The Rapid Elearning Blog

Archive for July, 2010

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - get help building elearning courses

Many of you are either working alone or on very small teams with limited resources.  With some creativity, you can do quite a bit.  In fact, many of my tips and tricks came from working in a similar situation.  It’s amazing what can be done do with a computer and a little duct tape.

With that said, working solo has some drawbacks.  One of the biggest is not having peers (or a more experienced person) who can help you brainstorm and think through the process of building a course.  You really are left to fend for yourself.  Or so it seems.

In the past we looked at how to navigate social media and manage all of the streams of information.  We also discussed ways that being part of the community can help make you an elearning superstar.  With today’s Internet and social media, you can redefine who’s a peer.  And that’s a good thing. 

I get a lot of emails about how to get started with elearning or how to learn more.  One of my first suggestions is to jump into the community forums and start asking for help.  It’s good for help and for your career.  In today’s post, I want to highlight a recent interaction in the community that shows how you can become better in your elearning design. 

A Quick Note about Communities

Communities typically work like the image below.  Most people aren’t active participants.  They kind of lurk at the edges looking for a quick tip here or there and following the threads.  Only a handful is active in real conversation. 

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - truth about online communities

Lurking isn’t bad.  There’s nothing wrong with looking for the quick tips and tricks.  Who really has the time to hang out in communities chatting about elearning?

If all you want is a quick tip or fast help, then it’s fine to be on the outside.  Just jump in, get some help, and go back to work.  However, there is a lot of practical value in becoming part of your user community.  Let me share a few ways:

  • Real people get real help.  No one knows the lurkers who quietly observe and pull out the help they need.  When you ask questions and engage in conversation, you become a real person.  And people who are in the community want to help real people.  Become part of the 5%.
  • Become an expert.  What’s common to the community is that everyone is developing expertise in some capacity.  Sure we all come to it from different angles and levels of experience, but ultimately what binds us together is our pursuit to become better at what we do.  Share what you know and try to help others, too.  You’ll feel better and your goodwill pays dividends when you need help.
  • Virtual brainstorming.  If you’re working solo, odds are that you don’t have a place to think out loud or bounce around ideas.  The community offers that.  Are you working on a course and trying to figure out how to do something?  Do you want some feedback from others?  Jump into the community and ask.

A Practical, Real-World Example

It’s one thing to talk about learning communities.  But it’s another to make it a practical reality.  The truth is most of us don’t have time to hang out in online communities.  We have work to do and can’t spend every waking hour checking links in Twitter, following threads in forums, and updating Facebook pages.

Because of this, most people don’t fully participate in community activities.  That’s fine.  However, here’s a recent community interaction that is both practical and a great example of how the community offers real valuable help and not just good discussion.

Joe Deegan is a recent Articulate customer.  And he’s quickly learned to get his value out of the community.  A while back he posted a question looking for ideas on building an interactive sales course.  My guess is that he got at least ten good ideas to play around with.

Just the other day, he posted another question in the forums:

I am working on a project where I am creating a slide that looks like the inside of a store that my users work in. I am having a hard time adding perspective to the floor so that it looks 3D as if I am inside the room. I’ve seen many of you do a great job of this so I wanted to get your ideas on how I can make my scene look better.

He uploaded a quick screencast of what he wanted to do; and then asked for some help.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Joe Deegan's initial question

You can follow what happened in the community by clicking this link.  But I’ll give you a quick rundown.

His question generated a good conversation and some advice which compounded as others jumped in.  It produced a few screencasts, some quick prototypes, and a great discussion.  By the end of it, Joe interacted with six others and came away with some good ideas.  His one-person team sure did grow. 🙂

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - the elearning community in action

I especially like the way Bruno took the essence of the conversation and created a quick screencast that not only addressed the original question, but also shows some great PowerPoint tips.  Check it out, below.


Click here to view Bruno’s tutorial.

Think about the value Joe brings to his workplace.  W
hen they hired him, in a sense they also hired a team because Joe comes bundled with his network of resources.  So if you’re a Joe Deegan and want to learn more (or just need help with your courses) don’t be afraid to jump into the community.  You’ll find it a great experience and get the tips and tricks to help you grow as an elearning developer.


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 - are you ready to be a guru

I get emails all the time from freelancers or elearning vendors asking how to get more work or exposure.  I also have quite a few managers ask for ways to get their staff up-to-speed building better elearning courses.  So, I’m going to take this opportunity to plug the Articulate Guru Awards and show how you can use the awards as a way to grow your business and rapid elearning skills.

Get Lots of Exposure & Free Marketing of Your Services

The past few weeks, as people have been reaching out to me looking for work, I’ve told them about the Articulate Guru Awards and recommended that they submit something.  Almost as if scripted, they most say, “I would but I’m too busy,” or “I don’t have any courses to enter.”  I have to chuckle at the first response considering that they’re contacting me looking for work.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - show off your courses

Running a small business always creates this tension between doing revenue-generating projects and spending time looking for it.  So for many people it’s feast or famine.  I have to think that if I were trying to make a name for myself, contests like the Articulate Guru Awards and the eLearning Global Giveback Competition would be my first priority.  It’s free advertising.  And most likely one of the most important courses you’ll ever create.

Here’s the deal, there are very few elearning awards out there, especially ones that are free.  So why not take advantage of the opportunities that exist?  And these elearning awards are a great way to do this.

While it’s cool to win, that’s not the only benefit.  If you build a good course, you’ll get featured in other ways that give you exposure and will help you out.  In fact, it’s exactly what eVision said.  Entering the Articulate Guru Awards “was one of the best things for marketing their services.”

Build Your Personal Portfolio

With the way things are going, you never know when you’ll be looking for work.  So you want to be prepared, which I discussed in a previous post on why you need an elearning portfolio.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - example courses

One of the challenges with compiling elearning portfolios is that many organizations have you build the same courses over and over again; and most of them are probably pretty simple or not very interesting.  It’s hard to show off your skills if you company is happy with basic PowerPoint-to-Flash courses.

With the guru awards you aren’t limited to submitting work-based courses.  You can choose to submit whatever you want.  The CPR course eMersion created wasn’t a real course.  It was just a proof of concept to show off what they can do.  And the Evernote demo that Chris did was something he chose because he is a fan of the product.

Take advantage of the opportunity to create the type of course you want to build and show off what you can do.  You can create a course on any subject.  Here are some examples from the previous competition.  As you can see they don’t have to be corporate-type projects.

Become an Award-Winning Team

Lots of managers ask me how to get their staff up-to-speed or train them to become better at building courses.  One good way is to have the team go through a book together, something like E-Learning & the Science of Instruction or E-Learning by Design.  Discuss the key points and then practice applying them to projects or small prototypes.  You can also use these prototypes as examples that you can share with your clients.

Another way to build your team’s skills is to challenge them to create an award-winning elearning course.  They don’t need to build an entire course.  Keep it short.  Pick a generic subject, like planting a garden or building a birdhouse.  Find something with lots of content so you don’t have to spend a lot of time on that and can focus mostly on the course design.

While it didn’t win, one of my personal favorites from a previous contest is this sexual harassment course from Cognizant.  Here’s why I like it:

  • It was built in just four days—from script to final product.  That’s pretty impressive.
  • It’s not an information dump.  With that quick turn-around, it’s easy to build a simple, linear PowerPoint-to-Flash course. They didn’t.
  • They used lots of video and included some interactive scenarios.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - team-building activity

Click here to view Cognizant’s Sexual Harassment Course.

The course received high marks and rave reviews from their peers.  And my guess is that as a team, they had a lot of fun creating it.

Are You Really an E-Learning Pro?

This is a challenge to all of the elearning gurus out there.  I see all sorts of opinions and criticism of rapid elearning from many in the industry.  But most of the critics do not offer examples of how they’d build the courses with rapid elearning tools.

But I know that many of them do build courses with the tools.  In fact, when I ask some of the critics for examples of their own work, I typically get the “I’d love to show you, but it’s all proprietary” answer.  I’m not sure I buy that.  It seems to me that you should be able to offer more than just your opinion.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - shouldn't elearning gurus be prepared to sho w you what they can do

Many of you more experienced elearning developers are building rapid elearning courses.  So take this opportunity to show off your skills (and your potential clients why they should choose your services rather than build their courses in-house).

The reality is that a good instructional designer should be able to build a good course regardless of authoring tools.  So if you’re in the industry and are known for giving advice on building courses, why not show us all what you can do?  In addition, your examples are good inspiration for all of those up and coming developers who want to learn from you.

Tips to Get Started

I’ll close with this, good fortune sits at the crossroads between opportunity and action.  You have the opportunity, now just take action.  Besides, this stuff’s so easy, even a monkey can do it.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - so easy a monkey can do it


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 - beer infused elearning

Did you know that Portland, Oregon has more than 30 breweries?  That is the most breweries per capita in the US.  Being from the Pacific Northwest, I’m kind of partial to craft beers.  I might not like every beer that I taste, but I do enjoy the diversity in flavor.

The thing with beer is that there’s not a right or wrong beer.  It would be foolish to argue that a stout is better than a pilsner.  They’re different beers for different tastes and occasions.  The same can be said for elearning.  In fact, I like to use beer as a way to look at elearning courses.  Let me explain.

The Many Levels of E-Learning

Often elearning courses are presented in a hierarchy.  You may see them described as levels, where level one is information only and level five may be highly interactive.  Or you’ll see elearning qualified by the tool used.  For example, if the course is created in PowerPoint, then by default it’s low.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - levels one through five

While there’s nothing wrong with creating a model like this to describe the different types of elearning, there are a few things I don’t like about it.  First, because we assign a number to the levels it implies value without regard to purpose.  We tend to view low level as less effective.  Or as often is the case, we’ll deride an information-based course as a mere “page turner.”

In fact, at a recent conference an elearning vendor came by the Articulate booth looking to pawn off what she labeled level one courses.  She told me that she couldn’t find anyone on her staff that was willing to do “those types of courses.”  Apparently, times are good for them.

On the surface a highly interactive, branched scenario might appear to be a better elearning than a very simple linear course.  But that may not be the case.  It all depends on the purpose of the course.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - PowerPoint ranked low by default

Something else I see in these models is that PowerPoint authored courses are typically placed at a low level. They’re usually identified as information-only courses.  However, by now we all know that’s not necessarily true.  PowerPoint’s just a software application and content neutral.  You can create either simple, information-only courses or much more sophisticated learning interactions.  It just depends on your needs.

Build a Course to Meet Your Objectives

The ultimate goal for elearning is to build a course that meets your client’s needs and learning objectives and that can mean any type of course.  Let’s place a flight simulator course at level five and a simple annual compliance review at level one.  If I wanted to train pilots to fly the new Boeing 787, I sure wouldn’t want them going through a simple, information-only series of screens.  With the people’s lives at stake, they need to be trained in the most sophisticated manner possible.  In the same sense, building a complex simulation for a simple compliance course is also the wrong approach.

There’s a place for all types of courses and sometimes what we think of low level is actually the best course.  That’s why it’s important to not to get too dogmatic about how a course is built and whether or not it’s interactive.  That’s why I like to think of them less in terms of levels and more like beer.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - think beer when considering your course design

On a hot day, after mowing the lawn, a cold pilsner is more satisfying than a heavier stout.  But when I go out to have a beer, I typically prefer the richer flavors of a porter over something lighter.  There’s no right or wrong beer where one is of higher value than the other.  Beers are just different.  So here’s my beer-based elearning meter:

  • Is the objective to share information or change performance?
  • What level of interactivity do you need in your course?
  • What should the course look like?

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - are you viewing or doing

You’re either viewing or doing.  There are plenty of compliance and annual review type courses that are mostly informational.  While we could argue that all all courses need to be performance-based, that’s not going to happen.  Besides, the course is just one part of the learning process and sometimes all you need is information.

It’s kind of like a text book.  Some you just read and reflect.  But some are workbooks that provide exercises for you to practice what you’re learning.  They all have their place in the learning process; just like elearning courses.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - what level of interactivity do you require

Not all courses require interactivity.  While it may be shocking to hear, some people like a bullet point list and don’t want to go through an interactive scenario.  On the other hand, one of the valuable elements of elearning is being able to create interactivity that is cost-effective and can be tailored to the learner’s needs.

Don’t bore your learners with bullet point screens, when they’d be better off working through a problem-solving scenario.  In the same sense, don’t offer a complex scenario, when all they need is a few key points.  Create the interactivity that is appropriate to your objectives.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - visual design is important

We don’t want to underestimate the power of good visual design.  Graphic design and visual communication are important parts of the learning process.  That includes everything from the graphics, the user interface, and how the graphics contribute to the learning objectives.

With that said, there’s no reason to overbuild the graphics either.  A first rule is to keep it simple and guide the learner’s attention.  You’re better off with a simple line of text on a white screen if it helps the learner focus and understand what you’re trying to teach.

On the other hand, the visual design of your course plays an important role in what you’re communicating.  People are drawn to good graphic design.  Plus, good design implies value that tells the learner this is worth exploring.  It can contribute to an immersive experience that draws
the learner in.

I like the beer model because it’s flexible and acknowledges that elearning courses have differences and some are richer than others.  However, it also recognizes that the value of the course isn’t based on where it sits in the model but more on the objectives of the course.  And that’s the key, you’re building an elearning course to meet specific objectives and you need to build the right course to do so.


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 - blog creation gadget

I love all of the web apps and cool sites that pop up on the Internet.  Many of them are cool in a gadgety way but not always practical; but they are fun to play with.  And then there are some that are practical.  For example, I use the social bookmarking tool, Diigo, quite a bit.  At my last place, the internal network was so lame that I used Diigo to bookmark and manage all of my internal links.  It made my life a lot easier and more productive.  Currently, we use Diigo’s linkroll feature to track our community tutorials.

I’m also a big Dropbox fan.  It’s one of my favorite tools because it makes team collaboration and file syncing so easy.  I also use Clusterurl quite a bit.  I like to create clusters when I’m doing research. Here’s a screencast I did to show how that works.

Those are just a few of the types of sites that can make your life and work easier.  In today’s post, I thought I’d share a few that work well with this blog and allow you to access the blog posts in a different format.

Listen to a Podcast of the Rapid E-Learning Blog

Hear a Blog offers a free service where they convert the blog posts to a podcast.  So if you’re a fan of this blog, then you can always download and listen to the blog posts rather than read them.  It’s a great way to share all of this elearning goodness with your friends and family (especially children on long road trips).

Of course, lost in the podcast are the graphics and links to examples.  So you may think that it could make the podcast irrelevant, but that’s not the case.  Let me tell you why and how it relates to elearning design.

When we access information the same way all the time, the familiarity could produce a certain level of complacency.  For example, I have hundreds of RSS feeds in my feed reader.  I’ve gotten used to quickly scanning headlines, images, and bold text for pertinent information.  I can quickly get the gist of the posts, but I definitely don’t get all of the details, and many times miss important points in the posts.

The post as a podcast makes me stop and listen.  It changes how I focus on the information and possibly helps something different stand out.  This is something to consider when you build courses.

Are there ways to change up the info or structure of the elearning course so that it forces the elearner out of a complacent mindset?  Find ways to keep your learners looking for the next button.

Seth Godin had an interesting post about doing a 200 slide presentation to change up the pace of your presentation.  It’s similar to what I’m suggesting.  With multimedia communication it’s as much about the content as it is about the flow and pacing.

As a side note, if you’re looking for a voiceover career, Hear a Blog may be a great place to start.  It looks like there are opportunities to record podcasts to pad your portfolio.

Convert the Rapid E-Learning Blog to PDF

Many blog readers ask how to print the blog posts so they can read them offline or share the posts with others.  Web2PDF offers an easy way to create a PDF of any blog post.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - convert the post to a PDF

Here’s what you do:

  • Copy the blog post’s address
  • Then go to Web2PDF and paste the address into the form to create a PDF
  • Now you have a PDF version of the post with comments included. This is good because sometimes there are a lot of nuggets in the comments section. It looks like all of the links work, as well.

While this is a cool site to use with the Rapid E-Learning Blog posts, you’re not limited to creating PDFs from this blog alone.  Use it anytime you find a post you like.

The other day I was going through a folder of web links that I’ve collected over the years.  They have all sorts of content from meeting with clients to Photoshop tips.  Unfortunately, about 60% of the links no longer work.  The content was gone.  Now, when I find a post or site that has information I want to preserve, I just save it as a PDF.  Even if the site no longer exists, I’ll always have the content and source for reference.

Web2PDF offers some browser tools that make it super simple to save the page as a PDF.  Here’s what it looks like if I right-click on a blog post while in the Firefox browser.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - PDF browser tool


Those are two good sites that let you get the blog posts in a different format.  What are some of the sites you use that help make your life easier?  Feel free to share them in the comments section.


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.