I recently engaged in a debate with one of my colleagues regarding the virtues of building eLearning projects that take advantage of current technological bells and whistles vs. building your project to work on older technology. The point boiled down to the fact that the users are sophisticated enough to download and upgrade their browsers which will allow them to experience the cutting edge stuff, so there was no reason to not utilize bleeding edge.
It's been my experience that the home and small business user adapts and upgrades their technology way before the typical business user. It is also my experience that web marketing folks, web design folks and eLearning programmers at large organizations usually have the best hardware and software. They are usually given lots of control when it comes to what's installed, and often given the ability to install whatever software they need.
Not so for the rest of the organization. The sales teams, engineering teams, financial teams and other folks in the firm are not so lucky. On their first day, IT usually goes back into the closet, blows off the dust and pulls out an older machine for them to use. After all, it doesn't take much computing power to run MS Office and a web browser.
That's generally where the problems occur. The designer creates a multimedia masterpiece that the user cannot experience as intended. Did you know that the cool and interactive Flash demo requires the processing power of the host computer to make it run? Yes, after the .swf is downloaded to the user's machine through the browser, it still requires the processing speed of the user's computer to run correctly. This means older, slower, computer :: clunky Flash presentation.
And, the first thing that gets sacrificed in the Flash presentation is animation frame rate. Flash prioritizes the audio track before the animation, especially if you stream rather than event program your audio. What this means is that the audio track plays perfectly, but the animation stutters and hacks between keyframes to keep up.
Also, don't forget bandwidth issues. At last count, as much at 63% of home users have high speed connections. Most businesses do as well. However, if you forget that almost 40% of the users don't have it, you are losing almost half your audience! If you rely exclusively on large video and swf files that take forever to download, your learners are not learning...they are watching the %loaded figure slowly creep up.
Even though users have the opportunity to upgrade their browsers, many IT groups refuse to give admin rights to their users and frequently lock down software installation. Some IT groups lock the computer to a certain operating system and browser version. User's don't have the option of installing new technology, even though its readily available.
In my book, Technology for Trainers, I talk about an instructional design methodology for the creation of eLearning. When building eLearning for an organization, either the one you work for or for a client, you need to perform a technology review. What computer systems do they use? Operating systems? Connection speed? Average user's processing speed? Do they have the ability to install plugins? What is the current Flash plug in version? What is the current browser version? Do they have speakers? Higher end video cards? Can they save files from the web to their computer? Do they have a LMS? These are all questions that have to be answered before you build.
If you have an eLearning requirement in place and your learner cannot meet that requirement because of their technology sitting on their desktop, you have lost and frustrated that user. Also, you have put them in the uncomfortable place of being non-compliant with the learning initiative. You must perform a technology review in order to ensure that every user has the capability to see and experience your eLearning.
Does this mean you may have to design your course around IE 6.0? Yes. Does this mean you cannot use the new CSS anonymous table elements for layout? Unfortunately, yes. If your client is standardized on IE 6.0, you may have to dump CSS all together! Does your client have remote locations still using dial up? If yes, then you have to dump multimedia.
In conclusion, I must quote Ian Malcom, the Chaos Theorist who said "...your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should." Just because we can do a thing, doesn't mean we should. Stop and think about your learners and ensure that your chosen eLearning technology will run on their systems, and that it is a learning opportunity they can experience. Don't be afraid to use old technology or design methods as an added insurance policy that it will work on your end-user's machine. Don't be afraid to abandon a technology if it won't work well for your users. Use the right tool for the job, but be sure your learners can learn from it.
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 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.
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.
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:
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.
During my ASTD Essentials webinar series this past week, several people asked about the fundamentals of good eLearning design and where they could go to learn the basics of good eLearning design. I joked that I can teach you to mash buttons in Flash, Dreamweaver and Photoshop, but I can't teach you to have that "eye". However, there are some resources that can give you a jump start.
Technology for Trainers
by Thomas Toth (Me)
Yeah, I have to start with my book. Sorry about the shameless plug. It's really a great foundational book that's easy to read. It's only 182 pages and I have a whole chapter dedicated to the elements of a good interface. However, if you want to dive into a monster of a book, then:
Designing Web-Based Training: How to Teach Anyone Anything Anywhere Anytime
by William Horton
This is a monster book - 640 pages - but its really good stuff. This book has been called a good reference book, I find it chock full of ideas on developing good eLearning.
Multimedia Based Instructional Design
by William Lee and Diana Owens
While a bit dated (original printing was 2000, this is the 2004 update), this book provides you with the templates, storyboards and other paper-based tools to help you organize your multimedia and online learning elements. I used this quite a bit during my early years.
Anything by Michael Allen
Michael Allen is widely considered to be an eLearning guru. I find his books excite me and challenge the way I think. Although I challenge some of the things he says, suggests and does, I find that anyone who can make me think is someone I enjoy associating with.
There are also some very good books on web design in general, but from an eLearning perspective, these are good places to start!
Would anyone be interested in videos, tutorials or seminars on the elements of good eLearning design? I hope to put some of this stuff on myelearningguru.com (the stinky Joomla project...still in development...grr...), but what about synchronous sessions? Maybe an online class or two? Let me know if you would be interested in something like this. Post a comment or contact me directly!
Now, go build something cool!
This is a web log dedicated to the training and development professional who is looking to get into the world of online learning. It's a completely new skill set, and many people I talk with are scared, nervous and, quite frankly, don't know where to begin. That's where this site comes in!
As this site grows and develops, I hope to pride you with ways to think about your eLearning, tools for helping you develop your eLearning and ways to take new, emerging and existing technology and put it into your eLearning. After all, with very few exceptions,no one is creating technology exclusively for learning.
Think about it...did people invent the telephone for learning purposes? The web? The iPhone? WebEx? What about RSS feeds, blogs, podcasting, second life, HTML, Joomla, Flash, etc. All of these are amazing technologies, and I hope to help you think about them and how to incorporate them into your online learning.
I'm very opinionated. I'm very open to good discussion. I'm very passionate about online learning. Thank you for stopping by. I hope that I can give you something to think about!
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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