Tags: flash

02/21/14

Permalink 11:17:09 am, Categories: Software, Adobe, Rants , Tags: adobe, animate, animation, edge, flash, html5, killer, love, option

Just a quick note to say how much I am enjoying Adobe Edge Animate. It's a part of the CC bundle of software and I highly recommend it if you are programming in an environment where Flash is no longer welcome. It does simple animations and writes it all to HTML 5. You can then take the HTML 5 and drop it onto your web page, into your LCMS, into your elearning course etc.

I'm finding it really easy to use and although I haven't stretched it to it's limit yet, I'm optimistic. It still feels like new software, but if it continues to be upgraded, I think it may be the first REAL option to compete with Flash.

Now, you already know how much I love FLASH, so for me to express that sentiment, it must be true! Ha! But, seriously, Edge Animate is a ton of fun to use and for simple animated sequences where Flash is no longer an option, it's something you should explore.

09/30/13

I am a lover of technology and cannot seem to get enough apps and programs and bits of code that help me to build great web pages and eLearning programs. I teach the Essentials of eLearning Authoring Tools for ASTD, have written a book about tools (Technology for Trainers) and have several articles published in the area of eLearning Tools and tool selection.

I'm the Tim Taylor of eLearning Tools. I'm going to use that, so don't steal it!

One thing I don't think I've ever clearly expressed are the tools I use in my every day work. So, in the spirit of full disclosure, below is a list of software that I use at least once a week, every week.

Graphic Design and Photo Editing Software

  • Adobe Photoshop CC
  • Adobe Fireworks CS6
  • Adobe Lightroom 5
  • Apple Aperture

Audio Recording Software

  • Audacity
  • NeoSpeech - I'm securing a license now, but have been using the trial. It is, in my opinion, the best Text to Speech editor out there.
  • Internet Jocks - the best human voice-over site out there. Once again, my opinion. Super professional quality and super fast turn around.

Video Editing Software

  • Apple iMovie - it's low end, but it does everything I need!

Screen Capture Software

  • Snapz Pro X (MAC)
  • Snagit 11 (PC)

Animation Creation Software

  • Adobe Flash
  • Adobe Edge Animate - not as powerful as Flash, but writes HTML5 animations

HTML/XHTML Writing Software

  • Adobe Dreamweaver CC

eLearning Creation Software

  • Articulate Storyline - this has become by goto software now that I can strip out the navigation interface and create my own. My clients love it, it plays well with all my other software and support is top knotch.
  • Adobe Captivate - this is my goto software for clients looking for training on computer based applications. If I need to teach someone how to use software, this is my goto. Yes, I choose Captivate over Storyline because editing your recorded movie slides in Captivate is heads and shoulders above the screen recording in Storyline. So, I dropped the cash and use both - best tool for the job

So there you have it...this is the list of tools used by a working professional eLearning developer. Does that mean you can purchase all of these tools and build like I do? Nope. I have my own creative eye and strengths in graphic and multimedia design that I bring to my eLearning visuals. However, some people have asked so I thought I would share.

Oh...and the picture at the top is of an adobe structure. Get it...adobe structure? Adobe Software?

08/05/10

NOTE: This article was written by Ginger Nichols, a graduate student at University of Colorado, Denver. She interned with me this summer, and I asked (forced, persuaded, cajoled...) her to do a Flash project. She had never even opened the software before. Because so many of my visitors are completely new to Flash or looking to get started with the tool, I asked her to write about her internship so that others could benefit from her experience. She wrote a nice piece outlining her journey, so with her permission, I'm reproducing it here.

To give you a little background, I am a graduate student (soon to be a graduate) of the Information and Learning Technologies (ILT) – Instructional Design and Adult Learning program at the University of Colorado Denver. Over the course of the program I heard and read a lot about the eLearning content that one could create by using Flash. Unfortunately, the University didn’t offer a course in Flash so my advisor recommended taking a class at a local community college. I put that idea in the back of my mind and continued on with my coursework in the program.

With two semesters left in the program, I started thinking about my internship. I wanted more exposure to eLearning than what was offered in the Instructional Design and Adult Learning concentration. Thomas was the first person to come to mind to help me with my internship. We talked about what I wanted to learn and came up with a few projects involving eLearning that met my objectives. Thomas had a fantastic idea to convert a course that I attended in person to an eLearning course, and design a module from the course in Flash. I chose to convert a presentation and public speaking class that was offered at work.

My timing for the internship was far from perfect. I saved it until my last semester in the ILT program – Summer 2010. The summer semester is half as long as Fall and Spring so I had 10 weeks to work on my three projects. I reserved the last month to work on the Flash portion of the project. The following list includes the resources and things I learned while working with Flash.

1. A good Flash “how to book.”

Thomas recommended a book from Friends of Ed. I read Foundation Flash CS4 for Designers by Tom Green and David Stiller. It took me about a week to read through the book and complete the exercises. I don’t typically learn by reading the book or the manual on my own but the hands on exercises really helped me to understand the concepts behind Flash and ActionScript 3.0.

2. Lynda.com.

If you aren’t familiar with it, Lynda.com is a subscription service that provides online software training via video. I signed up for a 7-day free trial because I wasn’t sure if I would like the service but I did.

When the book wasn’t making sense to me, I watched the videos on Lynda.com for another perspective. The videos were great because they match my learning style. If I can see how it’s done, I can usually do it myself. I had a few “that’s what they meant” moments when the video made the concepts in the book click for me.

3. Someone who knows Flash and ActionScript

Thomas and I met up on Fridays during my internship. Each week I had the chance to pick his brain to learn how he uses Flash. His blog is a great resource because it contains many Flash tips and tricks. I also sent him a few late night emails asking him “How do I…” I’m going to blame the “How do I make the movie stop?” question on fatigue.

4. Cartoon Solutions

Part of my internship was to research Accelerated Learning and apply it to my eLearning project. Storytelling is one way to reach a variety of learners and it’s something one can use in the eLearning environment. For the introduction to the course, I wanted to tell the story of someone who gave a terrible presentation at a convention that would set up the objectives of the course.

I included this story in my storyboard that Thomas reviewed. The storyboard was drawn by hand and I mentioned to Thomas that I didn’t think my stick figure drawings were what I wanted to use in the Flash movie. Thomas pointed me to Cartoon Solutions’ website where I found a character and backgrounds to use in my movie. Two backgrounds and one person cost me about $30, which was worth every penny since they made my movie look more professional than my hand drawings did. Don’t get me wrong, I love drawing on a whiteboard during a facilitated training session but my drawings just didn’t translate in Flash.

5. Patience

There were a few moments working on the Flash portion of the project when I thought about giving up on it. I could set up a few PowerPoint slides, drop them into Captivate and have a Flash training module in a matter of a few hours. I was frustrated that I couldn’t make Flash behave as I wanted it to. This is when I knew that I needed to walk away for a few minutes, or quit for the day. The important part is to come back to your project. It was easier to reread a portion of the book to understand a concept when I had a clear head.

Another thing to remember is that you’re not going to have advanced skills right away. My story had a scene where the character walked out on stage. In the final product, my character slides out on the stage instead of walking. Flash has the capability to animate the walking motion and my pre-made cartoon man was set up with joints for this purpose but I didn’t have the knowledge or the time to figure out how to make the character walk. Sure my Flash movie would have looked extra slick if the character walked across the screen but it didn’t add to or take away from the content so it wasn’t necessary.

Your skills will improve with time. Master the easy techniques then add more advanced skills in later. I submitted my final project to Thomas and my professor for review and received my grade for the internship.(TT Note :: Ginger got an A for her internship) I plan to go back to my Flash movie to work on making my character walk across the screen. I don’t have a deadline now so I can take my time and figure this out.

The bottom line is that Flash isn’t all that scary. Flash is a powerful tool that you can add to your repertoire of eLearning creation tools. Just like anything new, it takes time to master. However, the basics are relatively simple to pick up in a short amount of time. In just one month I created an eLearning module that I was happy with and that I wouldn’t hesitate to use as a real eLearning course rather than just a project for school.

07/15/10

I have finally lost my battle with a client and am conforming to their request: "I want the text content to be stored in an external .xml file so we can edit easily."

I'm happy for the many tutorials out on the web that helped me to learn this stuff, but I was surprised that I didn't find a single one that did EXACTLY what I wanted. So, I banged it out and am sharing it so you can shorten your development cycle.

Goal: From an external XML file, load a page header and content into two separate dynamic boxes, and then have those boxes update as you move from page to page.

Sounds easy right? Here is what I did to create and test my solution.

1) I created a Flash CS4/AS 3.0 document with four layers: Actions, Buttons, Dynamic Text and Background
2) On the background layer, I created a color gradient background
3) On the buttons layer, I created a simple back and next button
4) On the Dynamic Text layer, I created two dynamic text boxes. I called the smaller one at the top titleText and the larger one for the content descText.

Ok...pretty straight forward.

I then created my button listeners for the back and next buttons and put this code on the Actions layer:

nextBut.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, goNext);
backBut.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, goBack);

function goNext(event:MouseEvent):void {
nextFrame();
}

function goBack(event:MouseEvent):void {
prevFrame();
}

From there, I wrote some sample XML and called it "course.xml":


<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" standalone="yes"?>
<pages>
<page pTitle="Welcome">Welcome to dynamically loaded text.</page>
<page pTitle="How to Do It">Here is how it works.</page>
<page pTitle="Simple">Once you have it figured out, its easy.</page>
<page pTitle="Final Page">No really...its pretty easy</page>
</pages>

This is a simple set of four pages. In each page tag, I included an attribute called "pTitle" which is the page title. The content is between the page tags. So, page 1 is "Welcome" with the content "Welcome to dynamically loaded text".

Now, here is the AS 3.0 to load and parse the XML.

var myXML:XML = new XML();
var XMLURL:String = "course.xml";
var myXMLURL:URLRequest = new URLRequest(XMLURL);
var myLoader:URLLoader = new URLLoader(myXMLURL);
myLoader.addEventListener("complete", xmlLoaded);

function xmlLoaded(event:Event):void
{
myXML = XML(event.target.data);
titleText.text=myXML.page[0].@pTitle;
descText.text=myXML.page[0];
}

The first line sets up a variable container for the XML file. The second line sets up the call to the .xml path. The third and forth line loads the XML and the fifth line waits for it to load. When it does, it loads the XML content into the variable myXML.

The next two lines of the function pick out the individual XML elements we want to use. In this case. the text field titleText gets the XML field page's first child's pTitle variable, and the descText gets the XML field page's first content.

But WAIT! Why are we calling string [0] instead of string [1]? Well, XML starts it count from 0...nuff said. When you want page 3's content, you look at the XML child[2]. Don't let it mess with you like it did with me...Accept it and move quietly on...

Now, if you want to add more pages, you add more frames. If you want to load the newer content into the subsequent text fields, you use the following code:

titleText.text=myXML.page[1].@pTitle;
descText.text=myXML.page[1];

on the Actions layer of frame/page 2...


titleText.text=myXML.page[2].@pTitle;
descText.text=myXML.page[2];

on page 3 and so on...

What happens is this...as the user advances to the next frame, the text box content changes to the new XML content. You have to change the string attribute, but as long as you do, the correct content will display.

And, if you want to digest this in some working files, all the code and .fla are available here. This zip file includes the final .fla, .swf and the .xml file.

I hope this saves you time as you develop your own XML driven eLearning projects.

06/14/10

Flash CS5 bugImagine you just dropped $599 on the CS5 upgrade, and you cannot wait to try out the new Adobe software. You have a bunch of things you were working on in Flash CS4, but CS5 is new and you want to start using it right away. You load up your old files, work on them for, oh, 24 or 30 hours, all the while saving as CS5 format. You are done for the week, enjoy your weekend, open up Flash CS5 on Monday to continue working and you get this message.

"Cannot open .fla file. Flash can not parse this document."

Wait...really?

You try again, because you know you saved the file. Religiously.

"Cannot open .fla file. Flash can not parse this document."

Yes friends, our new buddy Flash CS5 feels like a beta. This is a known bug. This is happening to me. Right now. I am not happy.

Also, I discovered that the radio button component works differently in CS4 and CS5. I don't know how, but when I program my multiple choice questions and all works in CS5, I get funky errors in CS4. Re-open in CS5 (without changing a single line of AS) and it works fine. I have no other details, because I've had bigger fish to fry with Flash today.

Luckily, in my scenario above, I was testing enough in CS4 and CS5 to save 70% of my work. Here is my workaround:

1) Open your CS4 file in CS5.
2) Work on it, but click Save As CS4 file when you are done.
3) Continue to use Flash CS5 in this lame way until Adobe fixes it

Yes friends, you are saving your CS4 files as CS4 files to work on them with flash. I haven't had any issues with files created in CS5 originally, so if you are working in CS5, don't downgrade to CS4 and then back up because you will encounter this bug. Now I have a new problem...my client hasn't upgraded to CS5...when they do, they will have the same problems unless Adobe gets this fixed fast.

While researching a solution to this mess, I discovered that there is a new Flash patch 11.0.1. Yay! However, it did nothing to fix my current files. Boo!

Maybe this is what I get for being an early adopter. However, I feel like Adobe blew it again with 1) No public Beta and 2) Pushing out CS upgrades before they are ready. How hard must it be to get 7+ products updated and released all at the same time? It's got to be near impossible but yet they cram them all out at the same time anyway. CS3 and CS4 felt that way, and now CS5 is the same. I feel like I am beta testing for Adobe, and I am paying them for the privilege.

I love Adobe products...six months after they are released when all the bugs are fixed. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, shame on Adobe. I won't get suckered into a release day upgrade again.


6/15/10: UPDATE: A very nice Adobe rep who saw this post (or my FB post, or maybe it was my Twitter post...) contacted me and offered to figure out what was going on with my file. Today, I got the file back and it seems to work fine. There was an empty frame on layer 1 of one of the symbols in my library. I sent a note back requesting more information about how to prevent it from happening again, how to fix it when it happens etc, and am waiting for a response. So far, its pretty impressive that Adobe is taking such an active role in squashing this bug. I'm downgrading from angry to annoyed.

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

03/10/10

On July 11th, 2007 the term Crapid eLearning was introduced by Tom Kuhlmann from Articulate. He introduced the term in his blog post Myth 1: Rapid eLearning is Crapid eLearning. I love this article because it defends the tools and attacks the design. This is one my Thomas mantras - focus on the LEARNING part of eLearning. It also gave me a great new word I could use in casual conversations with my team!

For me, Crapid also means visually barren. Sure, you can have a great eLearning design doc, great objectives and some cool interactions and simulations, but if it looks unprofessional or amateurish, then you have some usability issues to overcome. Now, there are lots of folks who may disagree with me, but out of the box templates, buttons, ready made flash "interactions" all fall short of what a professional graphic designer can create. They may help you quickly put together a program, but the user may view the content in a bad light if the interface and visuals are shoddy. They may have a hard time seeing the diamond in the rough. Visuals must be stimulating and professional looking until they fade into the background and the content takes over. Think of it as a first impression - it takes a long time to get past a bad first impression, just like it may take a user a while to get past an ugly, awkward interface.

I've created Crapid eLearning. I've also created bad eLearning projects. Because clients want what they want and paid me to deliver it. I've worked hard to talk people out of design decisions or instructional choices that I didn't agree with, but because they are the client, I build it to match THEIR vision, not mine. I've also done Crapid work because the client just wanted to check a box and push the project off their to-do list.

In this blog, a little more than a year ago, I predicted an eLearning regression and others agreed with me. Now, a year later, using my own observations and interviews with participants at the ASTD TK 10, my clients and others in the industry, I believe it came to pass. eLearning software development companies are selling the heck out their software and upgrades are popping out like crazy. Instructional designers who don't know a thing about graphic design or coding are whipping out SCORM compliant programs with ease. Template sites and pre-coded sample bundles are popping up (yes...mine are coming too) on the web and people are buying them like beanie babies. It's now easier than ever before to develop eLearning and non-tech, non-graphic and non-programmers are doing it using these tools.

Now...here's my ethical dilemma. I've had it before in June of 09, but its back with a vengeance. At that time, I called it "Should I advertise the tools" and I was wondering if I should advertise that I develop in Lectora, Captivate and others. I received lots of interesting feedback on that one, and today I have the answer.

Yes. I should. And here's why: My clients now own them. My clients like them. It provides me with an edge. I can now offer high-end completely custom, partial custom or templated eLearning.

Just this week, I have two clients with real money who want me to develop within Captivate and within Unison.

My ethical dilemma: I don't want to develop Crapid eLearning because I will be using these tools. I have to convince my clients to create custom Flash elements they can drop into these tools. They have to allow me to take the time to create unique templates and interfaces and buttons and other elements to make it look custom even though its using an eLearning tool. In Captivate, I can be extremely creative with the tool. In Unison, I can, but I have to do some serious code cracking to bring it up to my level of what a "professional" eLearning program looks like. I need to take these tools to new levels. I need to push the envelope regarding software capabilities and be creative within the limitations of the tools so that I don't just quickly schlop the project together.

Or, I could just develop Crapid.

The opposite of professional eLearning is Crapid eLearning. However, as you read this, you or your company may have these tools installed. They may be installed on the very machines you are using to read this blog. My challenge to you is this: Follow my lead and don't create Crapid. Look at the work you admire and instead of saying "I could never do that with my tool" or "You have to be a good graphic person to do that" or "I can only do that with Flash" go out and LEARN to do those things. Take it to the next level. Don't settle on mediocre or Crapid. Maximize what you know about the tool. Call the software developers and get into the weeds to bend the software to YOUR will. Buy a good book on graphic design like The Non-Designer's Design Book or Graphic Design School so you can learn what makes graphics, fonts, colors and other elements look nice on the screen.

Even though I am now adding these tools to my professional designers toolbox (and kind of feel like a sell out), I am going to keep my head high and not lower my standards. I don't want to ever turn down business, but I don't want to damage my reputation as a designer by producing Crapid. I'll post samples to this blog as I develop so you can tell me if you think they are awesome or if I fell into the Crapid crack.

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.

09/11/09

Permalink 05:40:26 pm, Categories: News, Software, Adobe, Rants , Tags: cs4, flash, flash cs4 bug

I wanted to announce that I just installed the Flash 10.0.2 update for Flash CS4 and my bugs are fixed! I have been crabbing about it for months, and after downloading the patch, all the slowdowns, errors, font issues and interface bugs are no longer there!

Thank you Adobe for letting me fall in love with Flash again. Maybe now I can uninstall Flash CS3...

Download the patch here: http://www.adobe.com/support/flash/downloads.html

07/07/09

linksIn the past week, I've received three emails regarding linking to MS Word Docs and PDF files from within a Flash movie. It's relatively easy, but the differences between doing it in ActionScript 2.0 and 3.0 are significant.

In ActionScript 2.0

In ActionScript 2.0, linking to a file uses the

getURL

function. Now, normally you'd use the

getURL

to launch a web page or open a new browser window by attaching the following code to a button symbol:

on (release){
    getURL("http://www.thomastalkstech.com");
}

This tells Flash that when the user has clicked on and released the mouse button, launch the web site in the same browser window. If you wanted to open it in a new window, you would need to append the command like so:

on (release){
    getURL("http://www.thomastalkstech.com","_blank");
}

The addition of the target variable (_blank) tells the browser to open in a new window.

Because the .swf sits in an HTML file, it thinks its part of a web site. Regardless of whether or not you have the files sitting on a web server, when you launch the .swf it runs in the browser. This means that the files that sit in the same directory as the .swf are accessible using the

getURL

function.

So, if you had a .pdf file on the web server and you wanted to link to it from your Flash movie, you would use this code:

on (release){
    getURL("myCoolFile.pdf","_blank");
}

and Flash would link to the PDF from within the Flash movie. Absolute and relative pathing work as well, so if you had stored the .pdf file in a directory called /pdf, you could use this code:

on (release){
    getURL("/pdf/myCoolFile.pdf","_blank");
}

IMPORTANT NOTE: The pathing in the Flash file needs to be from the HTML file holding the .swf file. It gets confusing and frustrating, but if you path the ActionScript from the HTML file holding the .swf, it will find the document without a problem. It used to kill me because sometimes I'd path from the .swf, then move the .swf to a new directory and it would mess up my links. If you use root relative pathing it won't be an issue, but if you use relative pathing, be sure to path from the HTML file holding the Flash.

You can link to any file using the getURL code outlined above.

In ActionScript 3.0

Of course, in AS3 they had to go out of their way to make it more difficult...instead of three lines, its now seven lines of code. Again, not difficult, but more details need to be added to launch the URL.

First, create a new variable for the URL. We are calling the variable 'request'.

var request:URLRequest = new URLRequest("http://www.dwebstudios.com");

Then, create a button instance and call it whatever you'd like. In the example below, the button's name is called myButton. You are going to create the function call for myButton using EventListener.

myButton.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, goWeb);

So, we've created the listener to launch the function goWeb, so we create that next:

function goWeb(event:MouseEvent):void {
     navigateToURL(request, "_blank");
}

So, the entire code block is:

var request:URLRequest = new URLRequest("http://www.dwebstudios.com");

myButton.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, goWeb);

function goWeb(event:MouseEvent):void {
     navigateToURL(request, "_blank");
}

To link to a document, replace the variable in the URLRequest object with your .pdf name or file name and it will launch as expeted. The same rules apply for the target string and pathing as in AS2, but the entire code block is longer and more dramatic.

var request:URLRequest = new URLRequest("myCoolFile.pdf");

myButton.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, goPDF);

function goPDF(event:MouseEvent):void {
     navigateToURL(request, "_blank");
}

So that's it! I hope this helps!

P.S. If you want to link to an email address you use the same code as above in AS 2 and 3 but you replace the object with 'mailto:yourMail@yourEmail.com'.

AS 2

on (release){
    getURL("mailto:yourMail@yourEmail.com");
}

AS 3

var mail:URLRequest = new URLRequest("mailto:yourMail@yourEmail.com");

myButton.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, goMail);

function goMail(event:MouseEvent):void {
     navigateToURL(mail);
}

06/22/09

Recently, several people have sent me emails asking how I've learned my web skills. I joke and talk about the painful process of trial and error, of late night hair pulling sessions and emails to online experts, begging for assistance. However, the reality is I am self taught - relying on books and projects to drive my learning.

I have never taken a single course on web design, graphic design or eLearning design. I probably could have been much better, much faster if I had, but the reality is that everything I've learned has come from a book or from a project. I never bothered to learn a technology until I accepted a project that required it. JavaScript, PHP, mySQL, SCORM, Flash and others were learned because I had received a contract to deliver a web application or site using these technologies and had to learn it or die trying!

I prefer to learn from books - nothing feels so good that to crack open a bound volume of knowledge and apply it. To me, its a rush to get a new book and then work through it.

Notice that I didn't say read it. I work through it. You don't learn web design or graphic design or eLearning design by reading a book. You need to use it as a workbook to push you into the learning and really DO the activities and projects in the book. In fact, when learning a technology, I seek out the books where the entire book is a series of activities and projects to learn.

So, what's my list? Here are my top publishers to whom I owe my success!

Friends of Ed
If you want to learn anything Adobe (in the past, Macromedia too!) you must, must, must visit the site and make a purchase. They are a small group out of the UK that publishes materials the way I like to learn - very project based. Flash, Dreamweaver, Fireworks, generic Web Design, CSS... all of it is there! Their Foundation series of books are phenomenal. I highly recommend these books and this publisher.


Peach Pit Press

After I've learned it, I need reference materials at the tips of my fingers. While Friends of Ed teaches me, the Peach Pit stuff gives me the instant info I need to solve a specific problem or find a solution for accomplishing a task. Their Visual Quickstart Guides are amazing. They provide you with the info you need very quickly. When you are armpit deep in the code and its 2:00 am, the Quickstart Guides come to the rescue. Think of a web technology, and they have a Quickstart Guide for it.

SitePoint

Lately, I've been reading a ton of books from SitePoint. While most of their materials cover specific web technologies, I've been finding gems in their theoretical books. Things like Freelancing, Web Marketing, Project Management and Principles books have all rounded out my rough edges - provided the missing practical knowledge I didn't have by not going to design school. You can review their site and see what kind of things they offer (lots of webby stuff!), but their books are short, fun to read and incredibly practical.

There you go! That's my list. Of course, I have benefited from Adobe Press, RapidIntake (when they were producing books) and the Missing Manual books, but the lion's share of my learning has come from my three favorites above.

I hope this helps you on your learning journey. Remember, good eLearning programming comes from a strong foundational knowledge of web technologies.

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 »

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 »

02/02/09

Leo Lucas is an eLearning consultant who has made a series of SCORM templates that are inexpensive and easy to implement. I talked about his site at ASTD TK all last week, and I wanted to link to his site from here. I spent about $500 here and it has saved me hours and hours of work around simple SCORM implementation.

Thank you Leo!

Visit the software section for Flash, HTML and developer toolkits which make SCORM less painful to implement.

http://www.e-learningconsulting.com/

02/01/09

As always, ASTD put on a great show in Vegas. I am looking forward to following up with all the new people I met and learned with. I cannot wait until '10!

I had three sessions I conducted: Two Creation Stations and a Tech Intensive. I have to say that the Tech Intensive was a blast. I had about 80 people in the room, and we talked at length about the Adobe CS4 Web Suite. 90% of it went well, but I had one SoundBooth snafu and one Flash ActionScript 3.0 snafu. Before the session, I said to myself that I'd create an interaction using ActionScript 2.0 because I know that cold, but then reminded myself that I made a pact to only program in ActionScript 3.0. I know how to get things built, but some of the calls are still new to me. I forgot to add the

(event:MouseEvent):void 

to my function call. Grr...Oh well. We laughed and got it working when I finally relaxed enough to think clearly. Building a site in the privacy of your office is much different than building in front of a room of learners!

Here are links to my materials from the sessions. If you were not able to attend, I understand! Here are the materials in PDF format:

Creation Station
Flash CS4: Get a Taste of ActionScript 3.0 Hands On! : PDF File

Tech Intensive
Integrating Adobe Creative Suite to Maximize E-Learning Development
PDF File
PowerPoint File

Also, if you attended my Tech Intensive, you remember that we built a "New Hire Orientation" online guide for Tommy Gun's Garage, a dinner theater and "speakeasy" out of Chicago. I thought you might like to see what I built for the client.

View the comp here.

Its just the prototype in a flat Photoshop file, but you can see what a little time and attention can do for good web design.

Thanks for talking with me, laughing with (at) me and having a great time in Vegas at the ASTD TK show.

Now, go build something cool!

P.S. I haven't forgotten to put the David Pogue Web 2.0 list up from the first day of the conference...It will be up soon...

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.

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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