Tag: elearning

Monday, December 20th, 2010

How to Keep Your eLearning Development On Time & On Budget

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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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Thursday, December 9th, 2010

Getting to the moon in manageable phases: Using an MGPP for eLearning development.

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Yes!  You want the greatest eLearning courses ever!  Every feature for every type of learner!  Your clients come first and you want them to be happy! You will launch this fantastic site in three months, maybe six.  But soon.           

OK, come down to Earth            

Realistically, can you afford all that?  Do you know enough about eLearning to work with someone to create the greatest design ever? Do you know enough about your elearning clients’ needs to build something they will think is the greatest ever?  Can you really eat that elephant all at once?            

Probably not.            

Does that mean you should hang it up and forget the idea altogether?           

Of course not!            

One step at a time, with the moon in mind        

Click for PDF

Here’s a handy tool that new product developers use to help them manage successful launches.  It’s the same technique used by NASA to get to the moon and back “by the end of the decade”.   It is called a multi-generation product (or process) plan.   

It will help you to stay focused and within scope.  It allows you to have a lofty goal while still accomplishing important milestones along the way.          

There are many fables emphasizing the wisdom of this approach, but the proverbial phrase haste makes waste says it all.            
    

Creating and using an MGPP           

  1. List all of the areas in which you’ll have to make choices for your project.  This example is for elearning; if it were for building a house the list might include Usage (year round, vacation), Location, Size (if you plan for additions, the final product will look better), outbuildings, landscaping, recreational features.   
  2. For each item above, write down your ultimate dream (to the far right) and the minimum you can do soon to make it worthwhile (to the far left).  You may know only one end of each spectrum; for instance, you may have no idea what technology will be the “ultimate” 10 years from now.   
  3. Critically review your soon and ultimate ideas in each category.  What milestones, upgrades, and external factors would be needed to go from soon to ultimate?  Examples: number of students on your site, annual revenue, number of employees, 10 GB speed on mobile phones, you become a Moodle master…If you try to reach the ultimate now, it will likely take you so long that by the time you achieve it, it won’t be the ultimate any longer. 
  4. Take a good guess at how many of those steps you’ll need; these become the generations.  For NASA, the three generations were Mercury (unmanned space flight), Gemini (manned space flight), and Apollo (manned flight with a layover on the moon).  The greater the difference between what you can accomplish soon and the ultimate goal, the greater the number of generations you’ll have or the bigger the leap from one generation to another.  Warning:  big leaps carry bigger risks.
  5. Fill in what you can in the matrix.  Stick to it for at least one generation at a time.  If you find that it just isn’t working, reevaluate it.  Don’t try to force it, but don’t abandon it, either.  Remember, it’s a guidance document; as the world changes, so will your MGPP. 

The format of the MGPP can be anything you want it to be; anything that works for you. It really does work!

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Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

How Do You Know What Your Students Want? Voice of the Customer for Business Clients of eLearning

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As a Six Sigma Quality consultant, I coached many teams in new product (or process) design.  One of the very first tasks of any design project was to find out: 

What do customers really want? 

This is not to be confused with what I want, what I think they want, or what I have to sell and am hoping they’ll buy.  In my role as a consultant my most frequent question was “where is the data to back that up”.  As a Moodle content creator, I find myself asking that impertinent question with even greater emphasis.  This is because… 

If you don’t know what your students really want and what they really need, you can not design training for them. 

Most small business owners lack the resources to perform market research in the form of focus groups, large-scale studies, or small market trials.  Yet, getting the product right the first time is more critical for a small business than for a large one because of that very same thing; a lack of resources.   

How do you know what your students want before you build your eLearning?   

This is a question that plagues every design team creating a new product.  You can’t ask them because they aren’t students yet, unless you are converting from a different LMS (in which case, I hope you collected their concerns and are addressing them with your new solution).  What you can do is what everyone in New Product Development does: 

  • Observe current usage on other, similar products (web browsing, for instance).  My litmus test for whether something is tricky or not is to compare it to Facebook, Amazon, YouTube.  If young and old alike can buy a book or a toaster, view a surfing dog video, and figure out how to “like” my recommendation for an article on information overload, they can navigate Moodle, recover a lost password, and submit a comment without any trouble. 
  • Locate studies of usage on similar products for customers similar to yours.  If your students will be middle-aged managers, observing web usage of college kids won’t do you much good.  But the way people are browsing the Internet in an airport travelers lounge might be very informative. 
  • Locate past surveys of eLearning and face-to-face training with students similar to yours.  Many professional organizations maintain such statistics for their membership.
  • If you have the resources, conduct your own study or survey.  Alway, always, always hire experts to do this.  Bad data is worse than no data.

Some places to start learning about your customers and their eLearning needs:

  • The eLearning Coach – a great blog by Connie Malamed on instructional design  (She also wrote a book)
  • American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) – webcasts, publications, study results, etc.
  • Professional societies that your students might belong to, such as IEEE for engineers or the American Nurses Association, for instance.
  • StudentInsights, a market research firm focused on higher education.  Although their target clientele are universities, their findings for adult learners could still be useful for a small business delivering training to those same students. 

Don’t make assumptions about what others are thinking.  Ask around, listen, and watch.  

Watch for future posts on how to gather Voice of the Customer (VOC) data for your eLearning offerings, how to organize and analyze that data, how to prioritize it to fit your budget and other resources, and how to turn what customers want into what you build for them.

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Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Form or Function: What do people really want in eLearning?

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I’ve long envied those women (mostly fictional) who float effortlessly amongst their dinner guests, all of whom are sipping drinks, laughing, and having the perfect time.  Perhaps it’s just the way these things are displayed on TV and in food magazines, but it seems as though the mix of guests, the quality of the food and the comfort of the seating matter more than the exact shade of the flowers or whether the tea cups match. 

Could it be that what makes a good party also makes a good learning experience? 

As I look back on the best class I ever took, and several others that I really enjoyed (despite being in subjects such as thermodynamics), I can see several analogies between the perfect class and the perfect dinner party: 

  • The host (teacher) really likes her guests (students)
  • The host really likes giving dinner parties (teaching)
  • She trusts her guests to choose their own seating and food (view the content in a manner the student finds conducive to learning)
  • She trusts her guests not to break or steal anything (make the course interesting and students will be more likely to do their assignments than cheat)
  • She cares more about the food (function) than the flower arrangements (form)
  • Her # 1 priority is making sure her guests have a good time (learn something); nice place settings (lots of whiz-bang stuff) is nice if it doesn’t get in the way of having a good time. 

When you’re designing your e-Learning – whether it’s for adults in business training or kids in school – ask yourself what type of host (teacher) you’d rather be.  Do you want to be Ina Garten or the one who serves the salmon mousse?

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Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Five Things to Consider When Choosing Online Collaboration Features For eLearning

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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).

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Thursday, October 14th, 2010

What eLearning is NOT

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You don’t have to do any Moodle content creation. My course is already in Word so you can just upload it“.  These are 21 of my least favorite words when strung together. It makes me sad because it just isn’t what e-Learning should be! So, I take a deep breath and say:

“Great!  You have already written your course text, so all I have to do is convert it to the HTML that is displayed by Moodle, add some links, pictures, and multi-media, along with quizzes, assignments, and other LMS features, right?”

I go on to explain (as I am explaining here), why eLearning – Moodle or otherwise – is not a series of Office® (or Office-like) documents that are to be opened and read online.

  • There are so many versions of Microsoft Office (2003, 2007, 2010, Mac, readers only…), not to mention Open Office and other similar applications built for both PCs and Macs, that no matter how nicely formatted your document is, it is unlikely to look that way when the user opens the file.
  • We all have different fonts installed.  Most computers have Arial and Times New Roman.  But even fonts that were installed at the factory differ from one computer to another, so if I use Corbel in a Word document, my friend who uses a Mac will see something entirely different.  Forget any fonts that I purchased; they will be replaced by something else when that person opens the file.
  • It’s easy to save a copy, edit, pass around, and even claim ownership of such documents.
  • Security and confidentiality go out the window (no pun intended) when information is presented in downloadable documents.
  • Many file types can not be opened at all by mobile devices or on public computers that don’t have those applications installed, which undermines one of the benefits of eLearning – it’s available from any computer.

Using PDF documents will solve most of these issues.  But what a PDF makes up for in security and formatting, it loses in usability.

  • Live links in PDFs are possible, but not often implemented by the creators.  You have to have an add-on application to include links.  Even at that, it can be tedious.
  • While it is possible to create forms out of a PDF document, they can’t be used as templates the way a spreadsheet can.

Regardless of what type of document you link online, if it can be downloaded and saved, you lose control of it.  Even if all you want to do is correct a typo or change your contact information, you have no guarantee that those changes will be universal.  Most of the people who already downloaded the document that you changed will never know you changed it.  At the very least, they’ll keep both versions.

The advantages of eLearning are many: 24/7 worldwide access, always up to date, social interaction, interesting and varied, participation can be tracked…none of these advantages are possible when the content is nothing but linked documents.  Use linked documents that can be edited only when you want to provide your students with templates for their own use. Use linked PDFs only for eBooks, white papers, and other types of documents that you want students to keep for reference.

To learn what makes eLearning GREAT, read this post.

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Monday, September 27th, 2010

A Few Words About: Internet lingo to help you in your eLearning decisions

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A Few Words AboutIn most small businesses, each person wears many hats.  Chances are, your small business does not have a full time IT person; even if you do, that person is probably not the one responsible for your eLearning design.  Because you’ll have to make decisions about what your site will be called, where it will be hosted, and who will maintain it, I thought you’d benefit from some simple definitions of the terms you’ll hear.

The following are my own definitions, sticking with the hotel analogy of the past few posts…  

  • A website is a set of pages (or just one page) of any type of content (images, text, dancing bear animations).  These pages are connected together by a domain name.
  • A domain name is the way we identify and find most of these websites. It’s the address of the hotel.  Example: PennyMondani.com.  You will register your domain name with a registrar, but you are under no obligation to host with that same company.
  • A URL is the location of each unique “page” on the World Wide Web, such as the page on this site about me:   http://pennymondani.com/penny-mondani.  This is the room number within the hotel. Notice that it contains the domain name plus some directions on where to find this domain name.
  • An IP address is the unique identifier for each computer (or other address) used to access the Internet.  Back in the Stone Age, we had to know the IP address of a computer in order to connect to it.  Now we use a URL on our browsers to connect through a series of computers (servers) to get to the website we want.  YIKES!  Think of this as the GPS location of every traffic signal you went through on your way to the hotel, the GPS location of the hotel itself, and the GPS location of the place you started.
  • A server is a computer that stores and “serves” web pages to those who wish to view them.  One server can house hundreds of websites or as few as one. 
  • A sub-domain is part of the domain, even if the actual address is masked to the visitor.  If you have MySite.com/Moodle, your Moodle installation must be installed on the same server as MySite.com. 
  • A web host is the company that maintains the physical servers and/or resells that service to you.  For all applications, the web host (or the reseller you contract with) should also be skilled in installing, upgrading, and using the application, unless you are very good at it yourself.   

For a whole lot more detail on applications, web site themes, and web content, please read this post.

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Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

A Few Words About: Course Outlines

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A Few Words AboutOne of the very first steps to take when writing a book, an essay, or a training course is to create an outline.  You may have had this as an assignment in grade school.  I did.  I found writing outlines to be a very natural task but I realize that for many, it is as daunting as an accounting balance sheet is to me.  (Daunting is an understatement). 

No matter how difficult it is for you to create a course outline, or how convoluted your process is to do it, I can guarantee you three things:  it will get easier, it will save you lots of time and confusion, and you will end up with a better product in the end.  It might even make the difference between finishing the course (or book, essay, etc.) and never having anything more than a pile of ideas. 

There are many ways to go about creating an outline; in fact, I do it differently, depending upon how organized my thoughts are to begin with.  What you want to end up with is a list of topics/pages in the same order that the reader will be viewing the material.  Some ways to do this include: 

  • Jot down topics on a piece of paper – or each topic on one sticky note.  Move them around until the flow feels comfortable to you.
  • Start with a really high-level overview of the subject, adding detail to each section until you’re at a “chapter” or “sub-section” level.
  • If it helps you in the process, make note of what types of things you would include in that section – everything from jokes to examples to activities that you’d like to use to illustrate the point.  These things will not end up in the final outline, but they can be helpful in the organization process.
  • Alternatively, you could list everything in the world you ever wanted to say about this subject; then start crossing things off as redundant or outside the scope of the course.
  • Speaking of scope, it is usually a good idea to have your Purpose-Objectives-Goals (POG) written first, but not always.  If you’re writing a training curriculum where the same subject might be delivered on many levels to different people with different objectives, it might be easier to create the “complete set” that you can later choose from for each audience’s needs.
  • Prioritize the topics. Don’t try to include every topic or every example on the subject.  Not everything has equal importance for this audience.

Regardless of how you start out - with lots of detail, with nothing but ideas on individual scraps of paper, or an organized breakdown of major topics - your outline should look something like this one from one of my Moodle courses.  It should be targeted to your audience; what they need to know, how they best learn it, and how much time you have to spend with them (face to face or virtually). 

As many years as I’ve been doing this, I almost never get it “right” the first time.  You should expect to rearrange, add to, and subtract from, your first draft.  Don’t be discouraged by this and don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Ask your friends, co-workers, and family members to run through it with you.  Even someone who has no idea what you’re talking about can be helpful in assessing continuity and flow.  And of course, you can always seek help from your course designer!

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Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

A Few Words About: Formatting Your Content

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From the May 2010 issue of Penny For Your Thoughts newsletter…

When preparing materials to give to your newly hired course designer, ask her (or him!) what format is best. You may not realize it, but building a course in an LMS application such as Moodle can not be accomplished by simple “copy/paste” or “upload” of an entire file. Each page is actually a web page, written in HTML just like this newsletter, a WordPress site, and any number of other web applications that you may have seen or even used.

HTML doesn’t like special characters (like the apostrophe I just typed) or formatting symbols used by Word. They may look ok when you paste them in, but on the user’s screen, they’ll show up as little rectangles instead of punctuation; you’ve seen them before, I’m sure. Or, maybe you thought someone went wild with the ampersand. That’s what happens when you copy directly into an HTML editor from another application with its own formatting. PowerPoint has another whole set of problematic formatting and PDF isn’t without quirks.

So, before you go through the effort of nicely formatting something, ask your designer what will work best for her. Most of the formatting I receive has to be completely scrubbed out and redone.

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Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Using Moodle for Business

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Recently, I recommended that smaller businesses forget the custom coding to integrate all their web needs and stick to one site for eLearning, one (or more) site for marketing, and use an existing online merchant (or a simple shopping cart application).  So, what functionality should they be looking for in the eLearning (LMS) application?  

I wrote an entire section in my eBook, explaining why I chose Moodle over other applications even though Moodle wasn’t (and still isn’t) built specifically for businesses.  It doesn’t have some of the features that businesses need.  And it has many that we don’t need.  But it’s so good at the learning (the L in LMS) part, it has been worth it to us to figure out ways to use it for business. 

What does a smaller business need from an LMS?

  • Payment methods.  If we can’t collect money, we can’t keep doing it.  Moodle is great for one course at a time for one stated price. It can’t handle multiple course purchases, discounts coupons, or group pricing.  Moodle Solution:  Use Meta Courses, which will solve some of the problem.  CourseMerchant is a third party application built for Moodle that should solve the rest of it. 
  •  Enrollments.  Most businesses want this to be automatic.  The only way to do this automatically in Moodle is to have the student pay for the course or enter an enrollment key. In an academic environment, students don’t generally take courses they don’t get credit for.  In business applications, it is likely that some will want to review the material just to learn (or steal) it.  Moodle Solution:  You’ll probably need something like Course Merchant as well as another database enrollment method.  I have done it manually with bulk uploads which was not automatic but not too tedious.
  • Privacy/Confidentiality.  I have to laugh at the Moodle 2.0 feature that posts the highest grades of a quiz in course, with or without names.  Can you imagine doing that in a business training course?  Can you spell lawsuit?  Not only are grades rarely published (never with names), often the course titles are kept private.  The Business Uses forums are filled with questions like “How do I keep one client from seeing the course titles of another client on the same site?”  Moodle Solution: Use Groups and Permissions.
  • Branding.  Most businesses have spent some money and thought on corporate branding, marketing, and message.  It is important that the eLearning courses support this branding.  Another common question is “How do I brand the courses for each client?”  Moodle Solution: Course themes are an inexpensive and easy way to “custom brand” each course.
  • Audience.  There are obvious differences between academic students and adults taking business training.  I’m not sure which one is more tolerant of bad content, but I am sure that the business student is less likely to take a course if it’s difficult to access or navigate.  Just because of age, people taking business courses might be less internet savvy than college-age kids; this is becoming less and less of a concern.   Moodle Solution: Moodle is as easy to access and navigate as any website I’ve used.
  • Validation of knowledge and attendance.  In my experience, certificates and some form of credit are far more important to business clients than academic students.  Perhaps in academia, this is taken for granted.   Moodle Solution: Use Certificates linked to course grades and attendance.  
  • Interaction with others.  In a business application, this is called ‘networking” and is more focused on the application of the content in one’s job than on “social networking”.  Moodle Solution: Use Forums, Wikis, and Glossaries focused on project or job applications of the content. 
  • Content.  Content has to be good, accurate, useful, timely, and interesting regardless of the purpose of the training.  It should always have great contentMoodle Solution: Creating content in Moodle requires knowledge of the topic, good instructional design, and some computer skills.  This is true, no matter what authoring tool you use.  A very small business or entrepreneur should probably hire someone to help with this. 

I hope to see you in the Moodle for Business Uses forums soon!

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