Tag: online training

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, September 16th, 2010

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

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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…

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Friday, August 20th, 2010

Measuring Up – How does Moodle Compare to Other LMS?

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measuring upI would love to do a comparison of several different LMS by features, just like you might do when considering a new refrigerator at Sears.  The problem I’m having – and the problem I’ve had for years – is that it is just about impossible to get an unguided, leave-me-alone and let-me-think demonstration of many of these LMS. 

Some of them have “demos” which are really sales pitch videos.  I want to click on things myself.  How will I ever know how “easy” or “powerful” it is if I can’t put fingers to keyboard?  Others have free trial downloads that work for a short time.  All of them (except Moodle) require me to enter so much information about myself that even my mother would blush.  And as soon as I do that, I am “on the list”.  I get phone calls and endless emails, none of which I want. 

Yesterday I canceled the download of a “free trial” of one LMS authoring tool (because it was 22 GIGAbytes!) and still received three unsolicited emails within two hours.  

So, while I had envisioned an organized comparison chart of features, I’ve settled on something else.  How about a comprehensive list of what you should know about this product before you sink your fortune and reputation into it, and ways to go about gaining that knowledge? 

What to look for: 

  • Number of options that are built in to the application.  These should be easily turned on and off, and not require hours of code modification.  Compile a list that is specific about what features and functions are built in to this LMS and how many require customization.  Then, rate those features according to how important they are to your business.
  • Scalability.  This means that while you have only a dozen students right now, you should be able to easily upgrade to hundreds.  It can also indicate your ability to go from two courses to fifty without having to rewrite the LMS itself.  Ask about upgrades in hosting bandwidth and LMS capacity.
  • Ability to upgrade.  Let’s face it.  In the technology world, “old” is five years.  Could you even imagine the functionality of an iPad 10 years ago?  A decade ago we thought hand-held PDAs were “the future”.  It is folly to assume that a state of the art LMS today will be anything other than a beta-max a few years from now.  Your LMS needs to be robust.  Find out how easy it is to upgrade this LMS, how long it will take, and what it will cost.
  • Integrations with social media.  Every day I see reputable articles on the important role of social media in learning; e-Learning is way more than old training material converted to run on the Internet.  These integrations should be built in to the LMS and be turned on or off with a few clicks.
  • Integrations with common applications such as PayPal, DimDim, and single sign on authentication.  You could add YouTube and many other sites to this list.  These integrations should be built in to the LMS and be turned on or off with a few clicks. 
  • Ease of use.  This isn’t just how easy it is for you to get reports.  It’s how easy it is for teachers or trainers to add content, monitor courses, interact with students, and do what teachers do.  It’s also about how easily the students – adults in business settings – are able to gain access to the content, navigate about, share their experiences, and still do their “regular jobs”.  Will you and your employees be able to add or edit content, change features, and generate reports – or will you be forever in the clutches of the software developer? 

Ways to find the above information and to avoid the sales pitches: 

  • Real demos, where you can see actual examples of content and features that work. Search “[lms name] demo”.
  • Sandboxes and/or trial versions where you can create (and break) things as a student, a teacher, and an administrator.  Search “[lms name] sandbox”.
  • Real user reviews, preferably from a community forum for that LMS application where issues, fixes, bugs, and wish lists are posted.  You can learn a lot by reading these forums.  If you can’t find a direct link to the community forums from the LMS commercial website, try typing a question into your search engine such as “Does Moodle accept credit cards”.
  • Visible Pricing, either bottom line or ballpark (for the more creative stuff).  Obtain quick quotes for the base application, hosting, development, and user support.  Then compare your options based on your total price.  Remember to get pricing for scalability, upgrades, and integrations with other applications. Ask about SDKs and free plug-ins.  What does it cost to install those free applications? 

While custom homes and custom-made suits are usually nice things, in the software world “custom” can be a euphemism for “we don’t actually have anything written; you’re going to pay for all of our trial and error”.  Custom software is not the same thing as software that has many options. Custom software is rarely scalable, rarely upgradeable.  What you want is an LMS with many options that will offer you flexibility and autonomy for a long time to come.

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Friday, August 13th, 2010

Open Source vs. Proprietary: What does it mean to a small business?

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Most conversations I have with potential clients include this question: “If Moodle is free, what am I paying you for”.  I wrote the answer to that in a previous post.  I promised to explain what “free” means, how that applies to Open Source Software, and what difference it makes to a small business owner. 

Open source software is that which has unencrypted code – meaning that anyone can see the source files (where the software program exists), and freely modify it.  Open source software is usually free of charge, and usually comes with no guarantees that it will work as described.  This might sound horrifying to you, but most of us have experienced bugs, poor support, and even fatal errors with software that was proprietary and cost a lot of money.  Proprietary software has encrypted code; if you look at the program files all you’ll see are a bunch of symbols and you are not allowed by law to modify them even if you could figure out how.  The free in open source refers to freedom of use, not cost.  Contrary to popular belief, open source software is still “copyrighted” in most cases, which does more to protect the users than the creators.  That’s a good thing.

Why would you want to use open source vs. something that was “guaranteed”?  Well, here’s a perfect example.  I am so used to going into the source files of Moodle and WordPress (both open source with strong communities of developers and users), to change colors, images, and strings of text that I found myself staring at my Microsoft Outlook the other day, wondering how to do the same thing.  I wanted to use the “out of office assistant” but I didn’t want the subject of the email to read “Out of Office Reply”.  If Outlook was an open source application, I would find that string in the code and change it to something else, such as “Thank you for contacting us”.  This does not take a genius to accomplish.  It’s really simple; but it is impossible to do in a proprietary application such as Outlook.  Moodle and WordPress (as I have them installed with reliable hosts and responsible web companies looking after them) are far less quirky (for me) than Outlook. In my eBook, Moodle e-Learning: Questions and Simple Answers about Online Training, I tell the tale of the proprietary LMS software that promised to do everything but did nothing.  I couldn’t get my $5000 back, even with an attorney! So “guarantees” mean nothing to me.  

Now, you may be thinking “I don’t want to make modifications”, but you probably do want those changes made, even if you’re not the one doing it.  Your web designer, for instance, makes changes to existing code all the time.  When you say “I want that color to be a little brighter” or “Can you change the font to Arial?”, you are asking him to modify the code.  This is relatively easy in Moodle, WordPress, Drupal, and all open source applications…it can not be done in proprietary software unless the creators built in a button to change the color or font.  In order to make those “little” changes that you have probably become accustomed to (if you have a website), you would have to go through a lot bigger effort and spend a lot more money if you are modifying proprietary software.  That is, if it could even be done at all.

Some software companies, like Apple and Articulate, have proprietary software as the core and offer software development kits (SDK) so that the community can create “applications” that integrate perfectly with their software.  This results in some really cool stuff, as most of you know. 

As a business owner, you should investigate all of your options for whatever functionality you desire.  Sometimes, a proprietary application will be the best solution for your needs.  Chances are, unless you are a giant business, you will have to settle for the out-of-the-box applications if you go the proprietary route.  If you want more flexibility, open source will likely be your best solution in the long run. Before deciding on any application, you should obtain actual user reviews, with specific ratings on function, support, scalability, and anything else that matters to you.  You can find very reliable reviews of an exhaustive list of open source software at SourceForge.net.  This is where I was able to find Moodle, the LMS I strongly recommend for small and medium businesses, authors, trainers, consultants, and other entrepreneurs who want to offer online training to clients and employees.

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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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Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Greening your business with eLearning

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Green Your Business with eLearningOne of my lifelong passions has been the sustainability of the planet.  Yes, LIFELONG, and I was born in 1959!  My parents subscribed to the Rodale Press publication Organic Gardening when I was a toddler.  We read food labels in the 1960s, we grew most of our own food (vegetable and animal); none of it had systemic pesticides, fertilizers, or herbicides, antibiotics, growth hormones, or artificial coloring.  (The one exception to this was the small jar of Maraschino cherries my mother let me hide at the back of a shelf in the pantry.  So far, I have no apparent side effects from the Red Dye #40.)  There was quite a long period of time where the dirtiest four-letter word I knew was S-A-L-T.

Luckily, I grew up in a very small and rural town, where everyone was odd and there was no “normal” to be compared against.  Sure, we may have been the only family around that didn’t eat Hamburger Helper or Cool Whip, but there weren’t enough of those who did to poke fun of us.  We intentionally composted our kitchen scraps, but I imagine a lot of folks threw their garbage out in the back field for the sake of convenience.  Maybe they knew way back then that landfills would become a problem…

I’ve walked the fine line between re-using and hoarding my whole life.  My mother and I still do battle over just how many cardboard boxes she should keep on hand.  She can’t stand to throw out perfectly good cardboard!  (She doesn’t actually throw it away; she burns it in the furnace that heats her house each winter).  About two years ago, we had an epiphany about our 50 years of reduce-reuse-recycle behavior:  We’re almost  mainstream! In fact, we’re cutting edge “cool”.  (Thanks to another Rodale Press publication, An Inconvenient Truth.)  We already have reusable grocery bags (for about 20 years now), we already turn off the lights (obsessively), we could go for days and weeks without driving, and we delight in catching rain water to save for a drier day.

The one thing I have done for the environment that Mom hasn’t had a chance to do is what I get more and more excited about each day: e-Learning.  In 2005 I began promoting it as “Green Learning”.  I was met with vacuous stares from my friends and colleagues.  In 2007 I created this super cool eWheel; it represents the footprint (mostly carbon) savings of eLearning over the corporate training I did for 20 years.  Now, I’m developing a website dedicated to this very topic.  It will show how I derived the values, what I learned in the process, and things that you might want to consider when implementing “green” training and travel policies for your businesses.

eLearning is not a way to reduce personal interaction or teach on the cheap.  It’s about making the world a better, cleaner, and more knowledgeable place for everyone to live.  Come on, jump on the bandwagon with me!

Earth Day 2011 update: My site dedicated to Green Training is LeaveALegacyNotAFootprint is up and running, if not totally complete.  Currently, there are several WordPress plugins dedicated to sustainable living and business practices, links to sites that will help you with your own business, and steps for calculating your own footprint.  Check it out!

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Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Moodle 2.0: Is it good for business?

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I’ve had the chance to evaluate the “new Moodle” for about two weeks now. I don’t know what I was expecting, but as is so often the case with new stuff (like CDs and Windows®), I’m not sure I like it. My emotional side usually lets my analytical side take over in times like these, so over the next few days I’ll be posting my analysis of each of the new (or changed) Moodle features, as they apply to business uses.

Each feature will be evaluated on how well it:

  • Solves a Moodle for business problem, as defined by various posts, questions, and my own experience.
  • Focuses on the needs of students in a business training curriculum, (which are very different than those of students in an academic institution).
  • Improves the ease with which a small to medium business can create or edit content and administer the site (enrollments, payments, registrations, roles) without a dedicated IT department or Moodle expert.

I also plan to assess what functionality is missing; modules and plug-ins that will not be upgraded, core features that are no longer available, and changes of core features that affect the functionality. I am holding my breath in hopes that those wonderful people who contribute the code for these awesome add-ons have the time and energy to upgrade them for 2.0. Some, I just can’t live without!

Stay tuned and please send me your thoughts, impressions, and questions on Moodle 2.0 for business uses.

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Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Protecting your eLearning content – Is this something to worry about?

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I get a lot of questions about how to keep eLearning content safe from being copied, stolen, and/or plagiarized. My response is always “the only way to stop people from using your ideas is to keep them to yourself“. Both copyright and patent laws protect the owners of ideas, concepts, and designs from being copied outright in their original format. But you can’t stop someone from taking your ideas and making them better or combining them with the ideas of others for yet another way to look at things. Having others build on your ideas (and even copy some of them) is a true measure of how good your ideas really are.

Let’s be honest, how many of us have created some new process, program, or graphical layout that is totally from scratch? I haven’t. Everything I have ever taught, written, and/or created is a compilation of what I read in text books, what my teachers taught me, and what I’ve seen and otherwise experienced. What makes my training, coaching, and consulting valuable is ME. My training content is really an example of my skill as a teacher and subject matter expert. Yours should be, too.

Ask yourself:

  • Can anyone else do a better job teaching my content than I can?
  • Have I been able to capture everything I know on paper? Is that all there is to it?
  • Of all the text books, magazine articles, online copy, examples, etc., that I’ve ever written, read, or taught, how much of it was “stolen”? Isn’t it true that almost everything is built upon something else?

Throughout my 25 year consulting career, I watched in amazement as my training material – and that of my mentors and colleagues – showed up in the “work of others”, sometimes as part of very large training programs. Plagiarism is one thing; it’s illegal and unethical, but it’s hard to stop. When I was less wise than I am today, I was enraged by this. Then I realized that even though my chart might be in someone else’s course content, I was still the one getting the rave teacher reviews. “They were coming to see ME”.

The only thing you can do is to stay ahead of those who would steal your content to sell it as their own. While they’re peddling last month’s idea, you’re launching this month’s better idea. And you’re doing it better because you’re the one who can teach it best.

If you’re concerned about one person printing off your eLearning content and giving it to everyone else – thus cutting into your revenues, this can be easily prevented by making your online version worth spending the money on and harder than blazes to copy. Make people want the original recording…not a scratchy copy with background noise (metaphorically speaking). (Click here to read my previous post on what makes eLearning GREAT).

If you have the best jelly recipe on the planet, give away peanut butter to entice people to buy the jelly. Even better, give away the jelly recipe to prove that the real secret is the way it’s made! If you are a wonderful teacher with an effective way of teaching, let everyone know how good you are; let them know this content is yours and that if they want to learn more, they’ll have to come to YOU. Let others try to copy it! Michael Port gives away a book chapter to show people how good the book is. Williams-Sonoma gives away recipes (both in stores and online) to show how much they know about cooking (and to get you to buy the equipment). In The Martha Rules, Ms. Stewart tells readers to “Profit by giving information away”. These people are onto something…

If you want to teach something or you want to sell your ideas, you have to be willing to accept that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. [Charles Caleb Colton] However, no one is as good as the original – YOU. Spend your time, energy, and money making your content great and leave the worrying about theft to diamond dealers and fine art museums.

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Monday, April 5th, 2010

How a consultant-trainer can use eLearning to increase revenue, reach more clients, and free up time (what you do with that time is up to you!)

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It was a good model and it worked for decades:

  1. Get your foot in the door with a single training workshop.
  2. Do a really good job developing and delivering that workshop.
  3. Get rave reviews from your students, who tell their superiors you’d be the perfect contractor for the upcoming project.
  4. Exceed those expectations with excellent coaching, consulting, and additional workshops.
  5. Receive high praise, good money, and a nice testimonial.
  6. Take some time off to catch up with the family and make up for the last several months when you were home only on the weekends.
  7. Do it all over again.

Then came The Recession…or, maybe you woke up one day and said “I don’t want to travel today!”  Maybe you can’t remember which class you told your famous Ted Williams anecdote or what city you’re in.  Or, maybe you feel like your clients could benefit from a different model, costing them less without sacrificing the benefit of your expertise.  Perhaps you’d just like a little more time to pursue other things…

The new, leaner model:

  1. Get your foot in the door (which, these days, requires steel-toed shoes)
  2. Save your client money and lost productivity (yours and theirs) by offering the fundamentals – or basics of what you teach – online.  Make that online training full of audio recordings (you, telling stories and giving examples, like you always did), videos (of you or better yet, others whom you could never have had in a face to face workshop), charts, tables, graphics, schematics, and cartoons (just like the ones you drew on the white board or showed on the overhead projector), assignments (to be handed in for you to review), group activities (online meetings, chats, using collaborative technology), downloadable templates, and an electronic (not printed)  manual.  Make it an online version of those great workshops you’ve always delivered!
  3. Schedule “office hours” with your students; set times each day, week, or month to chat online or have a web meeting.  This can be as big or as small, as structured or as loose, as you want it to be.  And you can do it from home.
  4. Travel to the client location already knowing something about the people, the business, the things they want to work on…Coach and consult like you always have.
  5. While you’re coaching and consulting with this client, another client is taking the online training…you just doubled the number of clients without diluting your attention to either of them.  And, you had time to attend your kid’s Little League game on a Wednesday night!

I did it the “old fashioned way” for 20 years. I never thought it work online because I made the training!  But, I proved myself wrong.  It is possible to capture the stories, the humor, the personal dynamics – all those things that make great training – in an online format.  I did it and was amazed at how much more time I could dedicate to coaching and follow-up.  Not to mention the reduction in travel time, nights spent in hotels, and bad road food.

Contact me to take advantage of our $1000 start up offer, which includes everything you need to get your book or training workshop into eLearning format.

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Thursday, March 25th, 2010

eLearning Tests and Surveys – What Tools Do You Need?

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Sometimes, you just get lucky.  I could not figure out how to write this post in fewer than 5000 words, many of which would be red, bold, and in uppercase letters.  Then I came across this post by Connie Malamed at  The eLearning Coach.  So, now I don’t have to write about how to write a good question!  Everyone should heed her advice before even considering what tool to build the questions in.  All the beautiful technology in the world won’t matter if the questions suck.  And, unlike an ugly graphic or a boring video, a bad test question can harm the learner.  A poor test that is used to judge an employee’s job-worthiness is never going to be a good thing.

So, I’ll assume you have some great assessment questions – for quizzes, tests, and surveys – that are reliable and valid and that you want to use them in your elearning courses.  Let’s look at them in terms of the Five Basic Things to consider about authoring tools:

Will assessments add value to my training design? Yes. Every eLearning course needs some assessment method.  At a minimum, you’ll want to know if your students perceived that they got something out of it.  That’s a feedback survey, not a test, but the question development and delivery are the same.  You’ll also probably want to know if the students learned anything and/or demonstrate some level of competency.  This tells you not only just that – what they learned – but also how good your course was at teaching them. 

Do I have the skill? This is a two-parter.  The skill to write questions is one thing.  It’s the main thing. The skill to build questions in an online application is another.  Luckily, the latter is remarkably simple because of some of the fantastic options available. 

 What are the options?  I build all of my tests in Moodle so I don’t use many of the available tools.  But, I also use Engage as a “pop-quiz” maker. If I don’t care what the answers are and I just want to reinforce a concept, I think this is a better option than a “flat test”.  Moodle has a Choice activity that captures the data but doesn’t look as snazzy.  Articulate also offers QuizMaker, which is about twice the price of Engage and does quite a bit more.  Joomla QuizForce is similar to QuizMaker and comes with the LMS.  At a hefty $800, Adobe Captivate does many things, including flash-based quizzes. If you don’t have a good assessment feature in your LMS or you want something customized that is in HTML and not flash, try Drupal Webform.  I have an example here.  Or, you can code one from scratch! (Yeah, right). Be creative.  You can use a quiz as a survey and vice versa. 

How much functionality do you need from this tool? The answer to this depends on what your objective is.  If you want to wake up your students with a flash presentation in full color and sound, you’ll want to opt for one of the flash applications.  If you want some serious data collection that dumps to a file that you can do statistical analysis on, pay more attention to the results than the delivery methods.  That usually means not using flash.  If you need to prove competency or that the student took the test herself, you’ll need to make sure that you can verify log in and track time spent, as well as grades.

Will this tool work within my LMS? To be assured that it will work, use the one that is built into your LMS (Moodle, Joomla, Blackboard, etc.)  That will ensure that you can track all the vital student statistics.  Check to make sure that your LMS will accept flash applications and/or allow you to open external websites before using those tools.

I believe that all instructors should want feedback on their courses and use tests to judge themselves as well as students in a constant effort to improve.  But, it if you own a business that offers eLearning to clients or employees, there is a financial reason to have good test and survey questions.  Knowing what level of competency your employees have, which training works and which doesn’t, and having the ability to get feedback on the experience is critical to long term success.  Remember, what matters most is that you start with good questions.  Good information, good questions, lots of variety…GREAT eLearning.

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