Tags: elearning

09/15/13

Permalink 03:06:02 pm, Categories: News, Rants , Tags: 5, 5c, 5s, anti-mac, audio, elearning, ex-fan boy, html5, ipad, iphone, mac

With the new Apple releases of the iPhone 5S and 5C, I'm starting to get concerned with the idea of Apple and Apple technology leading us into the future of technology. See, I'm still kind of ticked off that Apple pushed us into HTML5 way too soon and way too early.

Now, the company that made Flash a dirty word can't seem to get it into gear. This latest round of "updates" fell short - where is the innovation? The new technology? The release dates for the new round of MacPro and MacBook Pros? The "one more thing" we used to wait for?

Gone. Dead.

Let me rewind a second - A few years back Steve Jobs wrote a mean and spiteful essay on why Flash was the devil and why we should fall in love with HTML5. "It's the open source future" and should be embraced NOW. Well, fast forward to NOW, I'm still not convinced.

Oh, don't get me wrong - HTML5 and combined technologies is the next iteration of web design, that's for sure. It's fun and easy to build in and with Adobe's series of Edge releases specifically for creating in HTML 5, it is an awesome environment and fun to boot! But, it is not ready for interactive elearning, especially in the way we are dealing it out now.

"Shut up Thomas! You are an old fart and stuck in the old ways of doing things" you may be thinking to yourself. And, you may be right. However, if we are going to switch technologies to build on a mobile platform, we need a few basic things to work right:

1) Audio playing automatically without user action (we can fake it, but its not perfect)
2) Most importantly - audio synching to the animation

Once HTML5 figures out how to do these things, then I will consider HTML5 a valid replacement of my other elearning tools and technologies. If you want me to build you a new web page, HTML5 it is. If you want me to build you an interactive elearning project, I'm sticking with Flash. If you want me to build an elearning project to run on an iPad, I'm not going to use audio, thereby discounting one of the three primary learning styles and reverting back to an age of audio-less elearning.

Many friends and peers have commented that I am on an anti-Apple rant recently and upon reflection, it's true. I'm mad that I don't have a MacPro on my desk. I'm mad that Apple pushed HTML5 down our throats years before it was ready, all because of a CEO schoolyard spat. I'm mad that we have seen no innovation in either the iPhone or iPad lines in years. I'm disappointed in a company that I raved about and drooled about and smugged about. That company is gone.

I'm turning into a grumpy old ex-mac fan boy and I don't like it.

09/08/13

2013 is coming to a close and I started to think about my elearning work and how it has changed since my last post in January 2011. Yes, you read that correctly...January 2011. Why did I wait over two years to get back up here and post about elearning? Did I have nothing more to say on the subject? Had my resources dried up? My experience gone sour?

Nope. Just as my business has expanded, other things became priority. But, luckily, I have decided to put more energy into the business and therefore more energy into the blog. Let's see...over the past two years I have:

  • Fell in love with Storyline and Captivate
  • Saw an emergence of elearining interaction software - stand alone software for creating cool things for your elearning
  • Watch Apple bully a technology into mainstream YEARS before it is ready
  • Watched Adobe change business models, which has been great for some and pure evil for others
  • Observed that the trend in LMS usability and customer service is still foul
  • Published another book as a contributing author. Go look for Michael Allen's eLearning Annual 2012 and look on the cover, right over Dr. Allen's head. What do you see? Yeah, this guy!
  • Run two Warrior Dashes
  • Started taking photography more seriously and enrolled in several classes. Will be graduating with a Certificate of Professional Photography" in the next 60 days. It's been a long, interesting journey.

So, if any of these things sound interesting, well, I'll be talking about them over the next few years. I hope that some of you continue to check in for the rants, the code, the real world solutions, the blatant self promotion (ASTD TechKnowledge 2014 in Vegas!!! Come see me) and other such silliness as I relaunch this blog. Who knows...a facelift may be in order as well!

Thank you again for dropping by.

Thomas

01/16/11

As an eLearning designer, I pay close attention to the way my content is displayed and contained for my learners. There is quite a bit of research and theory on great eLearning design, but now that I am leading a team where content is delivered via LMS and I've discovered something: LMSs have a long way to go before I would describe them as "user friendly".

My biggest concern used to be whether nor not my eLearning project was SCORM compliant and worked in an LMS. Now, I'm faced with the issue of content working in the LMS, AND the user being able to access the content in the LMS.

I won't talk about any specific vendor - I've been reviewing four major providers in an effort to choose a new system for global implementation - but they all kind of stink. Menus are complicated, accessing and searching the course catalog is hit or miss, and launching courses still rely on pop-ups, hidden windows and confusing on-screen messages.

I know that there is a difference between form and function, but the major vendors still seem to be letting developers run their user interface. This needs to change. These are feature rich applications that take weeks to learn. Each feels as if they are a series of "bolt on" applications, the result of one vendor purchasing another and integrating technology. Why?

Just like what happened in the early 2000s with eLearning content vendors gobbling each other up, LMS vendors seem to be in the same feeding frenzy. I'm not sure if it's good or bad, but it is happening on a grand scale. It may be Darwinian and therefore good for the industry, but I'm not sure if it is good for the average Joe user.

LMS admins have to spend so much time and energy getting their system functional, and still have to fight through an interface they have been forced to learn. Simple tasks like adding classes and users are multi-step process where a simple missed check-box can result in catastrophic error. Why is it so hard?

A start up LMS vendor who focuses on delivering JUST the core competencies necessary to run a training organization, and brings on a group of usability experts to help design their user interface and screens can change the face of the LMS industry. We need a young organization who wants to break some rules and really focus on the learner. It's really time to wake up and start paying attention to the route our learners take to get into our learning programs. I don't care how awesome our eLearning programs are, if the user can't navigate the LMS, we've set them up for failure.

As the big vendors eat each other up, a game changing pure LMS can really change the lives of learners, administrators and organizations world wide. Is 2011 the year when we see something new?

05/11/10

ASTDWe are about a month away from my Essentials of Adobe Flash for E-Learning Designers online workshop series for ASTD. We are already getting good enrollment, but I wanted to give my readers a "head's up". The biggest page views on this blog are Flash related, and most of the questions I get from my readers are Flash related, so I figured I'd drop a note.

Here are some key points that you may want to know before enrolling:

  • I will be using Flash CS5
  • I will have about 10 minutes of presentation, following by 80 minutes of application sharing - this isn't going to be PPT driven, it will be driven by demonstration of Flash CS5
  • If you've used Flash in the past, this will be an intro to the software. If you have built more than a few projects in Flash, it may not be for you. However, Day 3 is going to rock, so maybe you should sign up for that...
  • Day 1 is all about the interface, drawing, symbols and tweening
  • Day 2 is all about ActionScript 3 - sorry, no AS2 will show up
  • Day 3 walks through an entire project, start to finish, the way I would build for a customer. It's really pulling back the curtain on the mad scientist and I'll share my methodologies for building eLearning with Flash
  • I'll be giving out a TON of code each week. I'll be writing it in Flash CS5, but will offer CS4 and CS3 versions as well.

If you are already an ASTD member, then the price is 1/2 off. It's going to be a blast! I hope you can make it:

ASTD Essentials of Adobe Flash for Elearning Designers
June 9, 16, 23
1:30 - 3:00 EST
Online Workshop format using Cisco WebEx

05/06/10

Over the past week, I have been surprised by the number of eMails and calls I have received from people in my network regarding HTML 5, Flash, Adobe and Apple. Folks in my eLearning circle are abuzz and asking questions about the future of Flash and the Web and what "these changes" are going to do to the field of eLearning development.

I am so over it.

I really, truly believe that right now, at this moment, it’s a non-issue. Initially, I was concerned because of Apple's childish decision (there, I've said it) not to include the Flash player on their iPad and iPhone. Then I started thinking about how my business was going to be impacted by the lack of Flash on these devices, and I had a huge "So what?" moment. So what if I can't run my stuff on iPads and iPhones? Are my business clients going to be negatively impacted because they cannot run "Effective eMails and You" on their iPad?

Odds are, I think that we won't see any kind of major investment into iPads at the corporate level. Why? Do you see IT teams making decisions to replace Blackberries with iPhones? Do you see IT teams issuing NetBooks to their employees instead of laptops and desktops? Is the iPad that much more powerful than a NetBook? Is the App store a blessing or a curse to an IT team concerned about privacy issues? If I issue my employee an iPad, do I dictate which apps are allowed to run? Who gets the app the employee purchased after termination? And on and on and on…in this climate, business have more important things to think about than jumping ship to a new technology infrastructure.

What about the business of HTML 5 killing Flash? Why are they mutually exclusive of each other? HTML 5 has a long, long way to go before the standards are finalized; generous estimates state that the standards will be in place in 5 years; conservative estimates consider 10 years a more realistic guess. Either way, this means that the web designer/programmer and eLearning designer/programmer is facing 5-10 years of pain because of the ultimate weak link: the browser.

HTML 5 is a programming language, but it is up to the browser to interpret that language and display the content. If the browser can't render the code, strange things start to happen in the display. We are facing that now with some versions of CSS. Different browsers on different platforms interpret the CSS differently and browsers display the content as they see fit. Look at sites on your Mac using Safari or Firefox and then on your PC using Internet Explorer - slight differences may appear if your programmer used CSS to any major degree.

Until HTML 5 gets standardized, each browser will interpret it differently. It's World Browser War III.

I have to tell you from experience (building on the web since 1996), clients don't get it and they don't care. If it works fine on your machine but breaks on the client machine, it’s broken. Clients don't want or appreciate long winded explanations of how browsers work; they paid you to design and program something and it doesn't work on their computer. You stink. It's a painful process of trial and error, multiple browser testing and all that stuff we used to HAVE to do during the previous World Brower Wars.

Adobe CTO says that they are going to make the best tools for HTML 5 and people scream "OMG!!! Adobe is saying that they are going to drop Flash!!!" No, it means that Adobe is going to keep current with browser coding tech and make their tools better by including it, just like they did with previous versions of HTML and with CSS. It's nothing to hoot about - it's a great step in the right direction. Adobe has always done this with Dreamweaver to ensure that coders have the most current tools at their fingertips. It’s great, and in no way says anything negative about Flash.

And while I am on that note, why is Flash suddenly Satan?

As far as I'm concerned, Flash is awesome. For me and my customers, it is the best way to deliver interactive content and eLearning for distribution over the web. Period.

Think about this: The odds are HUGE that the HTML 5 standard will still support browser plug-ins which means Flash will run just fine in HTML 5 standard browsers. Your current Flash movies and content will run in the HTML 5 standard browser, as long as that browser allows for the Flash plug-in. Based on the current specs (point 2.1.5), the use of plug-ins hasn’t gone away. Repeat after me – HTML 5 browsers will run your Flash projects.

Right now, the big whoopdy is Flash video vs. HTML 5's video capabilities. Sure, the browser will now be able to play video files, but what about the interactive capabilities of Flash? Will HTML 5 allow me to create the unique, interactive learning experiences that I build in Flash? Will HTML 5 allow me to store variables and convert them to numbers, compute on those numbers and then deliver customized responses based on those numbers? Will HTML 5 allow me to program “If...Then” paths based on user feedback and decision making? It doesn’t look like it.

Flash is a great tool and the files it creates display the same in every browser on every platform. The inconsistencies in the way the browser displays content has no impact on your .swf. It runs the same, it looks the same, it feels the same, and it sounds the same on each and every platform. It is a stable tech that my clients understand and provides me with creative flexibility. I don’t every have to say “no” to a client when building in Flash.

It needs to be stressed again that just because HTML 5 is coming out doesn't mean that Flash goes away. By the time HTML 5 standards are finalized, Adobe will have released Flash CS6, CS7, CS8 and maybe even CS9. Developers and the general public are freaking because Apple is ignoring the huge install base, the huge number of Flash developers and issues some sweeping statements against Flash. Since when is Apple the “be all, end all” of computing technology? If Apple says it, it must be the right?

In 2006, the W3C indicated an interest to participate in the development of HTML5 and in 2007 formed a working group chartered to work with the WHATWG on the development of the HTML5 specification. Odds are, you didn't know about it until Apple kicked Flash to the curb a month ago. I truly believe HTML 5 a long way off, will be filled with developer frustration as the browsers work on figuring out how to display the code, and it will not have the same multimedia and computational power I currently enjoy using Flash.

Clients don't always care about the technology, they just want it to look a certain way and to work as they want it to work. Until HTML 5 standards are finalized and all the browsers have figured out how to display the code, and until I can create the same multimedia/interactive experience for my learners, I'm going to continue developing my eLearning in Flash.

04/05/10

Steve Jobs and iPadMr. Jobs,

I wanted to take the time to write you this note today because I think that you may be unintentionally killing off one of my critical software development platforms: Flash. Now, you may just be thinking that by omitting the Flash player from the iPad and iPhone removes the user's ability to see video streaming on the web, but it does much more. For me, it has the potential to kill my future eLearning business prospects.

A little bit about me: I am an eLearning developer. I use Adobe Flash as my primary development tool. All of my eLearning is either developed directly in Flash, or uses a tool that exports to .swf format to embed in the browser. This way, my clients and their users can get around messy plug-ins and media components and just experience my projects in a browser window. I have been doing this for years, improving my eLearning design skills with each new iteration of Flash.

I switched to Mac in 2004 and have never looked back. I've purchased five Mac Pros, several Mac Books, a Mac Book Pro, about 15 iPods for my family and friends, an iPhone and just this weekend, the glorious iPad. I bleed Mac. But, your anger with Adobe and the Flash platform is starting to shake my confidence that my future is going to be OK.

I've been a big proponent of mobile learning - writing eLearning programs that run on mobile devices. As far as I'm concerned, the iPhone is the ultimate mobile device, and now the iPad has knocked it off the hill. I see every student and professional carrying around an iPad as a replacement for their day planners, their laptops, their heavy text books and training material.

This is why I am a little scared for the future of the thousands of Flash-based eLearning projects out there: None of them will work on the iPad. None. Zero. Zip. Entire organizations will have to deal with outdated learning software that won't run on the iPad and other Apple devices. Not that change and growth is bad, but it is one thing to adjust the settings and another to completely reboot.

Again, I understand your anger with Adobe - most, if not all, of the software problems I experience on my Macs happens when I am running Adobe software. I crash. I hang. I have weird font bugs. I have things that frustrate the heck out of me. However, I feed my kids and support my family with Adobe software running on Macs. My entire business produces Flash based eLearning programs that run using the Flash plug-in in any browser. It may not be perfect, but I'm happy to stick with Adobe and will tolerate the little bugs that crop up from time to time.

Some have said that HTML 5 will replace Flash video and Flash will evolve or just go away. I don't think so. The problem is that in the educational world, there is so much Flash content helping kids and adults learn, it is a shame to just have to throw all that away or force them to find an iPad-like device that will allow the learner to run their eLearning content.

I think that the iPad is going to change mobile computing. I also think that it has the potential to change the educational arena as well: for younger kids, the college crowd and adult learners. I see a future with this device. However, this fighting with Adobe must stop. Either iPad sales will stagnate because students and educators won't buy them en masse because the device can't access their current Flash content, or Flash will die and the iPad will take over and set new standards. Until one or the other takes place, can't you just let Safari on the iPad have the Flash plug-in?

Think about it Mr. Jobs : Flash is here. It has an immense install base. It is a relatively stable platform for distributing video files and is the premier platform for developing interactive multimedia projects. In my case, those interactive multimedia projects pay my bills.

Safari on the Mac already has the Flash plug-in, and all works fine. Why not just insert it into the Safari browser on the iPad? What is wrong with tipping your hat to current technology while simultaneously roaring forward to change the world? Can't we all win?

Thank you for your time.

Thomas Toth
President
dWeb Studios, Inc. & The Catapult Training Group

02/13/10

I'm having such a dilemma and its driving me crazy. Here is what I'm struggling with: lately, several of my customers have asked me to create or bid on projects where they expect to be able to go in and edit the content, images and layout of the project after the launch. They want to be able to tweak every aspect of the project once its complete. However, they have no technical background and are not interested in learning the tech. As a result, I'm being asked to over-complicate the programming for ease of use later.

First example - a local area church has asked me to develop a web site for them that they can edit themselves. They don't want a CMS (even the free ones), they want to be hand coded. No problemo - I build it in CSS at a fixed width and height per the design from their team. After its built out and they want to start adding content, their editor (who picked up Dreamweaver specifically for this purpose), can't get the WYSIWYG screen to work with my hand coded CSS. Sometimes Dreamweaver, especially older versions, have a hard time rendering the CSS correctly in the WYSIWYG view. The code is solid and displays wonderfully in all browsers, but the client hates it and hates me because it isn't easy to edit in Dreamweaver. After a week of no luck with tutorials and phone assistance, I rebuilt it from scratch using old table code and layout techniques from 2005. They love it. It stretches how they want, its easy to add the content they want and they are super excited about their site again.

I, however, hate it and will not be adding it to my portfolio. It's filled with nested table tags, bloated JavaScript and is "old school" code that I rarely write anymore. However, the client LOVES it and loves me for making their lives easier. I have overcomplicated the "behind the scenes" so the WYSIWYG view works. What!!?

Case number two: I'm bidding on an eLearning project where the client wants all images but the interface to load dynamically and be stored outside the project, all video and audio to load dynamically and be stored outside the project, and all text and headers to be in XML and load dynamically at run time. OK...this is not rocket science, but in an effort to make their lives easier (they won't have to learn Flash to make edits), they are making it much more complicated to develop. It's so much easier to just dump it all into flash, export to .swf and deliver an HTML file and a .swf file and be done with it.

In an effort to avoid learning code or learning Flash, customers seem to be asking for "do it yourself" solutions, when I'm thinking that they should pick up a copy of Dreamweaver or Flash and learn it. It's much more complicated to dynamically load XML text than it is to type the text in the Flash interface. Now, there are very good reasons for using XML for text (I have another client who is going to offer multiple languages and wants to use the same .swf but load the different language XML which is cool), but for simple projects, why make it so complicated?

Couple thoughts:

1) They don't want to pay me to edit the files
2) They don't want to take the chance of me going away and not being around in 3 years when the files have to be edited
3) They expect lots of changes to the files
4) They expect to have to make changes in a speedy, real time fashion

I'm all about teaching a man to fish, but this kind of falls into the "just cause we can, we will." I am all about the straight line - get what you need accomplished in the easiest way possible. Learn Flash. Learn ActionScript. Who says editing an XML file is easier than editing a Flash file? Is this "Do it yourself" idea good for eLearning? Shouldn't it be "Learn the tool."

Am I alone here? Is this something I should just deal with? Since when do customers care about the intricate guts of a project, rather than its functionality, look and feel? Should I just grow up and understand that customers are getting more technical and are asking to "peek under the hood"?

Thanks for listening. Anyone else experiencing this?

10/27/09

I recently engaged in a debate with one of my colleagues regarding the virtues of building eLearning projects that take advantage of current technological bells and whistles vs. building your project to work on older technology. The point boiled down to the fact that the users are sophisticated enough to download and upgrade their browsers which will allow them to experience the cutting edge stuff, so there was no reason to not utilize bleeding edge.

I disagreed.

It's been my experience that the home and small business user adapts and upgrades their technology way before the typical business user. It is also my experience that web marketing folks, web design folks and eLearning programmers at large organizations usually have the best hardware and software. They are usually given lots of control when it comes to what's installed, and often given the ability to install whatever software they need.

Not so for the rest of the organization. The sales teams, engineering teams, financial teams and other folks in the firm are not so lucky. On their first day, IT usually goes back into the closet, blows off the dust and pulls out an older machine for them to use. After all, it doesn't take much computing power to run MS Office and a web browser.

That's generally where the problems occur. The designer creates a multimedia masterpiece that the user cannot experience as intended. Did you know that the cool and interactive Flash demo requires the processing power of the host computer to make it run? Yes, after the .swf is downloaded to the user's machine through the browser, it still requires the processing speed of the user's computer to run correctly. This means older, slower, computer :: clunky Flash presentation.

And, the first thing that gets sacrificed in the Flash presentation is animation frame rate. Flash prioritizes the audio track before the animation, especially if you stream rather than event program your audio. What this means is that the audio track plays perfectly, but the animation stutters and hacks between keyframes to keep up.

Also, don't forget bandwidth issues. At last count, as much at 63% of home users have high speed connections. Most businesses do as well. However, if you forget that almost 40% of the users don't have it, you are losing almost half your audience! If you rely exclusively on large video and swf files that take forever to download, your learners are not learning...they are watching the %loaded figure slowly creep up.

Even though users have the opportunity to upgrade their browsers, many IT groups refuse to give admin rights to their users and frequently lock down software installation. Some IT groups lock the computer to a certain operating system and browser version. User's don't have the option of installing new technology, even though its readily available.

In my book, Technology for Trainers, I talk about an instructional design methodology for the creation of eLearning. When building eLearning for an organization, either the one you work for or for a client, you need to perform a technology review. What computer systems do they use? Operating systems? Connection speed? Average user's processing speed? Do they have the ability to install plugins? What is the current Flash plug in version? What is the current browser version? Do they have speakers? Higher end video cards? Can they save files from the web to their computer? Do they have a LMS? These are all questions that have to be answered before you build.

If you have an eLearning requirement in place and your learner cannot meet that requirement because of their technology sitting on their desktop, you have lost and frustrated that user. Also, you have put them in the uncomfortable place of being non-compliant with the learning initiative. You must perform a technology review in order to ensure that every user has the capability to see and experience your eLearning.

Does this mean you may have to design your course around IE 6.0? Yes. Does this mean you cannot use the new CSS anonymous table elements for layout? Unfortunately, yes. If your client is standardized on IE 6.0, you may have to dump CSS all together! Does your client have remote locations still using dial up? If yes, then you have to dump multimedia.

In conclusion, I must quote Ian Malcom, the Chaos Theorist who said "...your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." Just because we can do a thing, doesn't mean we should. Stop and think about your learners and ensure that your chosen eLearning technology will run on their systems, and that it is a learning opportunity they can experience. Don't be afraid to use old technology or design methods as an added insurance policy that it will work on your end-user's machine. Don't be afraid to abandon a technology if it won't work well for your users. Use the right tool for the job, but be sure your learners can learn from it.

08/18/09

Quick Note: If you liked my Podcast interview with Roger Courville, then you will love his new book: The Virtual Presenter's Handbook. The book just got released and is available for you to purchase.

If you are looking to improve your ability as an online facilitator, or if your company is considering bringing synchronous learning to the firm, this book is fantastic.

A full table of contents is available here!

You can get more info and order the book by clicking here!

08/17/09

I am finishing up a series of web based eLearning projects where video segments play a major role in the delivery of the content. My client did not invest in a super expensive video camera, lights or sound system, but the video elements look good and the content more than makes up for the lower production quality. The challenge has been that each elearning project uses 6-8 video segments and I received 30 .MOD files all at the same time. How can I rapidly develop this eLearning with so much video to edit?

The .MOD files are the pure video files that get downloaded from the video camera's hard drive to your local computer. They are huge based on the amount of video recorded. My workflow for the conversion process is this:

1) Convert the MOD to MOV
2) Put into iMovie to edit out start and end content, and add fade to black at the start and finish
3) Convert the MOV to FLV

On my Mac, I convert the .MOD file to the .MOV file using an incredible piece of freeware software called FFMPEGX. It does a great job of converting the files and has a huge set of preset conversion settings. It reads a ton of formats and exports to a ton of formats. Its truly amazing bit of software for the Mac.

Why convert the .MOD to .MOV? Because I want to do some quick and dirty video editing and on my Mac, iMovie won't bring in the .MOD files. If I had the camera, I could download direct, but I don't so I have to convert. Also, the .MOD to .MOV conversion takes the file size down by 50%! A 30MB .MOD file is a 14MB .MOV file. For web distribution, the smaller the better.

iMovieIn iMovie, I upload all my .MOV files and then do the simple cuts and video fades. iMovie is great - it allows me to tweak color, brightness and other simple settings without cracking open the serious video editors. When I am done, I export out of iMovie using Quicktime and reduce the overall screen pixel size. My client sends me large video segments and I have to reduce them down to a more web friendly size. Doing it out of iMovie using Quicktime allows me to have yet another file size reduction. The 14MB video file is only 4.8MB now!

Then, I open up Quicktime Pro on its own to convert to .FLV. For some reason, a straight export to .FLV out of iMovie doesn't work for me, so I open up Quicktime directly to convert to the Flash video file. Converting from the .MOV to the .FLV is also yet a fourth reduction in overall file size. The 4.8MB .MOV file is now a 3.1MB Flash video file. WOW! From 30MB .MOD to 3.1MB .FLV in about 20 minutes.

Why don't I use the Adobe FLV Video Converter instead of Quicktime Pro? For me and my system, it takes twice as long to convert using the Adobe product than Quicktime Pro. When I am on a deadline, an extra 5 minutes per conversion can save me hours. As someone who stays up until the job is done, that can mean the difference between going to bed at 11 and going to be at 2:00 am!

This video process is quick and dirty and inexpensive. This "mini studio" I have on my Mac costs less than $150. iMovie comes with my iLife on my Mac, but I upgraded to iLife for $79, Quicktime Pro is $29.99 and FFMPEGX is FREE! That's a ton of video editing power for a little bit of money. Does it look professional? You bet! Is it the best solution for all situations? Nope. For longer video segments (these project segments are 2-3 min in length) then the big boy applications will be the ticket. But, for these quick video jobs, the "mini studio" is all I need.

05/26/09

One of the most important elements to include in any eLearning project is a way to display current page numbers and total page numbers for your learners. Adults like finish lines, and there is something comforting about knowing how many pages you will need to work through when taking eLearning, as well as knowing where you are inside the eLearning program: "Page 10 of 100" feels different than "Page 98 of 100".

I used to do it all with regular old text fields in Flash, but with ActionScript 3.0, there are some calls you can make to identify where the user is at on the time-line. Combine this with a design methodology and a couple dynamic text boxes and you can create something that is quickly customized and scalable.

First, from a methodology perspective, you need to decide that each single frame of your Flash movie will be a single page in your eLearning project. You can have content and interactive media built into Movie Symbols, so you don't have to feel tied down to the single frame, but choosing to utilize the embedded symbols onto a single frame can help you better organize your overall project. This, by the way, is my preferred style of programming - a 30 frame eLearning project feels like 30 "screens" to the end user. Even though there is a ton of content dropped into Movie Symbols on each frame, this method works best for me and my development methodology.

Second, you need to add the ActionScript necessary to identify frame location. The ActionScript:

currentFrame

identifies where the user is on the time-line, while the ActionScript:

totalFrames

looks at the total number of frames in the movie.

Applying the code takes a bit of a twist, but once you think through it, its easy - when the user moves to a new frame (ala Next or Back button), then refresh the page counter and re-populate the current frame.

I create my page counter on a single layer with a Back button, Dynamic Text field (current frame), Dynamic Text field (total frames) and then a Next button.

I start with setting up the variable names like so:

var frames:Number;
var totals:Number;
frames=currentFrame;
totals=totalFrames;

This sets up the variables and then pulls the data from currentFrame and totalFrames into those variables.

Then, I have to set up my Dynamic Text variables:

myLocation.text=(String(frames));
myTotalPages.text=(String(totals));

I have two Dynamic Text fields named myLocation and myTotalPages. Variables called as numbers do not display in Dynamic Text fields, so I have to convert them to text by re-categorizing them as Strings. I know...silly step, but it is the only way to take the number variables and display them as text.

Then, I add the code for my Back and Next button listeners:

next_but.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, goNext);
back_but.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, goBack);

And then the functions for the Back and Next buttons:

function goNext(event:MouseEvent):void {
	nextFrame();
	frames=currentFrame;
	myLocation.text=(String(frames));
	
	
}
function goBack(event:MouseEvent):void {
	prevFrame();
	frames=currentFrame;
	myLocation.text=(String(frames));
}

Notice I use nextFrame() and prevFrame() to move the user back and forth. Also, I recall the

currentFrame

variable and then re-populate the Dynamic Text box with that updated data.

The

myTotalPages

doesn't update, as the user cannot control how many pages are in the total project, but if you, as the developer, want to add more frames, you don't need to reprogram the page counter. Some designers manually put the total number of pages in as a generic Text box, but adding and removing frames means you would need to change that number on each page. Using

currentFrame 

allows it to be dynamically generated at run time, regardless of the total size of the project.

I'm sorry I've been away for so long...traveling around the United States teaching and speaking keeps me busy, but I hope this entry is helpful to you.

If you want to see this in action, fully functional, download the Flash CS4 .swf and .fla file here!

04/25/09

This past week I finished up my last ASTD Essentials Webinar Series and again had a "virtual" room full of highly engaged, highly interested learners. It was interesting hearing from this group: they are all going to be the eLearning Obmudsmen I commented on in an earlier post. As I was going through the software examples and demos, I started getting some really good questions about process. I have a standard routine that I use when building my eLearning project from scratch, and I thought that it might be of benefit to my reading audience.

After meeting with a client and getting my first installment check (!), we start the following process:

1) Instructional Design Phase

Some of my clients have at least an outline of the content to the site, some have complete storyboards, but most are somewhere in between. Its my team's responsibility to take what they have and build out a storyboard for their review. We use a PPT based storyboard to document screens, activities and simulations in a way that makes it easy for the client to see how their program will function and flow.

Read more »

03/30/09

I was at a client location all last week, co-facilitating a customer service training program being rolled out to the entire organization. It is a huge undertaking, involving more than 15 trainers, 5 contractors and over 14,000 employees. While on a break, I had an interesting conversation with one of the participants who found out about my passion for eLearning. He was kind of an older learner...I wouldn't describe him as Gen Y at all! He turned his head to one side and looked at me with a bit of suspicion. He asked "What can you REALLY teach with a computer?"

Of course, it got me thinking. What can we really teach with a computer? In fact, this simple question turned my head around and in a most peculiar way, I started thinking about the bigger question: What can we really teach?

Read more »

03/21/09

Graphic design programs have some critical functions for the eLearning developer. As far as I am concerned, these are the must have functions for anything I am going to use or install.

  • Web Optimization - reducing 300+dpi images down to 72 dpi jpg, gif or png format.
  • Crop and Resize - alter the image itself, tweezing the good from the bad
  • Basic Photo Editing - drawing and painting tools to get rid of red eye, lines, junk/dust on the frame etc.

I use Photoshop on the Mac and love it, but it really is the 400lb gorilla. It does so many things, but when all is boiled down, those three functions are what I use most. Yes, I develop interfaces from scratch and do a variety of other web related graphics development, but it all boils down to web optimization and image editing. Let's see what I found on the web that can perform these basic functions "in the cloud."

Picnik
Picnik is similar to iPhoto in a lot of ways. You can tweak your photos, crop, resize and add text and special effects within the browser. You upload your photo and you get a variety of simple editing tools: rotate, crop, resize, exposure, color, sharpen and red-eye removal. When you are done editing, you can save the picture to a scrapbook, your computer or even to lots of social networking sites like Facebook and Flickr. You can save as jpg, gif or png, as well as tif and bmp and re-size them on export. It was really fast and really free!

For $24.95 per year, you get more effects, fonts, collages and ad free working. Is it worth it? If you don't want to pay $699 for Photoshop and just want to edit your pictures, you bet. I was very impressed with it. Even though it matched my three main criteria, I couldn't create anything from scratch, or combine pictures together to make my own collage. It was templated, which is fine for most users.

FotoFlexer
FotoFlexer calls itself the "world's most advanced online image editor". I had some issues uploading my picture from the main page, but I clicked "edit a sample photo" and it opened OK. I was then able to upload my test picture. Weird...maybe it doesn't like Macs or Firefox.

However, after I got in using the sample photo, I was able to upload my test photo without a hitch. Once I got in, I really liked it. You can have multiple photos on the work area and manipulate them independently. What I really thought was cool were the effects: bronze, sepia, old photo, painting etc. They were not at the level of sophistication as our friend Photoshop can do, but for an online app, they were tremendous.

Something else I liked about FotoFlexer was the ability to recognize multiple photos as "layers". You can apply opacity and flip stacking order, and this was a nice feature if you want to create your own collages. Rotating and cropping and resizing was also a snap.

Once I got in, FotoFlexer was a very, very sweet online app.

However cool both of these applications are, I was left hungry for an online tool that can help me design web or eLearning interfaces in the cloud. I found lots of tools that will develop a web page for you (Google Sites) , but nothing that will allow me to draw buttons, create backgrounds or set up a flat page as an interface for my eLearning projects. Lots of cool things for picture editing, but not so much for drawing an interface.

I did find some software for actually drawing (Artpad, QueekyPaint and a whole bunch at the Ag Design blog but nothing that allows me to create the sophisticated interfaces my eLearning clients expect.

02/27/09

Permalink 02:33:37 am, Categories: News, On the web , Tags: amazon, book replacement, elearning, kindle, kindle 2, wish list

I am so excited that the Kindle 2 has been released! I am completely in love with anything tech and anything new. I haven't ordered mine yet...something about the $359 price tag that is making me hold off. I did get to spend lots of time with the previous iteration as a colleague had one and he left me alone with it for a while.

I buy LOTS of books...they are all over my house. My wife calls them "droppings", as in "Thomas, you've got book droppings all over the bonus room." For me, the $359 price tag isn't worth it yet - even though I spend that much (and more) in books every year, most of my purchases are web based, tech books (ActionScript 3.0 guides and Michael Allen eLearning books). Kindle doesn't have any of those yet...and, do I want to have a reference guide on the Kindle?

So what does this have to do with eLearning? I starting thinking about the possibilities for this kind of tool in the training world. I would love to be able to use something like this to shoot course materials over to my learners, give them prep work or use this as a part of my hybrid solutions. Instead of "Download this PDF, print it out and use it as we work through the online program", it could be "Download this document to your Kindle and use it to work through the program."

I'm building lots of programs where the learner downloads and reads a PDF file and then answers questions in the eLearning so that they are stored in the LMS. Imagine being able to push this to a Kindle-like device and the learner doesn't have to print it out.

Of course, Amazon would need to do a few things to the device to make me really happy, so here is my wish list for Amazon:

  1. Please Amazon, make me a Kindle that can connect to my network and allow me to push my content onto the device - more than just the PDFs you allow to come in from eMail
  2. Please give me a color version...I understand the 16 shades of gray, and that the device is so thin because of the UFO inspired technology driving the screen, but please...16 bit color?
  3. Please let me connect up to my network wirelessly and then download content to my computer
  4. Please let me connect up to my network wirelessly and then upload content from my computer - you kind of do this already...but...
  5. Come up with a cool, non Apple infringing version of iTunes for Kindle - let me sync up with my computer
  6. Offer a deep discount for educators or people buying lots of them for their employees
  7. My big one - please install a version of the Flash player on the Kindle - I know it isn't a multimedia device, but it could be...

That's my wish list for Amazon regarding the Kindle. Laptops and the new Netbooks offer our learners portable access to our online modules, but something as thin and sleek as the Kindle can really be a future eLearning device. Maybe the device isn't as good as the PDFs we are using now? Maybe I should be happy to view PDFs on the Kindle..Maybe Amazon doesn't ever want to open it up to users and developers and keep the books, the connection and the content locked down?

Am I asking too much? Is it designed to be a book replacement and that's it? I hope not. I think it would be very cool to deploy eLearning on a device as elegant as the Kindle. Once I get my hands on one (soon, oh yes...so very soon) I'll tell you what I really think!

People have mixed reviews: Read them here.

David Pogue Video Review: View it!

02/25/09

I spoke to a group recently about multimedia development for eLearning, and the importance of story-boarding your eLearning project came up. We moved from storyboarding multimedia and animation elements to the entire project. Do I think it is important to storyboard your eLearning? Yes. Do I think you have to grind out every detail in a storyboard? I think it depends on two things:

  1. The relationship between the storyboarder/designer, the deveopler and the sponsor
  2. The experience level of the developer

Read more »

02/16/09

Gen YIf this is your first time reading a web page, then let me introduce you to the upcoming generation that is causing everyone, everywhere to pause a moment and reflect. The generation is called Gen Y, or Millennials, and anyone born between 1981 and 2000 falls into that category.

Gen Y have been described as:

  • Eager
  • Impatient
  • Type A stress machines
  • They cannot make decisions on their own - they rely on their network of friends for input
  • They are not loyal to any firm - the view themselves as perpetual independent contractors
  • They have unrealistic expectations from the workplace - they adapt their work to fit their lifestyle
  • Have an "everyone wins" mentality - they want a ribbon for 14th place
  • They have an intimate relationship with technology

Read more »

02/06/09

In fairness to some other good vendors, and because I covered some big tools a couple days ago, I wanted to point out a few other good eLearning development tools that people are buzzing about. Again, I prefer to build everything from scratch using the Adobe tools, but I am aware that there are people who don't want to dive that deep into the development red tape. I completely respect that and, considering I talked about Lectora, Captivate and Articulate, I thought I would throw two more onto your radar.

Read more »

02/04/09

Since the ASTD TK show, people have been hot on these three software packages: Articulate, Captivate and Lectora. On my webinar series, with email and via twitter, people have been asking me about these packages. Here is my summary of each - I actually replied to someone on LinkedIn about a month ago. Here is a copy of that interaction.

Read more »

02/03/09

Sears TowerLet me just start by saying that I am a bit fearful for the next phase of eLearning. I'm fearful because I think we are facing what I will call a "design regression". I've been excited about integrating Web 2.0 technologies into my eLearning, and am excited that the tech bar is lower and more people can take advantage of it, however, I don't think that we are going to see the explosion of Web 2.0 in eLearning in 2009 or even 2010. In fact, I think that "page turners" may return with a passion.

Here is my logic...let me know if my thinking is sound.

Read more »

01/30/09

Ok...I'm beginning to see a pattern here - everyone is talking about Web 2.0 and how we must, must, must start implementing this technology into our eLearning. Here are a couple observations about Web 2.0 and the feedback I've been receiving from people I am meeting at the conference:

  1. Majority of folks I'm talking with have loved learning about Web 2.0 because they didn't know about it until now. What? This was very surprising to me..but then again...this ASTD show tends to attract the newer developers, managers and people just getting started in eLearning.
  2. Some of this will not be used, no matter how cool. OK, I'm talking specifically about Second Life. I wanted to love it. I wanted to get my brain around how to use it. Unfortunately, I experienced it first hand and it was an epic fail. Not because it didn't work, but because what I saw made me want to scream. I spoke with a Second Life facilitator (someone who uses it to teach classes) and she said that "People want to play when they are in Second Life. If we schedule a three hour Second Life class, we know we will only be able to cover 90 minutes." What? What a waste of time. I wanted to root for it, but I predict it will be dead in 2 years.
  3. Podcasting rocks! I have been speaking with people who have been raving about Jonathan Halls and Sharon Halls podcasting session. They took 90 minutes and explained every aspect of a good podcast and people are excited. Podcasting is easy to do, easy to produce, has a huge impact on your learners and is a way to present content in a unique way. Shameless, unasked for plug: Jonathan and Sharon's company is Talkshow Communication, Ltd. I've never met them, but they took the mystery out of good podcasts and many people have raved about them to me.

I've been a fan of incorporating Web 2.0 for a long time (earlier posts here talk about it), but am impressed with how ASTD has embraced this stuff, are featuring this stuff and really pushing the envelope at this conference. I've been involved with TK since 2001, and a large share of the sessions have always been presented by Theorists. I'm a "Do-er-ist". I am very proud of the conference ASTD put together this year - the sessions are timely, well received and people are walking away with a good set of skills they can go back to the office and use.

I have one more session I am presenting tomorrow - I am talking about the Adobe CS4 Web Suite and demoing how all the software works together to build elearning. It will be great fun.

01/20/09

If you haven't seen it yet, Adobe has created an eLearning Suite and bundled my favorite software together. It's a really sweet suite:

  • Captivate - great for screen capture and for recording software demos. Really good tool and the current version is top notch
  • Flash CS4 - great tool, but I'm still fighting with Flash CS4 on the Mac...long story, but nested movie symbols in ActionScript 3.0 movies are slowing down the function of the application...on both Macs...I'm not alone in this, but they are finally elevating my issue...see here, here and here. They are working on it which is encouraging - I trust Adobe will make it right!
  • Dreamweaver CS4 - the best coding tool in the world!!!
  • Photoshop CS4- the best photo editor in the world, hands down.
  • Presenter 7 - Finally available at an affordable price (used to be $1500), this tool lets you use PowerPoint to create eLearning. I'm not a big fan of PowerPoint, so its great news for some, meh for me. However, it works really well Acrobat Connect Pro (formerly Breeze), so if you have that tool, you will love the way Presenter works with it. Note: It works in Office XP, 2003 or 2007. Great news!
  • Soundbooth CS4 - create and edit audio...I really, really like this software. It's the first thing that has started pulling me away from Audacity which is an amazing piece of free audio software.

So...my only question...where is Fireworks in the suite? Photoshop rules, but for web distribution, Fireworks has tools that could help the eLearning developer rapidly develop interfaces, convert to PDF and perform lots of cool navigation and button effects. The price point is a little steep ($1799) but worth it if you want to do be able to do everything (no seriously...everything eLearning!) The upgrade price is great ($599) if you have purchased any other suite. I have to say that, overall, I like it quite a bit. There is a lot of software here that can create anything you, the eLearning developer, can think up. However, if you have an extra $299.00 laying around, I'd pick up Fireworks too!

Now...if I can just convince Adobe to fix the Mac bugs in Flash CS4 and give me a version of Captivate for the Mac, I would go back to raving non-stop about their software. I'll rave about everything but Flash CS4, but really, really want to! If Adobe fixes the Flash CS4 bugs, I'll be their biggest evangelist yet! I'll keep running Captivate in Parallels, but it's not the same.

01/18/09

I've noticed a trend on the social networking groups, and when I talk to people at the conferences I present at: trainers and instructional designers are freaking out again. I mean nervous, edgy, freak outs about eLearning. In 2000, training and development people were losing their minds because they believe that the sky was falling and eLearning was going to steal their jobs. They were convinced that they would be replaced by a screen and a mouse. Nothing was further from the truth, as eLearning has grown into a tool that is used as a part of an overall training strategy.

Most of the eLearning in 2000 was awful, text driven stuff created by tech people who didn't care about how people learn. They wanted to exploit this new technology and throw everything up against the wall and see what stuck. We have developed best practices we are using today because of all the crazy things developers tried early on, myself included.

But, that has changed. Good eLearning is hard to create, not always from a programming perspective, but from the design perspective. Tools have been created to rapidly develop, but the amazing, interactive custom stuff still takes lots of time to plan, design and build. Which brings me back to my first question : why are people freaking out?

Read more »

01/10/09

ZygoteI received a note from one of the participants in my webinar series that went something like this:

"I've attended your webinar on eLearning software and it was great. But really, how do I get started. What do I do first."

Well, let's start at the start as Dr. Seuss might say.

Building eLearning for web distribution requires a knowledge of web technologies. Forget the training part. Forget the learner for just one second. If you REALLY want to get started you need to set up a web page and web hosting. Here is my recipe for setting up a web page:

Read more »

01/07/09

Permalink 10:56:03 am, Categories: Software, On the web, Getting Started , Tags: drupal, elearning, guru, joomla, moodle, thomas toth

I have been fascinated by the Joomla and Drupal development environments for a long time. I just never took the plunge and learned either. In my business, I do all the design work, the graphic work and the multimedia work and if the back end programming gets to sticky, I turn it over to my developers.

Joomla and Drupal have created web applications that become your content management system and back end plug in system. Anything that makes the back end programming less painful is great for me. If it is great for me, then I'm sure that it would be great for eLearning developers who are intimidated by this web stuff.

So, last night I took the plunge and launched www.myelearningguru.com as a Joomla installation. I picked up a good book on Joomla (Beginning Joomla) and installed on my new web host. I did nothing to it yet, so if you visit it, you can see the standard installation files. Keep visiting, because I hope to blog about the changes there, as well as talk about my experiences with Joomla.

What do programs like Joomla and Drupal do for the eLearning developer? Well, hosted content management, over 100 plug-ins and integration with standard web technologies make me envision the rapid development of internal training portals. For companies that don't want to invest in a LMS or SharePoint platform, maybe these tools can be used in that situation. However, as I work with the tool, I will undoubtedly come up with lots of ideas. From a strictly LMS perspective, I will be talking about Moodle soon, but because I don't want the My Elearning Guru site to be purely LMS, I thought I'd try Joomla. Maybe I could have a Drupal site, and then have a Moodle installation to run the demos on the same site? If I try that, I'll be sure to let you know.

Well, wish me luck. Visit www.myelearningguru.com often and you can witness the development of a Joomla site and a Joomla learning experience all rolled up into one hot mess!

Very few people are creating technology exclusively for the online learning developer, so this site attempts to fill that gap. Whether you want ideas on how to use web technologies in your eLearning, or have questions about the what's and how's, this site is for you.

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