Recommitting to my blog… again

Aside

“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” – David Allen

I want to take a moment to document my struggles committing to my blog. In hearing others’ stories about their own experiences, I don’t think I’m alone. Though I’m writing about my blog, I encounter this frequently in my life and I want to improve.

I enjoy writing, and I love my job. I thought writing an instructional design blog would be easy and fun. I have a great support team. I have followers. Work and life throw some roadblocks, but none are insurmountable, and certainly none have been so terrible that they’ve gotten in the way of writing a blog post.

Nearly every day, I find at least three or four things to write about. I always pause, and in my head I think of how I will write this amazing blog post which will help solve all of instructional design’s tremendously challenging or tremendously frustrating problems. When I do have a chance to write, those ideas are gone, and I have some other distraction in front of me comforting me – making feel like I was just too busy or too overwhelmed or too whatever to complete my goals.

I tried combating this by starting drafts of blogs. Now I have three or four drafts which I could finish easily, but I got stuck in one paragraph and have become more afraid to finish. I spend more time thinking about distractions than the five minutes it would have taken to problem solve and complete an article.

What’s worse, I’m a terribly guilty person. Once I’ve identified that I am stuck and get past the distractions, I can’t quiet the final distraction – my mind pestering me that I didn’t complete a task and just feeling bad about it.

I’ve decided that I need to focus on how to motivate myself to complete tasks. One colleague recommended I look into a concept called “Mind Like Water”. This is detailed on a site called Getting Things Done, and that is where I got the quote from at the top of this post. I will be learning more about the five steps listed on their site and will share all the goodies I can:

  1. Capture
  2. Clarify
  3. Organize
  4. Reflect
  5. Engage

I may throw in a couple blog posts here and there to provide a progress report for myself, but ultimately, I want to commit more to my personal-professional presence more than I have. I know motivation is a factor, and I don’t know how much Mind Like Water will help that, but I’m going to find out.

I encourage you to find what motivates you to complete a project or fulfill a role you were determined to be in at some point. I encourage you to feel good about the small steps you make towards satisfying your goals, and I hope you find yourself excited to finish. While I do that for you, I will do that for myself!

As always, please share any thoughts you have on ways to motivate yourself and finish projects which you think may help myself and others out there.

… and special thanks to my colleague Hector for hearing me out and offering some ideas to try and get my brain back in the right place!

Getting Started with Macros: How to Turn on and Use the Developer Ribbon in PowerPoint (or any MS Office tool)

macro iconMacros can be very useful but often go unused. Having always been somewhat of a hack, I do not like to take no for an answer. Macros have helped me work around problems which seemed unsolvable.

Although this post does not contain a single macro file, I plan to write a few posts about specific macros to make an instructional designer’s job a little easier. I will be focusing on PowerPoint as the venue for these macro blog posts, but you can use this info to use Macros in most of MS Office.

In this post, I will cover a few macro basics:

What is a Macro?

According to dictionary.com, a macro – short for macroinstruction – is an instruction that represents a sequence of instructions in abbreviated form (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/macro). An example of a real-world macro would be going to work. If my abbreviated form, macro statement is going to work, then my sequence of instructions would really be:

  • Gather work items
  • Open car door
  • Close car door
  • Put on seat belt
  • Place key in ignition and turn
  • Place car in reverse
  • etc, etc, etc, until I arrive at work

Someone will ask me to perform the going to work command instead of telling me each and every step of going to work. At the end of completing the instruction going to work, my physical appearance at work is proof that the macro ran successfully. If I did not make it to work, then going to work failed, and “troubleshooting” ensues 🙂

Macros are pretty much the same thing. A macro can type for you, add objects, set formatting, open files –  essentially anything you can do on a computer, a macro can redo for you. They can be simple commands (1. copy; 2. paste; 3. move down one line), or they can be complicated – capable of making decisions based on data you provide.

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The Macro File Type

notepad macro example

This is a macro in Notepad.

A file with the .bas extension can be opened in PowerPoint and run as a macro. Macros are written in any text editor – I usually use Notepad. When done with my text file, I change the extension from .txt to .bas.

Not a programmer? No worries! Part of the beauty of macros is the ability to share them. You will likely find little snippets of code online, and you will be copy/pasting them into Notepad or some other text editor (or directly in the Visual Basic editor). However, please be cautious about where you get macros! They can be used for good as well as for evil. The same way you would not eat food found on the street, you should use caution when finding macros online.

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How Do I Use Macros in PowerPoint?

Macros can be run from the Developer ribbon in PowerPoint (or Word or Excel). If you already have a macro, here are the steps to run it (see a short video clip here).

developer ribbon

Developer Ribbon in PowerPoint

  1. Click the Developer Ribbon in PowerPoint
  2. In the Code section, click the Visual Basic button
  3. In the window that opens, click
    macro window

    Macro window

    File > Import File…

  4. Find and open your macro file
  5. Close the Microsoft Visual Basic Window (use the X in the top-right corner)… you will be returned to PowerPoint
  6. From the Developer Ribbon, click Macros
  7. With your macro selected, click Run

When you try to save your presentation after using a macro, you may be prompted to save it as a .pptm file. However, this can be considered undesirable. Do you need to do this? The short answer is no. You can simply Save As a .pptx.

In my opinion, there are two good reasons to save as a .pptm, and both must be true:

  1. Can you share .pptm files? Some IT Departments will restrict these file types, because they can be used by bad people to do damage to your computer. If you can’t save a .pptm file, you can likely still save your finished work as a .pptx file.
  2. Are you and your team okay with using a .pptm? File types can be confusing, and some people may be wary to open the file, and some software (like web conferencing applications) will not recognize a .pptm as a PowerPoint file. Do your research first!

Help – Where Is My Developer Ribbon!

If you found that you got stuck above at Step 1: Select the Developer Ribbon because the ribbon isn’t there, don’t fret (yet…)!  Unless you are on IT lockdown, you can enable your Developer ribbon using the steps below (you can also view a short video here):

  1. Click the Office Button

    enable developer ribbon

    Where to turn on your developer ribbon.

  2. Select PowerPoint Options (lower right corner)
  3. Make sure there is a check in the box next to “Show Developer tab in the Ribbon”
  4. Click OK

Note that this setting may be hidden, grayed out, or made unavailable due to your IT Department’s security policies. If this is the case, please reach out to your IT Department for further assistance.

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[CYA] Disclaimer 🙂

Perception of macros are pretty broad, and sometimes the unknowing person can make them sound like they pose a devastating threat, akin to leaving your keys in your car, with all the windows open and a sign that says “STEAL ME!”.

Generally, people can do bad things with macros, but if you are not looking to do bad things, nothing I ever tell you or show you will ever get you into trouble, break PowerPoint, or make you lose data. However, macro security is important. Do not use macros from untrusted places or sources. I will show you how to build macros, and if they do not work, they simply stop running. If you stray from my steps, risk-wise, you are on your own… but I encourage calculated curiosity and do wish you lots of luck!

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Webinar Gold: Master Slide Layouts in Adobe Captivate

I recently completed and published my first two elearning modules using Adobe Captivate 7. However, I couldn’t figure out themes and templates and the Object Manager. Putting it all together was too cumbersome, and when the template got pulled from the project, the design suffered.

In an attempt to get back on track, I just watched a webinar by Mark Hooper, called Master Slide Layouts in Adobe Captivate. WOW! Although some stuff I was familiar with, Mark presented other indispensable nuggets of information that I absolutely needed! At first, I found Mark’s style to be a little slow, but all of his information was excellent, and the reading chat filled the gaps in areas where I already knew the topic. I will look for more of his work in the future! 🙂

I will try and summarize the most important pieces I’ve learned, but I highly recommend viewing this free, recorded webinar: https://lodestone.adobeconnect.com/_a1022323674/p4gzhnxwbw4/?launcher=false&fcsContent=true&pbMode=normal

Here are my million-dollar takeaways. If you desire to learn how to do any of these, I recommend taking an hour and watching this webinar:

  • 1024×768 is still the standard size, especially for mobile devices. 1280 is achieved when counting the width of the navigation bar.
  • I can store custom gradients! If only I’d known this weeks ago!!!!
  • Themes and Templates work hand-in-hand, but they are different:
    • A theme (.cptm) can store Master Slides and Styles
    • A template (.cptl) can store Themes, Filmstrip slides, and Library objects
  • The Object Style Manager allows you to set defaults for objects (like the default style of a text object)
    • You can save and send stored object styles (.cps) to other Captivate users
  • Master Slide Snippets:
    • The top-left, slightly larger master slide is the main slide (name of theme)
    • You can store a background and slide objects on the larger master slide, and then choose whether or not to use either:
      • the background
      • objects in other master slide templates

This is my lazy blog post for the day, but I hope it helps!

Copy and Paste an entire File Path (with file name!) in windows 7

I constantly use file linking in my job. I don’t just mean adding hyperlinks to the internet. Often I find myself using links to files on my local computer or to a shared drive on my workplace network.

Recently I upgraded to Windows 7 Pro, and I discovered a new option for copy/pasting a link – the ability to copy the file name, including the file path.

Here are the steps to easily copy and paste an entire file path using Windows 7 Pro, as well as a short video which show the steps.

  1. Find and select the file (do not open) that you would like to copy the path
  2. While holding down the Shift key on your keyboard, right-click the file (and then release the Shift key
  3. Select Copy as Path from the menu

The major downside to doing this is that this copy/paste adds quotes to the beginning and end of the file path and file name, which need to be removed before pasting the link into any window – whether an Explorer Window or a browser window like IE.

If you have ever had to deal with creating a link to a file like a word document or a spreadsheet, it can be a nightmare. In XP, the file path had to be copied first, and then the file name. It was a multi-step process for a simple link!

Even with the quotation limitation, this is a great time saver for me. I hope it helps you out!

It Took a Meteor Shower to See a Good Training Technique

One of my Facebook friends recently posted this NASA article about the meteor shower over the next three days (Aug 11-13, 2012):  http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2012/10aug_perseids/

The meteor shower sounds very cool, but I noticed something else, too.  The design of the article could be used in one of my training projects… and it’s simple but neat.

Linked in the article is a YouTube video of the written article.  I read the article first, and then I clicked on the video for it.  I recognized the article was the narrative of the video after just a few moments. The video was really good, too. It’s about 3.25 minutes and is interesting and well done.

Here are the things I love about this style:

  • It’s printable.
  • It gives a user options for their experience  (Do I want to read or watch the video?).
  • It is multi-sensory – audio and video combined made a comprehensive experience.
  • It’s simple to design and build – for the most part, at least 🙂
  • It reduces a lot of the technical risk associated with eLearning. It’s simply HTML.
  • It’s already mobile-ready!

It could be disappointing to read the article first and then click on the video – only to find out it’s nothing different than what you just read. I really didn’t mind, but it did make me think about it. If I use a style like this for some parts of my training program, I would probably add a note to the top of the page, indicating what to expect. Would it matter to you?

Gamification Webinar from TMN

I just attended Gary VanAntwerp’s web conference on gamification, hosted by the Training Magazine Network (http://www.trainingmagnetwork.com/discussions/show/3785). The .pdf from the presentation is available for download, and the recording should be available by tomorrow. There were a few audio glitches (groan, haven’t we all been there?), but otherwise it was good. Here’s my takeaway of the event.

What Is Gamification?

Dice have been around for thousands of years. Gamification is so new, I had to add it to my autocorrect dictionary when I typed the title of this page! Gamification is “the current application of using game mechanics and game thinking in a non-game environment to increase fun and engagement.” Visit the wiki at www.gamification.org.

The concept of incentivizing has been around for a long time. Whether store incentives (reward points) or beer pong, adding incentives entices people.

Why Gamification?

  1. People love games and competition. That could be why dice are so old.
  2. Google data predicts that gamification is in its infancy, and it is trending in 2012.
  3. People want a balance of choice and control, so they feel in charge and to feel it is easy to make a decision.

Game Design & Mechanics

To design a game in a non-game environment, you must think about the game design and the game mechanics.

Game Design

  • Perceived Affordance:  Perceiving to know about an object based on perceived knowledge of the object type… assuming we know how to use a button on a web page because we recognize a button shape, 3D button-like qualities, and other commonalities. We expect a button to act a certain way when we recognize it. When we aren’t sure it’s a button (or if it looks like a button and turns out to be something else), we don’t like it. It was found that Three Mile Island had bad design like this. A light that looked like it indicated a closed valve, but it indicated the status of the solenoid, so nobody diagnosed the problem was a valve stuck open for hours.
  • Flow:  You’re in the flow if a user is applying just enough skill to overcome just enough of a challenge. If they need too much skill, it builds anxiety.  If it’s not challenging enough, it’s boring. With the right flow, people lose their sense of time; they become immersed in game play.
  • Goals:  have them, and let people create their own goals.
  • Attention:  People have an average 7 minute span of attention. At that interval, build in something surprising or change direction.
  • Time:  Even with the attention thing, be wary of the total time and how people are able to use their time to play.
  • Risk:  Risk is good.  People like betting points, but be wary:  people also don’t like to be at the bottom of a leader board or to lose it all.
  • Social Interaction: People are coming to like this and expect it. It is a good opportunity to branch out to communication connections that are already available, like support chats, twitter feeds, and other modes to communicate that help personalize the experience.

Game Mechanics

Game mechanics are really the interactions taken from game play.

  • Signals & Feedback:  encouragement and help when needed; guidance
  • Keep Score:  People love to earn miles points, rewards points, stars, and more. Even the number of people in a webinar could be a trackable score with a goal or reward.  Badges are good for status.
  • Progression:  People love levels and reaching the next level. You can also use points or percentages towards a goal. One interesting example was LinkedIn.  They have the progress bar for completing your profile, but it starts at 10%, which could encourage you to continue what you have already started.
  • Quests or Challenges:  This will help build direction and still make a user feel that they are still in control.
  • Rewards (not cash): Status rewards, like a special title or a badge, provide bragging rights. Access, like unlocking a new tool or level, makes the experience feel private or special. Power, like unlocking the ability to change something or control something, provides a further sense of control. Stuff, like gifts or freebies for participating, are good for employee incentives.

Examples of Gamification

Thanks to Gary and trainingmagnetwork.com for putting on another good web conference.  I’ve attended a few now, and they are usually really good.  I got a lot out of this one!

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.