Instructional Design Category

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Oh, No! Not Another Slide Presentation!

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When I was a child, slides were what your father used to bore the socks off family and visitors alike.  They were tiny little transparencies of the family vacation, which he presented with a slide projector (a carousel that held the little devils and frequently jammed), using a sheet hung on the wall as a screen.  He topped off the experience with an equally boring narrative of each not-so-captivating picture.

No, you’re not reading into things.  I chose my words carefully in the preceding paragraph and if you’re clever enough, you’ll get my hidden meaning.  Whether you do or not, I am begging you:

Stop thinking of training design in terms of slides!

Surely, at least some readers still remember “chalkboards” and “blackboards”.  How about “whiteboards” and “flip charts”?  In my youth, slides had nothing to do with teaching; Freelance and PowerPoint were not even ideas in someone’s brilliant mind at that time.  In my professional training career, I have used them as props, not the centerpiece of my courses.  I never, ever read the bullet points from a slide to my class.  I always paraphrased, adding my stories, my examples, my own words.  I moved around the room, I made funny faces, I waved my hands and stomped my feet.  I used other props, including toy airplanes and Styrofoam packing peanuts.

The idea of the unlimited potential of eLearning being reduced to online slides, with a one-sided narrative makes me very sad.  This was a boring and ineffective way to teach in person; it is even more so electronically.

I know it’s easy.  I know it’s rapid.  But easy and rapid are rarely used to describe something that is also great.

It seems I’m not alone in this thinking:

What?  You can’t afford to choreograph and video a dance troupe?  Even if you could, it wouldn’t be the best way to teach your subject?  That’s fine, but please don’t go running back to the slide presentation!

Now, I don’t mean to be disparaging of PowerPoint.  It’s a great program.  I’ve seen some fantastically animated presentations that I could barely tell were made with PowerPoint. Unfortunately, most of us are not terribly creative or even all that good with a computer. PowerPoint provides a “blank slate” which is great for people who know what to do with a blank sheet of paper.  For everyone else, it gives the false illusion that they’ve done something “professional”.  (Seriously, I saw that claim in a recent training course!) I have a copy of Photoshop but that does not make me a graphic designer.  Trust me, it doesn’t.

Please think in 3-D!

None of the authoring tools for eLearning content – or for business presentations, family vacation videos, or any other content you might want to share – can turn you into George Lucas.  But, they can make your presentation of any content more interesting, more compelling, and less “flat”.

Take this Prezi on Moodle by Tomaz Lasic, for instance:

Take advantage of all the options. Don’t pigeon-hole your content.

Prezi, like PowerPoint and Photoshop, is a great tool but it doesn’t magically turn a person into a creative genius.  What it does do is to provide a different blank slate, a new “dimension”, and a limitless screen similar to the physical classrooms of my youth. No matter what subject you teach, who your students are, or how “non-creative” you might feel, there are so many more options than slides sized to print on letter-paper. Prezi is just one option.  Dancing graduate students are another.  If you provide your instructional designer with good content and say “Go make this GREAT“, she’ll be able to do a lot more than if you say “Convert this to SCORM”. If you can’t afford an instructional designer, you can probably afford a starving art-school student.  Or, perhaps a starving music-school student can sing some of your audio.  Don’t just think outside the box.

Think outside the slide!

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Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

More Ways to Make Your eLearning GREAT

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A little creativity goes a long way.

Last month, at the Midwest Moodle Moot, I attended a workshop by Melinda Kraft of Albion College.  “The Moodle Mash – It’s a Web 2.0 Splash” covered many free (or inexpensive) and easy-to-use online applications that you can use to add more connectivity, interaction, and interest to your Moodle courses.  I’m splitting this into two posts:  this one on multi-media and a second one on collaboration and interaction.  Both build on previous posts…if you have time, read them all!

Create your own multi-media for your content. These will make your eLearning GREAT without breaking the budget on production costs.  You don’t have to be an artist, but a  little creativity helps…Here are some of the applications Melinda demonstrated, with my business content take on them.  Warning: some of these examples are, uh, rough around the edges.  I would recommend more polished versions for real courses.

  • GoAnimate.com Create cartoons for memorable lessons.  So much business training is so dry, so boring.  Lighten it up with a cartoon here and there (don’t overdo it) to highlight really critical messages you want students to remember.  Or, use them to offer a mental break after a particularly intense topic. Watch Zeb help Gerry remember the things to look for in a 10 Second Inspection in the Fort Swampy course at BeeLearn.com.
  • Xtranormal is another site that allows you to create animated movies online.  There is also a desktop version.  There is more functionality here than with GoAnimate.com, but you’ll have to pay for everything after the initial test.  Here is my first creation; crude, but not so bad for ten minutes worth of my time.
  • Aviary.com Super easy online image editing.  A picture is worth 1000 words and every eLearning course should contain some!  I have spent hours searching for just the right stock image or trying to adjust an existing image with Photoshop.

    Buzzy Made-over at Aviary.com

    I don’t recommend dressing your logo up like he’s been out on an all-night bender, but you can do it in a few minutes if you choose. You can get a free screen capture/editor as a browser extension, too.  A great time saver when you are building content.

  • Create and edit more than images with AviaryTools. Obtaining a license to use copyrighted material in a commercial project (which applies to eLearning courses used by all business, for profit or not), can be expensive or forbidden.  These online tools are affordable and useful when you want to:
    • Include music in your content.  Create your own score!
    • Add sound effects (including your own voice) to your Engage animations, GoAnimate or Xtranormal videos, or as stand-alone content in your courses.
    • Add comments or otherwise mark-up screen captures and images.
  • Snagit and Jing by TechSmith – Easily create “how-to” videos, narrated slideshows, and other objects to show your students, comment on what they’ve done, and help them collaborate with each other.
  • WidgetBox.com Mix up the way your content is presented by displaying it in a widget (copy the code into any HTML area in your course). Some ideas for displaying content in a widget:
  • BrainPOP was not covered at the Moot; Brent Schlenker tweeted this one about Hurricanes (given the current event of Hurricane Irene threatening the east coast of the US and Canada).  Very, very nice…

Most of these come with widgets and buttons that you can place in your content to direct students to create their own as part of assignments.

Mobile Widgets at WidgetBox.com. This is a fee-based service, but you can try it out for 30 days.  Offer your clients a free app that supports your training content. Even if one already exists, customize your own with your logo and contact information, specific to your training content and expertise:

  • A mobile version of a quick reference like the Pill Identifier or Seafood Watch (above).
  • Things to look for in a 10 Second Inspection; any checklist or guide that would be helpful to people when the job takes them away from their computers.
  • Calendar with important events.  Include your “office hours”, required web meetings, chats, and even assignment due dates.
  • Assignments.  This app could provide details on the assignment, links to resources, quick tip guides.  This is especially helpful if your course requires field work, whether it be in a hospital, a mall, the manufacturing floor, or literally a field.

Related Posts:

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Sunday, June 19th, 2011

A Few Words About: Using Moodle Outcomes

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A Few Words AboutA question was recently posed regarding certification for Lean Six Sigma.  There is no governing body and no standard test.  Many companies, including my own, offer certification. How can that be?  How can someone be certified to do something when there is no standard against which to measure that person’s competence?

The irony here is that Lean Six Sigma is all about measurements, standards, and processes.  As a professional in the field for more than two decades, I know the importance of operational definitions, standard processes, and calibrated measurements.  This is no less important when it comes to certifying experts.

Whether your profession has standards for certification or not, you can – and should – use reliable and valid instruments for measuring competencies and skills.  The scales that you use to grade need to be applied consistently. You also need to ensure that what you’re measuring is correlated to competency in that job; i.e.: a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt.

Assuming that you’re training for certification, not just administering tests, a great way to design and validate your certification process is to use Moodle Outcomes.

Outcomes are not simply pass/fail grades.  Grades of tests and assignments, along with other demonstrations of competence, are used to determine the outcomes based on a set of evaluation criteria.  This set of criteria is known as a rubric.

Outcomes – and rubrics – can become quite complicated and they aren’t something you can apply directly from one curriculum to another.  You can, however, follow good examples, such as this one at Moodle.org.

Before you can create your own rubric, you need to:

  1. Determine the competencies required for the certification or diploma you are awarding.
  2. Design the training that will teach these required skills.
  3. Design the testing that will reliably measure the competencies gained by your training.

Once you have defined the set of criteria for each outcome, then you can:

  1. Deliver the training and testing (tests, written assignments, hands-on assignments…)
  2. Evaluate each student against those criteria.

Stay tuned to this blog and Buzzy’s Beehive for many more posts on rating scales, grades, good question writing, and how to implement them in Moodle.

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Friday, June 17th, 2011

Dream eLearning: No Constraints

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Earlier this week I received an inquiry about eLearning design.  This gentleman said he was interested in how I would convert his paper-based training to online training, without the constraints of any particular application.  Hmmm…. 

I thought about hanging up on this obvious crank caller.  “Everything is constrained”, I thought!  Then I remembered a video that hit the training circuit many years ago.  It documented the process used by Ideo in the design of a new style of shopping cart for stores such as Whole Foods.  Constraints were not part of that process; quite the opposite.  (Like just about everyone else who has watched that video, I think this would be the coolest place in the world to work). 

So…what would be my no-holds-barred, dream design for eLearning?  If I were approached by someone who asked me what I wanted, I would say: 

  • Interaction in meaningful ways.  I like to write, but not everyone does.  I like to joke around and get to know people, but some people can do that only in person.  I’d like to be able to communicate with them in some way that worked for all of us, even if we were continents apart. 
  • Memorable lessons.  I learn best by experience and when the topic is of interest to me.  I can remember a first-grade lesson in how to use serial commas.  The exercise used Santa’s reindeer.  What child could forget that?  Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen…  If the exercise had been about fruit – apples, pears, and bananas – I would not have been nearly as interested in getting it right. 
  • Field trips.  I like to go places and see things.  I like to put learning into context.  In grade school, we took a trip to Sturbridge Village to learn about silversmithing (among other things). There is nothing quite as convincing as seeing a silver spoon come out of a mold with only a drop of silver going in.  That lesson was so much more effective than a formula depicting the yield of pure silver. 
  • Variety.  Another lesson I remember is from ninth-grade science class.  We went outside during the afternoon – when the schoolyard was empty – to measure relative humidity.  We could have performed an experiment inside, but we did that all the time.  The mere act of walking through the quiet hallways and out those forbidden doors made the experiment memorable. 
  • Blood flow.  I know that most learning takes place between the synapses.  But my brain doesn’t fire very well if my feet and butt are still.  I like to get up, walk around, ponder, dream…

How can eLearning do all these things?

Well, it can’t completely.  At least not with old paradigms.  But it can do all those things in a new way… 

  • Every course should have multiple methods of sharing, so that every student has a chance to communicate in his own way. Include forums, chats, and if you’re using Moodle, the blocks for “online users” and “participants”; enable messaging.
  • Lessons should use examples that are meaningful to the audience.  A colleague of mine mentored young girls who saw little value in learning about math. Their interest was piqued, however, when they realized that math would enable them to get the most from their shopping dollars.  Which was a better deal: A sale offering one third off the price of one pair or a 2-for-1 special?
  • Field trips can be virtual or not.  I try to build my Moodle courses with “field trips for the mind” by including links to relevant external sites.  Whenever possible, build in actual field trips.  For a class in biology, create an assignment that takes students to a nearby lake or river, have them gather plants, take pictures or videos, and post them as their assignments along with whatever written information you’d like them to include.
  • Mix it up with videos, games, flash, and reading materials.  Add a Prezi or two. Pop in some fun quizzes or puzzles along the way.  Engage a guest speaker (live or on-demand) for some of the lessons.
  • Break up the lessons into smaller chunks so that students can get up without leaving in the middle of a topic.  At the end of each section, have a note pop up that says “time to take a break”.  This is a good place to work in your field trips (the actual kind). 

Once you’ve designed these elements into your training, find the software and experts to create them.  Don’t start with software and force your design to its abilities.  For authoring tools and ideas for using various features in your eLearning courses, check out these earlier posts: 

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Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Competency Frameworks: A First Step

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I’ve been seeing the phrase “competency frameworks” a lot lately.  I’m glad.  I’ve long been concerned about the disconnect between training content and job performance.  In a quarter decade of business training, I have rarely felt much attention was given to the question: “What do these people need to know to do better in their jobs?”  I often felt that training was designed from the starting point of “here’s what I know so that’s what I’ll teach”.

So, what is a competency framework and how will it improve the effectiveness of training?

Ratings of Exceptional, Exceeds Expectations, Meets Expectations, etc.The HR Dictionary defines competency framework as “the set of duties or tasks performed as part of a job with the standards which should be achieved in these duties”.

OK, so for every training course we design, we need to know:

  • What job are we training for?  In other words, what duties or tasks are we teaching someone how to do?
  • What are the standards that we will measure against?  How will we know if our students have learned enough of the right things to perform those duties?  How will we know our training accomplished this?

In my mind, competencies for education are fairly well-defined and adhered to by a very strict accreditation system.  It is relatively easy to accurately measure students’ understanding of geometry, grammar, or DaVinci’s work.  Education provides foundational knowledge; training is the application of that knowledge in a specific situation.  My brother-in-law (a math whiz) was always amazed at how his grandfather used calculus in his machine working job.  But Granddad didn’t actually know calculus; he knew some rules for machining.  My brother-in-law, with his foundational knowledge, can apply what he knows about math to just about any situation.

The difficulty with business training is that job descriptions (and their related competencies) change frequently.  People in those jobs come from varying backgrounds.  Often, people have to adapt to new job requirements because that’s the best thing for the company.  An example would be that of typists.  There’s no such thing as a typing pool any more.  For awhile, typists were converted to word processors (using machines of the same name).  That transition required an entirely new competency: using a computer.

Businesses try to fill the gap between “knowledge/skill” of workers (old, young, new, tenured) and what they need at that moment, with training.  Not only is it difficult to determine what training is required for that gap, it is even harder to measure if the training is effective.  Sadly, it is even more difficult because often the very people in charge of these efforts are not competent in training design or testing!  I’m hoping that with increased emphasis on it from a software view, there will be some attention to the concept itself.

Much the same as when mapping a process, the people who do the job should be involved in the determination of the necessary competencies.  Mind Tools™ has posted an excellent article on the subject, which includes a step by step guide to get it done.  As they say, it will take a lot of effort; effort by the people who actually know the positions.

The US Army is very good at defining job duties and training to them. Every job, at every classification, has defined skills within the MOS system. (Note: this term varies by branch of service, but the structure is very similar.)  Here is an example for a US Army Corp of Engineers Diver for five skill levels.  Notice how this also includes required scores on fitness and written tests, as well as other requirements.  Those developing the training would start with these requirements, not with what they felt like teaching!

I encourage you to read as much as you can about the concept of competency frameworks (start with this Wikipedia article), browse through the Army’s MOS listings (for ideas on how to structure yours), and do your own Internet searches.  To read more on how competency frameworks are critical to the success of your business, visit my blog for earlier posts (such as this one) on testing in a business environment and this one on Purpose-Objectives-Goals for business training.  Future posts are planned for how Moodle supports competency frameworks through grades, scales, and outcomes.

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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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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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