The Virtual Classroom Category

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Oh, No! Not Another Slide Presentation!

Listen with webreader

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!

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, August 26th, 2011

A Few Words About: Online Applications, Free or Not

Listen with webreader

A Few Words AboutAs I was writing the two previous posts on online applications, I discovered that one I just learned about was no longer available.  Earlier this summer, I was about to back up my life’s work to an online storage service, when I realized that their pricing had gone from $10/month to $49/month.  Last winter, the Moodle community was stunned by the sudden shut-down of the web meeting service, DimDim.

How can this be?  Why is this happening?

Well, you see, these online applications are typically in business to make money, just like you.  They offer free services as a sort of “free sample”.  If you like it, you’ll buy more.  What happens is that not enough people buy to justify giving away any more samples.  Perhaps the free-sample people take up more time and support resources than the people who pay for their accounts.  Or, maybe the application is so awesome that some bigger company decides it would be a competitive advantage to own that code.  They buy out CoolOnlineEditor.com.  This is great for the college kid who wrote the code, but not so great for those of us who were using his online services.  In some instances, a big, evil company comes along and buys out the really good application just so the rest of us cannot use it. Sad, but true.

For online services such as quick image editing, PDF printing, and screen casts, the worst that can happen is that you’ll have to find another service. That shouldn’t slow you down too much.

If you use a social media service to aggregate your Twitter, Facebook, email, IM, etc…and that’s the only place you store your usernames and passwords, you’ll spend a lot of time recovering that information.  Then you’ll have to spend some time finding and learning another application.  This is annoying, but not too serious.

If the free (or inexpensive) photo gallery (or other document storage) system you use shuts down, this is just a pain in the neck if you have a copy of everything.  If you don’t have a back-up, well, that’s catastrophic. Of course, big name sites (like Kodak and Google) are not as likely to shut down and leave you hanging as WeRCheap4Storage.com, but they do have a right to change their policies.

What is the risk?

Anything and everything online is at risk (although some risks are so low you might as well worry about a meteor strike). With downloaded software (resident on your computer), the worst thing that can happen is that it is no longer supported. Online, any service can:

  • Stop taking registrations
  • Discontinue features
  • Start charging for features that were free or raise prices
  • Disappear altogether (shut down the site) for any number of reasons.  This is the worst because it can be without warning.

The more effort you put into building the content or customizing the online application, the more you stand to lose.  A blog with 100 posts is far more difficult to rebuild than an online gallery of the photos you have duplicates of on your hard drive.  The more you stand to lose, the more you should do to prevent any negative impacts on you.

What can you do?

For any and all of it, back up anything you can.  Keep it stored where you can easily recover it and restore functionality as quickly as possible.

For the more content-rich applications, the ones you depend on heavily, and/or those that will take you a lot of time to set up or customize to your needs, do your homework before investing that time.  Read reviews at CNET, PC Magazine, PCWorld, SourceForge, industry-specific publications, and of course, online searches for specific functionality.  Choose a stable application (one that has good reviews from users and IT experts alike and has been around “a while”) and back up your content regardless of how good they are!

Platforms such as Moodle, Joomla, WordPress, and Drupal are probably here to stay, but is your host?  Even though I know my sites are backed up and protected as much as humanely possible, I still back up the content, copies of which I keep copies on my local drives.  I would never risk a free hosting service unless it was associated with an organization I had plenty of confidence in.

We live in a rapidly changing world, which is both good and bad.  Nowadays, there is such a thing as a “free lunch” – for a time anyway.

The lesson is: don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  The more dependent you are on an application, the more important it is that you a) make sure you have a recovery plan if that application shuts down and b) investigate the options so that your choice of application is based on something other than “it’s free”.

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Dream eLearning: No Constraints

Listen with webreader

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: 

Share

Tags: , , , , ,

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Sustainable eLearning is Great eLearning

Listen with webreader

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

Share

Tags: , , , , ,

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

Game Building Applications for Business eLearning

Listen with webreader

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…

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

The Year in Review – Using eLearning and Moodle in a Small Business

Listen with webreader

The needs of a small business are different from that of a big business, and different still from those of a university.  Unlike accounting and human resources, eLearning functionality has not been used in small business applications for very long.  Consequently, service providers, advice, and options are much harder to come by.  Even understanding how eLearning can work in your business might be difficult to envision.  

These posts from 2010 offer some ideas on how to use eLearning in general and Moodle specifically, in your small business.  They also provide some guidance on what to look for and what to avoid. 

My picks for best small business advice:

Here’s hoping for a safe and happy 2011. Happy New Year!

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Jazzing Up Your Moodle Courses with Collaborative Activities

Listen with webreader

Many of my clients are new to eLearning.  Some have 200 page books (all text) while others have material that is mostly video or slides.  Hardly anyone starts out with a blended learning syllabus that perfectly balances individual learning with group activities.  The hardest thing to do when converting these materials to eLearning is to keep the students involved and interested. 

Here are some ideas of how you can use Moodle collaborative activities to engage your students and provide opportunity for interaction with other students, without costing you a dime or adding more items to your to-do list: 

  • Instead of creating a glossary of terms for your students, assign them the task!  Give them a list of terms to define; let them choose a few or require them to define every term.  Allow duplicates and allow ratings.
  • Do the same thing with the Moodle wiki.  Assign students a list of topics – tell them to come up with their own – relevant to the course subject matter.  Grade them based on their writing skills, the quality and number of citations, or anything else you think is an important measure.
  • One of the best ways to learn a topic is to explain it to someone else. Instead of answering questions posed in forum posts right away, wait some predetermined time (48 hours?) until students have had a chance to help their classmates.  Or, assign a team of students to respond to forum posts for one week.  (You can always jump in and set the ship right if they get off track).
  • Even better, ask students to start discussions.  Have them monitor the replies and respond to questions.  Suggest that they “ask questions” that will bring out the most common misunderstandings of the topic so that the discussions will further reinforce the right interpretations.  I did this when I wrote my first Moodle courses in statistical analysis.
  • Hold a panel discussion each week (or month) using the Moodle chat.  Set a time and choose a general topic.  Have some things to say to get the ball rolling before anyone asks a question.  Don’t make the mistake of going in unprepared.  This chat should have a purpose, which generically, is to further facilitate learning.
  • Even better, ask students to be responsible for these panel discussions.  Let them choose their own topics or assign them.  Either way, explaining something is a great way to learn it
  • You can do the same thing with web meetings within Moodle.  There are several options that are free to use.  The advantage a web meeting has over a chat is that you can display anything from a histogram to a Rembrandt; from a map to a color wheel.  If a visual is important to your discussion, this would be better than a chat. 

In case you’re new to all of these, some quick descriptions of Moodle activities: 

  • Glossary: Dictionary of terms, with definitions.  Can included pictures, audio, etc., but typically the definitions are relatively short. This is an asynchronous activity.
  • Forum:  Threaded discussions that allow replies and ratings.  This is an asynchronous activity. 
  • Wiki: More like an encyclopedia than a dictionary. Wikipedia is the granddaddy of all wikis. This is an asynchronous activity.
  • Chat:  Online typing of questions, answers, and ideas.  Users are identified on the screen and what they type appears much like a movie script. 
    • Penny: I said this.
    • Pitcher73: I agree
    • Scarymary: I think it’s all very cool
    • Etc.

In Moodle, if at least two people “chat”, a transcript is saved.  This is a synchronous activity.

  • Web Meeting: More than a chat because there is typically audio as well, plus a virtual whiteboard (some or all of the participants can “write” on it and it is displayed on everyone’s monitor), a screen presentation, or video.  This is a synchronous activity. The free versions don’t always offer a recorded transcript, but this isn’t always necessary. (Confesssion: I never listen to or watch recorded transcripts of meetings, especially if I wasn’t there to start with.)  

For more on web meetings and other collaborative features, check out my previous post.  

Let me know if you have any other ideas to get people involved, interested, and talking!

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Five Things to Consider When Choosing Online Collaboration Features For eLearning

Listen with webreader

Probably by the time I finish this post, there will be another breakthrough in human instant communication.  I can barely keep up!  What I am sure of is that eLearning design needs to evolve to stay in step with what its students feel comfortable using and doing.  Sharing is definitely something people feel comfortable with these days. 

Whether you’re creating eLearning for a business or for a school, collaboration is one of the things that will make your eLearning GREAT.

If you believe, as I do, that learning happens in a lot of ways, and that people learn better when they share information, you’ll agree that some number of collaborative features must be included in all eLearning courses.  How much and what type should you use? Some require code integration and some require paid subscriptions; some are asynchronous and others are synchronous.  Even though most collaborative features require little or no authoring, let’s look at the options in terms of the Five Basic Things

Will collaboration add value to the students’ learning experience? Probably.  Not every course or every group of students can participate in web meetings or chats.  They might be spread across time zones or experience bandwidth issues.  Forums that allow replies and ratings are asynchronous, yet allow users to share their thoughts and ideas extensively.  Moodle.org is an excellent example of this.  Wikipedia, the greatest wiki of them all, is another example of how people can collaborate to build a body of knowledge.  The Moodle activity, wiki, is easy to add to a course and if you require students to add to it as part of their assignments, in no time at all you’ll have a useful reference for everyone.  You could use the Moodle glossary activity in the same manner.

Do I have the skill? Skill is less of an issue with collaborative features than time is.  It takes time to manage and monitor entries in forums, wikis, and glossaries.  Even if you allow students to post without approval (which is how I would do it), you (or the instructor) still needs to read them.  After all, you are part of the course, too. Web meetings can be time consuming because like any good meeting, you need to prepare in advance.  You need an agenda and purpose, and you need to stick to the time limits.  You also have to know how to use the web meeting software.  That isn’t always as easy as it seems!  Chats – at least in Moodle – are pretty simple to use.  Again, if the chat is used for learning, there should be some prearranged topics or questions, not just random conversation.

What are the options?  There are many web meeting applications that are easy to use; some work within Moodle and some do not.  DimDim has a plugin that creates a Moodle activity right in your course.  You can add DimDim meetings as easily as you can add a forum; once scheduled, they will automatically show up on the Moodle calendar and in the Upcoming Events block.  Other popular web meeting applications include Yugma, Elluminate and Wimba, GoToMeeting, WebEx, and of course Skype, which has online meetings as part of its “extras”.  Another Moodle activity plugin is Big Blue Button, an open source web conferencing tool.  I haven’t had a chance to use it; it sounds like there are some bugs to work out but it seems promising!

How much functionality do you need from this tool? Before you choose, you should consider:

  • Do your students have the ability to participate in synchronous activities (web meetings and live chats)? 
  • Do you want to have recorded transcripts for your course archives?  Moodle chats are automatically saved, but most web meetings are not.  That usually costs extra. 
  • Chats can put a huge load on any server.  Many people typing and submitting at one time can slow down a site; even crash it.  This is not a concern with forums, wikis, and glossaries.
  • Is it important to you to integrate these features with your LMS or is it acceptable to use them outside of that application?  Integration is nice for the students because they have only one site to log into.  But integration (for web meetings) usually costs extra.

Will this tool work within my LMS? With the exception of web meetings, all of these tools are part of the standard Moodle installation.  I imagine they are also part of other LMS, but you’ll have to check with your administrator to be sure.  Always make sure you have enough bandwidth and other server capacity before you schedule web meetings and chats.

In my next post I’ll share some tips on how to use these features to create an interactive and collaborative environment, without breaking the bank, without bringing your server to its knees, and without piling on work for yourself (the instructor).

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Demystifying Applications, Themes, and Content for Moodle, etc.

Listen with webreader

Last week I used a hotel as an analogy to explain the concepts of account creation, authentication, enrollments, payments, roles, and permissions in Moodle.  In this post, we’ll stick with the hotel (a really nice place, in a location you love) to talk about applications, themes, and content of a website.  They are the major pieces of any website, overlapping and interacting to create what you see on your browser.  If you are not 100% sure of the definitions of a website, a webpage, and a domain name, read this first.

The Main Structure

The application that runs a website is much the same thing as the hotel building.  This includes the walls, the roof, the frame that holds them together, the plumbing, the wiring…things that are not easily modified and that take some specialized knowledge to maintain.  Examples of Internet software applications include WordPress, Drupal, QuickBooks Online, Zen Cart, and of course, Moodle.  This site is run by the application, WordPress.  Desktop applications include Word, Photoshop, and Quicken. 

Applications govern the functionality of the website: financial, learning, writing, shopping, etc.

Major applications that control the website have their own set of rules, so a plug-in that works in WordPress is not going to work in Moodle.  Plug-ins and modules are similar to electric appliance cords.  What plugs into and outlet in  the UK won’t fit in a Canadian outlet.  Many applications, such as PayPal, MailChimp, and Facebook, are offering new plug-ins every day that will work with various other applications, such as Moodle and WordPress, but each plug-in is specific to website application.

Desktop applications are not displayed through your Internet browser, so the user must have a device (computer, iPad, etc.) that has that application (or its viewer) installed on it. This can be a nightmare because of the different versions and formats that exist.  Also, it prohibits many types of device-users from accessing the document, such as from a public computer.  This is why I don’t build e-Learning where the content resides in linked files.

The Style

The theme of a website, much like that of a hotel, is the presentation…the style…the tone of the site.  It includes the carpets, paint colors, styles of furniture and fixtures. A theme controls the look and feel of every page on the website such as background image, bullet styles and colors, fonts, and much more.  In a hotel, a theme is intended to provide visual continuity and appeal to a targeted group of guests.  In a website, this is also true, but the theme has an additional benefit:  It tells the browser how to present (display) each page on the website, without having to repeat those instructions for each page.  This saves a lot of space and redundant programming.

WordPress has more flexible themes than does Moodle, in that the layout of a page (number and position of columns, footers and headers) is somewhat controlled by the theme.  WordPress is like a building where some walls are movable.  Moodle is more like a building that would require complete renovations to change the floor plan, but where rooms can be closed off to the public.

Back in the Stone Age (early 1990s), or maybe as late as Medieval Times (circa 2000), each page on the Internet had a full set of code:  every color, position, image, and font style for displaying the content plus the content itself was in the code for that page. 

Nowadays, themes are written in CSS.  The theme of this website is Blossom.  The content is separate from the theme.

Modifying the theme requires some knowledge of programming script, some artistic ability, and some courage.  It is very much like revamping the look of your house; it isn’t cheap, but it’s a lot cheaper than building a new one (modifying the application).  More and more themes are being written by developers to include easy ways to modify them.  I expect that in a very short while, this will be the standard and no one will need to modify style sheets.

The Interior Decorations

The words and images displayed in all of the pages and posts are collectively known as the content.  These are the decorations and guests’ personal belongings scattered throughout the hotel.  It is easy to remove these and change them.  In a website application, there are some content items that regardless of what they looked like going in, they are presented by the theme in a particular manner.  The pink hyperlinks and bullets on this site are an example of that.  The theme tells the application what styles to apply for all of the content.

Adding, deleting, and changing content has been generally available to website owners and users for several years.  Every time you add a comment to a blog or a product review, you are adding content.  WYSIWIG editors are better and more prevalent with each passing day and can be highly effective for those who are less than comfortable “using a computer”.

The Final Product:  The Best Combination of Application, Theme, and Content

My words of advice to all small business owners to produce the best final product, especially when it’s a Moodle eLearning site:

  1. Concentrate on your content.  Make it the very best you can, whether it’s a course in table setting, a certification for nurses, or a blog on fun things to do with the kids. 
  2. Find a theme that can be easily modified to represent your business; make it your own.  If needed, spend a little money on a graphic artist.
  3. Choose a course designer, Moodle Partner, and/or a web designer who knows the application inside and out and is able to find the right plug-ins that meet your functional requirements without modification of the application.

 Good luck!  If you would like additional clarification, please contact me.

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Where in the world is the Internet? Can a small business with global clients still use Moodle?

Listen with webreader

 

Last week I was asked if I could burn a CD with a Moodle course on it, because there was concern that people in Asia-Pacific wouldn’t have reliable internet access.  

Uh, no”, I said.  

For a brief time, I was speechless, which is a rare condition for me.  There are two huge misconceptions embedded in this question, which I absolutely must write about! 

  1. Anything online can be copied onto a CD or DVD because “electronic is electronic”.
  2. Internet access is available only in the US and Canada; maybe England.   

Electronic media is a broad category, not a single characteristic.  The “power of the Internet” requires the Internet.

No, you can not burn a CD of Moodle! The explanation will have to wait for another day.  But even if you could, here’s why you would not want to: 

  • A CD can not be updated, edited, or controlled.  Once it is delivered into the hands of the user, it is what it is.  If an error is discovered, a change in policy or technology occurs, or any other reason to change the content comes along, the content of that CD can not be changed.
  • You can’t track the usage.  A CD running on a device isn’t traceable.  As the teacher or administrator, you have no idea if the content was viewed, where it was viewed from, or by whom.  You have at least some ability to obtain this information within an LMS.
  • There is no feedback.  Even if you have a fancy CD that is “interactive”, only the program interacts with the user.  The teacher (consultant or trainer) does not interact with anyone.  There are no chats or forums.  Students do not interact, and therefore, don’t learn from each other.
  • There is no other advantage that an LMS has to offer. There’s no “My Moodle” or other customization at the user’s end.   

In my opinion, a printed book is better than a CD.  It’s a little bit larger, but doesn’t require a computer to run, and I can sit under a tree with it. 

OK, so those are just a few of the advantages of online learning.  Not only is online better, there’s no excuse not to have it.  Internet access is ubiquitous. Perhaps we need to revamp Where In the World is Carmen Dandiego to… 

…Where in the world is the Internet?  

When I was an employee at Time Warner Communications in the mid 1990s, all the buzz was about broadband, a wild, new concept.  The vision of our company was to bundle cable TV, phone, and Internet access into one service. There was even talk of a “library of movies that a user could just watch whenever desired”.  Revolutionary!  Almost as far-fetched as indoor plumbing!  Of course, these ideas are very much reality 15 years later.  

What was also reality then – and still plagues us today – is the very difficult  task of dealing with legacy systems – not just computer programs, but with the infrastructure itself.  In parts of the world where reliable phone networks had never been put in place, it was easier to install fiber optics and cell phone towers than it was to replace the old for the new in many parts of the US.  Cell towers are often a source of community disdain because they ruin the view.  Back then, cellular phones were as common in parts of Africa as in Colorado.  

That was a lifetime ago (in technology years), so I did some quick Googling and came up with some interesting statistics on 2010 Internet usage: 

  • Three-quarters of a billion people use the Internet in Asia, according to Internet World Stats.  I don’t know how fast their service is, but it doesn’t take much bandwidth to run Moodle.   
  • Chinese is the second most spoken language on the internet, according to this Wikipedia article.  
  • Another Wikipedia article states: Singapore, as a small densely populated island nation and a pioneer, continues to be one of the few countries in the World in which broadband Internet access is readily available to just about any would-be user anywhere in the country, with connectivity of over 99%.  
  • The Agoda hotel in Thailand has an internet café. I’m willing to bet that there at least as many hotels in Thailand with internet access as in many North American locales.   
  • With XMGlobal, you can host your own hot spot just about anywhere in the world. So if you’re not lucky enough to be in Singapore, you can still Moodle! 
  • Registered Moodle sites exist all over the world.  Presumably, those places have Internet access reliable enough to use their Moodle sites. 
  • My favorite myth-dispeller from WebsiteOptimization.com:  Japan and Korea are way ahead of the pack in percentage of subscribers who have fiber (faster and more reliable than the wire that hangs in the air along my street).  The US is 11th in fiber penetration and 22nd in broadband speed.  

In my post about how small businesses (including authors, consultants, trainers, and other entrepreneurs) can expand their client base by using eLearning, it was implicit that this expansion was limited only by the size of your imagination and the value of your services to people worldwide.  A lack of access to the Internet should not be a concern!   

Last year, I built and hosted a Moodle course for a cruise line.  We trained 2000 employees, while they were onboard ships that were sailing in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and the open Atlantic.  Not one person had an issue with the accessibility of the Moodle site.  Not one.  

So, if you are being held back by the notion that Moodle won’t work for your business because your clients are “around the world”, let go of that idea.  Moodle is available everywhere…

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

  • LinkedIn LinkedIn Facebook LinkedIn newsletters
  • Archived Posts
  • Archived Newsletters
  • Sign up for Albany Analytical Newsletters
    * = required field
    I would like to receive the following newsletters:


  • Test

    Testing Sidebar 2

© 2010, All rights reserved, Albany Analytical, Inc.

Blossom Theme by RoseCityGardens.com

/***Google Analytics Code ***/ /***End of Google Analytics Code ***/