Categories: Software, Adobe

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.

01/23/14

Permalink 04:47:20 pm, Categories: News, Software, Adobe , Tags: 2014, adobe, animate, astd, cc, edge, html5, techknowledge

I had to leave a little early from this year's show, but I was honored to speak about my new "up and coming" piece of software: Adobe Edge Animate CC. It's like Flash, but it writes to HTML 5 as opposed to creating a SWF. Now, if you know anything at all about me, you know I love my SWFs. I've made my living creating them for many years. I'm also not too happy about how HTML5 is being forced down our throats. Yes, I said FORCED. I feel like an elearning duck being prepped for foie gras. It's still not ready for prime time elearning development. Enough on that...I'll have another post about it soon.

This year's conference was interesting - topics about copyright and raw technology were replaced by general social media and case studies. The creation stations were all awesome (and hands on), but the show still caters to the intro-medium level user. I'm a "do-er-ist" rather than a "theorist", so the lean towards theory was not my cup of tea.

However, as always, ASTD put on a great show. Thanks everyone! See you next year.

Now...onto that article...Patti Shank...I'm calling you next week. I've figured out a title and subject for our research article...

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?

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?

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.

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.

05/11/10

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

03/26/10

One of my clients has had a cool vision for her eLearning projects and it involves avatars - not the blue smurfy giants, but the digital characters/cartoons that help lead your learners through the training.

I've done quite a bit of it in the past, but it always adds to the cost because I hire an illustrator/cartoonist to develop my characters. Whenever I hire out, it costs me and the clients more money. As budgets dried up last year, it was a pretty quiet year for avatars.

However, I've developed some eLearning for this client in the past, they were used to my pricing structure, and I didn't want to look like I was price spiking. So, I figured that I would see if there were some avatars available online that weren't too cheesy, and that I could pick up cheaply so as to not pass the cost onto the client.

After a long and painful search, I am happy to have found this site: Cartoon Solutions. It's not a site specifically for eLearning, but for Flash cartoons. It contains dozens of characters that you can download for a steal ($22.00 or so, $50 for the character plus 18 animations). Men, women, kids, animals, plus backgrounds and props, all in the same toony "style". And, when you buy, you get the .fla file with all the embedded mouth and hand positions so you can drop them right into your project.

As you know, 90% of my stuff is build in Flash so this was a perfect fit. While designed for Flash cartoons, I found them to be a perfect fit for these new eLearning projects.

The best part: My client LOVED the rapid prototype. If you know Flash and want to add a toony look to your eLearning, check out Cartoon Solutions!

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.

03/09/10

I was doing some work for a client and had to load in some .swf files generated by a 3rd party program. I admit it - I LOVE text effects. I like fades, but when the text can bounce or flip or swirl in, sometimes it adds a bit of snazz to the eLearning project. As long as you don't overdo it, I think the learner's get a kick out of the occasional bits of visual eye candy.

Text-OsteroneOn my Mac, I use a program called Text-Osterone, from a company called Vertical Moon. The software allows you to create a bunch of editable special effects you can apply to text. The current version only seems to export to an AS 2.0 version .fla, so I export the file to a .swf and then dynamically load it in. (I am working ever so hard to leave AS 2.0 behind me...)

Of course, in AS 3.0, it requires a bunch of code lines to load the external .swf, but my solution below pares it down to the bare basics.

First, make sure the .swf you want to load is in the same directory as the .swf loading it. You can play with paths if you like, but for this code, just keep the whole shebang together.

When you want to load the .swf, add a key frame and then add the following code:

var swfRequest:URLRequest = new URLRequest("connect.swf");
var swfLoader:Loader = new Loader(); 

The first line sets up a variable called swfRequest and it points to the .swf you want to load. In my example, the .swf I want to load is called "connect.swf". The second line preps a variable called swfLoader to...well...initiate a load...(insert random inappropriate comment here)...

Next lines:

swfLoader.load(swfRequest);
addChild(swfLoader); 

This next line loads the connect.swf into the variable swfLoader. The addChild line plops the .swf onto the stage. That's it. Sure, its a lot more work than the old LoadMovie(); AS 2.0 command, but it does the job.

Now, if you want to place the .swf in a particular location on the stage, you can manipulate it's coordinates once its been loaded into your main .swf.

swfLoader.x=10;
swfLoader.y=120;

This sets the X and Y placement of the .swf after its been loaded in. Of course, you can place it wherever you want. Remember, that the X and Y coordinates are relative to the main timeline (if this is where you dropped this code) or relative to the coordinates INSIDE a movie symbol (if you drop this code into a movie symbol.) The final code looks like this (with comments added):

// Load the SWF into the Variable swfRequest
var swfRequest:URLRequest = new URLRequest("connect.swf");
var swfLoader:Loader = new Loader();

// Bring the SWF into the SWF
swfLoader.load(swfRequest);
addChild(swfLoader);

//Position the SWF
swfLoader.x=10;
swfLoader.y=120;

There are some other tutorials online, but I am a big fan of keeping things simple. If you need to load a .swf and position it on the stage, this ActionScript 3.0 code sample will work every time. Have fun!

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?

02/01/10

Permalink 12:00:11 pm, Categories: News, Software, Adobe, On the web , Tags: adobe cs5, april, cs5, flash cs5, photoshop cs5

There have been reports leaking to the web that hint of an April release date for the Adobe CS5 suite of software. Although Adobe goes out of their way to keep these release dates a secret, reports keep coming out. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I've had lots of buggy situations with Flash CS4 and with Dreamweaver CS4 on my Mac, so I'm hoping that in addition to those new features which are coming, Adobe has taken the time to clean up the code a bit.

And, because I cannot wait, here are some CS5 Videos and a dedicated CS5 website that should keep you enticed:

Flash CS5 : Export to iPhone
Flash CS5 : New Features

Photoshop CS5 : Sneak Peek
Photoshop CS5 : Patch Match
Photoshop CS5 : Spot Healing

GREAT CS5 Site: http://cs5.org/

01/08/10

ASTD TK 2010It's that time of the year again, when Vegas calls the educational technologists out from their dark work rooms, and when instructional designers and facilitators alike decide to figure out this eLearning stuff and come out to Las Vegas for the ASTD TechKnowledge Conference.

This is going to be another great year with ASTD, and I wanted to let everyone know that I will be presenting three separate sessions regarding Flash CS4.

I'll be presenting a "Getting Started with Flash" pre-conference session on 1/26/10! Its a fun primer to get you up and running using Flash, but is targeted towards the eLearning professional. It's for the new learners, but will be a full day of Flash related fun. (Can you say "Flash Related Fun" ten times fast?)

Also, I will have two Creation Stations on Flash called "Flash Animation: Basics of Making Things Move" on Wednesday the 27th and Friday the 29th of January. This is a 90 minute hands-on session where you will learn the basics of symbols and tweening in Flash CS4. Yes, it's pretty basic, but will be a blast, especially if you are brand new to Flash CS4.

I'll be blogging and podcasting from the General Sessions and sometimes from the concurrent sessions I'll be attending.

I am coming into Vegas on Monday night and leaving on Friday afternoon, and I am usually walking the floor or expo when I'm not in session. Feel free to say "hello" if you see me wandering around! Also, I will be attending the "Meet to Eat"sessions in the evenings, so if you want to connect with me ~ I'd love to talk tech!

12/01/09

I have been hunting for a way to test my SCORM packages before sending them to my customers for review, and with the help of one of my clients, I found an excellent resource.

SCORM.com has an excellent tool called Test Track. It allows you to upload your SCORM .zip file into a working/testing location that gives you everything you need to evaluate and debug your SCORM packages. The link is:

http://www.scorm.com/scorm-solved/test-track/

I always get so freaked out when sending SCORM packages to clients without testing...the debug process can be a pain. This tool, which is FREE, found a silly "&" in my .xml which I was able to fix before sending the final versions to clients.

Did you catch that this tool is FREE!??!

SCORM scares and frustrates me, but this is an awesome tool from Rustici Software that made my life so much easier today. I set up my free account and will be living here as I develop eLearning for my clients. Thanks scorm.com!

11/24/09

Permalink 08:13:21 pm, Categories: Software, Adobe, Rants , Tags: adobe, cs4, flash bug, flash cs4, flash cs4 bug, flash fonts, font bug, mac, os x

Just an FYI...I lost about four hours development time today because Flash CS4 continually crashed after a 2 second live time. Yep...open a file and then 2 seconds later it would close down.

Here were my steps to resolve it on my Mac with OS X:

1) Repair Disk Permissions
2) Reset preferences
3) Reset user settings
4) Uninstall and then reinstall

None of this worked.

5) 45 minutes on hold with tech support who directed me to a web page, FOUR TIMES, that resulted in a 404 error each time.

Finally, the solution that worked is to

6) Turn off all my fonts. Yep, turn all of them off in Font Book, and then turn them back on as the system calls for them, or as Flash needs them.

Turn off my fonts!!! Since when do fonts cause an expensive and complex program like Flash to crash. Whatever.

It's easy to turn off fonts in Font Book (right mouse click on Computer and choose Disable Fonts) and the Mac asks permission to turn them on as you need them, but here's the kicker.

It worked fine last night. Today, I didn't install any fonts, I just opened Flash files and wanted to work. What mystical creature got into my Mac last night and played with font settings?

I don't know, but man, I hope this saves you a call to Adobe tech support...Adobe, I love ya, but please get me a stable version of Flash.

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

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.

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);
}

06/26/09

As I've spoken about in the past, almost all of my eLearning is programmed by hand using the Adobe suite of products and creating interfaces, buttons and eLearning elements from scratch.

As I get ready to roll out my new business venture (Catapult Training Group...YAY), I'm debating about whether I should advertise on the new web site and in my promotional materials that I use/have used/can use the off the shelf eLearning development tools like Unison, Lectora, Articulate and Captivate. As an eLearning developer, I've always prided myself on the fact that I write from the source and do not use these tools when developing. Several of my clients have asked me to use these tools and help them to learn these tools, however should I be advertising that these tools are within my capability?

Does it diminish my reputation as a developer to talk about my company using these tools? Even though most of these tools are great, they have serious limitations when it comes to high degrees of complex interactivity. I feel that I shouldn't want it featured that I sometimes use them on behalf of clients...am I right to feel that way?

On the other side of the coin, some of my current clients are using them and I've been able to offer my assistance to those folks and make a little money to boot. In fact, one of my clients ONLY uses these tools and has required me to design within the confines of these applications. Is that a value to other companies? Should I advertise it?

I'm seriously interested in knowing your opinion! Please comment or shoot me an email to let me know your opinion. Thank you in advance!

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 »

04/18/09

Pixel LayoutI've been working with some print designers on making the transition from print to web media. I realized that many instructional designers may be facing the same situation, so I thought I should post about the differences between designing for print display and designing for web display.

The main difference between the two media is the way in which size and dimensions are measured. For print, the units of measurement is points and inches - on the web, its all about the pixels.

For your print work, you measure out your page size (8.5" X 11") and you know that a 4.25" image will take up half the page width and display at exactly 4.25" wide. On the web, you don't have that level of control. You have to set your picture to display at a certain size (400 pixels wide), but that's about all the control you have about the way it displays.

Let me talk a little bit about pixels for a second... A pixel is a single square of color, arranged on a grid - it is the smallest unit of measurement on a computer screen. The challenge we face as designers is that that the actual "unit of measurement" changes size based on the computer screen used to display the image.

Your typical computer laptop displays at 1280X1024. Do you ever wonder what that means? That means that there are 1280 pixels going lengthwise on your laptop screen, and 1024 pixels going along the height of the screen.

You probably know that the higher "resolution" is better, but all you are doing when you increase resolution is increase the number of pixels that are crammed onto the screen, resulting in smaller graphic files and smaller text and icons. Also, you may experience a distortion of your images on monitors that are working hard to display at a higher or lower resolution than "native" because it has to compensate for resizing the pixels.

An image that is 400 pixels wide will take up half the screen size on a monitor set to 800X600. An image that is 400 pixels wide will take a little more than a third when displaying on a monitor at 1024X768. The same image file will display differently depending on the computer screen that displays it.

That can be very frustrating to designers used to the concrete measurements of print. It is almost impossible to set a screen layout to display "a 1 inch border around the outside of the main content on the page." Instead, its possible to say display "a 100 pixel border around the outside of the main content on the page." That can be set easily, but know that depending on the user's machine and resolution settings, those 100 pixels will take up a lot of space, or just a little.

If you are a print designer, getting used to the abstract medium of pixels over exact measurements can take a bit of time. Know that getting it to look perfect on your screen can create a mash up of ugliness on a different screen. Experiment with different resolutions to ensure your final product looks close to your final vision.

Of course, users can change their browser settings to display different font types, turn off images and flash objects and disable link functions when surfing into your pages, but that's a topic for another time!

04/04/09

One of the most frustrating things for me to learn in AS 3.0 was being able to find my movie clips in the code. I usually work on a single Flash timeline with lots of nested movie clips that make up my elearning: Frame 1 has an intro movie clip, Frame 2 introduces the course, etc.

My frustration with AS3.0 is that I couldn't figure out how to control my main movie from within my nested movie symbol. For example, in Frame 1, my intro movie plays, and then ends on a screen that explains the learning objectives. There is a big "Start the Training" button, and when the user clicks on it, the ROOT of the Flash movie advances to frame 2, where a new movie symbol plays.

Not that hard right? Old ActionScript code:

_root.play();

Not any more. I'm stubborn...I want AS 3.0 to work like AS 2.0. Suck it up buttercup, it won't. The reality is AS 3.0 doesn't see the "stage" or even the "timeline", relative to the objects. Think of it this way...in AS 1.0 and 2.0, objects added to your movie existed on the timeline, and Flash knew where they were at based on where on the timeline you placed them. They were "happyBall instance on frame 1 of the main timeline(root)."

In AS 3.0, movie clips just "are". Very zen like, I know, but in AS 3.0, they are defined as themselves. It doesn't matter where they are on the timeline - their identity is not connected to where they are placed. So, trying to add "root" to an AS 3.0 object is like trying to tell a book to go back to the printing press where it was created. Can't do it on its own - it has no awareness of its location.

After searching around the web, and finding a ton of different solutions (some of which seemed overly complicated, especially the ones that said to replace

_root

with just

root

...doesn't work...nice try), the kind developers at Yahoo found a working solution. It goes back to the day when you were able to identify anything based on its location, relative to the root. The code looks like this:

MovieClip(this.root)

So, in our example, in the movie clip, we have a button that advances to the next frame of the main timeline. There is a movie with some text and a button (named clickMe) in it. In the Movie clip, you would add this code:

clickMe.addEventListener(MouseEvent.CLICK, goClickMe);

function goClickMe(event:MouseEvent):void {
	MovieClip(this.root).play();
}

You can control the main timeline from within movie clips using that bit of code.

I hope this helps you as much as it helped me. Maybe its no longer a best practice to embed ActionScript in movies that control other things besides that movie symbol, but for a guy like me that wants to move from AS 2.0 to 3.0 quickly, I'm going to hang my hat on these little tricks to help me rapidly develop my projects.

Oh...and if you want to download a sample to see this in action click here. Its a Flash CS4/AS 3.0 file that shows you the controls I'm talking about.

03/17/09

My friend Ginger sent me another cool note with more online applications - this time focused on the world of flow charting.

From a web design perspective, flow charting can be an excellent way to "map" the user experience through your site. From an eLearning perspective, flow charting can be a way to visualize complex interactions or simulations, making it easier to program these necessary elements.

I recently completed a very complex interviewing simulation : You (the learner) have to interview four different candidates using the same set of six questions. When you click on the question, the interview candidate responds. You then rate those responses on a scale of 1-5. You then interview the next person with the same rating scale until all four candidates are interviewed. The person with the highest score gets "hired" in the simulation. Hire the best candidate who gave the best responses and you get an "email" from the president of the firm congratulating you on your hire. If you hire the worst candidate (by rating their bad responses highly), that person leaves the firm after two months. The simulation is awesome and the client went crazy for it!

Which brings me back to flow charting...without a flow chart, a complex simulation like the one above can be very painful to create, both for the instructional designer and for the programmer. Lots of diagrams and communication needs to occur to make sure that every moving part is tracked and everyone understands how all the elements interact. It's no fun to go through a simulation without it impacting the learner somehow - flow charting can help tremendously.

GliffyGliffy
Gliffy is a true application working "in the cloud." Its free for 30 days and if you want to purchase it, a single user license is just $5.00 per month. For an online app, it is very robust - most of the common functions you'd find in a Visio or Omni-graffle are all here. Some of the cooler functions I didn't expect to find were fill and stroke color adjustments, lots and lots of shapes and images, and the ability to upload your own images. You can share the flow chart online, as well as export to .png, .jpg and the Visio .svg file. I was VERY impressed with this tool.

Flowchart.com
Flowchart.com is in BETA, so it's a bit harder to get access to it. You give them your email, and they send you credentials to log in. The have an interactive demo online, but it doesn't show much from a development perspective. As they get closer to launch, I'll edit this post to include my opinions. (I haven't been approved as a beta tester yet). Sign up and tell me what you think.

I'm getting close to finishing this series of Netbook software items. I have two categories left to dig up: online image editing and online animation software. I hope I don't have to rely on download and launch software (like the HTML software), but if I find some items with small footprints, I'll be sure to post.

Let me know if you have found this series useful! Post a comment or send me a note. And again, thanks again Ginger!

03/16/09

I have to admit I'm a bit saddened by the face that I could not find a single WYSIWYG HTML writing software that works in the cloud. Maybe the requirements are too high for an online app...I don't know. However I did find some tiny footprint programs that can be downloaded from the web and installed on the Netbook. If you don't want to have the power of Dreamweaver installed on your Netbook (or the amount of space this application takes up - 500MB and counting), here are some software recommendations for you.

KompoZer
KompoZer is a complete web authoring system that combines web file management and easy-to-use WYSIWYG web page editing. KompoZer is designed to be extremely easy to use, making it ideal for non-technical computer users who want to create an attractive, professional-looking web site without needing to know HTML or web coding.

KompoZer has both a WYSIWYG mode AND a coding mode, just like the big guys. It has a Site Manager function with built in FTP, and is available for PC, Mac and Linux machines. The best part is that KompoZer has a tiny download size (7.6 MB for Windows, 11.0 MB for Mac and 10.3 MB for Linux) - perfect for the Netbook!

SeaMonkey
SeaMonkey calls itself a "suite" of software packages built on the Mozilla source code. It contains a browser, email client, newsgroup client, HTML editor, IRC chat and web development tools. All I'm concerned about it whether or not it can write code in both a WYSIWYG format and code view. Composer is the name of the application included in the SeaMonkey application. It can do both, but they are not very robust. While utilizing a "tab" approach, the application does its job and nothing more. Many of the color cues in the code and basic features aren't there. It lets you write code and then preview it. Not bad, but just not interesting. It's just the basics.

SeaMonkey is larger than KompoZer (13MB for Windows, 23MB for Mac and 14MB for Linux) but contains all the applications in one download. Installation was easy. Check it out! At least the price is right!
Bluefish
Bluefish

The last one I want to bring to your attention is Bluefish. Although it is not a WYSIWYG writer (they call it a What You See is What You Need (WYSIWYN) interface!!!!!), it is an amazingly powerful text editor. If you started by writing your own code by hand, then this application will bring you back to those days. It's not only for writing web page code, but can also handle other programming languages as well. As a web guy, I appreciate the table and frame wizards and lots of tool-bars created especially for me. I loved this tool, but it can be intimidating for people who don't want to know code. I thought I would include it here for powerusers who may be thinking about a Netbook.

03/13/09

While not true replacements for the entire MS Office, there are a couple I've discovered that replace Word and allow you to collaborate online. Still not a true eLearning application replacement, but we are getting closer.

The first is the biggie - the free Google Docs application. It allows you to upload .doc, .rtf, .odt and .swx files to their site for sharing with friends and co-workers. It also allows you to create new Presentations (PPT replacement), Spreadsheets (XLS replacement) and forms. From a functionality perspective, all feel "watered down", but completely functional. Google has done a great job with the applications and the ability to upload and download to your desktop. This is some fun stuff that will replace the tedious install of MS Office onto your Netbook. The best part is that it is Free. Don't expect major functionality, but on the road with a Netbook, it's awesome.

Another application is called TextFlow. TextFlow is much more robust than Google Docs, but only handles documents. It has amazing collaboration features in an elegant development environment. The entire app is built using Adobe AIR that is simple, clean and interactive interface. It does require a tiny download of the application interface, and the install includes the AIR environment. Check it out.

While hunting for "office" apps, I found various note taking and writing applications that were interesting. Most of these are downloadable to the Netbook, but they store images, files, text, urls, video and lots more in a single place. Most are free, some charge for storage and others are completely web based. This got me thinking about all the files necessary to build a web page or eLearning module. Perhaps something like the software list below could be used to keep all the necessary files together in one spot, rather than transferring them from computer to computer, or relying on the web server. Still thinking through it but here is the list.

Evernote
This app is an excellent way to keep track of your observations, comments and ideas and allows you to type in and save text, take a photo with your phone, and store information you find on the Internet.

FruitNotes
This online notebook has some unique features including leaving voice mail notes from your phone, uploading photos and videos, and online sharing of the files you've saved.

Notezz!
This is an extremely simple app that allows you to keep all your notes in one place. There are no complicated features with this application : you want to store your notes, Notezz! will do it!

WebAsyst Notes
A more robust storage application, WebAsyst Notes allows you to create notes and then organize them in folders, share with clients, or access other services such as photo storage, manage projects, and more.

Zoho Notebook
Integrate audio, video, HTML, URLs, files, and much more with Zoho Notebook. Tools include line, text, freehand, and shapes.

I only found one online graphics editor (so far) and some downloadable apps for writing code, but nothing that I would say runs truly in "the cloud". I'm sure they are out there, and when I find them, I'll post them!

03/07/09

In my quest to find good Netbook software that runs in the "cloud" a friend told me about two sites that replace Captivate. Yes, the screen capture software, allowing you to record content on your computer screen. I am experimenting with this software now and cannot wait to report on it.

The first is called Screencast-o-matic.
http://www.screencast-o-matic.com/
From their home page: "Screencast-O-Matic is the free and easy way to create a video recording of your screen (aka screencast) and upload it for free hosting all from your browser with no install!" It looks like it needs Java, and seemed to work fine on my Mac using Firefox.

The second is called Jing
http://www.jingproject.com/
From their home page: "Jing is free software that adds visuals to your online conversations. Instead of typing a people, show them what you are talking about...pronto." Looks like it does screen capture in addition to "screencasting" and sharing of your video. Jing works on both Mac's and PCs.

Looks like this software may be a good alternative for Captivate, Camtasia or Snagit! Try these and tell me about your experiences or post a comment!

Special thank you to Ginger for sending these my way! You are a rock star!

Still looking for HTML writing software in the "cloud"...

03/02/09

I was reading this article in Wired Magazine The Netbook Effect: How Cheap Little Laptops Hit the Big Time and started to think about all the traveling I am going to do over the summer. I'm not concerned about being able to work from a hotel room, as I've outfit my MacBook Pro with a fully licensed version of the Adobe CS4 suite. Yes, its expensive to have such a nice laptop AND such nice software just to work remotely, and the idea of a Netbook and that article got me thinking about the potential of taking my online learning development completely, well, online. Through a browser. With NO installed software. Could it be done?

And so begins my quest...over the next few days, I'm going to attempt to find online software solutions that do everything I need to build eLearning programs so I can buy a Netbook and just go. Here is the types of software I will need to find:

  • WYSIWYG HTML Editor: I use Dreamweaver in split view: code and design view. Is there browser based software that will allow me to create web pages?
  • Graphic Editor: I use Photoshop to create graphics. The article refers to FotoFlexer as a browser based Photoshop alternative. I'll try it out and let you know this week.
  • Animation Editor: As I've said in the past, Flash is my primary creator of content for my eLearning clients. Is there something out there that's browser based that will allow me to create Flash like interfaces, interactions and programs? I'm doubtful that any web based app will allow me to create like I do in Flash, but let's see what I can find!
  • Content: My clients and I use Pages, Keynote, PowerPoint and Word to create our static content. I lift the content out of these pages and paste into Dreamweaver or Flash. Google Docs is out there as a browser based alternative, but I haven't tried it...I will and tell you how it goes.

That's the major functionality I will be looking for in online applications. I want to get a Netbook purely because its new and cool (and I have a problem with wanted all the tech I can get my hands on), but if I can validate it by finding these online solutions, well, then its a purchase worth making! I know...who am I kidding...

I'll keep you posted all week with what I find.

02/21/09

Roger CourvilleThe next edition of the Trainers Talk Tech podcast is here! The topic of this podcast is synchronous learning. You can call it synchronous learning, web seminars, webinars or even edu-marketing, but I was fortunate enough to interview an expert in this area: Roger Courville.

Roger is a trainer, blogger at TheVirtualPresenter.com, and principal of 1080 Group, an independent training firm that helps companies learn and optimize online presentations and webinars. Together with his co-founder, they have created one of the industry's first independent curricula to teach trainers how to organize and accelerate their synchronous training and edu-marketing efforts.

Listen to it here:

Subscribe to the Trainers Talk Tech podcast here:
http://dwebstudios.hipcast.com/rss/trainerstalktech.xml
View RSS XML

During the podcast, Roger and I talked about various books, websites and vendors. Below are the links:

Roger's Resources

Synchronous Learning (Web Seminar) Software

Books

PowerPoint Tips

Please enjoy the podcast and subscribe if you like it! I'm going to be accelerating the frequency of the casts to one every two-three weeks instead of monthly. I have my next interview lined up for the first week in March!

Thank you for reading and listening...I hope you enjoy the podcast. Also, a sincere thank you to Roger for sharing your expertise and experience.

02/08/09

This tutorial was my presentation at the ASTD TK 08 show in San Antonio Texas. While running the creation stations at this year's conference, many people asked me about the materials I used for last year's session. Yes, the main interface is CS3, not the current CS4, but ActionScript hasn't changed. Therefore, this manual can be very helpful if you are making the bridge to AS 3.0 from AS 2.0, or you want to just get started with AS 3.0.

Foundational ActionScript 3.0 with Flash CS3 for the Online Learning Developer
ASTD TK 2008

Module 1: Communicating with ActionScript
Module 2: Using and Writing Functions
Module 3: Basic Interactivity
Module 4: Decision Making
Module 5: Text and Text Fields
Module 6: Video and Audio
Module 7: Creating Online Learning

In Module 7, I have created two (2) sample AS 3.0 eLearning interfaces that can be used to easily drop in content. The first one (Template 001) is a single .swf file and it is a time-line based, "menu on the left" driven course. It is a single file which is quick and easy to use. Functions included in interface 001:

  • Clicking on a button and going to a URL
  • Clicking on a button and going to the next frame
  • Clicking on a button and going to a previous frame
  • Dynamically pulling data about frame position and total frame numbers
  • A movie clip code changing properties of the parent movie

The .fla and .swf code is in the module 7/template001 directory.

The second interface is a bit more advanced. It consists of a single .swf file containing the menu and interface elements. However, when the user clicks on the menu, it dynamically loads the new module .swf files into itself. I used to use this technique in AS 2.0 all the time:

loadMovieNum

It was my favorite function!

Unfortunately, they killed it in AS 3.0.XX( This template contains the code for building eLearning using AS 3.0 that mirrors the functionality I used to enjoy in AS 2.0. Functions included in Interface 002:

  • Clicking on a button and going to a URL
  • Clicking on a button and going to the next frame
  • Clicking on a button and going to a previous frame
  • Dynamically pulling data about frame position and total frame numbers
  • Dynamically loading new .swf files into the main file
  • Independent controls existing inside of a loaded .swf
  • A movie clip code changing properties of the parent movie

The .fla and .swf code for the start page and all the additional pages is in the module 7/template002 directory.

This course took a lot of time and work to complete. I offer you these two templates so that they can potentially shave a ton of time off of your eLearning development, or provide you with code snippets to use in your own projects. Please feel free to download and use as you see fit.

However I ask you:

  1. Please don't mass distribute in your office - don't make a ton of copies and give them to all your friends
  2. Please don't use it to teach a class - don't download it and then use it as your own course materials
  3. Please don't use download it and then distribute it off of your web site
  4. If you found it useful and it saved you time, please add a comment to this page - it helps my SEO
  5. If this was crazy helpful and it saved your bacon at 3:00 am, please consider a donation. It encourages me to continue posting these types of tutorials and helpful files, as well as creating new ones for your use as an eLearning developer

Thanks and enjoy the tutorial! And if you donate, thank you very much for the contribution!

Download the file - 23 MB zip file






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 »

02/02/09

Permalink 01:54:21 pm, Categories: Welcome, Software, Rants , Tags: joomla, joomla project

I found a tutorial online...I'm gonna follow it and see if I can get the Great Joomla Project off the ground.

http://www.siteground.com/tutorials/joomla15/index.htm

Wish me luck!

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...

01/27/09

SkypeI have received a mountain of emails, hits and link backs regarding our first podcast with Jenna. The responses have been extremely positive. Thank you to YOU for tuning in, and thanks again to Jenna for an awesome interview.

In some of the email's I've been receiving, people have asked me what I used to record the session and how I got it all online. Here are the details:

I used Skype. Yes, the free software you can download to make calls using voice over IP. Jenna did not have a Skype account, so I called her cell phone using Skype's land line service - at a whopping .02 cents per minute.

I recorded it using a cool $15.00 tool called Call Recorder from eCamm. It plugs right into Skype and is easy to use:

  1. Login to Skype
  2. Call the person you want to talk with
  3. Click the record button

It's just that easy! It records any conversation in Skype, land line or Skype to Skype.

It saves the recording as a .mov file which I gets into Quicktime Pro and converted to a .wav file. I then took the .wav file and dropped into Adobe Soundbooth. I found some copyright free music, added 4 seconds to the front and back of the Skype recording and then exported it as a .mp3 file.

I use a podcasting host called HipCast to store and catalog my podcasts. Its $9.95 per month and is a killer deal. I uploaded the mp3 recording to hipcast and then embedded it into my site.

In an earlier post, I talked about adding Web 2.0 functionality to your eLearning. I spent $20 on a microphone, $15.00 on the Skype recorder and Soundbooth came with my CS4 purchase. For less than $100, I recorded an interesting conversation and shared it with the world. It took less time to produce it then it did to record it! You can do it too!

Add podcast functionality to your LMS. If you use SharePoint, you can connect to the HipCast stream from the RSS Web Object that comes with it. If you blog, HipCast can auto-feed into your blog. Imagine an eLearning program around leadership that comes with a weekly or monthly leadership podcast, where you interview leaders around the firm. What about a customer service program that allows users to register for the Customer Service Podcast where you interview people in the firm who are doing a great job with customer service. The possibilities are amazing, but you must figure out how to make it work in your environment. The investment is very small, but the impact can be huge!

Now...go build something cool! I'm boarding a plane to ASTD TK 09 in Vegas!

01/23/09

Permalink 10:21:37 pm, Categories: Welcome, News, Software, Getting Started, Podcast

ASTD TK 09I'm very excited about ASTD TK 09 this year. I'm looking for some new ideas and new ways of thinking and programming, and I hope that you will tune into my daily reporting from the conference. I plan on writing each day, providing you with "on the scene" details, information and opinions.

Also, I am happy to be presenting on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning. I will be sharing my presentation notes and materials on this site. I have a fun ActionScript 3.0 primer and an analysis and demonstration of the Adobe Creative Suite 4, specifically Flash, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Fireworks and Soundbooth. I know...the eLearning Suite just came out...why don't I feature that? Two reasons:

  1. ASTD already published the conference materials
  2. My MacBook Pro can't run Captivate or Presenter without Parallels and an installation of Windows. My Mac Pro has the Windows "Virus" installed on it, and I just cannot bear to subject my mobile silver brain to that kind of abuse. ;)

More news: Tomorrow morning, I am recording the first edition of the Trainers Talk Tech's Podcast. I'm interviewing an expert in the area of electronic social networking. I'm interested in her opinions about the trend and the methods and implications for the eLearning developer. Look for links to the podcast links 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.

01/14/09

Permalink 03:14:54 pm, Categories: Software, Rants , Tags: joomla, rant

Ok...first rant.

Joomla is not making things easier for me. I'm a tweaker and things need to be perfect, and Joomla is offering me degrees of compromise. I'm sure its me, but the Great Joomla Project is not moving forward as planned. I seem to be moving in slow motion...

Of course, I'm sure its user error, but many of my associates advised me to "Jump In" so I did. Maybe my error was in starting with ready made user data...

Joomla: 1
Thomas: 0

I'll keep banging on it, but if you want to see my progress, visit www.myelearningguru.com. Its kind of pink now...

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!

01/05/09

Permalink 05:14:13 pm, Categories: Software, Getting Started

Let's say that you are a stand up trainer who has been hearing about this elearning stuff for a while, but never took it seriously. Or, perhaps you have been hearing about it and realize that you need to start getting into it. Or, most likely, you are in the unique position of being a training professional who is now getting the added responsibility of building eLearning. Oh...and it needs to be done next week!

Aaahhh! What do you do?

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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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