4. Tone down personal enthusiasm and limit my goals realistically. As my first instructor-led experience in my current capacity, I wanted to employ every technique that would make the day better. More examples! More scenarios! A full-fledged student workbook instead of PowerPoint slides! I handled a lot of my meetings as if they were brainstorming sessions. I think I created some extra stress for my SMEs. I treated some preparations as if I needed SMEs to chime in and approve every detail, while patting me on the back and telling me it’s all wonderful (back to point #1: I need to build confidence).
  5. Some decisions should be left to the me, the instructional designer, and that’s OK. This goes hand-in-hand with point #4 (and #1, again). It’s important for me to focus my SMEs on what they can do to improve the content that requires their expertise. It’s also important to realize that they have a bit part in an entire day, and that should be okay with me. Post-training feedback was that they didn’t care about a lot of the little things that make an entire day great, but they liked them. For example, I added a photo slideshow in between each session to run during break. I brought it up several times in planning sessions but got nearly nil feedback from SMEs – I almost nixed it because of the lack of interest. However, the slides sparked interest in the room, and I found SMEs and students congregating in front of a picture of a generator, sharing interesting stories about the industry! I loved it. I wanted to take pictures of the scene. What can I do for my SMEs without their blessing, and will the addition make things easier and better?
  6. Project management experience trumps instructor experience in some cases.  This is pretty self-explanatory; however, I would like to point out that to prepare for this, I found myself expanding my internet searches. Initially, I was looking at all best practices for the classroom and for business presentations. Ultimately, I found a lot of time management, leadership training, and business partnerships training to be very valuable to me.
  7. Last but not least – Sheesh! I need to see more of the positive stuff! I intended to only write my happy take-aways from this course, but the timeline is what came out.

Reviewing my timeline, I can summarize my next steps with a promise: On October 1st, I deliver this same day-long course again. I am going to post the same kind of timeline, but I am going to highlight all the good things. And it’s going to be excellent. Sound convincing? 😉

Useful Keyboard Shortcuts in PowerPoint

Here’s my attempt to compile the best list of keyboard shortcuts I use that can help you become more efficient in PowerPoint. These keyboard shortcuts and other tools make the development process a little less painful, and it will open doors for using some of the advanced features which make PowerPoint an extraordinary presentation tool.

In a future blog post, I will focus in on keyboard shortcuts (and keyboard/mouse command pairs) for images and objects. There are so many ways to make your presentation look stellar. It makes me feel soooo good when someone asks if we outsource our presentations to a professional designer. Nope! One of my secrets is being efficient with all the little stuff, freeing up my time to get graphics and other details in order.

Common keyboard shortcuts to speed up everyday tasks (these work in many software applications):

  • Undo: Ctrl + Z
    Note: I use this at least 50 times per day! You can set the number of “undos” to a max of 150 from Office Button > PowerPoint Options > Advanced. Undo should be your best friend!
  • Redo: Ctrl + U
  • Edit inside of a text box (when an object is selected): F2
    Also is a lifesaver when editing cells in Excel!
  • Save:   Control + S
  • Save As (to save in different formats): F12 (function key)
  • Screen capture the window that has focus: Control + Alt + Shift + PrintScreen: Screen captures the window which has focus (not your entire screen, which PrintScreen alone does)
  • Switch between 2+ open documents:  Alt + Tab
  • Switch between open PowerPoints: Ctrl + F6
  • Quit editing text in text box (and to select the whole box object): Escape
    Note: Escape is my favorite button – it gets me out of trouble in many applications 🙂
  • Copy/Paste:  Ctrl + C to copy; Ctrl + V to paste
  • Cut/Paste: Ctrl + X to cut; Ctrl + V to paste
  • Print: Ctrl + P (opens print dialog box)
  • Make font size bigger: Ctrl + Shift + >
    Note: Will work with either text or an object with text selected
  • Make font size smaller: Ctrl + Shift + <
  • Bold: Ctrl + B
  • Italics: Ctrl + I
  • Add a hyperlink to selected text/object: Ctrl + K
  • Select text one character at a time: (position your cursor, then) Ctrl + left/right arrow key
  • Select text one word at a time: (position your cursor, then) Ctrl + Shift + left/right arrow key
  • Duplicate a selected object: Ctrl + D
  • Duplicate an entire slide: Ctrl + Shift + D

Explore These! Other Shortcuts to Try Out

  • What to do when there is no obvious keyboard shortcut? Press the Alt key on your keyboard once. Notice that letters appear on your PowerPoint ribbon. For example, notice that the letter “F” appears over the Office button in the top left corner. Press the “F” key, and the menu will open! Try pressing “Alt” on your keyboard and then see how using other letters will open different tools.
  • See available shortcuts by hovering over items in PowerPoint. If there is a keyboard shortcut, it will be displayed in a little pop-up message. Hover over the Bold tool in your Home ribbon. What does the pop-up say? Does it show the same keyboard shortcut noted in the list above?

Do you have a PowerPoint shortcut to share? Please leave it in the comments! I’ll try to return back to this list to update it with the latest and greatest from the professional world.

 

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 🙂

Projectors Versus LED Televisions for PowerPoints and Other Presentations

My husband told me about a town meeting where he presented the other day. There was no projector; they used a (~)50″ LCD TV secured to a cart. Using a town-issued laptop to connect to the TV, my husband presented a web page he is redesigning.  When he was done, the next presenter connected his own laptop and delivered a PowerPoint presentation from it.
I’m a little surprised this wasn’t really obvious to me before. TV prices have crept down, along with their bulkiness. I keep thinking about the old CRT carts from grade school. It doesn’t really feel like a leap forward.
However, when you think about it, TVs have numerous benefits over a projector:
  • Cost:
  • Sound:
    • The built-in sound of a TV is usually better audio than from a projector and would be suitable for most situations.
    • Playing videos from a laptop or from the Internet would be more seamless.
  • Picture:
    • the picture quality is far, far, far superior to a projector in every way and in any lighting condition.
    • there’s no lamp to replace, and no cool down time
    • If you walk in front of a TV, you don’t lose the entire picture like with a projector
    • TVs are vertically-aligned by design, so no height/angle/trapezoidal/blah adjustments
  • TVs are watched several hours per day, so it should have a long life (5-7 years-ish?)
Some cons:
  • No matter how small they’ve become, TVs are still much larger and less convenient to move around than a projector. The linked TV is almost 70 lbs.
  • Cost:
    • Buying a cart is an extra cost to consider. With a permanent space, this is a non-issue.
    • You may need to purchase new cables to connect laptops to the TV.
    • Setup and fine-tuning the TV could be an extra cost, if needed.
  • Size:
    • You can’t resize a TV, though you can move it back and forth with a cart.
    • If the TV has a smaller display than your old projector, you should test your PowerPoints and other materials to make sure your font sizes are large enough for the back of your room and define a minimum font size for PowerPoint display.
Is this a complete list?  I don’t know. If you can think of any pros/cons, or if you are using TVs instead of projectors for business presentations, please share!  I’m very interested to learn how a mobile TV cart has worked out and whether there are other advantages or disadvantages.
As I was writing this, I remembered that laptops connected to TVs (and projectors) are already used at work for large, company-wide presentations/meetings. I didn’t even make the connection. I’ll be honest, I prefer to stand in the back of the cafeteria (where we have these massive meetings), but I can’t ever really see anything on the TVs they use. It looks like a 42-46″ TV to me.