The Rapid Elearning Blog

Archive for January, 2010

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - how to navigate social media

There’s a lot of conversation about social media.  And for good reason.  The tools let you connect with peers who share common interests.   It’s also a great way to build a personal learning network.  For example, if you build rapid elearning courses with Articulate products there are all sorts of resources available to you:

  • Articulate’s Facebook page keeps you up-to-date on news and information.
  • Connect with us via Twitter.  It’s a more personal connection to the network and you can stay on top of the cool tutorials we create with Screenr.
  • Articulate sponsors two blogs: the Word of Mouth blog features Articulate-specific news and the Rapid E-Learning Blog offers general elearning tips and tricks.  In addition, many of the Articulate folks have their own personal blogs that also offer interesting tidbits.
  • The community forums are a great resource for quick help from others who build rapid elearning courses.  They share the types of tips and best practices that you can only get from other users.  Personally, I think it’s the best online forum I’ve ever been part of because of the great interactions and downloads.  Check out this recent thread.

As you can see from the example above, if you use Articulate products there’s an entire network of people and an active community for you to be part of.  And that is usually the case in any community where you share common interests.

Not only is social media good for you, it’s good for your learners.  Many organizations have their own tools like blogs, wikis, and discussion forums.  It makes sense to blend your elearning courses with social media because you teach your learners to create their own learning network.

The challenge with these tools is that it can be hard for people to manage all of the information.  In fact, I was talking to someone recently who said that she really appreciates all of the resources available through sites like Facebook and Twitter.  But she felt overwhelmed by all of the information and has started tuning out.

The Value of Community

When I was younger, I took great pride in not listening to mainstream music.  Instead, I sought out bands that no one knew.  The problem with unheard of bands is that they’re typically unheard of.  Back then we didn’t have the internet to find and listen to music. It was a challenge to be a non-conforming conformist.

I discovered the bands through a magazine that had a reader section titled, Desert Island Discs.  People listed the ten albums they’d take with them if they were marooned on an island.  I used that list to find someone with similar interests.  Inevitably they listed bands that I didn’t know.

And that’s the value of community.  You’re tapped into a network of people who have similar interests.  They’ll provide connections, resources, and perspective that you might not get elsewhere.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - social networking Click here to watch Social Networking in Plain English.

Even if you build traditional elearning courses, social media has value.  It’ll strengthen your network of peers.  And if you include it as part of your course design, you can leverage many of the online tools and help your learners build their own network of peers to support them long after they’ve completed the course.

It’s easy enough to integrate social media with your rapid elearning courses.  Here are a few examples:

Filtering the Noise

Tapping into a learning community is fine.  But with the many resources available today, the “tapping into” experience is more like this scene from the movie, Small Time Crooks.  You just want a little but end up getting a lot more than you can handle.  Or so it seems.


Click here to view the video clip.

No one goes to a library and complains that there are too many books.  That wouldn’t make sense.  You want as many books as possible in the library.  You just don’t want them all at the same time.  The same goes for your learning community’s resources.

Here are five simple ways to manage all of the information available to you.  I also did a quick screencast that walks you through some of these tips.

  • Use a feed reader to subscribe to the resources.  Many of the social media tools and sites have an RSS feed.  By subscribing via RSS feed, you can access everything from one site rather than having to visit each site that interests you.
  • Filter by keywords.  Some of the people I follow in Twitter post more
    than ten times a day.  It’s hard to keep up with all of that.  Besides, there are usually only a few things that interest me.  So I tune them out.  I don’t even look at their posts.  Instead, I create keyword filters.  This helps me get rid of the noise and only see those things that interest me.
  • Find information that’s already aggregated.  Don’t feel like doing any of that sorting or subscribing?  No biggie.  Just find someone else who does it and go to that site.  For example, if you’re active in Facebook and use Articulate products, become a fan of Articulate.  A lot of the community news and resources are available there and that saves you from having to do it yourself.
  • Focus on what’s practical.  Even if you do all of the sorting and filtering, it’s still a lot to handle.  Personally, I’m more interested in practical applications of ideas and not all of the conversation.  So I tend to pay more attention to tutorials, examples, and demos than I do news stories and conversations.
  • Tune out.  OK, this kind of goes contrary to the whole social media thing, but who cares?  Don’t worry about being on top of all of the chatter. As a wise man one said, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”  Sometimes you’re better off tuning out and staying focused, than you are getting anxious and trying to stay on top of everything.  Just tune in when you want.

Social media technology opens the door to a lot of helpful information and helps you build a network of like-minded peers.  In addition, your training program will be more effective if you can teach your learners to create and manage their own learning networks.

How are you using social media?  Are you using it with your elearning programs?  I’d love to hear how it’s working out.  Click on the comments link to share your thoughts.


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

In a previous post, I showed you how to design your own PowerPoint templates.  In other posts, I’ve talked about how to use PowerPoint’s drawing features to build the envelope icon and television monitor.  These are all intended to help you become more proficient with PowerPoint and your graphic design skills.

In today’s post, we’ll pull some of these ideas together to create a folder graphic that you can use in your elearning courses.  I have a published example below, as well as a step-by-step tutorial.  You can also download the PowerPoint file so that you can play around with it.

Example of a Published Course

Here’s an example of how you could use this folder graphic when designing your elearning course.  It’s just a quick demo with a few slides.  But I think you can see that it works well and does a lot to make the course more visually interesting. 

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - PowerPoint folder demo

Click here to view the folder demo.

How to Build the Folder

I got the idea for the folder graphic from a great Photoshop tutorial on how to create a folder.  For this demo, I only used a few of the Photoshop steps to keep it simple.  The video tutorial below walks through the process of building the folder but here’s a quick overview. 

It’s really pretty simple and uses only one PowerPoint shape that is duplicated three times, resized, and then filled with different gradient effects.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - deconstructing the folder graphic

I used the generic PowerPoint 2007 color themes so that I can quickly change the folder color to match my project demands.  This allows you to have an unlimited number of colored folders.  All you would need to do is create a custom theme to match your project needs.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - PowerPoint color schemes

Here’s a good tutorial by @elearning on how to create drop shadows in PowerPoint.  I used that technique for the folders.  As you can see below, it gives them a realistic look, especially on the open folder.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - open folder created in PowerPoint

I used a “paper clip” graphic and ungrouped it to pull out the paper clip.  Now I can attach miscellaneous objects to the side of the folder to give it a richer look. You can learn more about working with clip art images so that you can create your own paper clip.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - ungroup clip art object

That’s a quick overview.  There’s a lot more detail in the free tutorial below .  I think you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to create the folders.  The tutorial walks you through building the folder and it teaches you some production techniques to get faster using PowerPoint. 

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - tutorial on how to create the folder graphic in PowerPoint

Click here to view the tutorial.

Building the folder is pretty simple and straightforward.  If you have a few minutes, practice making your own.  You’ll learn to use PowerPoint as a graphics tool and you’ll also have a cool asset to use in your next elearning course.

I included the PowerPoint file I used to create the folders.  Feel free to use them as you wish.  You can download the office-themed PowerPoint file here. And the folder-themed PowerPoint file here

If you have any tips or tricks you’d like to share, feel free to add them to the comments link.


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - What is your elearning course telling your learners?

The video below shows how graphic designer, Brian Hoff, selected the right font for one of his projects.  There are many points in the video where he probably could have stopped, but didn’t.  No one would have known the difference.  But something kept him going until he found just the right look.

Choosing a typeface timelapse from Brian Hoff on Vimeo.

What kept him going is knowing that the typography does more than share the information to be read. It also communicates ideas or concepts visually because the font is more than text.  It’s a graphic element that contributes to what you want your learners to learn.

The reality is that many of us probably don’t put too much thought into the fonts we use. I have to admit that I don’t always put a lot of thought into the fonts.  I know many times I just go with my gut.  Sometimes I’ll use new fonts, because they’re new.  Or big bold ones to fill the space.

However, when we build elearning courses we need to consider the visual design as well as the instructional design.  They go hand-in-hand and are part of the overall communication process.  And in that case, the fonts we use play a critical role to the visual design and tone of the course.

Studies have shown that people will assign emotion or personalities to fonts.  Thus, if the font implies meaning, it seems important to match the appropriate font to the tone of your elearning course.

To give you an example of how fonts have unique personalities, check out this quick demo I built in Quizmaker ‘09.  Your job is to match the font to the picture.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - link to font personality demo

Click here to view the demo.

In this exercise, there’s really not a right or wrong choice.  The fact that you can look at an image and assign a specific font demonstrates that they do have personality and can contribute to what you communicate.

Note: For those who want to know how I built the demo, here’s a link to the Quizmaker ‘09 source file.  Feel free to pull it apart and look under the hood.  I used the Wilde Ride font that you can find here.

Ok, so now that you see fonts convey more than the text they display, how do you apply this to elearning?  Here are a few thoughts.

  • Develop a basic understanding of typography.  You don’t need to be a font geek or professional typographer.  But since you are using fonts and creating a visual medium, it makes sense to have a basic understanding of typography.  I am a big fan of the Non-Designer’s Design Book because it covers the basics of design and typography for those who aren’t pros.  Another good book is the Type Idea Index.  In fact, I like all of Krause’s “Index” books. It just depends on how much you want to learn.
  • Create a course style guide. I’m not a big fan of rigid corporate style guides.  But it is a good idea to at least create a style guide for your course.  It’ll help you think through the visual design and what you want to communicate.  And it provides some consistency so you’re not using too many fonts and crippling your design.
  • Set the tone of the course.  The typeface creates a first impression and sets the tone for the course.  How would the font used in a corporate compliance course be different than a course for high school students?  In developing a learner profile, you’ll want to consider the visual design that best communicates to them and which fonts support that style.  Here’s an interesting BBC broadcast on the Secret Language of Fonts.
  • Sort fonts by style and emotion.  Just like you did in the exercise above, fonts can be sorted by style and emotion.  It might make sense to invest in an application that lets you sort your fonts.  Smashing Magazine has a good review of 25 Font Management tools.  Some are free and they cross multiple operating systems.  If you use any of them, do a Screenr video so we can see how they work.
  • Follow some professional graphic designers and typographers.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, a great way to learn is by deconstructing and replicating the work of others.  The same goes with analyzing good typography and design.  Pay attention to how the fonts are used on a page or web site.  Try some of those ideas in your elearning courses.  When I see an interesting layout or design, I create a screenshot and then save it for future inspira

You don’t need to be a professional typographer to build good elearning courses.  However, part of the course design is visual communication.  And in that sense, you do need to be aware of typography and how it contributes to visual communication.  It will only help your elearning courses be that much better.

Do you have any tips on using fonts?  Share them by clicking on the comments link.


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

I find that most rapid elearning developers are working by themselves or with very small teams.  In those situations, their organizations don’t offer a lot of support to learn more about elearning.  Typically, there’s no access to more experienced developers or others who can help them grow as an elearning developers.

On top of that, because of time constraints, many organizations aren’t always looking for the best elearning courses.  They usually just want something done quickly.  That was always my frustration.  I wanted to do more, but most of my clients didn’t.  So I had to build a lot of the same types of courses and didn’t get many opportunities to flex my wings.

If you’re in the same boat, here are some tips to help make 2010 a good year for you.

Become Part of the Rapid E-learning Community?

In a learning community, the newbies need the experts who provide valuable insight and experience.  At the same time, the experts need the new people because they bring a different perspective and can challenge the norms.  The worst thing for the community is to become an echo chamber where nothing’s challenged and no new ideas are explored.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - become part of the community

In fact, some of my best personal learning comes when someone less experienced tries to figure out how to solve a problem.  It’s something I might never explore if they didn’t ask (or if all I did was hang out with the other experts).

So if you want 2010 to be the year you really kicked your elearning skills into gear, here are some tips on how to join the rapid elearning community.  I’m going to share them from my perspective in the Articulate user community, but the ideas aren’t limited to any specific tool.

Resolution 1: Join the Community

You can’t be part of the community if you don’t join it.  Keep in mind, it’s not entirely a formal process.  It’s a combination of formal structure and informal networking.  You can join your software’s user community which is usually an online forum.  And you can also enter the community by connecting with other elearning people and following them via RSS feed or other social media, like Twitter.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - join the community

  • The user community is where you’ll get some of the best tips and tricks because you’re connecting with other users who have similar issues and experiences.  They can share best practices and techniques to help you succeed.  The software only gives you features.  But the users give you ideas on how to use the features. 
  • Use a RSS feed reader to track blogs, tweets, news, and forum discussions.  I like Feedly, but there are a number of good feed readers available.  You can also use something like Netvibes to create a home page that pulls in your feeds.  This way everything’s always right there in plain sight.  If you think feeds have to do with the Food Network, then go here to learn more about RSS feed readers. :) 

Resolution #2: Ask Questions

Think of the elearning community as a big cocktail party with little groups of people involved in a bunch of different conversations.  Most of the time, we’re observers walking from one group to the next.  We listen, but rarely participate.  You won’t meet new people at a cocktail party that way, and it won’t work online either.  To really be part of the community, you have to be more involved.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - don't be afraid to ask questions

  • Ask a question.  For many of us, asking questions is a challenge because we fear looking stupid or uninformed.  However, if you want to learn, you’ll have to get used to asking questions.  So stop lurking and start asking.  If you don’t ask, you might be missing out on some really good stuff.
  • Ask for help with ideas and not just technical issues.  The software you use is just a tool.  I find most people ask about technical issues like “how to add audio” but when pressed what they really want to know is “how to use audio to make the course better.”  You probably need less help with the technical part of the tool and more with how to use the tool to produce the course you desire.  Shift questions away from just technical help and start discussions about how to build better courses.

Resolution #3: Answer Questions

One of the best ways to become accepted in the community is to answer questions.  However, the reality is that most people in the community are lurkers who only take information.  The next level is the small percentage who will ask questions.  And then even fewer will offer answers.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - answer questions and share your expertise

  • Someone has to answer questions, why not you?  You don’t even need to know the answer right off.  If you see a question asked, try to figure it out and then offer a solution.  You’ll learn and so will others.  Most important, though, is that you’ll build a positive reputation in the community.  And with that, people are more apt to help you when needed.
  • Become an Expert. Want to be an MVP?  Want some freelance gigs?  This is the secret: make it a goal to answer five questions a day.  You’ll become a frequent poster and develop some authority.  Once you’re seen as an expert, the doors open.  Trust me.  Back when I was an Articulate MVP, I used to get all sorts of offers for freelance projects.  And it all started because I made a personal commitment to answer a few questions every day.

Resolution #4: Share your E-learning Assets.

In many cases, we’re all building the same types of courses.  Why not share what you’re doing?  You don’t need to share any proprietary data, but if you have some good graphics or a PowerPoint template feel free to share it with others.  Do you have some Flash skills?  Why not share your expertise?

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - share your elearning assets and skills 

A community of active members shares ideas and assets.  Sometimes it produces free assets for the other members.  And sometimes it produces opportunities for those who are entrepreneurial.

Here are some recent examples related to the Articulate user community with some freebies to boot:

Those are just a few of the examples of the tangible benefits of the elearning community.  Not only do you learn from each other, you also are presented with all sorts of opportunities, and in many cases, free assets for your courses.

Resolution #5: Share Your Ideas

Make the community more than conversation about technical support.  Share ideas.  Talk about things you’ve learned and what you’d like to do.  Here are a few recent examples that I think represent the best of what can happen in an active community:

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - talk about building better courses

  • Peer review.  After the 2009 Articulate Guru awards, a local ASTD group in Texas reviewed the CPR course that won the gold medal.  The original course was built as a proof of concept and not a real course, so some of the critique is not relevant.  However, I thought the overall review was good on two fronts.  First, it’s a great example of how we can learn from each other in the community.  I like that they got together to review an elearning course.  Second, they do offer a lot of good ideas about how to improve the content.  And, it’s good advice for almost any course.  Here’s a copy of their review for those interested.
  • Share what you learned. Is your first course going to be your best course?  Probably not.  But you can grow from each experience.  I love the way Indu Gopinath did a quick write up on her blog about her experiences building her first rapid elearning course.  It would be cool if more people did this.  We’d all benefit.

Online communities and social media tools give you access to peers and experts that you didn’t have a few years ago.  If you want to develop your skills and build better elearning courses, now’s a good time to get started.  Connect with your user community and share what you know.  You won’t regret it and you’ll have a great 2010.

What resolutions have you made to help build your skills this year?  Share them by clicking on the comments link.

On a side note, I really want to thank all of those who participate in the Articulate user community.  I also want to thank our MVPs who do so much to help other users and make our community a great place to learn.


Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.