The Rapid Elearning Blog

Archive for March, 2015

Articulate Rapid E-learning Blog - Build Better Online Training

There’s often a big disconnect between the training that is delivered and the training that has impact. It’s because training is commissioned by someone who doesn’t take the training like a manager or subject matter expert. What happens is that while the training has all of the right information it doesn’t frame it in a perspective that is true or relevant to the learner; and that’s because the end-user usually doesn’t have a seat at the table when the training is being developed.

Here are a few ways to change that.

Build Better Online Training by Interviewing Your Learners

Someone asks you to build the training but it’s usually not the end-user. The client has all sorts of content and it’s your job to figure out what content is appropriate to meet the learning objectives. However, you also have to craft a learning experience that is effective.

One way to do that is by spending some time with your learners. Share the content and objectives and then get their feedback. Ask them what content is most meaningful and useful to them. Ask how they’d structure the training.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - Build Better Online Training by making content relevant

From the conversations with them you’ll get a better sense of what they do and how the course content is relevant to their performance needs. They’ll often give you some really good use cases that can be used for simulations and interactive scenarios.

Keep in mind that what the end-user thinks is important isn’t always the priority. Often the organization has regulatory requirements that may not be relevant from a performance perspective but still a requirement for delivered training. They key point is that you’re getting another perspective.

Build Better Online Training Through Observation

Course content doesn’t always address the nuances of real work. That’s why spending time with your learners and seeing how they perform in a real environment is critical for successful training. And you’ll learn things that aren’t addressed by the content.

For example, I once built training for a production facility. The new hires had to learn how to operate some large and complex machines. I spend some time on the floor and learned that many were intimidated by the machines. This made it hard for them to learn.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - Build Better Online Training by observing your learners

Because of this, the first part of their training was to learn the parts of the machine and focus on a lot of preventive maintenance. We wanted them to get their hands on the machine and feel really comfortable with it. It worked because their familiarity with the machines helped them feel comfortable and the end result was that they out performed those who didn’t go through that part of the training.

We would never have even considered this part of the training had we not spent time on the floor observing how they did their jobs. There are additional tips in this post on how to avoid needs analysis paralysis.

Build Better Online Training with Rapid Prototypes

As you interview your learners build a quick prototype of how the course would work. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I used to use PowerPoint and hyperlinks to do this. It’s a quick way to get an idea of how to structure the course content especially for interactive scenarios.

Today it’s even easier than in the past. You can shoot digital photos or videos and insert them in slides. The elearning software is getting so easy to use that rapid prototyping only take a few minutes. I do this all the time at conferences when I’m at the booth. People come up and ask how to do specific things and in minutes we can build a quick interactive scenario.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - Build Better Online Training by building prototypes

Don’t worry about everything being perfect. I’m famous for using stick people and blue boxes. The point is that a quick prototype helps you understand the flow and expose potential issues.

Build Better Online Training with Pilot Sessions to Get Feedback

The reality is that sometimes you don’t get access to the learners. This happened to me a few years back when I worked for a bank. I was building training for loan officers and wanted to talk to some to get a sense of how things worked in their work environment. The organization thought it would be a waste of time so I didn’t get permission to spend time with them.

If that’s your situation then build the course and prior to final approval have some of the end-users take it. If you can, try to observe how they go through the course. Often this will expose so user experience issues like navigation or improper instructions. Try to solicit as much feedback as you can so that you can make adjustments prior to the launch date.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - Build Better Online Training by piloting your courses

It’s not ideal, but it’s better than launching a course that has issues. Plus, once you have something more complete, your client may not have an issue with you spending time with the end-user. Even if you can’t get a lot to pilot the course, try to get at least one person. I outlined some things to do in this post on what do to before your course goes live.

The main point in all of this is that the goal is to create a successful course and one way to do so is to spend sometime with your learners to understand their needs and how to design a course that both meets your learning objectives and the needs of the learner.

What tips do you have when it comes interacting with your learners as you build the course? Feel free to share them in the comments.


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 was chatting with someone recently who was complaining that the organization’s elearning courses weren’t successful. After some conversation, it turns out that the courses were mostly information-based courses. The organization did a great job pulling content together, but outside of the content (and some nice looking slides) there wasn’t much to the courses.

We talked a bit more about what it takes for a training course to be successful.

Successful Training Defines Success

There are different reasons why organizations create elearning courses. And with that, the measure of success various. Many courses have no performance expectations tied to their elearning courses. They’re mostly information that needs to be shared for one reason or another. And often the learner has no control over whether or not to take the course because they’re mandatory (and usually not relevant or applicable to the learner).

That’s why I usually sort courses into one of two buckets: information or performance. A course without performance expectations has fuzzy metrics and no clear understanding of success.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - successful training means performance versus information

Another consideration is the before and after gap. The learner (or organization) is at point X and I need to get them to point Y. For this to happen, I need to understand the difference between X and Y and why the learner isn’t currently at Y.

Why is there a gap? Sometimes the gap is training-related, but often it isn’t. It doesn’t help to build training to close a gap that isn’t cause by a deficiency in training. The challenge is getting your client or subject matter expert to see that.

For this post, we’ll assume that the course you’re building has clearly defined performance goals.

Successful Training Needs the Right Content

Successful training focuses on the right content to meet specific goals. We usually have plenty of content. If you have a problem I have some information to help. That’s good. However, sometimes we have too much information and the gap in training usually isn’t lack of information, especially in this day and age of instant access to everything.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - successful training means getting rid of excess content

What are the objectives and what do they need to be able to do to meet them? And what information do they need to know to be able to do what they need to do? That’s the content you need. Of course, the challenge is getting your client to see that they don’t need all 300 PowerPoint slides in the course.

Successful Training Provides Practice & Feedback

Having the right content is part of it, but for people to learn they need to practice applying what they learn in the course to relevant situations. How will they use the learning at work and when?

I see a lot of courses that skip relevant practice activities and use simple multiple choice quizzes. In some cases, simple quiz questions work, especially when they’re built around a case study. However, they usually don’t do more than assess the person’s recall of the content. And for performance-related courses, this is not adequate.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - successful training means focusing on performance and action

When you do create the activities keep in mind that they can be inside or outside of the course. I’ve worked on projects where we streamlined the presentation of information in an elearning module and then built practice activities with peer coaches on the floor. In either case, successful training focuses on relevant practice activities. Remember: Tell, Show, Do, Practice & Review!

Successful Training Demonstrates Understanding & Skills

The ultimate goal of the course shouldn’t be completion. Instead it’s learner’s ability to meet the organization’s performance goals. The course is just a means to get them to that point. Again, we’re trying to span that gap from X to Y.

The goal is to get them to demonstrate their understanding & skills related to the training. We do this by focusing on relevant content and getting them to practice applying what they learn to real world situations. Then we provide the feedback that helps them make the appropriate adjustments.

One serious challenge many of us have is that success is define by course completion and an end-of-year report from the learning management system. Of course we want people to complete the course. But a completed course means little if the organization isn’t meeting its goals. We need changed behavior or improved performance.

Often this is difficult for those of us who build elearning courses because we don’t have access to the metrics or level of management to really know if what we build has been effective. In that case here are two pieces of advice:

  • Get a seat at the table. Don’t sit passively taking elearning orders. Learn more about the organization’s objectives and be proactive in finding ways to use your skills to help them get there. You’ll be seen as an ally and have some influence on training expectations.
  • Measure what you can. If you don’t have access to performance metrics, you need to find other ways to measure how what you’re doing contributes to success. You may contribute by lower production costs or asynchronous access to the content (which lowers travel costs and create more flexible learning opportunities). Build relevant practice activities so you can at least state that during the practice activities the learner demonstrated understanding and skills required for success.

Successful Training Includes Successful Learners

You can build a great course, but you can’t control the person taking the course. Their motivation and commitment to the course plays a big role in your success. While you can’t control their motivation and attitude there are things you can do to frame a perspective of the course that is more beneficial. Here are a few:

Obviously there are a lot more things you can do. The key point is that while you can’t control the person’s disposition towards the course, you can influence it in how it’s built and presented to them. Ultimately, the goal is that they can apply what they’re learning to the real world and demonstrate their understanding and changed behavior.

The elearning courses we build are only one part of what makes successful training. It also requires crafting objectives tied to real performance expectations and creating courses that are interesting, and engaging, as well as effective.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to create successful elearning?


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.


Rapid E-Learning Blog - how long should e-learning course be

I’m often asked how long an elearning course should be. My quick response is that it should last long enough to meet your objectives. On the surface that’s not a bad answer, but it’s usually one that doesn’t satisfy either. There are a few variables when it comes to determining how long an elearning course should be.

However here are some tips that may help answer the question.

Chunk Your Content

The trend in online learning is small, digestible chunks. Some people call it YouTube learning. I like to call them coursels (as in course morsels). The trend makes sense. We’re using more and more mobile devices where quick hit training works better and chunked content is easier to process. By chunking the content you also have a more agile production environment. The modules are easier to update and modify; and they’re easier to move around to create custom learning solutions.

Rapid E-Learning Blog - how long should e-learning course be using coursels

As far as course length, with chunking it may be determined by the learner and not content. Some people may only need one chunk to meet your learning objectives while others may need more.

Space the Learning Events

There’s a lot of evidence that suggests that spacing the learning events over time may improve learning outcomes. Some organizations create coursels that are introduced over time. The first coursels introduce the big picture concepts and then over time the learning is reinforced through various activities that require recall and application.

Rapid E-Learning Blog - how long should e-learning course be using spaced events

Years ago we built a training program where we had a few basic courses that highlighted the organization’s specific performance expectations. And then we scheduled a series of follow up challenges that required the learners to process various scenarios (using what they learned) and then discuss their solutions with their managers.

There’s also an effective way to space training over a shorter period of time in a single sitting. The main idea is to present the course content three times divided by ten-minute breaks. It may look like this: 1) the instructor presents content, 2) 10 minute break activity, 3) students recall content, 4) 10 minute break activity, and 5) students apply the content to demonstrate understanding of content.

I haven’t seen this approach applied to online learning, but I can see how this could work in a blended environment where live instruction blends with online content. In either case, chunking content and spacing out how it’s delivered changes our understanding of how long a course should be.

Be Learner Centric

One of the great advantages of elearning is that it’s asynchronous which means it’s not confined by geography or time. That gives the learner the flexibility to take the course at a time most convenient to the learner.

Another advantage is that the learning is self-paced, which directly relates to the question of how long the course should be. An experienced person may learn a lot faster than the new person. Thus, length of time is irrelevant.

Rapid E-Learning Blog - how long should e-learning course be providing learner centric

Take advantage of what elearning provides to create an environment that works best for the learner.

Here are a few tips:

  • Give them reasons to explore the course content.
  • Have them prove understanding as a measure of success.
  • Provide a lot of resources and guides to reinforce what they’re learning.
  • Don’t lock navigation. Let them navigate the course as they desire.
  • Check out more tips via this link.

Slide Count is Irrelevant

Often when people ask about course length they also ask how many slides or screens the course should have. Some of this probably comes from the presentation mindset where each slide represents X minutes and if you have a 30 minute presentation you’re constrained to X slides.

However when it comes to elearning, slide count is irrelevant. The learner looks at a screen, they don’t look at slides. You can put five pieces of information on a single slide or spread that same information over five slides. To the learner it makes no difference.

Essentially the screen shows content—mostly text and some sort of media like images and shapes. That content changes throughout the course. Does it matter if the content changes at the slide level with layers or by jumping to new slides? The end user only knows what’s displayed has changed. They don’t really care how you made it change.

It’s All About Meeting Your Learning Objectives

We all come to learning with different experiences and levels of understanding. Some people can pick up new content quickly while others may need more practice activities and feedback. E-learning is perfect for this approach because it’s flexible and can be tailored to learner needs and progress.

However, any course you build is only a solution to meet specific goals. We don’t build elearning courses just to build courses. We build them to meet specific needs. Thus looking at the best length for a course is a bit misguided and focused in the wrong area. Ultimately we need to determine which intervention on our part helps the learner meet the learning expectations.

If the tips above don’t work for you, then the next best answer is “15 minutes.”

How do you determine course length? Share your thoughts in the comments.


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.


Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - practice visual thinking skills for e-learning

In a previous post, we discussed visual thinking concepts and where they fit with elearning design. Now, let’s look at ways to practice sketching your ideas so that you’re able to move past understanding the concepts and actually applying them to your course.

How to Practice Your Visual Thinking Skills

The first step is to get a handle on the basics:

  • Practice using the basic shapes to create specific objects. The more you practice the better you’ll become at seeing the shapes and sketching something that looks like what it’s supposed to be.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - practice visual thinking skills for e-learning by creating shapes

Practice Activities for Visual Thinking Skills

Some people have innate skills and sketching isn’t too hard to start. But many don’t have those skills and feel like they can’t do it. But they can. A key point is to feel comfortable sketching.

Remember, this isn’t about becoming a graphics design professional. You want to get a feel for the flow of drawing with your pen, especially if you’re using a computer or tablet. Then develop some fluency and clarity. And that will take a little practice.

Here are some practice activities.

Activity 1: Create basic shapes over and over again.

Work on getting lines straight and completing the desired shape in less strokes. Can you create the shape in one movement and still have it look like it’s supposed to? For example, I notice that if I create a triangle really fast, then the sides start to bow in. However, if I am more deliberate my lines remain straight. The goal is to get straighter lines at a faster speed. A circle should like a circle and not a blob.

Activity 2: Creating common objects.

Look around your office and identify 10 random objects. Break them down by the basic shapes and then create them a few times. For example, here’s a quick sketch of my desk. It’s mostly rectangles and a few circles.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - practice visual thinking skills for e-learning example

Another thing is to recognize what makes the shape unique and identifiable. For example, an elephant stands out because of the trunk and large ears. By focusing on the essential shapes you can convey the idea of an elephant without having to create the entire thing.

Activity 3: Convey concepts with your objects.

Start to practice sketching whole ideas. Identify three TED videos and capture the core concepts as sketches. It may be easier to just start with three main ideas from each video. Or if that is too much, just focus on a single point. The good thing about video is that you can pause it and rewind. Here are three to help you get started:

Activity 4: Improve your penmanship.

Sunni Brown has some good advice in her book Doodle Revolution where she says to trace over letters. Find a font type you like and type out the ABCs and save as an image. Then load the image into your drawing app and practice tracing over the letters. Eventually you’ll develop the muscle memory to create nice legible handwriting for your sketches.

When I was a Finance Specialist in the Army we were taught to use block letters so that our writing was more legible. To this day, I still do a lot of printing with block letters and it helps when I write, especially smaller text.

Examples of Visual Thinking Skills in E-Learning

Here are a three examples of people who do a great job sketching their ideas and are part of our industry. They also offer tips via twitter and their blogs.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - practice visual thinking skills for e-learning sketch

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - practice visual thinking skills for e-learning ideas

  • John Curran of Designed for Learning. I love John’s sketches. Again, they’re not overly complicated to create,
    but they convey good information and the hand drawn style creates enough contrast to engage people visually.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - practice visual thinking skills for e-learning another example

The key in all of this isn’t to become a pro graphic designer. Instead it’s learning to think visually. Elearning is a mostly visual medium and anything we can do to better communicate our ideas will only serve to make the courses we create better.


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.


Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - share elearning courses

To share elearning courses via a learning management system or Articulate Online is common. However, sometimes getting access to an LMS isn’t easy, especially if you want to share elearning courses that are quick prototypes or demos to solicit opinions. You definitely don’t want to fill out requisitions and wait for your LMS administrator to send you a link.

There are also many of you who participate in the weekly elearning challenges and need an easy way to upload your demos. Below are a number of solutions that work if you need to share elearning courses. Here are the five options we’ll review:

  • Tempshare
  • Amazon S3
  • Custom Domain
  • Dropbox [UPDATE 9/5/2016: Dropbox is disabling this feature effective 10/3/2016]
  • Google Drive [UPDATE 9/1/2015: Google is deprecating this feature and it will no longer work after Aug 2016.]

Here’s a quick tip before we get started: most of the solutions give you long links with a lot of gibberish. They look confusing and may break when sharing via email. In that case, it makes sense to use a URL shortener to get a shorter link. Google offers a link shortener, is a popular one (and you can customize the link), and if you use Cloudberry (referenced below) there’s a link shortening option when you grab the web URL.

Share E-Learning Courses via Articulate Tempshare

This free solution only works if you use Articulate Storyline or Studio ‘13. It’s an easy way to upload your course and quickly get a link to share. Tempshare provides a temporary link and it only lasts about 10 days so it’s not a permanent solution.

  • Publish your Articulate course.
  • Create a .zip file of the published course.
  • Drag the .zip file to the Tempshare site. The course is uploaded and you’ll get a temporary URL good for a few days.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - share elearning courses using Articulate Tempshare

  • Share the link. Again the link isn’t permanent and it can’t be overwritten. If you make changes, you’ll need to repeat the process.

I like Tempshare for its simplicity especially because I don’t have to open up other apps and load the course on a different site or LMS and then mess around to get the link. It’s just a simple drag and drop and then paste the link.

Share E-Learning Courses with Amazon S3

Amazon S3 is a better solution than Dropbox and Google Drive because the files will play as intended. It’s the method I prefer and the one I use to host the content I share for this blog and in the elearning community.

Amazon S3 is a fee-based service but provides a free tier that consists of 5 GB of storage. That is probably more than enough for the courses you share. Even if you did pay, the storage is so inexpensive that I’d be surprised if you exceeded one dollar
per year.

What you need to do:

  • Check out this post for more detail: How to Share Course with Amazon S3.
  • Download and install Cloudberry Explorer (freeware). Drag and drop your files from the desktop folder to Cloudberry and they’ll get uploaded to your online folder. There are other applications that work, so if you don’t want Cloudberry do a search and find one you do prefer.
  • Create an Amazon S3 account. You need an account. Since it’s a fee-based service, you’ll need to provide real information so they can authenticate the account. You’ll also need to provide a credit card number. Again, you probably won’t exceed the free tier and if you do the charges are going to be miniscule.
  • Locate your access key. Amazon S3 provides an access key. You’ll find that under security credentials. You’ll need those to add your account to Cloudberry.

  • Connect your Amazon S3 to Cloudberry. Once connected you’ll be able to create folders and move your course files into them. It’s as simple as dragging them over.
  • Get your web URL. Once the files are uploaded to Amazon S3, right click on the .html file and get the web URL to share.
  • Shorten the link. You can shorten the link inside of Cloudberry or use your own preferred method.

Amazon S3 also lets you control viewing permissions and set expiration dates. It does take a few steps to get the account set up, but in the long term it’s a better solution than Google Drive and Dropbox, especially if they make changes to how files are shared.

Share E-Learning Courses on Your Own Domain

If you’re doing professional work or building a portfolio, then this is probably the best option because it’s a solution directly tied to your brand.

  • Get a domain name. The first step is to get your own domain. There are plenty of web services to do that and the cost is relatively low for a domain and hosting. A simple hosting plan may only cost $5-$10/month.
  • Create a site. You’ll need to create a site. WordPress is probably the easiest solution. Most of the service providers have WordPress and other tools already loaded so it won’t take much to get up and running. Be careful of site builder solutions since they typically don’t offer an easy way to upload and store your course files.
  • Load the courses on your site. I use FileZilla (freeware) which lets me easily upload and manage my content. You can still use Amazon S3 (like I do for the blog here) and add the URL to your website text.
  • Share your link. One of the benefits of using your own domain is that the link is always tied to your site and a great way to get people to look at what you do.

Share E-Learning Courses with Dropbox

[UPDATE 9/5/16 Dropbox is removing this feature effective 10/3/16.]

Dropbox is a great product and makes sharing files super easy. There are two ways to share your published courses for viewing in Dropbox.

Share Your Folder

This first method assumes the person you’re sharing with has a Dropbox account.

  • Put your course files in a folder and share the folder.
  • The end user gets the folder downloaded to their Dropbox account and can access the published folder from their computer. They just need to double click on the .html file to launch the course.

This is fine if the person has a Dropbox account. If they don’t have one, they can open an account. But that may not be an ideal solution or option for some.

Share a Public Link

This solution is similar to the Google Drive version because all you need to do is share a URL link. However it requires a “public” folder and only works for those who have a Dropbox account prior to October 4, 2012 or those who have a Pro account.

  • Place your published course folder in the Dropbox public folder.
  • Right click on the .html file and select copy the public link. This will give you a URL you can share.

  • Shorten the link as mentioned above for a cleaner link.

WARNING: For the most part Google Drive and Dropbox do a decent job of sharing published course files. However, they’re not designed to deliver elearning courses and often the load time is slow or you may have some issues with the content playing the way it should. That’s something to keep in mind because if this is for client work, you want to give the best experience possible and you may not get that with Google drive and Dropbox.

Share E-Learning Courses with Google Drive

[UPDATE: Read this before using Google Drive. Google is removing this feature.]

If you have Google Drive then you can upload and share elearning courses in no time at all. Mike does a great job explaining how to share your courses in Google Drive. The basic steps are:

  • Change the launch file in your published course to index.html. For example, in Storyline you get a story.html. I duplicate it and change the duplicate to index.html.
  • Create a folder in Google Drive and make it public.
  • Add your published course folder to the public Google Drive folder you created. The folder gives you a long list of characters. Copy those.
  • Add the copied characters to this URL
  • Share the link for others to see.

There you have it—five four easy ways to share your elearning courses. Again, I think for the money and performance, the Amazon S3 option is probably best. What do you do to share your elearning courses (assuming you don’t upload to an LMS)?


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.