eLearning for Business Category

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Calculating the Footprint of Your Training

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What footprint are you leaving on Earth?For any business deciding whether or not to replace existing training with eLearning (and in what proportion), there are several factors* to consider, including the “ecological footprint” of various training methods.

I can’t tell you what the footprint of your training is, but I can tell you how I calculated mine when I created my “Leave a Legacy, Not a Footprint” eWheel in 2007.  If you follow the same steps, you will be able to understand your impact and reduce it, even if you are not able to calculate the exact value.

1. Processes

The first thing I did was to make a list of environmental aspects and impacts associated with the processes of face-to-face training and eLearning. I also looked at meetings; in-person vs. using web technology.  My list of processes:

 

  • Building training facilities (not used otherwise); material production and transportation, land use
  • Furnishing training facilities (furniture, electronics; production, shipment, disposal)
  • Using facilities (air conditioning, heating, water use and treatment)
  • Printing of paper materials, including drafts/mistakes that are thrown away
  • Production of non-paper materials used in face-to-face
  • Shipping of materials to training site
  • Traveling by instructors and participants to training site, daily commuting or extended stays
  • Living arrangements for instructors and participants who are not commuting

I made the assumption that with virtual learning, there would be a negligible increase in computer usage because in 2007 most office workers had at least one work computer and one home computer, all being served by network servers connected through intranet and Internet equipment.  To be completely fair, if everyone did everything electronically, the environmental impact of computers would rise, but by how much I don’t know.

2. Aspects

 

From the processes, I made a list of environmental aspects associated with them.  An aspect is an output of your process that you can touch (and possibly measure) that will affect the environment.

  • CO2 (metric tons) – every process above contributes to this aspect.
  • Freshwater used (gallons)
  • Water treated (gallons)
  • Electricity used (KWhr)
  • Heat produced (therms)
  • Crude Oil (barrels)
  • Noise (decibels/hour)
  • Light pollution
  • Pollution (from chemical used in production and disposal)
  • Non-productive time (person-hrs)

Next, I searched the web to find data on each of these.  I found three particularly helpful sites:

  • The Oil Drum – discussions about energy and our future.  This site gave me a great starting place for calculating the impacts of travel.
  • CarbonFund.org – I used their formulae for calculating the carbon footprint of travel and office activities.
  • Ecological Footprint analysis of The Countryside Council for Wales offers a comprehensive look at how our daily activities impact the environment.

Each of these sources led me to several additional sources.  Because many of the aspects are algebraically equivalent to others (e.g., carbon dioxide per therm is a known value), I pared the list down to these three:

  • Carbon Dioxide (pounds)
  • Crude Oil (barrels)
  • Non-productive Time (hours)

3. Impacts

links to an electronic wheel to "calculate" the ecological footprint of training and working

Click & Spin

Environmental impacts are defined as the change in an aspect between doing nothing and doing something.  They are measured as the increase or decrease in each aspect, due to a change in your process.

Click the wheel and spin it to see the final values.  They represent the increase in each aspect (CO2, Crude Oil, Non-productive time) of each type of training over no training.

If I had been preparing a business case (instead of creating a marketing wheel) I would have been more precise in my calculations.  Still, a relative comparison of face-to-face vs. virtual activities presents a strong argument for using eLearning if your objective is to reduce waste (both environmental and time).

Take it one step at a time

Including footprint analysis in your decision process should make it easier for you to decide how to use eLearning in your business.  Every day, more data becomes available, so it will get easier.  Don’t worry about including every last aspect and impact into your initial calculations; the Pareto Principle applies!

  1. List the processes
  2. List the aspects of those processes
  3. Measure or calculate the impacts

Additional Reading

*The following posts from The eLearning Coach are a good a good place to start when writing a business case for eLearning, considering costs, intangibles, and other non-environmental criteria.

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Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Sustainable eLearning is Great eLearning

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Ideas for Sustainable PracticesLast month I was amused as I read online instructions for participants in a webinar on Sustainability (of all things). It said “download the presentation file and print three slides per page to save trees”.  Wow! Why print it at all?

I would like to propose that your online training – whether it’s a Moodle course, an eLearning course in another LMS, or a webinar – can be both GREAT and environmentally responsible.  Here are some ideas to enrich your training while doing better by the environment, your students, and your wallet:

1. Take full advantage of online technology.  If you design an eLearning course, making it all that it can be, printing won’t make any sense.

  • Interactive features from games to online chats are meaningless in paper form.
  • Linked text loses its value when printed. Colors disappear.
  • Animations – even simple ones in PowerPoint – are ineffective when printed.
  • Start thinking of training in terms of screens instead of slides.   PowerPoint really isn’t the right tool to present content online.

2. Provide printable material that reinforces your message; not the entire presentation itself.

  • Create full color and illustrated, 10 Tips to Save More Than Paper that serve as references and reminders for the most important messages of your course content.
  • Offer these tip sheets as “rewards” for attending your webinar, taking the course, posting to forums, submitting a great assignment, or getting a high score on a quiz.
  • Use your imagination and make them great.  The best part:  they don’t have to be printed to be useful.  Let your students decide!

3. Build an app that does something your course teaches.  Perhaps it can determine the lumber needed for a tool shed with input on dimensions, calculate the calories burned during a Downward Dog, or plot a graph of this month’s daily revenues.

4. Commission a wheel or slide chart.  Flexigroup offers both print and electronic versions, such as the one I created to compare footprints for eLearning vs. face to face training

  • The electronic version comes with an optional PDF that can be downloaded and put together by the user.
  • My “put it together yourself version” was a huge hit at a trade show.  I ran out the first morning!

Make sure your contact information, logo, and tagline are on every piece.

Additional Reading (and lots more links!) on Sustainability

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Friday, March 25th, 2011

Web Accessibility Issues and Options for eLearning Text and Images

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image of a laptop with a megaphone speakerIn response to my post on why web accessibility for elearning is important and how even small businesses can achieve it, I received an email from ReadSpeaker, informing me of their free WordPress plugin.  They tell me they’re working on a plugin for Moodle.  If it works as well as the WordPress version, I can’t wait!

This post addresses how to make text and images accessible to the vision impaired by use of a screen reader such as ReadSpeaker.  Since I’m going to talk about web accessibility as it applies to elearning content only – not any particular LMS – what I learned with the WordPress installation will also apply to Moodle and other LMS content. Obviously, other eLearning elements (such as forms, games, and flash) will be more or less accessible than text and images, depending upon the specific disability. These will be covered in future posts (as I have a chance to check out the options.)

ReadSpeaker was the only screen reader I tested and I tested only their free version.  It took me about five minutes to install on my other blog, Bee-Learn.com.  I was both pleased and surprised at what I found.

What I found with ReadSpeaker, which gives me a really good idea of how my content would be read by any screen reader:

How it treats text

  • In a post on the Lean 5S, the speaker read “fives”; it never occurred to me that it could be interpreted as a plural term.  I will make a point of putting a space in terms like that so that they will be read as “five ess”, which is how it is intended.
  • Slashes are read, which is ok because we would often say it.
  • It pauses at commas, periods, and line breaks.
  • Ellipses are not read, but do result in a pause.  I suppose that’s good because I wouldn’t want it to read “dot dot dot”, but a little meaning is lost… I am not sure how to compensate for this but at least I’m aware of it now.
  • “Cool” is read Coool. Cool!
  • mmmm… is read as Em Em Em Em Not good, but ReadSpeaker has a process for submitting mispronounced words.  Although eLearning is typically more formal than emails, blogs, and text messages, I can see enormous value in adding colloquialisms and acronyms to the screen reader’s vocabulary.
  • I know that acronyms and sounds can be added to the vocabulary because it correctly reads WYSIWYG.  That’s awesome!
  • The title of the page was never spoken.  Presumably this is because it is a different element of the page, although to a sighted person, it appears as part of the same page (by design).

How it treats images

  • The title of the image is read by the screen reader.  This is the stuff that pops up when you run your mouse over the image.  (Note: In WordPress this is typically the name/title of the image file; in Moodle it is the alternate text.  Most articles on this refer to the alternate text.  Test it out on your site, just to make sure you’ve got your description in the right place to be read.)  Because the screen reader can detect it, you can improve the experience for the vision impaired by creating alternate text that is descriptive of the photo.  For example:
    • In this post on the new Moodle navigation button, I originally had titled the image “beelearncoursehome”.  I changed it to “This image represents the original home navigation button on BeeLearn.com, from 2006”, which is read by ReadSpeaker.
    • In this post on Lean 5 S, I changed the title of the image of the desk to read “shown here is an antique roll top desk, piled high with a number of unrelated items.  There are flooring samples, shorts, shirts, books, baskets… It is a mess!”
  • Image captions are also read, so make sure they say something useful – and different – than the alternate text. In the above desk example, the title is read, then the caption; this is a huge improvement over my original version which had titled the image “desk5s”.
  • Since the screen reader doesn’t distinguish image alternate text from the rest of the text, I will make it a point to begin each title with something like “this photo shows…”

Writing carefully and appropriately describing images are things we should all do anyway.  They are also not the only things we can do to make our content richer for the vision impaired.  The good news is that for the most part, good instructional design principles are also good web accessibility design principles. Some advice to improve your content for everyone:

Avoid:

  • Content embedded in images, such as those produced by saving a PowerPoint file as jpegs and simply uploading them.  The individual elements (text, for instance) are not linkable and difficult to edit.  As far as a screen reader is concerned, an image is an image; there is no text on it.
  • Content residing in desktop applications (non-HTML) such as PowerPoint, Word, or PDF.  These documents have many drawbacks as online content ; they also have their own set of accessibility issues.  This will be covered in much more detail in a future post.
  • Long, scrolling pages of nothing but text.  This makes it difficult to follow, even for the most focused student without disabilities.
  • Low content to background junk ratio.  I’ve recently seen some examples of courses written in various LMS, where less than 25% of the screen was dedicated to learning content.  The rest was for navigation, warnings, frames, and even ads!  This sends a message to everyone that your content takes a backseat and it can make it difficult for a disabled student to focus on the real content.
  • Overriding CSS formatting.  Read this post on how theme and content are two separate elements.  Then read this Moodle tip on how simple copy/paste from a web page or a file can mess up your HTML formatting and override your CSS formats.

Do:

  • Build each course with all learning styles and disabilities in mind.  Even a person without a hearing disability may prefer to read about a concept than to listen to you talk about it.
  • Lay out each course and each page with those outlining skills you learned in school.  Headings make your content more sensible for everyone.  (Note: I always add a page title to the top of each Moodle page.  Moodle 2.0 will have this as an option, eliminating the need to retype the page name.)
  • Go ahead and use pictures, graphs, and even cartoons.  Keep your content rich.  Sure, there will be some elements that someone won’t be able to access.  But if you provide that content in more than one format, you’ll reach everyone.  For instance, use the alternate text option in photos to describe the photo, rather than just giving it a name.
  • Go ahead and use color.  But don’t rely on color to get your point across.  Color is highly effective for those who can see it; it is worthless for those who can’t.  Use color and at least one other distinguishing characteristic.

For more detail on designing for web accessibility, view this page at WebAIM.org.  On their site you will also find updated information on screen readers, research on web accessibility, discussions of various disabilities and how they are affected by technology.

Another great resource I found is this page from the University of Wisconsin.

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Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Moodle 2.0: Completion Status for Resources and Activities

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A checkmark in the box indicates complete!In my previous post on availability settings for Moodle resources and activities, I stated that one of the triggers of availability is the completion status of another.  Not only is completion status one of the conditions for availability of additional material, but it provides an excellent way to engage students, track their progress, and allow them to keep on a project schedule.  

For small businesses offering Moodle courses in any topic, for any reason, this new functionality is huge.  In at least half of the conversations I have with potential clients, there is a functional requirement to be able to mark items as complete, track completed items, and/or limit access to material based on the completion of other material.  In previous versions of Moodle, this was possible, but not practical for a small organization with limited resources (time to do it manually or money to custom code it). 

This post addresses how to determine completion status; to learn about how both student and teacher can monitor that status, stay tuned.

So, what defines “complete” in Moodle 2.0? 

In all cases, it is possible to choose from “don’t mark as complete”, “the student may mark as complete manually”, or “conditions must be met”.  The conditional settings vary for each activity, because not all settings make sense for everything. My suggestion is to create your content first, then go back and add conditions where it makes sense; don’t do it just to do it.

For non-graded activities such as Web Pages, Wikis, and Chats, there is on option for conditions:

  • Student must view to be marked complete (or not)

For Quizzes and Assignments, completion options are:

  • Student must view to be marked complete (or not)
  • Student must get a grade (or not).  This grade will be determined by other settings which haven’t changed from 1.9.  To learn more about the other settings in Quizzes and Assignments, and how to best use them in business training, follow the links to applicable posts by clicking here.

For Glossaries, the completion options are:

  • Student must view to be marked complete (or not)
  • Student must get a grade (or not)
  • Student must create (enter #) entries*

Forums have the most options for determining completion status:

  • Student must view to be marked complete (or not)
  • Student must get a grade (or not)
  • Student must post (enter #) discussions*
  • Student must create (enter #) discussions*
  • Student must reply to (enter #) discussions*

When choosing to mark an activity as complete when it has been viewed, do so with caution.  For longer courses and for students who are genuinely interested in learning the material, viewed is a great bookmark for where the student left off during the last visit. 

However, I think it is folly to believe that if you require students to view every page, you are guaranteeing that learning has taken place.  It isn’t too hard to hit “next” without comprehending, reading, or even looking at the monitor!  If you really want to ensure competency, use well-written quizzes and assignments and require participation in collaborative activities.

*For ideas on how to engage students by requiring participation in forums, glossaries, and other collaborative activities, read “Jazzing Up Your Moodle Courses with Collaborative Features“.

I’d like to thank the creators of the Mt. Orange School demo site for providing a place for me to learn about these features; if you’d like to play around with Moodle 2.0 yourself, check it out!

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Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Moodle 2.0: Availability Settings for Resources and Activities

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Construction sign board reads Big Changes AheadIn versions of Moodle prior to 2.0, activities such as assignments and quizzes could be made available to students any time, any time after a certain date, until a certain date, or within a window of time.  However, resources were either available or hidden.  This is problematic when the course design calls for material being “released for viewing” throughout the course instead of all at once in the beginning of the course.  The burden falls on someone (usually me) to “unhide” the content on the specified date.  I have forgotten to do this a couple of times, which led to a flood of emails from panicked students. Oops. 

I am thrilled that Moodle 2.0 will allow resources to be set up with a “show” and “hide” date, just like we’ve enjoyed with assignments. If you’re unsure about the difference between a resource and an activity, check out this earlier post. 

As if this isn’t exciting enough, 2. 0 also adds contingency option settings for both resources and activities.  

Now, in addition to date restrictions, the course creator may limit access to a Moodle activity or resource based on: 

  • A minimum grade received in one or more other activities within the course
  • Completion* status of one or more other activities within the course 

If the activity or resource is not available for any of the above reasons, the course creator has an option of showing it with restriction information or hiding it completely.  When the conditions are met – whether it is a date or status of other activities – the activity or resource will automatically become available.  No more setting the alarm to “unhide” the pages at midnight.  Yeah! 

OK, so what does all of this mean to you?

If you are offering continuing education units or courses that are governed by certification requirements, such as time spent, all material viewed, minimum grades, etc., you are in a better position to demonstrate that those requirements were met.  Even if you don’t have to answer to anyone, but you have certain learning objectives in mind that require a structured journey through the material, these new options are very beneficial.  

  • Students won’t be able to jump straight to the test or the assignments without reviewing the content.
  • All activities and resources may be marked complete, so you’ll have some good data to see what students are viewing – and not viewing – without having to grade everything.
  • You’ll be able to direct students to different materials within the same course, based on their performance of prior materials. If a student fails to view a page or complete an activity to your satisfaction, you can allow access to “remedial” materials, but not the next topic or exam.
  • You will never have to worry about whether the material is hidden when it should be showing, or showing when it should be hidden. 

While I think these new options are awesome, my fear is that this will add confusion for Moodle rookies.  This type of “if…then” logic can become very complex and will require some strategy to employ reasonably.  My even worse fear is that some course creators will go wild with it, with so many contingencies that it might as well be a “view next slide” course.  I can only hope that course creators will default to no restrictions, using the conditional availability only when it supports learning objectives.   

*There are several options for determining the completion status of various resources and activities.  I will cover those in a separate post…

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Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Five Things to Consider for Web Accessible eLearning

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In my post, Looking Ahead at Web Accessibility, I touched on the reasons why eLearning should be designed with accessibility in mind.  I’m not going to preach why we should do it.  I’m going to assume we’re all going to do it and get right to the how to go about it stuff.  (If you’re still not convinced, check out this blog by CourseAvenue.)

I’m also going to assume that everyone, regardless of disability, deserves and expects the experience of GREAT eLearning.  So, let’s start* with the Five Basic Things to consider when designing for web accessibility:

Will this add value to the students’ learning experience? Without it, many students will receive no value, so yes; web accessibility adds value for those who would otherwise not be able to take the eLearning course.  But the best part is the serendipitous nature of building for accessibility: it will likely add value for everyone.

The thought process of how each word, image, or feature you create will be taken in by this broader audience will enhance your understanding and connection with all of your students.  Many of the practices — such as careful outlining and more descriptive alternate text — will add to the experiences of all.

Do I have the skill? I think skill is less important than awareness and consideration.  Educate yourself on the issues.  Review examples of how a simple change can make a huge difference to someone with a disability.  The most comprehensive site on the subject that I have found is WebAim.org. If you feel that you still need to understand it better, they offer training in accessibility for both designers and administrators.

What are the options? The options range from free to costly, from software to hardware, and from designed-in to user-controlled.  For instance, ReadSpeaker is a plug-in for applications such as WordPress; the user has only to click “listen” to launch it.  JAWS is user-installed software that enables key stroke commands and Braille outputs. Other applications, such as captioning, require the designer to add that feature at the creation stage. 

I will be reviewing these options — and many more — in upcoming posts on specific features.  The first will be on web accessibility as it applies to text and images. 

How much functionality do you need from this tool? If this were a game show and you were asked to name the disabilities that could restrict access to web content, you’d probably shout out “visual impairment” without any thought.  But did you realize that color blindness is also a visual impairment?  What would your second answer be?  Many people think that because the web is written, deafness isn’t a problem.  In my previous post, I mentioned that many people are including voice that explains their content; without it, the content is meaningless.  WebAim.org gathers data on how many informational sites bury their content in videos.  Don’t make the same mistake with your eLearning. 

The answer to how much functionality is needed:  You should consider whether your eLearning audience will include those who have any form of vision impairment, have difficulty hearing, have limited motor skills, as well as the possibility of cognitive disabilities or the chance of seizures triggered by your cool fireworks flash.  Designing with these disabilities in mind will improve the quality of your content for everyone; even those of us without clinically diagnosed memory disorders appreciate intuitive content and navigation.

Will this tool work within my LMS?  Your LMS itself should be web accessible, so your concern is with making your content web accessible. An organized, well-designed layout will work anywhere.  Plugins, such as ReadSpeaker, will work in specified applications only.  Still others will have nothing to do with your LMS because the applications will be on the user-end (you’ll still have to design your content so it works with those applications.)

*Stay tuned for the next posts in this series on how web accessibility applies to the Features of GREAT eLearning:

  1. Web Accessibility Issues and Options: Text and Images
  2. Web Accessibility Issues and Options: Forms and Navigation
  3. Web Accessibility Issues and Options: Links and Documents
  4. Web Accessibility Issues and Options: Audio, Video, Flash, and Games
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Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Looking Ahead: Web Accessibility and How It Will Affect eLearning Content

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Looking Ahead...I used to have eagle-eye vision.  One day, about 10 years ago, I was having trouble reading the mint stamp on a coin.  I assumed it was a double stamp.  My husband said it was perfectly clear. 

Huh? 

My eye doctor laughed and said there was more to come.  Sure enough, I began to have difficulty distinguishing between the shampoo and conditioner bottles in the shower.  Why are they making those labels so small these days?  It didn’t take too long before my computer monitor had vibrating fuzzies instead of words on it. Who changed my display settings? 

I can still see a bird in a treetop a half mile away.  But without computer-reading glasses, I can’t see what I’m typing right now.  

Imagine if special glasses didn’t help. 

Imagine if you could not see what was on your monitor, your iPad, or even a large screen.  Imagine not being able to read an email, see what others are saying on Facebook, get directions to wherever you’re going, or read this blog.  This isn’t just annoying, like having to put on glasses just to read a menu. It limits one’s ability to interact, share, communicate, and learn

Thankfully, there are people who came to this revelation long before I did - and they’ve been doing something about it.  They are creating standards for technology that will not only help the vision-impaired, but those who can’t use a mouse, combine keystrokes, or are otherwise restricted in their use of computer technology.  

The W3 Consortium Web Accessibility Initiative “works with organizations around the world to develop strategies, guidelines, and resources to help make the Web accessible to people with disabilities” and has developed guidelines to support this mission.  Other guidelines exist throughout the world, some of which are legally required.  

How can any of this possibly affect your eLearning courses? 

If eLearning is a component of your business, regardless of what that business is, you should be thinking about how what you do will fit with these standards. 

To give you just a hint at how what you do can affect the ability of your potential client base to use and/or enjoy your eLearning, read this great white paper from the Sloan Consortium that examined Moodle for accessibility.  A seemingly innocuous Moodle text string, “This quiz is limited to 1 attempt(s).” would be read by a screen reader as “This quiz is limited to two attempt open parenthesis ess close parenthesis.”

Yikes!  I had no idea!   

I encourage you to read the entire study; you will probably be shocked with the things that you take for granted.  I was.  I don’t have anything to do with the programming of Moodle, but I do create course content in it.  I have always taken learning styles into consideration, but I hadn’t given that much thought to how a technological interface meant to help someone with a disability might not be able to “get my meaning”.  I will from now on. It isn’t enough that the application you use is web accessible; the content must be as well.

Why should you care?

  • You could be missing a large number of potential clients - either for your eLearning or the products and services you sell that depend on online training.  Not to mention that in order to provide training (much of which is online) to any US Federal agency, that training will be required to meet Section 508 standards.  Similar government requirements will soon be in place throughout the world.
  • Depending upon your business, you could be opening yourself up for legal actions and bad publicity by creating learning (or any web) content that isn’t accessible to everyone who needs it.
  • The best reason:  It’s the right thing to do.   

I hope that I never need a screen reader, but I do appreciate web designers who use readable fonts and stick to non-vibrating colors.  I am most definitely going to make every effort to build my eLearning content in a manner that not only meets these guidelines and standards, but provides quality information that is as interesting and engaging as it is for those without disabilities. 

Please follow me on Twitter and/or subscribe to my RSS feed and newsletter.  I will be covering web accessibility in many posts to come…

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Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Five Things to Consider When Choosing Game Creation Applications

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Using games to enhance learning has been a widely-accepted tool for many years and has gained ground in this past decade*.  Most business training workshops include at least a few team activities and “simulations”.  They serve to get people up and moving about andworking together as a team, in addition to applying concepts in a “real world” scenario.

Accepting games as a necessary part of GREAT eLearning, let’s look at them in terms of the Five Basic Things:

Will games add value to the students’ learning experience? Pilots have long been taught to fly using flight simulators. Video and computer games allow more people to “experience” more than they could in real-life or even in a mocked up scenario.

Studies have consistently shown that games can improve both memory and retention of concepts taught. As you decide the type and number of games to include in your eLearning, focus on games that teach your concept.  I have been involved in workshops (not online) where the games were more like recess than lessons. Don’t just add games; add serious games with a learning objective.

Do I have the skill? This is the million dollar question.  I have been playing around with programs to build or customize games.  If your game is based on an already designed concept, such as Tic Tac Toe, find your way out of the maze, or Jeopardy, it will be a little easier.  To design a new concept would take imagination way beyond anything I possess.  Then there’s the skill to find or build the graphical elements.  Putting the concept and the elements together will, in most cases, require some very good computer skills.

What are the options? The options are much fewer in number than in other eLearning features I have written about. For a review of just a few of the current applications available to build or customize games, check out this post.  For the elements to put into them, you can start with the options I suggested in Five Things…Graphics.  One option is to find a student programmer (at a local university) who will put your ideas into motion.

Don’t despair if you can’t find just the right game to teach your concept.  In 1984 I played with a software flight simulator on a Compaq Portable; I didn’t learn to fly but I did internalize the difference between altitude and distance above the ground.  Perhaps you can find existing games that you can use to meet your learning objectives even if they weren’t designed for that purpose.

How much functionality do you need from this tool? This really depends on your audience.  A stand-alone TicTacToe game may wow your audience; or, you may have a technically sophisticated group of students who expect Wii type games even in their training.  As the options for creating and customizing games increase, so will the expectations.  What is acceptable today is likely to be “lame” in a year or two.

Will this tool work within my LMS? As always, you have to consider whether the application you choose will run on the web, how much bandwidth it requires, and if your students will be able to access it from anywhere.  As far as I know, no LMS has built-in game blocks, so all options will have to be tested for compatibility.  Most importantly, you’ll need to work with your IT department or web hosts to make sure that your server can handle users playing games.  If you use applications such as the Engage, this isn’t going to be a problem.  But if you go all out and have sound effects, videos, complex algorithms, and students playing simultaneously in an online game, you could experience problems.

*There is so much material on this topic that it is impossible to list everything here.  These are a good place to start for both background and ideas for using games in your eLearning courses:

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Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Game Building Applications for Business eLearning

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Last year my husband started a new job.  As part of his orientation, he took several hours of online training.  He had a large bruise on his forehead from hitting it on the desk when he passed out from boredom.  There was one course, however, that really held his interest.  He said it was more like a video game than a course.

I’ve been on the hunt ever since for open source and/or other affordable applications that smaller business (non-programmers) can use to create game-like content for eLearning courses. Despite the plethora of sites that offer ready-made games for grammar, math, and other subjects for school children, I am not finding many options that allow me to create or customize (with my own content) a game, especially one that runs on a web browser.

Below are a few options that you can start using today to add variety to your eLearning content. Before choosing, read my post on Five Things to Consider When Choosing Game Creation Applications.

Tic Tac Toe built in Engage

Tic Tac Toe community interaction for Articulate Engage.  This is a real game, it runs on a web browser, it is very easy to create, and it is very professional in appearance.  It is limited, though, to concepts that lend themselves to True/False, nine at a time.  Click here for an example. There are other Engage formats that, while not really games, they might fill your needs.  Articulate offers an SDK (software developer kit) to encourage more community developed interactions like this one.  My 2011 Wish List includes more game-like Engage interactions.

PowerPoint game templates.  A web search produces a number of these for grade school children.  I have seen them in business training and they were fun for the group, but I don’t think they are up to par for online courses.  I saved one as a show (instead of a presentation), uploaded it to Moodle and played it.  One potential issue is that it downloads to the local computer’s temp folder; security settings on many computers won’t allow that.  Leaving it as a presentation won’t do for a number of reasons, which I detailed in this post.  If you want to go this route, Internet4Classrooms has a nice selection.

My first game!

Game Magic by YoYoGames.  This was recommended by a friend.  The free version works great and comes with one of the best tutorials I’ve ever seen.  I created a silly little game with apples and bananas flying around the screen reminiscent of the WPIX call-in game, circa 1980.  I uploaded it to both Moodle and WordPress.  I played it on both a desktop with DSL and an old netbook with a wireless connection.  It works in all cases, but it takes a few seconds to load.  This also requires a download to the local computer’s temp file, which might not be allowed. The biggest drawback is that while Game Magic doesn’t require any programming, the creator must have a library of objects for his topic and a talent for putting them together, both for logic flow and aesthetic appeal.

Alice.  I was all tickled about this until I realized it was for the purposes of teaching programming to college students.  (According to the site, enrollment in such coursework is down as much as 80%.  No wonder I can’t find any programs that do exactly what I want! If you have kids, tell them to major in computer science…or become baseball catchers.  Both are in short supply.)  I did not give this a test drive because the download is 281 MB.  I don’t think this will work for your average small business, but if you have a computer geek in your midst, you should definitely give this a try. It is free.

A search of SourceForge.net yields a dizzying number (~20,000) of results, most of which have descriptions that tell me I couldn’t use it if I tried. I will save a review of those options for a future post…

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Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Beyond the Course Outline: Making Your Courses Invaluable

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A few months ago I wrote a post on how to put together a course outline.  Since then, I have seen several courses - some still in outline format - that I would classify into two categories: The Abridged Google Search and The Project Calendar.  Even though both styles have fairly good outlines, they leave me (the student) thinking “I could’ve figured this out myself”.

“The Abridged Google Search” course design

These courses are similar in nature to those websites that are nothing more than a series of links to other sites.  A course that is nothing but a series of links to other sites on the subject is more like a bibliography than a course; it is simply a list of additional reading sources.  

Courses put together in this manner suffer from disjointed material; content written by several different people with different writing styles, audiences, and objectives.  It is next to impossible for the student to know what the teacher intended to be the salient points.  There is no natural progression from one page (web link) to another and no transition between them. 

“The Project Schedule” course design

This type of course probably teaches better than the “Abridged Google Search” because at least the core content was designed for instruction.  These courses go something like this:

  1. Week/Topic 1: 
    1. Read chapters 1-3 (or watch video #1)
    2. Hand in Assignment #1 (or take Quiz #1)
  2. Week/Topic 2:
    1. Read chapters 4 & 5 (or watch Video #2)
    2. Hand in Assignment #2 (or take Quiz #2)
  3. etc.

So, after I read all of this material, on my own, take a test, and spend a couple of hours on an assignment, the instructor will get back to me on whether I got it right or not?  I might as well just get the book and read it! 

Add Value to Your Content

I believe that learning takes place in all sorts of ways; never myopically.  It is a must to include references and external links as often as possible. But I also believe that a teacher should be more than a traffic cop.  Directing people to look here and look there isn’t really what a teacher does.  Here are some ways you can teach, while still using a book, a series of videos, and external web links: 

  • Paraphrase and Summarize – Rather than linking to all those external sites, create your course content as though it is a thesis or book report.  Write your own content, referencing those external sources.  Add your own graphics or even audio, video, etc.
  • Combine ideas – If you really are an expert, you must have thought of “a better way to do this”.   Tell your students how you would do it, not how everyone else does it.  Adding tips and tricks is a good way to do this even if your subject matter doesn’t allow too much variation in method.
  • Compare ideas – There are as many versions of the truth as there are people speaking it.  This is truer with some subjects than others.  Even with a topic as based in fact as physics, there are opposing view points.  Offer your students a comparison of each of the major ideas, with the merits and pitfalls of each.
  • Tell a story, real or not, that puts it all together – A picture is worth 1000 words and an example is worth even more.  Even if you can’t write a fable that illustrates your point, provide an example or two that will give some life to your content.  Stories are easier to remember than lists of unrelated concepts.

Last year I wrote about copyrighting content and that I feel that the real value is in the teaching, not the words on the page.  You can not be copyrighted and you can not be copied.  Adding value to your content makes your courses invaluable, just as it makes you invaluable.  As a consultant, a trainer, or a business whose product success depends on excellent training, you can’t afford to be anything less.

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