Game Building Applications for Business eLearning

January 20th, 2011
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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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Beyond the Course Outline: Making Your Courses Invaluable

January 18th, 2011
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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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Creating Customized Moodle Functionality

January 12th, 2011
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I have a client who put this on his Moodle wish list last fall: some way for the participants to keep track of where they are in the course.  You see, this client (a big company) has a few hundred students in a completely self-paced course.  These are working adults, involved in a training program designed to span weeks or months.  There are no graded assignments, but there are dozens of tasks to be completed.  There are a number of pages to read and videos to watch.  It’s easy to lose one’s place. 

I found a couple of modules in the list of third-party contributed code that might fit the bill.   The client’s Moodle site is hosted and supported by ClassroomRevolution, so I asked Thom Caswell for a “background check” on these modules.  One, called Checklist, came up “clean”.  We decided to give it a try.  

The client was very happy with our initial testing of Checklist, but it still wasn’t quite what he wanted.  I said I’d see if the developer was willing to do some customizations. It couldn’t hurt to ask! 

I sent Davo Smith (the contributor of Checklist) a message through Moodle; I heard back from him within a few hours.  A few emails back and forth were all it took to explain what additional functionality we wanted and for him to begin working on it.  He had the first iteration to me in about a week.  With each iteration, ClassroomRevolution installed the module (which required some code knowledge), the client and I tested it, and Davo made the necessary tweaks. 

Despite the time of year (holiday season), it took only six weeks to have a fully functional Checklist installed on the live Moodle site.  It automatically brings in all resources and activities in the course, automatically checks off those resources and activities that the student has viewed, displays a list and a progress bar to both student and teacher, and gives the student control over several features.  Very cool.

To make a great story have an even better ending, this customization was not exclusive to the client.  It is available to the Moodle community, in versions compatible to Moodle 1.9x and 2.0.

I encourage all small businesses (and big ones, too) using Moodle to take this approach to customization.  It is a much faster and cost-effective way to add functionality than to hire a programmer to start from scratch to make something that is one-of-a-kind and proprietary.  (Unless selling software is your business, there’s no competitive advantage in having secret Moodle code all for yourself).  Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Search through the third party modules. If you can’t find exactly what you want, find something close. If you have engaged a Moodle Partner and/or a Moodle expert course designer, you can ask for help in the search.  Very often, they’ll already know about something that does whatever and you won’t have to search at all. 
  2. Read the reviews and comments made by other Moodlers.  I avoid the ones where users have posted comments such as “I installed this and now my pages are blank”. Yikes!  If you’re going this alone, make sure you are able to install the module yourself.  Some require code tweaking.
  3. Even if you are a brave soul and can install a module on your own, if you took my advice on hosting, ask for help.  Most Partners offer services that include installation of third party modules and other integrations.  They make sure you have compatible versions and that the installation is done properly (it works and doesn’t break your site!)
  4. Work with the module developer to modify it to your needs if necessary.  Don’t let time zone differences scare you but don’t expect overnight results, either. Many (most?) of these people have “day jobs” so consider that when setting expectations for turn-around time.   
  5. Be collaborative.  Allow the developer to post the modified version back to the third party contributed code.   

For a relatively small amount of money, you’ll have all the functionality you ever dreamed of and you can give back to the Moodle community by contributing that modification.  Everyone benefits!

If you’d like to contact Davo, his email address is moodle@davosmith.co.uk.  To learn more about Moodle hosting and support, visit ClassroomRevolution.com.

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

December 30th, 2010
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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!

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The Year in Review – eLearning and Instructional Design for Business Training

December 30th, 2010
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I have spent two and a half decades designing and delivering training in a corporate environment.  I’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from some of the best in the field.  (Thanks to all of you, wherever life has taken you). The following posts from 2010 are my thoughts on how a small business can accomplish big business training goals, without a big business staff or budget. 

My favorite blog on eLearning and Instructional Design:

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

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The Year in Review – Moodle Tips for Everyone, especially Small Businesses

December 30th, 2010
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In the first year of Penny For Your Thoughts, I shared many of my “ah hah!” moments about Moodle.  The following posts share tips and advice on using some of Moodle’s many features.  Hopefully, they clear up some common points of head-scratching with Moodle.  Watch for more in 2011! 

My favorite source for Moodle happenings:

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

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How to Keep Your eLearning Development On Time & On Budget

December 20th, 2010
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I have a wonderful client named Kyle.  He works for a company you’ve all heard of.  He is learning Moodle as we go; since he is quite comfortable using many computer applications, he’s a quick study.

What makes Kyle so great to work with?

He has more invested in the success of his Moodle courses than I do.  This may sound like a no-brainer but I often feel as though I’m more aware of our deadlines than my clients are! Yes, I know that clients are busy doing other things, which is precisely why they hired me.  And I know I’m not alone, as this post from The eLearning Coach proves.  But in much the same way as when I hired a brick layer to build paths through my gardens, my eLearning clients must provide feedback and make decisions throughout to ensure their courses meet their expectations.  Otherwise, everything ends up looking and sounding like me!

Here are some tips to help make your foray into eLearning go faster, easier, and end up as great as you had dreamed it would be: 

  1. Create and stick to your multi-generation product plan (MGPP), covered in this post.
  2. Create and stick to a project timeline that fits with the MGPP.  A simple Gantt chart will do.  It is important to remember that the more rushed the work is, the less likely it is to be exactly what you wanted.
  3. Review it frequently.  Don’t wait until the course is finished or the week before it will go live.  The sooner you spot something you don’t like the less time will be wasted on rework.  Everyone involved in the building of a course, from the instructional designer to the graphic artist to the video editor, makes style choices.  These choices may not be your choice. 
  4. Understand it.  Kyle, my client, gave me direction on how he wanted their book translated to Moodle online.  I gave him some options and my opinion; he chose a path to take.  After awhile, he realized he might have preferred some of the other options.  This didn’t happen because Kyle is fickle, but because he’s not a Moodle expert.  We don’t expect you to become experts in authoring tools or LMS, but the more you know, the more you’ll understand your options.  Even if you don’t know combustion engines, you still know to ask about fuel economy when you consider a new car… 
  5. Plan for use, now and next year.  I covered this in My Moodle site is up and running.  Now What?  It’s so easy to be excited about the launch, but as that date approaches, fear sets into nearly every client when he realizes “I don’t know how to monitor a forum, create a user, or get a grade report”.  

Kyle and I have put together a really kick-ass site that met both budget and time requirements of his company. We have managed our project timeline so that we would have plenty of time to play with features, compare options, and obtain feedback from others.  You can have the same success with your project, by following the simple tips above.

Related posts on using eLearning for your business: 

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Demystifying Moodle Quiz Settings Part 3

December 14th, 2010
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In the first two parts of this series on Moodle quizzes, we covered appearance and strictness.  This post discusses how much and what type of feedback we can provide to the students, with each question and for the exam as a whole. 

Part 3: Feedback Settings 

Review Options 

  • If you want to provide your students with feedback - both your comments and the right answers - check the first column “Immediately”.  If they can attempt the quiz again, obviously, they can use this feedback to get a better grade.  But if you have just one attempt, this is a great way to provide feedback while the questions - and the concepts - are still fresh in their minds. 
  • If you don’t want anyone to know the right answers until the test is closed for good, check the items in the far right column.  The quiz must have a close date for this to occur.
  • If you don’t ever want anyone to know, ever, uncheck all of the items.  

Overall Feedback 

  • Grade boundaries are the maximum and minimum grade received for each comment.  The highest (100%) and lowest (0%) are the default.  You can break that range into as many smaller categories as you wish.
  • Feedback is the text that will appear to the student when the quiz is submitted (if you have this checked in Review Options), according to his grade.  You can be as serious as you like (Excellent!), or silly (You’re so bright I need sunglasses in your presence).  Don’t be afraid to customize this feedback to match your content, both in topic and tone.  A play on words is another form of reinforcement…

The following are not part of the update quiz mode; these settings can be found in the question edit area.  What is displayed to the student is controlled by the Review Option settings. 

Question Feedback 

  • General feedback can be left blank or include graphics, links, and formatted text, using the HTML editor.  This feedback is on the question as a whole, not dependent on the student’s response. Use it to provide more information on the topic (including links and graphics).
  • Most question types provide the option of feedback for each answer.  If you have designed your questions with plausible wrong answers, this is a great opportunity to provide additional explanation on why that answer is incorrect.  Don’t just say “sorry” or “wrong”.  There’s no value in that type of feedback. 

I encourage you to play around with these settings, doing a preview each time.  Be consistent in your settings for each type of test.  To reinforcement concepts, be “lax”.  For final exams that really matter, be “strict”. 

All you need now are some well-written questions!  For more on testing in a business environment, check out these posts:

Go to Part 1: Appearance settings

Go to Part 2: Strictness settings

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Demystifying Moodle Quiz Settings Part 2

December 14th, 2010
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In Part 1, we covered settings that control the appearance of the quiz.  In this post, we’ll discuss the settings that control how much information is provided to the student, and when.  These settings provide us with the opportunity to give “open book” vs. “closed book” exams, “proctor help”, and “instant grading”, all very much like we could do in person.  This gives the Moodle quiz activity tremendous versatility because it can be used as a formal certification exam, an informal pop quiz, or anything in between.

Part 2: Strictness Settings

Timing

  • If you want to force students to take a timed exam, enter the number of minutes in the time limit field.  A really cool countdown clock will appear when the exam is started.  For business training not regulated by professional licensing or other certification rules, you’ll probably want to leave this disabled. Unless you just love the clock…
  • If you allow only one attempt (discussed later), the time between is irrelevant.  If you want to use this quiz to test reliability of your test instrument, you’ll want to put an appropriate delay in here.  

Attempts

  • You can practically give away the answers while still allowing only one attempt, so don’t be disillusioned into thinking that one attempt is the strictest setting.  If you want a measure of question reliability, you’ll need at least two attempts.  If you’re just giving an exam and don’t intend to measure the test itself, keep this at one.
  • Each attempt builds on the last, when checked, shows the student the answer he gave the last time.
  • Adaptive mode, when enabled, tells the student “no, that wasn’t the right answer”, so the student can keep trying until he gets it right.  This mode can also change the question, depending upon what the student submitted as an answer. 
    • In my experience, there is no need for this complexity (and often no one has the skill to do it) in business training.  Do not use this type of quiz unless it makes sense for your content, you can make good use of the information, and you have skilled test question developers to create it.
    • If you use adaptive mode, with no penalties and no change in the question wording, plus useful feedback on each question, you can use this quiz to reinforce concepts.  The grades won’t be of any value, but it can be a good teaching tool. 

Grades

  • With only one attempt, this is irrelevant.  The choices are fairly self-explanatory and I cant think of any “typical” one to advise you to use for business training exams.
  • Applying penalties is to keep people from guessing.  If they leave it blank, they’ll get no credit; if they guess it wrong, they’ll lose points.  I don’t like this choice, ever, because it makes it really hard on me to analyze grades. If you have allowed the adaptive mode (above) you must apply penalties to prevent everyone from getting 100%!
  • The precision of the grades is up to you, but the rule with decimal places is always that one more decimal place than existing in the original data.

You should now be able to create a Moodle quiz activity with the appearance and student difficulty level you desire. To review the basic appearance settings or to learn about feedback:

Go to Part 1: Appearance settings

Go to Part 3: Feedback settings

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Demystifying Moodle Quiz Settings Part 1

December 14th, 2010
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One of the beautiful things about the Moodle Quiz activity is that with a few clicks, you can create a “closed book, timed, seriously strict” exam (assuming your questions are good, too); with a few other clicks, you can produce a fun, silly, interactive memory jogger.  You can use the same questions in different quizzes with different “strictness” settings, having to create each question only once.  You can provide the right answers, with serious or funny feedback, or leave the students wondering if they passed or bombed.

I’ll split this discussion into three posts, according to what the settings control:

Part 1: How it appears to the students

Part 2: How “strict” it is on the students

Part 3: How much feedback is given to the students

What you choose for each setting depends on your overall training objectives and the purpose of each Moodle quiz you create.

Part 1: Appearance Settings

General 

  • The name you give it will appear in the course outline, so give it a meaningful name.
  • In the HTML editor you can create whatever you want your students to see.  I try to put a nicely formatted description in all quizzes, like this:  [click here for an example]
  • Timing 
  • If you have an ongoing, self-paced course, disable both the open and close dates this section.  If your course has a start and end date, your quiz available dates should correspond to the timeline of your syllabus.  

Display 

  • Everything I have read about this says “5″ is the best number of questions per page.  This is to reduce the load on the server. 
  • Shuffling is good if you think someone has this in his sleeve: 1.a, 2.b, 3.e, 4.c, 5.f…  It’s also useful if you’re doing a study where you’re trying to randomize the effect of the question order.  For most business applications, shuffling of questions or answers is not necessary.  

Common module settings 

  • The Group mode is the same as with all other Moodle activities.  If you don’t have groups set up in your course or if you want everyone to take the same quiz, regardless of group, leave this at no groups.
  • Visible is obvious.  If you want students to see it, you need to show it.
  • Grade categories are methods of aggregation (average, total, worst, highest) of the individual grades.  Frankly, I never use this.  I dump it all into Excel® and from there I do simple calculations and graphs; if I want more serious analysis (which I often do), I export it to Minitab®
  • If you set the ID number to something, you’ll have that as an extra field in your data file. 

Security 

  • Browser security is an attempt to stop cheating, but as the help file indicates, it isn’t simple.  I never, ever check this.
  • I’ve never quite seen the need for a password in the quiz, since the user has to have logged in to take it. 
  • The last option in this section is used only if you want to restrict where your students can log in from when they take the quiz.  If you want them to be at their desks, not in their living rooms, you’ll want to enter your company IP addresses here.  This is especially useful if there might be classified or sensitive information in the quiz. 

At this point, you have enough information to set up a Moodle quiz, using the defaults on the other settings.  You will, of course, have to upload or enter questions. That is not covered in this post. 

Go to Part 2: Strictness settings

Go to Part 3: Feedback settings

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