Tag: elearning features

Monday, March 15th, 2010

eLearning Audio, Video, and Screencasts: What Tools Do You Need?

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As I write this post, I realize that it’s hard – as a viewer – to draw clear distinctions amongst these eLearning features: audio, video, and screen casts (depicting mouse movement, with or without audio).  For the sake of brevity (which is not one of my strengths), I’ll refer to them collectively as “moving media”.   Some will involve using graphics (including screen prints), which are covered in a previous post, and many will output to a variety of formats, including flash. 

Five Things to consider when choosing tools to create or edit “moving media” for your eLearning courses:

Will “moving media” add value to my training design? Yes, if it reinforces the lesson and isn’t used simply to showcase the technology.  Most of the time, some simple versions will add a lot of value; in some cases, studio quality versions are called for.  To make eLearning GREAT, many types of media should be used to present the same message.  For each major learning point, I write the message (plain old text) and depict it graphically, I paraphrase what I wrote in an audio recording, and I combine all three in an Articulate Engage animation. Sometimes, I add a video or screencast. This provides something for both auditory and visual learners, for slow and fast connections, new and older technology, and reinforces the lesson. 

Do I have the skill? For “moving media”, I do not.  I have a tiny microphone that came with a computer – three computers ago.  I don’t even have audio recording software (that I know of) and I don’t have a video camera!  I use the Engage audio editor, which has features I am not talented enough to use.  The biggest issue with most novice-recording is that it sounds s-l-o-w.  To make a good recording, you almost need to talk too fast.  If the audio or video is of an actual event, careful editing is probably required, which also takes skills I don’t have.  Creating screencasts is a whole lot harder than one would think. You’ve watched them: “Uhm”…”Ahh”, [typing that goes on forever]… If you think you have the skill and want to learn more, check out Lynda.com for tutorials.

What are the options? The options range from desktop audio recording and cell phone videos to productions with actors and a script.  The biggest source of videos for me is YouTube (which I always embed so that my students aren’t bombarded with the rest of it).  If your training material warrants it, such as safety training for an electrical worker, you can hire a video production company like Creative Works at quite reasonable rates.  A short, well-produced video could add a lot more value than several amateur ones.  For high end screencasts and audio try Captivate, Camtasia, or Screenflow.  I tried several, but I found Articulate Screenr to be all that I could handle. When I wanted something special to promote eLearning, I hired Flexigroup to create an eWheel flash. You could use this in an eLearning course, too.  If you don’t have the time or the money to spend on any of these, you might try using PowerPoint if you already have it. You can save your presentation (with or without audio and animation) as a PowerPoint Show and upload it to your LMS/VLE like any other file. 

How much functionality do I need from this tool?  Most of the time, I get by with my simple mic, graphics, and SPX Instant Screen Capture, which I combine in Engage as alternatives to screencast tutorials.   Because I don’t have the skill to edit audio or piece together video, I don’t need much functionality.  If you do have the skill or need to produce really professional screencasts with studio-quality audio, you’ll need the high-end applications and good equipment as well.  If you’re like me and have dogs that bark at all the wrong times, you’ll need a sound room, too.  Again, the amount of functionality you need depends on what your training calls for and what you are capable of doing.  For most small businesses, the authoring tools should be simple and inexpensive unless media is your business; otherwise, your good information will go a long way in the simpler formats.  If you’re teaching how to use a software application, you must have good quality screencasts.  If your course is on good public speaking you must have high quality video.  If your course is in statistics, low tech cartoons might be better to ease the pain.

Will this tool work within my LMS? This is a good question to ask before spending any time or money on the authoring tool or the media itself.  Matt Bury just released a media player module for Moodle that adds both form and function to audio and video in a course.  I embed or link to most of this type of media; rarely do I upload it to a Moodle course.  If your LMS will allow you to open external links, but has strict limitations on what can be uploaded to your servers, this is probably your best option.  If you have restrictions on opening external sites, you’ll have to make sure the specific application is supported by your LMS.

For giggles, check out the history of sound recording at Wikipedia.  Until next time, Penny


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Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Graphics for e-Learning: What Tool Do You Need?

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I’m sure my friend and colleague, Elizabeth the Bibliophile, would tell me that graphics can’t be authored; author is a verb that applies to words only. So, I won’t let her read this before I post it. I hope you understand that I am using the term “authoring” to mean “a method to create, edit, or otherwise do something with”. 

Even if you don’t share my belief that eLearning is far more than flash animations and videos, you probably still agree that graphics are necessary. But how many? What type and quality? Who is going to create them, edit them, and how will they be viewed? Last time, I listed my Five Basic Things to consider about authoring tools, so let’s start with those: 

Sketch created in PowerPoint


Will graphics add value to my training design? Yes. Every eLearning course needs graphics. Nothing could be duller than page after page of words (sorry, Elizabeth!). In my courses, I use images not just for my HTML pages but also for the flash animations I produce (we’ll get to that feature in another post). If you teach event planning or catering, photos of food tables might suffice. Or, maybe simple sketches will do.  If your eLearning course is How to Use Photoshop, you might need screen shots. Business courses might use a lot of charts and graphs. I can’t think of any content where a picture isn’t worth 1000 words. 

Do I have the skill? OK, I’m going to be honest. I have used PowerPoint since 1991. Before that, I was pretty good at Freelance. When I started building eLearning courses in 2005, I needed something to resize graphics so I bought Photoshop. I don’t know a masking layer from a vector. It was three years before I figured out how to do anything other than crop and resize. I could have done that with PowerPoint or even Picasa. I would argue that “professional” graphics can get in the way of learning. Most of us are used to seeing more “homey” graphics in training, so maybe that’s the best way to present the material. I don’t know of any hard evidence either way; you decide what your students will respond to most effectively.  

Image created by a designer

By a Graphic Artist

What are the options?  The options are seemingly endless, from free to big bucks. Many will bathe your dog for you. Picasa is free and does most of what you’ll need to do. Easy Thumbnails is another option. Photoshop costs about $700, but its “little brother”, Photoshop Elements is about one tenth that price. Paint comes on every PC and Paintbrush seems to be a good option for Macs; also free. Many of us have PowerPoint and some even know how to use it for something other than bulleted lists J. If you need high-end graphics and can’t create them yourself, go to iStockPhoto, Veer, or Dreamstime, and purchase individual images for just a few dollars each. Hire a professional graphics designer for the really special images. 

PowerPoint Clip Art

Clip Art

How much functionality do you need from this tool? You’ll need the right format (jpeg, gif, png, etc.) and the right size for your eLearning pages, which you can probably do with any of the free applications. PowerPoint will not only allow you to create simple images with shapes and “clip art”, but it will also save your files, slides, and individual images in a variety of formats.  The example at the right is one I used in a client’s course with his voice telling the story about “Being Burned”.  If you create graphics for your eLearning courses the same way you would if they were for face-to-face instruction, you probably don’t need Photoshop functionality. Remember, design the output to add value and suit your audience. The graphic is way to deliver the message, not the message itself. 

Will this tool work within my LMS? For graphics, it’s probably “yes, easily”. Just make sure you size them appropriately and use the right file format. 

Next time, we’ll talk about creating and editing audio, video, and flash for eLearning courses.  Penny


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Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Features of GREAT e-Learning

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In my last post I said that elearning should be an electronic version of the best class you ever took.  To make that happen, you have to start with good information as your key ingredient, and add the right amount of spice… 

So, what makes great e-Learning?  Two things:  Good information and variety.

Good information.  All the spice in the world can’t overcome the bad taste of poor information (or liver, ick).  You don’t have to have breakthrough research or the perfect mouse trap to provide value to your students; you just have to have something they want or need to know.  Your core information needs to be:

  • Focused on the student’s needs.  It’s ok to teach algebra to an 8th grader.  It’s not ok to teach programming to a 30-year old small business owner who just wants a website.  Don’t use jargon that is over the head of your student. 
  • Timely.  Again, an 8th grader might not need algebra at that time, but it is a foundation class and those algebra lessons will be recalled years later.  On the other hand, an adult learner, who has a lot on her mind, isn’t likely to remember today’s lesson if it isn’t applied by tomorrow.
  • Unique.  What do you have to say – or how do you say it – that sets your lessons apart from everyone else?
  • Accurate.  This is not the most critical feature in keeping your audience interested, as wild Internet rumors have proven.  But, I think it goes without saying that it is the most important thing if you care at all about what you do.

Variety…no elearning course should be all text or all video or all anythingEvery course should include at least some of every one of these things:

  • Webpage text
  • Graphics, illustrations, photos, or other simple visual media
  • Video and/or flash animations
  • Audio (separate or part of the video/flash)
  • Field trips for the mind…in the form of RSS feeds, simple web links, linked documents
  • Tests of understanding and competence…quizzes, assignments, and/or projects
  • Interaction with others…chats, forums, wikis and glossaries that are collective works
  • Choice of pace…instructor-led, self-paced, due dates or open-ended assignments
  • Offline and personal time…reflection, individual assignment and projects
  • Tools to further explain and support the concepts…downloadable templates, book lists

To stand on this soap box just a little longer, I’m going to say that it’s not enough to have all of these elements in a course; they must be blended together in a meaningful way.  All too often, I see courses that have several elements, but they appear separate and unconnected.  I am frequently given course outlines that have one video, followed by one downloadable file (a PowerPoint slide deck), followed by a quiz, possibly with a page of text thrown in somewhere.  Aaarrgghh!  We want to create a deliciously rich and complex sauce, not a three-layer Jello® mold!

I think almost every page should have a mixture of media.  When I design a course, my outline goes to the page level, where each page is dedicated to a topic, a concept, or an important point. 

  • Each page has at least some text, an offsite link or two, and some “eye candy” (graphic, picture, audio, flash, and/or video).
  • Every section (week or topic) has several pages (of mixed media) and usually an activity of some sort (quiz, assignment, chat).
  • Every course has collaborative media (wikis, glossaries, forums), tests of understanding and reinforcement (quizzes, assignments), and resources (web links, RSS feeds, documents to save or print). 
  • Every course starts with a POG (Purpose-Objectives-Goals) and ends with a Summary.  (If a course is long, there will be POGs and Summaries for sub-sections as well).

Features of GREAT e-Learning

It is imperative to design the learning before creating it, which means not only deciding what you’re going to include, but how.  There are a great number of software tools to create a range of multi-media, and to distribute that media to your audience.  These are generally referred to as authoring tools; they range in price and complexity from “free and easy” to “a fortune and very difficult”.  Large corporations can spend $100,000 on applications that don’t work, but we small business owners can’t!  Not only don’t we have the money to throw away, but we can’t afford to waste the time, either.  In my next post, I’ll talk about how to choose authoring tools for e-Learning that are affordable, flexible, and worth the investment.

See you next time!  Penny


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