Thursday, March 8, 2012

5 Strategies for Rapid eLearning Development - Strategy #3 Build an Asset/Media Library

My students often laugh at me when I say, "You need to go to the library." They grew up with a completely different strategy for research. Google first, Google  second, if you don't see you topic on the first page, change topics. That's where search engines fail us a bit, and where the good old library can sometimes be a better resource.

Think about it. In order to search for materials you need to know the right key terms, if you miss a relevant key term, then you may miss search results that would be helpful. Not only that, but our "visual field of reference" is skewed because we only see results in a linear order down the page.

Now think about a library, you search on a subject, find a book you think you need. However, when you get to the shelves, all of the books on that subject are on the shelves whether they contained your search term. This means you have a greater amount a resources to use or glean from.

Too often, assets that we create for courses live on individual machines or on a server. They are organized by the developer or course. So if you don't remember who created it, or the name of the course,  it may be difficult to find assets you remember seeing. Not to mention, assets may exist of which you aren't aware.  If they can't find a graphic or model  quickly, most developers simply accept it and create a new asset; once again, slowing down the development process.

Learning from the Builders of my community, they don't build new doors or molding from scratch for each house. They go to a warehouse (library) of available materials designed for the housing development, and select the items they need vs. building new materials. Other related posts: Strategy #1 | Build a Program Not CoursesStrategy #2 | Invest in a Primary Toolkit for Your Team.

Creating a Centralized Media/Asset Library

Develop an Asset/Media Plan - Based on your master development instructional design plan mentioned above in Strategy #1,  make decisions as to what assets you need including graphics, models, photos, videos, animations,  audio and powerpoints.  Many times there are media/assets  that can be used in multiple courses.

Find a Location to Host Media/Asset Library -  This is simply a server or network location that all members of your team have access. As a team, work out consistent organizational structure for assets. It's important that you have a consistent directory structure, and file naming conventions. It's also extremely valuable if this environment as Search capabilities.

An even better solution, your development platform has a Media manager or library built in, so you can add  graphics, models, photos, videos, animations, audio, and powerpoints on the fly. This is one of my favorite features of Rapid Intake's development platform. (Includes thousands of people stock imagery)

Keep in mind the following when creating your Media/Asset Library:
  • Keep everything - You'll be surprised what gets reused. A model or flowchart that was primary in one course, may become a background for a quiz screen. You never know.
  • Make it searchable  - You need an asset search engine meaning that file names and meta tags are very important.
  • Organization - when search fails, need the ability to go "into the stacks" or directories to find related items.
  • Access to All - Everyone on the team needs access to this location. May seem like a "no-brainer", however, this is a common issue in many organizations.
  • Needs to be managed and maintained - appoint people on your team to manage the library.
  • Create assets with a consistent tool set - As I mentioned in a previous article, if assets are created with a consistent tool set, then it's easier and faster to reuse or update the graphics, models, photos, videos, animations, audio, and powerpoints.

Develop Your Courses - Using the same development tools from strategy #2, develop your courses and create or purchase assets, and be sure to save your assets to the Asset/Media Library in the right location. If you using Rapid Intake, then be sure to tag your assets as you upload them into the development environment.

Now you have a Media/Asset Library - Developing new courses looks like this:
  1. Complete storyboard based on Master Development Plan.
  1. Find graphics, models, photos, videos, animations, audio, and powerpoints that will work for the new course. Even if an image, for example, needs to be tweaked, it's much faster to update the image than to create a new one.
  1. Work up a plan to create other necessary assets.

    Benefits of Media/Asset Library - Reusing/Editing Assets:
    • Saves development time - if you don't have to build everything from scratch, rapid development becomes a reality.
    • Creates consistent team asset/media styles - because developers are looking at each other's work, they will naturally create a team style that will give you courses a consistent look and feel.
    • Creates shared Instructional Design Tendencies - The assets we create are a large part of e/m Learning instructional design. Developers will tend to borrow the "best" from each other's instructional design tendencies improving all courses.

    Although it takes time to build a strong media/asset library, you'll be surprised what gets collected after just a few courses. 

    Happy development,

    jB - The Developer on Duty

    Developer On Duty Events:
    Learning Solutions Conference & Expo
    Orlando, FL
    March 21-23
    Drop by the Rapid Intake Booth - I'll be the Developer On Duty if you have e/mLearning development or strategy questions.

    In this series from jB:
    • Strategy #1 | Build a Program Not Courses
    • Strategy #2 | Invest in a Primary Toolkit for Your Team
    • Strategy #3 | Build Centralized Asset Library (coming soon)
    • Strategy #4 | Create Course & Content Styles (coming soon)
    • Strategy #5 | Practice your craft (coming soon)

    Monday, February 27, 2012

    5 Strategies for Rapid eLearning Development - Strategy #2 Invest in a Primary Toolkit

    Last year, I learned to bake bread. Now I can throw together bread and dinner rolls that make the main course look like shoe leather. This year, I turn my attention to basic wood working. So, I sat down and made a list of the things I thought I needed. Wood, saw, nails, glue, measuring tape etc. Then I went to the "hardware wonderland" for several hours, and I was inundated with "tool messaging".  This one, is a saw, sander, and router. This set of 8 different tools, uses the same battery. This gadget...that tool. 

    Finally, I came out with the following thoughts.
    -No tool can do everything. 
    -Stick to the basics
    -Learn the craft.
    -Innovation will come with knowledge and experience.
    Learning from the Builders 
    The other day, I was discussing my master planned community, and how they build nice homes in days, not months. The first thing I noticed is that they have a master plan, and they know what each house entails and they pre-build and reuse components. 5 Strategies for Rapid eLearning Development - Strategy #1 Don't Build Courses - Design Programs

    Same Tools & Hardware

    As I continued my observations, I also noticed that builders use the same tools and hardware. No matter what house they were working on they are able to utilize the same tools set, not to mention they have become skilled with the tools they have in hand. Yes, innovations occur, however, the builders had a plan that was designed for the tools they had, and they weren't changing tools and techniques with each house.

    The "Things" I've Seen and Done that Hindered Rapid Development
    • Everyone does their own "Thing" - Each developer selects tools and processes on their own.  This autonomy is great for the developer's pride, however, it doesn't help the team or program in the long run. If a course needs to be updated and maintained, that developer must complete the work because other developers may not have the same tools.  Let's take a graphic, for instance, if created in Photoshop, then only those that use Photoshop can edit or update the graphic.
    • The New "Thing" - As I would work on a script or storyboard, I would want the course to be better than the rest, or at least set apart. Not necessarily a bad thing, however, I recall searching for new tools, components and software to give me a new effect, or save time. The result, lost time. Innovation and a fresh learner experience is a good thing, however, build the search time into your master plan, and have the whole team do the digging for new tools and processes.
    • The Magic Bullet "Thing" - The number one question I hear in 15 years of creating and teaching multimedia, "What tool should I buy?".   My answer to the question, "You will need more than one tool. No tool does it all." Does a carpenter have one hammer? One saw? No. As they have perfected their craft they have learned to use a variety of tools to get the results they want.  Therefore, stop looking for the perfect tool and use what you have to gain your audience's trust. Relevant and beneficial content is the key.  I have seen many good courses that are all in Word, PDF or PowerPoint.  Just get started. You will discover what tools work best, as you improve your skills.
    • It's Not a Software Technology "Thing" - Often times we may select the right software for ourselves or team, however, we are missing important aspects of content development and delivery. People Processes.  It's when we get out of the tools that we forget organize and orchestrate people to perform efficiently. We make many assumptions about Needs Discovery, Storyboarding, Review, Project Management, and Evaluation that lead to lost time. As you are equipping your team with software tools don't forget to build or borrow people processes to improve  the team efficiency and final product.
    "Things" to Think About - Online Learning Development Toolkit
    If you're new to online course development, concentrate on the following:
    • eLearning Development Platform - what's going to build your final course?
    • Graphics - Graphic Libraries or Custom Graphic Applications
    • Audio - Recording Narration and Editing
    Investing in a Primary Toolkit that everyone will use:
    1. Improves performance and efficiency. Once they learn the primary toolkit, developers won't be searching for new technologies as often, and they will know how to accomplish tasks with the tools they have in hand.
    2. Increases team collaboration and best practices. They are using the same tools and dealing with the same issues, and therefore can assist each other.
    3. Improves development processes and project management. Managers and developers will get a better sense of how long development will take because everyone is using similar tools and processes.

    Happy development,

    In this series from jB:
    • Strategy #1 | Build a Program Not Courses
    • Strategy #2 | Invest in a Primary Toolkit for Your Team
    • Strategy #3 | Build Centralized Asset Library (coming soon)
    • Strategy #4 | Create Course & Content Styles (coming soon)
    • Strategy #5 | Practice your craft (coming soon)

    Tuesday, February 21, 2012

    5 Strategies for Rapid eLearning Development - Strategy #1 Don't Build Courses - Design Programs

    I live in what is called a "master planned community" meaning a team designed our community architecture, layout, streets, parks and amenities...down to the last detail. We all have very similar houses, mailboxes, fencing, and color scheme. 
    As eLearning professionals we want the same thing. A high quality product, built on time that meets the need of our learners and budget.

    Thursday, January 19, 2012

    Soft Skills in eLearning: Using Multiple Perspectives

    When you think of sales training, leadership training, customer support training, and other kinds of critical thinking skills that have no quantitative skill measurement, you may think it is impossible to effectively train through the use of e-learning. The reason we are hesitant to believe soft skills can be trained via e-learning is because as a general rule, most people believe that 'people skills' cannot be taught effectively by an impersonal computer.

    Peter Chan and Carl Harris, two university professors here in Utah, have been experimenting with the use of video ethnography for this purpose for more than fifteen years. Peter has spoken a couple of times at eLearning DevCon, which is where I first heard him discuss their unique approach to soft skills training.

    Most instructional designers assume that to teach soft skills effectively using e-learning you create scenarios. If the scenario is interactive, even better. So course developers spend dozens of hours analyzing, writing, and sometimes filming models for a 'live' demonstration. This is an attempt to re-create the live classroom scenario-based approach to teaching soft skills.

    Dr Chan and Dr Harris take a completely different approach. Instead of filming scenarios, they film the successful phenomenon in its native habitat (hence the use of 'ethnographer'). In other words, if they are trying to teach new teachers effective teaching or classroom management skills, they find a teacher that is already demonstrating these skills naturally, and film that. This leads to credible footage, but that isn't enough. Anyone can go and film a successful experience, but watching a successful skill demonstration in a real environment is only a small part of the puzzle.

    Last year I attended a local TedX conference in Salt Lake City where Dr. Chan presented the video ethnography concept. I recommend viewing his presentation to get a high level view of why his techniques have won him awards and recognition in several continents.

    Recently, Dr. Chan has built an extension to Rapid Intake's collaborative course authoring software, eLearning Studio (formerly called Unison), that allows anyone to quickly benefit from of his years of expertise and research in this area. If you'd like to learn more about using Video Ethnography to solve the soft skills training puzzle at your organization, please contact Garin Hess and he can arrange a meeting with Dr. Chan.

    What do you think? Can soft skills be effectively taught using technology?

    Thursday, January 12, 2012

    Rapid Intake Recognized in Top Authoring Tools Companies by

    2012 TO Authoring Tools released their list of the Top Ten Authoring Tools Companies and we're excited to announce that Rapid Intake made the list!

    According to, reasons mentioned include: 

    • Leadership and innovation
    • Features and capabilities of the Authoring Tools
    • Company size and growth potential
    • Company focus on the authoring platforms
    • Strength and number of clients/users 
    • Geographic reach
    Some of the accomplishments that we believe led to receiving the recognition are:
    • Innovative development in the area of mobile learning, including mLearning Studio
    • Leadership in the collaborative course authoring space
    • Our merger with Callidus Software (NASDAQ CALD) that gives us greater resources and backing for growth, expansion, and global reach
    • Our strong list of customers
    • Our award winning customer support

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    Convert PowerPoint to Mobile Learning - How To

    In this entry, I'm going to show you how to do a fundamental PowerPoint conversion for mobile learning that includes audio narration. For the authoring tool, we'll use Rapid Intake's mLearning Studio. This tutorial assumes that you have a PowerPoint that includes audio narration.

    There are three main steps. We'll review those, then get into the details of each main step.
    1. Export your PowerPoint audio into individual WAV files and your slides into individual JPEG image files.
    2. Upload those files into mLearning Studio.
    3. Using the Image and Audio HTML5 template designed for mobile deployment, create a page for each slide, select the slide image and corresponding audio for each slide.
    That's it in a nutshell. Now, we're going to break it down into detailed steps as well as provide some tips for making the process faster.

    >>View a Sample Converted PowerPoint for Mobile Learning (click this link from your mobile browser)

    Export Your PowerPoint Into Separate Audio (WAV) and Image (JPEG) Files
    We're going to use the 'Image and Audio' rapid development template in mLearning Studio, so we need each slide as an image and then we need the audio for that slide to go along with it.

    NOTE: For the purposes of this tutorial, I'm using PowerPoint 2007.
    1. To export the narration audio, click the PowerPoint menu, then click Save As.
    2. From the drop down list choose Web Page, select the location you want to save it, then click Save. This will save your presentation as a web page with a collection of assets in a separate folder.
    3. Locate the saved files and you'll see a folder with the name of your PowerPoint and the suffix "_files". Inside you'll find your audio files. That's all we need from that conversion, so you may want to move those files to another location to make them easier to work with.
    4. To export the slides as images, click the PowerPoint menu, then click Save As.
    5. From the drop down list choose JPEG. Select a location and click Save.
    6. Locate the saved files and you'll see images titled Slide1, Slide2, ... etc.
    TIP: You may want to name your image and audio files with a prefix so that they are easy to work with in the Media Manager. If you're using Windows, and you've put them all in the same folder, you can rename them all at the same time by selecting them all, then right clicking the first one and choosing Rename.

    Now we're ready to pull these together in mLearning Studio so we can publish to HTML5 in mobile format.

    Upload Your Files Into mLearning Studio

    NOTE: If you want to try this out, but you don't have a Rapid Intake account, you can start a free trial of mLearning Studio.
    1. Once you've logged in, click the Media Manager button (if you have a brand new account, you may need to first create a project before you'll see the Media Manager budget).

      NOTE: The Media Manager is a centralized collaborative media library that anyone on your account can get access to.
    2. Inside the Media Manager, click Audio in the category list.
    3. Click Upload New Audio, then click Browse for Media. Find the audio files, select them all, and click Open, then click Upload Files. mLearning Studio uploads them into the media manager, then automatically converts them to MP3 format (needed for streaming on mobile devices).
    4. Repeat this process in the Images category with all of the slide images that you exported from PowerPoint.
    TIP: If you have a lot of other media in the Media Manager, use the Search field to find the files that you uploaded by searching for the prefix that you gave all of your files earlier (assuming you followed my earlier tip! :)

    Create a Project and Build Your Mobile Learning Pages
    1. To add your images and audio to a course, you need to create a new project in mLearning Studio. I'm not going to take you through the whole process. On the Authoring Tab, click Add a Project, then follow the steps to create a mobile-only project starting from an empty course (don't use a course template).
    2. Once you've created your project, click Build/Modify to open the authoring tool.
    3. With the authoring tool open, click Add Page and choose 'Image and Audio' from the Mobile Compatible category. Click Add Selected Page.
    4. mLearning Studio shows you the form associated with the template. Now we just need to fill out the form. Enter a title (this will show up in the Table of Contents of your course) for the first slide in the Title field.
    5. For the image field, click the Browse button (folder icon) to open the Media Manager. Find the image of your first slide by searching on the prefix that you gave the filenames earlier. Select the image. In the Preview pane, you'll see a dropdown list beneath the image. Click it and choose to use the Original image (this makes it larger to view more nicely on tablets, like the iPad).

      TIP: On the Image tab, select "Center" for the Image Position and between 80-100% for the Image Width (this makes the image take up a certain amount of the presentation area on the mobile device).
    6. For the Audio field, click the Browse button to open the Media Manager. Search for the audio corresponding with your slide, and select it.
    7. Repeat these steps for each slide.

    >>View a Sample Converted PowerPoint for Mobile Learning (click this link from your mobile browser)

    Friday, November 18, 2011

    Mobile Learning: Online or Offline Access?

    Some mobile learning course developers are perfectly happy with the requirement that the mobile user needs online access to take the course. But what if your learners are in the field, such as one conservancy group I spoke to that has over 1500 biologists out in the bush? Or what if your learners work in an area where online access is spotty and unreliable? In these kinds of cases, offline access can be a godsend, allowing the learner to download the course into a native app when they do have Internet access, then they can take the course offline, then sync back up to the learning management system when they are back online.

    Since we launched our rapid mobile learning authoring tool, mLearning Studio™, we have been working on an offline delivery platform called mLearning Sync™, soon to go to beta (stay tuned).

    How about you? Do you need offline access for your mobile learning deliver? Share your situation and why it makes offline delivery necessary.