May 3rd, 2013
Several years ago I went to see Dave Gorman. He is a stand up comedian who tells stories of his extreme adventures! The first time time I saw him was his Are You Dave Gorman? show where he had travelled the world looking for other people called Dave Gorman. During the show he used PowerPoint – it was so slick, great slides, brllliant timing and really funny. It was one of the first times I had really seen PowerPoint used like this.
A few months later I then came across a book called Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds. It has simple design principles that you could use to enhance your presentations and slides. The book was a breath of fresh air – I’d not really come across anything like it, this was about using amazing images, elegant use of typefaces, positive of content on the page. For many of us we’ve been used to seeing bullet points at presentations, poor structured slides and terrible images….slide and slide and slide.
I took some inspiration from Garr Reynolds and Dave Gorman and decided to overhaul my own presentations using striking images, new fonts and picking out key pieces of content. I tried this new approach at a number of presentations and the results were positive – it took a while to get the slide design right and I needed several attempts to get the style right but overall it really helped to give my presentations a much needed lift. …and I was using PowerPoint.
I read lots of articles about PowerPoint and how it creates terrible presentations. Read Garr Reynolds book, spend some time look at smashing magazine, download some new fonts and you might think differently about PowerPoint.
You don’t need to use all of the transitions, SmartArt and built in templates but you can use a lot of the in built animation features, timelines and control features. If people see a poorly designed website we don’t suggest that HTML is a poor tool – we point people towards great case studies and guides.
From the people I’ve seen using PowerPoint I’ve picked up the following tips:
Create a design style for your slides
Don’t clutter the slides with content
Use really memorable images – buy them if you need to
Use an impactful typeface
Match your image with your message
I’ve read similar articles about the use of PowerPoint in conjunction with Rapid elearning tools. Spend some time in the Articulate forums and you will see some amazing elearning projects that have been created using Studio 09 – PowerPoint is just part of the development platform. You can easily apply many of these techniques to your elearning designs.
April 17th, 2013
You know that to run your business or development team you are going to need to some software!
As a business owner, project manager and developer I know that we need to use the latest software to make sure that we can create creative elearning and game solutions.
Some of them are free to try, some have free limited licenses and some of them have low cost applications.
Basecamp – Online Project Management software that allows you to send messages, emails, backup your files and store your files.
Minigroups – Online project collaboration software, excellent for projects of all sizes
www.screencast-o-matic.com – screen capture software with free and paid versions that you can output to a wide range of formats.
Open office – great alternative to the microsoft office.
Wordle – create great word clouds – we’ve used these on several projects.
GIMP – GNU image manipulation software. Ideal for image work if you don’t have photoshop
Convert units for free – this is an iphone app for converting units. This is a really useful app.
Promo PDF – A free PDF creator and you can print direct from your software packages. A really great piece of software
Notepad++ – Free course editor for for your programming requirements.
AVG Anti-Virus – Free version of the popular anti virus software
www.thinkingworlds.com Rapid sims software that now has a free license option
There are a whole host of software applications available for you to use. You can get some get Cloud applications and Software as a Service allowing you to try applications without the risk of a big capital layout.
What are the applications that you use in your office or development team?
April 3rd, 2013
March has seen some interesting elearning and technology news and articles being published. We’ve collated the best from the blogs and industry websites and we’ve round up the best of them for you from around the industry.
Learning Light – Research into the e-learning and learning technologies market
Learning Light has been producing research into elearning and learning technologies market since 2008. They have just released their latest report titled “e-learning, lessons for the future. Working with IBIS capital Learning Light they have provided a definitive view of the global e-learning and learning technologies market.
Jane Hart’s Blog – ABC: 10 reasons NOT to create a course and 10 other options
The latest entry from Jane Hart on the Learning in the Social Workplace blog generated a lot of interest in the elearning industry with over 400 social media shares. The articles covers 10 reasons NOT to create a course, it does offer alternative solutions to courses and why you might not want to create a course. In her article Jane does suggest other development ideas and tools such as Thinking Worlds, Yammer and answerhub. It is a very interesting article and well worth reading.
Clever Packaging: Essential Medicine Rides Coke’s Distribution Into Remote Villages
A fascinating article about “Kit Yamoyo” which means “kit of life”. They are medical kits that have been designed to be transported in coca cola crates. The article shows how design, medicine and logistics have come together to solve a major problem in Zambia. Using the coca-cola distribution channel medical kits are being distributed far and wide across Zambia. A great article showing how you can bring together design, logistics and innovation – I just had to include this! A great story.
14 lousy web design trends that are making a comeback
With HTML5 starting to take off and more and more elearning developers beginning to understand the benefits of using HTML we are seeing web techniques and design moving back into elearning design in a big way. However this article from econsultancy shows that there are some bad design trends making a comeback that we thought had gone away! More elearning designers need to look to other creative industries for influence and to see how they are using standards. A good article for designers, programmers and instructional designers.
Should museums display video games?
Pacman, Tetris and Simcity and 11 other video games are going to be displayed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This article on the BBC website also contains a short video about the Museum and the future of videos games in museums and how we will record them in the future. For those of you interested in Game Based Learning this will be of interest! What will be the first elearning course to be in a museum?
Starting a New eLearning Project – Questions To Ask Before You Start
An article on the questions that you need to think about before you start your elearning project. I’ve written this to cover this many of the issues that arise before you start the instructional and graphic design issues.
Hundreds of Free Textures for Your E-Learning Courses
Another great blog post from Tom Kuhlmann with information and links about free textures that you can use in your elearning projects. Tom works for Articulate but you can use these textures in many elearning projects and with many development software tools.
FutureLearn: Can they do it?
Interesting post from David Hopkins on his blog Don’t waste your time about FutureLearn the first UK-led “multi-institutional platform for free, open, online courses” whose aim is to “increase access to higher education for students in the UK and around the world by offering a diverse range of high quality courses through a single website.” Another good round up from David.
Is the migration of Flash eLearning courses to HTML5 becoming a reality?
Christopher Pappas from elearningindustry.com has posted his article about the the future of HTML5 within the elearning industry and how you can go about migrating your flash based content to HTML5. As more and more development tools offer HTML5 output developers will start to think about their legacy courses that have been developed in flash. Christopher discusses how you might migrate your courses to HTML5 and what some of the challenges are.
What do learners want?
A new entry for our list is Craig Taylor and his blog. What do learners want is a a really interesting three article series from Craig Taylor on his blog covering the ‘why’, ‘questions’ and ‘marketing’ about what do learner want includes some video clips from Towards Maturity. Well worth reading the series.
weelearning Design Jam – Redesigning the Conference Experience – A bunch of people down the pub on a Wednesday night using design thinking to re-imagine the conference going experience. What could be more normal? Nice post from Sam Burrough
Other things and top hits for March!
Open Badges – Open Badges is a new online standard to recognize and verify learning. Looks really interesting!
Font Squirrel – 1000′s of fonts that you can use in your projects. We mentioned this in our articulate forum responses last month
Minigroups – mentioned this before in the blog but a cool app for your projects and well worth a look!
Should ‘real’ students do an online course on the side? Guardian article on what you can get from a MOOC – that’s a massive open online course
Yes ware Email software for tracking whether your emails. Works with gmail.
If you know about a great site or article then let us know about either via the blog or twitter
March 28th, 2013
I’ve worked in educational elearning, game based learning and corporate elearning, during that time I’ve been involved in setting up many elearning development teams. I’ve worked on some brilliant projects for clients around the world but what would be my tops bits of advice for setting up an elearning development team? If I was starting from scratch what would I do? How would I set up a team and how would the team work?
I’ve worked in large development offices with hundreds of peoples and also a start-up so how would I set up a development team today? What would be my best advice for building an elearning development team today?
You don’t need an office
There is a whole host of virtual office applications like skype, basecamp and minigroups that can help you run your projects. They can also help you run your development projects and collaborate with your clients and team. You can get an IP phone and also a virtual office address if you still need to get post! People are moving around the world so do you all still need to be in the same location? I’ve worked on a project where the team was based in Russia, England and the USA – everything worked brilliantly. Most large companies have development centres overseas, teams working in Brazil, China, India and the USA. Have you seen some of the amazing work being competed in Argentina? Do you really need to have everyone working in the same office, commuting to the same place, every day? Some companies will want to have a huge development team sat in a massive office but think about whether this is really important to you and your team. If you set your team up around the world you can have 24 hour coverage.
What do you do if you are working with some in the same office and they have to move away from the area, seems a shame that you have to lose their skills when you could work virtually. Basecamp is run completely as a virtual company. Do you really need an office? Can you work part office and part virtual.
Look at other industries and people for inspiration
Several years we set up a link with our local university as they had a game design degree. It was a great success and we were able to share ideas – we learnt a great deal about game design and worked on several game based learning projects together. The project was nominated for an award and we set up several sessions linking game design and elearning, this was several years before the main boom of ‘gamificiation’ and game based learning. We decided to learning by speaking to some experts and sharing knowledge.
I’ve always encouraged the teams that I have worked in to look at other creative industries like graphic design, website design, animation, illustration and film to get creative inspiration. It is a great idea to look at other business to see how other people are working – not just in e-learning. We had a list of websites that we would regularly review and read to ensure that we keeping up to date on what was happening in web. There is so much happening in web that translates to elearning – I’m surprised that so many people don’t look outside of elearning for creative inspiration.
Manufacturing and production businesses are also a great place to see how you can improve your development and processes, they normally have a great way of managing process and also projects. Can you go and speak to another company outside of e-learning to learn from another business? I’ve found that if you call another business and explain what you want to achieve that they are happy for you to visit and learn from them. I’ve learnt a great deal from the engineering industry about job costing and project management, you just need to be able to apply it to your elearning processes.
Get people the right kit
It is really important that people have the right equipment and also that it works. If you have a computer that constantly crashes or is slow that it going to frustration the user and leads to lots of loss time. I worked for business with thousands of users, imagine if all of the PC’s slow down and the loss time.
Do this simple calculation.
Time the number of minutes in a day when the team member can’t work on the machine x days in the week.
You’ll then get how much time you’ll be losing in a week.
I’m not a massive fan of time and motion studies but the point is that over a year you will probably find that it more cost effective to buy a new machine or get it repaired. You also need to think about the impact of the team member working with a machine that doesn’t work correctly.
Make sure that your team has the software that they need to complete the job that they need. Work out what you need, who needs it and get it on the right machines. Also let people evaluate new pieces of software and feedback on its evaluation. Trust people to let you know how the software will work and whether it will make an impact to the projects that they are working on. You need to include money in your project budgets for any new software that you might need – don’t forget this it is often overlooked.
Encourage your team and allow them to be flexible. If you have a graphic designer or has a great script idea then make sure you have a way for them to put their ideas forward, the same applies for the script writer who wants to put forward a graphic idea. Make sure that your team can work together and are able to help each other.
You if you are the team leader you also need to be flexible, allow other people to contribute to the ideas process and act as a facilitate. You need to make sure that you get your project completed but you want to get the best from your team and also the project.
Pick what is in your team before you win the job! Graphic designer, Interactive designer, script writer, programmer, illustrator, animator, 3D designer, instructional designer
Depending on the size of your team and what type of projects you are developing you need to pick the right people for the job. My advice is start thinking about the people who will work on the project before you quote or prepare your proposal and then you won’t run into problems later. You might need to bring in a freelancer and that is fine, it is a good idea to have a list of freelance staff that you can rely on to your work on your projects that meet your quality requirements.
You don’t need to document every minute but it is a great idea to do timesheets. You need to know whether your project is in budget and if you are building your elearning development team you are going to know whether you need to get more resources in a skill area. Timesheets are a good resource for the team. Top Tip – I’d always make sure that during the week that the team had time allocated for personal research and development.
Have you built an elearning development team? What did you do? What is it a success? What would you again? There are so many development tools available would you select to work with one, two or many more? Do you offer custom or off the shelf courses? Do you have a virtual office or a mix of both? Would you like to work in a company that allowed you to work at home?
March 27th, 2013
This is one of the most common asked questions in elearning? How do you prepare a cost estimate for a piece of custom elearning? If you are a buyer of elearning what should you expect to pay for your elearning course and what information do you need to provide the supplier with?
Do you know what is involved in creating a cost proposal for a piece of custom elearning? Are you involved in sending tenders and quotes out to elearning developers and wonder why you often get such variances between the prices that you get back? There are some things that you can do to get a more accurate price and this article will help you get more accurate prices and also give you an insight into how much custom elearning courses cost.
It is because that so many of our customers come to us with such different prices for the same tender document that why we’ve decided to share our insight into how to get the best information back from your tenders and how people prepare a cost for custom elearning enquiries.
Just how much does custom elearning cost? There isn’t a stock answer to this question, each project will have a different cost as they are all different. Each client will have different requirements and developers will cost their projects in a different way, however there are factors that you can look at that will help you understand how much custom elearning courses cost and what you can do to get an accurate cost.
Let’s have a look at some of the information that help a supplier provide an estimate and also what you need to provide to get a accurate quote if you are look to develop a custom elearning course.
Set your budget
Set your project budget and understand what you need to cover within the project budget. Things that you might need to cover are development, training, maintenance and future changes.
Ensure that you have a clear understanding of the costs and any future costs when you set your budget. Make sure that you know who the budget holder is and can sign off the cheques! It is know good having a budget on paper that you can’t release.
It is a good idea to have some spare budget allocated in case you run into any issues on the project – this might be a content change that you hadn’t expect, technical issue or something unexpected. Better to have it and not use than to not have it and need it!
If you are working with a development company that are overseas make sure that you take into account any currency costs. You might find that the exchange changes and this affects your project budget. It might be an idea to agreed a fixed rate before the start of the project – also make sure you know who will be paying for any banking charges.
Do some research?
If this is the first time that you have developed a custom elearning course that take some time to do some research. Speak to some colleagues that have created a course to see what they learned on their project, speak to a few developers to understand what they process is and who they have worked with.
If you have a very specific content area that don’t be too surprised if you don’t find that you can’t find a developer who hasn’t worked in your content area. It doesn’t mean that they can’t create your course! You will need to provide access to a subject matter expert so that they can advise on your particular content. If you have quite a common content area then make sure that you really need the custom course, is there an off the shelf course available that might save you money?
Try and find out how much other people have paid for courses, start to understand how much custom courses cost. Each course will have a different cost but you will start to get an idea about the type of quality you get for the budget. If you have an idea for a particular course then you could speak to colleague or some developers to get an idea of cost. You might get a range of costs that will allow you to understand how much money and time you need to allocate.
If you are looking to develop an elearning course be realistic about your budget and what you will get for your money. Custom work in any industry takes time, involves review and is built to your specification – to have something that is built to your specification you need to be able to provide the funding to allow the developer to create it for you.
It is great to have an idea about the course that you want to develop but you need to make sure that you have the project budget to be able to develop it. If you are unsure then speak to some developers about your budget, you will quickly get an understanding about what you can achieve with the money that you have.
Think about your timeline – a huge budget might get people to work on your project but it might not get it completed in time. Think about when you really need to get your project completed and why is it need so urgently? Does it really need to be completed so quickly? Urgent rush jobs will cost more money as they will need more people on them all the time. You will pay a premium for the fast service. Think of it like DHL or UPS – they will get a package round the world almost next day but you will pay the top price!
Before you start the project make sure that you have done your research and documented your requirements. Speak to all of the people within your organisation about the project, make sure that you have all of the content that you need and ensure that this project is actually required.
Take some time to think about your project and what you want to achieve, who is the elearning course for, what is the audience, what is your budget, when do you need to complete the project for. If you want to be able to get an accurate cost then the more information you can provide the more accurate cost you will get back. If you have provided good information to the developer you should still expect for them to come back with some questions – in fact we’d want a developer to ask some questions. Don’t think that you’ve missed anything this is them trying to establish what you are trying to achieve in your project.
Have a look at our resource on elearning new course request form about some of the questions that you can ask before you start a new project. If you are a developer you can have a look at our questions before you start a new elearning project post over at elearningindustry.com.
If you have provided some really good details and you still get a good price then I’d go and find another developer to get another price…or I’d ask again!
Fixed or floating price
Before you start the project you need to agree the price with the client. You might agree a fixed price for the project or a floating price. If you have a fixed price then you will have agreed a price linked to a specification that won’t change. If you have a floating price then you will be paying an hourly rate to the developer until your course is completed. Regardless of the price model that you pick make sure that you are working with a specification and that you have enough money to complete the job.
Keep the reviews to a minimum
Reviews cost money. You might want to have reviews included in the project as a safeguard to make sure that everything is ok but this is one area where you can add a lot of money to your project. Review at the graphic stage, review at the script stage, review at the development stage and so on. Most developers will include a number of reviews in your contract (if you don’t then get them included). If you go over the agreed number of reviews then you will be paying for them and this will quickly starting adding to your budget. It is a good idea to agreed how much reviews cost and how much work outside the fixed price or specification will cost.
Quite often additional reviews happen because the project team hasn’t got together and collated their feedback or a senior manager who isn’t involved in the project ‘wants to have a look’ and then provides additional feedback. Good project management can reduce the amount of reviews and can keep your project costs down. When you are setting up your project specification and agreeing your project costs have a look to see how many reviews are included this is an area where you can increase or decrease your project cost.
You don’t always need to develop a custom elearning course but when you do there are some questions and steps that you can do through to help you get an accurate cost and proposal. Take some time to complete your research into what you actually need, think about the time that it will take the developer to prepare your cost. If you only want a quick cost make that clear to the development company. If you only send a two line email then you won’t get much detail back. If you are unsure about the procurement process have a look at the 10 rules of painless procurement.
Have you bought custom elearning courses? What do you do when you send a quote? What are the questions that you ask when trying to understand how much a custom elearning course will cost?
March 15th, 2013
There are lots of influences and techniques that e-learning designers can take and use in their e-learning projects from graphic design, game design, illustration and 3D work. Often techniques from other digital arts are overlooked by e-learning designers. There are many skills from other digital areas like graphic design that can be added and included to your set of skills to improve your e-learning projects. In the first of this series we are going to look at what e-learning can learn from graphic design and how many of the day to day skills used in graphic design can be used in our e-learning projects.
Using wireframes in your design process can save huge amounts of time in the design process and also help with the design of the layout of screens. Wireframes are used in 3D design and modelling but are increasingly used in website and graphic design to show the layout of objects. This is the first part of the development process and shows how the on-screen elements such as site furniture, buttons, video assets, text asset and content areas will be arranged. The wireframe shows the content layout before any design has been applied and is used to show the screen proportions and proposed layout. The advantage of using wireframes is that is focuses the project team on the screen layout and not the graphic content at this stage. Often during the graphic design process reviewers are distracted by the visual elements of the screen and are not able to successful review the interface design, screen layout, site furniture and interface interaction.
Once we have your wireframe layout agreed you can then apply your graphic design to it, this then reduces the number or reviews as the next stage will only focus on the graphic content and not the interface, layout, graphic and site object.
You can create your wireframes using pen and paper or specialised software. We’ve used PowerPoint and PhotoShop to create them.
Fonts – Typefaces
There is now a massive selection of fonts for designers to choice from, however you don’t need to use all and you certainly don’t need to use all of them on each screen or in your course.
You should have a course style – look how good websites and printed material has a style. If you are working with a client on an e-learning project it is likely that they will have a set of brand guidelines that will outline the fonts that they will want to use. Ask to speak to their brand team about font use. Check that the fonts that they have are suitable for an e-learning course – are they suitable for use with large sections of text? Will they work with your headers and images that you have been provided?
Make sure that the font you have selected will work on all the devices that you have to support. You’ll need to carry out a cross-platform check, if you are not sure then go and speak to the technical team and it might be better to select a more safer font that it going to work across all devices.
Can you read it? Make sure that you can read the font that you and the client have selected. This also includes the background. Don’t forget people with accessibility issues. Check out background issues, sizes and contrast. There are some excellent tools to assist with this.
Look at the sizes that are used on screen – is the size that you using making it easy for the user to read your content?
You can get some interesting ideas from website design about interface design – look at how certain page elements remain fix as you move through the site but other interface elements will be introduced to allow you to explore the site, almost like a mini interface. How do you design your e-learning interface? If you have a linear course it is likely to have next/forward buttons but if if you have a more complex navigation structure how do you let people navigate through your course?
Do you have tools tips for your buttons? What happens do you learners if they got lost in your navigation model? If you content is linear then don’t be afraid of just having a linear course. If your client wants a 3D simulation then you’ll need to develop a navigation model that will support it! Don’t forget that you are the developer not the end user, you need to design for the users so keep it simple.
If you are designing buttons do you have?
FAQ or Questions
You might be surprised how many people don’t know what FAQ means. If you area reading this article and you are from the e-learning industry then LMS might be a familiar term but LMS is used in numerous industries and doesn’t always mean Learning Management System.
Don’t be afraid of making your navigation system easy to use or making your course structure simple to use. Unless you are creating a puzzle the purpose of your design to allow people to navigation the content. Some course will require simulations or courses will require linear next/back – you design for the audience.
What type of images do you use for your courses and projects? Do you have an image researcher?. A good image can remove the amount of text that you need on screen and if you combine it with a strapline or statistic can make an impact. In his book Presentation Zen, Garr Reynolds introduces a new way of designing presentations that can easily be applied to elements of e-learning design and also many areas of digital design.
Finding the right image can take time especially as the sheer number of images available can be overwhelming. Try to allow time in your development plan to find the right image and work with your script writer and subject matter expert to agree on the right image for your content. If you are going to buy stock images ensure that your designer changes the images to suit your course design, don’t just download the image and paste it into your course. Make sure that you have re-sized and edited the image.
Buy a big thick black marker and use it to sketch out your ideas on a A2/A3 paper. The marker keeps things nice and big and way from any detail at this early stage. Use this technique right at the start of the project when you are coming up with ideas about layout, structure, site plans and more. It helps to keep everything big and in the open! If you find something that you want to focus on you can go into more detail later. I’ve often found that during e-learning projects that development teams have a script/training material provided a client and go straight into development and miss out on some of the creative elements like sketching!
Sketches are also a good idea to outline screen designs (you might also hear them referred to as scamps) or characters before you have to define them fully for the client.
Designing for multiple devices
Graphic designers have been designing for multiple browsers for years – mac, pc, safari, netscape (remember that), IE 6 (yes, still people use it) chrome and now designers have had to learn how to develop for multiple devices like tablets (iPad, Kindle) and Mobile phones. It is very good to look at popular websites to see how designers have applied a brand and its design across a set of devices to see how the design has been applied. You can see how the buttons work, how the interface works and how the functionality and the design still remains in place. Large corporations and business are also having websites that work on mobile devices and also have mobile apps. Mobile apps work slightly differently than mobile versions of websites and users have different expectations – for example, buttons behave in a different way but interestingly when done well users are able to move seemless across each version. Think about how you can apply this to your e-learning design if you are starting to think about mobile learning on tablet and mobile phones. How can you ensure that you experience is similar? Do you want it to be similar? Do you want your learners to realise that there is a difference between the PC and Mobile version? How will you buttons look? How do you want your content to display? What will you leave out on your mobile version?
There are lots of digital development areas where we can learn tips and techniques. E-learning is now increasingly looking towards mobile learning which will include the use of HTML 5 and other mobile technologies. Are you ready for the move to mobile technologies? What do techniques from graphic design do you use in your e-learning design? What elements from website design do you include in your e-learning design? Do you think that there are things from mobile app development that we can learn in e-learning design?
March 11th, 2013
I’ve previously written an article about using wireframes in e-learning design.
There is a lot of benefits of using wireframes and prototyping in your screen and graphic design in your e-learning projects. They are excellent for showing clients screen layout and also for identifying the content areas within the screen – especially if you are using a fixed screen design.
With mobile and tablet design now also a consideration wireframe and prototype design is increasingly important to ensure that your design works across all formats and the proportions work well. I think the concept of MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and wireframes are the first part of the process. You can design your prototype wireframes and show them to your client or project team and get an initial view of how the screen is going to work with out having to apply lots of graphic design time. At this early stage you can apply interface elements like navigations buttons and site furniture to see how much space each take and how they may work on the screen.
If you find the wireframe process works for you you may development an icon set that represents certain on screen elements – for example buttons, video areas, text areas, animations so that this speeds up your wireframe development process further.
You do need to consider that some people may struggle to visual the wireframe, but it is to show the potential layout and purpose of the screen not to show the finished graphic design. In client meetings I’ve actually used cardboard cut outs to move the elements around a board to show how we can move around screen elements. This can be a really quick way to create screen layouts as opposed to a series of graphics reviews conducted via email. Once you’ve agreed on the layout you can then move to the graphic style and then apply it to the wireframe.
Smashing Magazine has produced an excellent article on creating wireframes in InDesign this month. You can view their article at the Smashing Magazine Website.
Do you use wireframes in your work? Do you use prototypes? Do you use the MVP process? How do you start you development process?
March 8th, 2013
Whether you already have e-learning courses or it is the first time you have bought e-learning courses it makes sense to know what you need to be buying and what types of courses you can buy. Knowing what the options are, what you need to look for, what your budget is are important things to know before you start on the buying journey.
Think of your buying journey as a project. If you think this way it will make the buying process easier, quicker and it will reduce the chances of failure.
1. What do you want?
Most people who need to buy an e-learning course have to solve a training need within an organisation. There are normally two routes to take for the buyer of e-learning, you can have a course created or you can buy an off the shelf course. In addition you can create a course internally.
If you are thinking of buying a course you will normally already be working in an organisation that has e-learning in place. Often a specific training requirement has arose and an e-learning course is required to be part of the training plan. The course could cover any subject.
At this stage you can either buy a course that is ready to go, also known as off the shelf or you can buy a custom course. Both courses have advantages and disadvantages. The off the shelf course will be ready to be use immediately but will use generic content, the custom content will use your own content but will have to developed and will need time to be created – but it will be created to your specific requirements.
You will normally be able to demo the off the shelf course to assess it suitable for your organisation, take the time to see if it what you require but remember that generic content will normally have something that you will want to add. The benefit it that it is ready to go!
It is possible that you might have a very specific content requirement which is only going to be solved by the development of a custom course. In this case you are going to have to find a custom e-learning developer and create your own e-elearning course or create your own course in-house.
There are some brilliant development tools such as Articulate Studio 09 and Storyline that can be used to develop your own e-learning courses. You could create your own e-learning courses in-house with the right skills, you might think about working with a e-learning consultant to set up with your own in-house development team.
2. How much money have you got? What is your budget?
What a question!
Before you start thinking about a series of courses, full custom development, green screen presenters, 3d animations and voiceovers it is a good idea to think about your budget. Custom development doesn’t mean hundreds of dollars or pounds but you do need to be realistic. You need to be fair to your budget holder and your potential supplier, think about the budget you have and what you want to achieve within your budget.
3. Are you ready to buy?
Before you go to the market are in a position to actually buy your courses or commission someone to create a course for you? You need to consider that if you are start talking to people about course development that they will be taking to team to meet you, develop ideas and prepare proposals for you. It isn’t really fair for you to take time from their work day if you are not ready to buy or it you don’t have the budget approved.
There is an exception to this – if you have told them that you don’t have a budget and you are just looking for prices and you are really clear about this.
4. What do you want to buy?
Take some time to think about what it is that you want to buy. Some people will have a clear idea about their course including the course title, the technology, the style, the content and they may even have a script. Take some time to think about what your requirements are, your requirements will form part of your requirement document that you can email out to suppliers.
Make sure that you speak to the technical team about what the current technical requirements. This is an important requirement before you start an e-learning project, you want to make sure that your e-learning course is going work after you have deployed it.
Do you want you course to work on iPads, iPhone, Android devices, PC and Mac – take some time to think about your technical requirements. Do you want SCORM compliance? If you have video do you have speakers in your organisation. Develop an idea about what the course is going to ‘look’ like in your organisation and how people will use it. It is an idea to go and speak to some of the intended learners in their environment and get some of their ideas about e-learning and their training requirements. This early feedback can be very helpful and invaluable.
5. Getting a requirement document together
It makes sense to get a requirement document together. Get all of your requirements together and put it together in a document that you can send your to your potential supplier, it can actually be cost effective to work with your supplier to have them help you write your requirement document.
You might find it really hard to write your requirements document but the more detail you can include in your requirement document then the more accurate responses you will receive. If you only send a few lines in an email then don’t expect a very detailed response back from your potential suppliers. You also want people to see that you are serious about your project and that you have considered what your requirement is, putting quotes together takes time and requires information to put together an accurate quote – its help both sides to have good detail.
6. Dates, Times, Budgets
So many customers will send a request for information out with no dates, times and budgets. If you have a budget range then put this in. It will help your potential suppliers to provide you with a realistic solution for you. There is no value in your vendor spending time creating a solution that you can’t afford. Also be fair to your suppliers if you want responses back by a specific date then try and be realistic! …but if you want it back in one week then don’t spend one month looking through their responses!
If you are looking for off the shelf courses then provide information about the number of users that will be using the courses. Many courses have site licenses, user licences and annual licenses and they will be able to provide you with an immediate quote. We have courses available on our Real Learner platform on we provide the courses online.
7 . Likes and dislikes
You will probably have seen some e-learning courses at other companies that you have worked or at other companies demonstrations. If you have specific dislikes and likes then share them in your requirement document. Make sure that you are clear if there is something that you don’t want in your course. This applies to your custom course or your off the shelf e-learning course.
Colours – most companies will have a colour palette that they will want to use, make it clear from the start in case the supplier creates sample visuals for you.
Brand guidelines – If you have brand guidelines make it clear that you will expect them to be followed
Graphic design guidelines – Large and small organisations have graphic design guidelines you may want the e-learning course to follow these
Personalised experiences – you may have used a course and have a personal experience of using that course. The course may have elements that you have not liked – for example completing every element on a page before you moved forward (locking pages).
The great news is that there is some great advice on how to buy e-learning if you haven’t bought e-learning before. There is also a lot of websites and vendor sites where you can review content so that you can see what is possible before you start your e-learning project. Speak to friends and colleagues before you start your project and also speak to some suppliers to get their views. It is worth asking some suppliers to see if you can see some of their courses to see what they have produced.
What are your thoughts about buying e-learning? Have you bought e-learning? Is it easier to buy custom content or off the shelf?
March 5th, 2013
During the e-learning development process there is a question that often comes up. How do you manage the change process without allowing endless changes? This is especially an issue during the graphic, script and interactive phases – you could say during of the phases of a project!
Different companies and individuals have different models of working so there isn’t a model that is going to be able to be applied to all development models but here are some ideas for how you can help manage the process regardless of the development model that you are going to use.
1. Agree your sign off group
At the start of your project you will normally have agreed rules and roles for your project. You will have a development project manager, client contact, script writer, subject matter expert and other people in the project team. I suggest that you create a list of those people who are given responsibility for signing off each phase of the project and have this agreed by the project owner.
You all need to agree with this and if there are any changes to this list during the project then this needs to be changed. Any changes to the list are agreed by you and your project sponsor. You should also agree the maximum number of people who in the sign-off group. Don’t have everyone on the sign-off list otherwise you will never get anything agreed or completed!
It is a really good idea to have it documented so that you don’t get any surprises later in the project.
For example you start developing visuals and sending your graphics into the client for sign-off – neither you nor your client realised that all company graphics have to be signed off by the company brand team. You know have another set off people to sign off your work and your client has another set of people on their project team that they have to manage. Who pays who any possible change requests? What is the impact on any possible work required to the project timeline?
From the client perspective they will also have a deadline that will have to meet and changes will have an impact on their project and they will have another set of stakeholders within the business that they have to manage. At the start of the project work together to think about all of the people who need to be involved in the change process.
Within your group you need to have the right people involved in sign-off. Lots of people are more than happy to give feedback and provide positive and negative comments during project meetings but when it comes to formal sign-off they don’t want to make the commitment. Make sure that you have the people who have the authorisation to make the sign-off and it will make it in a timely manner. You don’t want to be waiting for months for people to sign off a stage on your project.
2. Make sure people understand what they are signing off
Make the process clear right from the start. Explain what the sign off process is, why you have it and how it benefits everyone through the project. Explain it at every stage to the people involved. It is likely that there will be different people involved at each stage.
If you are are signing off graphics and they will then go into production make sure that your client and your team are clear about what this means. You need to be fair to your client – for some people it might be the first time that they have worked on a digital or e-learning project so make sure that you explain what a sign-off means and the implication of sign-off.
Explain what you are giving to your project team – screens, prototype, script – and what you are expecting them to look for and to give feedback on. you might also want to give them guidance on what you want be able to change – for example the company logo in a specific position might not be able to moved due to company regulations.
3. Manage the number of changes
In theory you could make as many changes as you want, however you won’t get many projects completed and your timeline will just keep moving. Whether you are the client or the developer you need to decide the number of changes at each stage. Regardless of whether you are the developer or the client you need to be fair to each side – changes cost money and take time. If you want changes then you need to be able to pay for the time that they cost, if you are a developer you need to be aware that if you are working on a custom project part of the process is getting feedback and making changes.
My suggestion is that you have 2 set of changes at each development phase – graphics, script, prototype and delivery. If you are using a agile development model or an more iterative process you might find that you are constantly developing and refining your development process. It is up to you and the client to develop your change process, the most important element is that you both agree how it works.
4. Document the changes – all of them
You should document all change requests, all of them. You collate all of your client requests and log them. Client requests will come from email, phone, fax and in person. You need to document them in a change request log. We use a change request log that gives each one a specific ID and documents the date and details of the request. We can then track each change through the project. When we then deliver a new version of the project we can then deliver a version of the change log and show the client which changes have been applied.
If you don’t log your changes you will have problems remembering what has been changed, what has been logged and generally managing your clients. You can use something simple like excel – just a few columns with headers with the main details will help your change process a great deal .
5. Be fair
You both need to be be fair throughout the process – both client and the developer. If you have specified the project well and completed the development well then the number of changes should be at a minimum. If you are a developer and you are working on a custom development project then there is an expectation that you will need to do some changes – this is why it is a custom project. If you are a client just because it is a custom project and you are a client doesn’t mean that you can change everything on the project! Unless of course that you have agreed that you can do that and you have an unlimited budget and also an unlimited timeline. You should have sign off at each key stages of the project to reduce the number of major changes that you have on the project.
6. Change sometimes happens
Be prepared. Sometimes things happen. There might be a change in process, systems, a merger, takeover or new people get involved in the project and the project that you started with might change dramatically. This might not because of the people involved in the project but you need to be prepared for how you will deal with it if it happens! Act professionally, work together and come up with a solution that will work for both client and developer – you might need to re-scope the project, in some situations the project might be stopped whilst the project requirement is re-evaluated. If you do comes across a situation like this it is best to review the project and look at what is best for the project and the client as opposed to continually developing and moving forward without knowing what the end is.
Communication is the key throughout the change process, you need to work as a team and make sure that your team is informed at all times. It is a really good idea to keep good documentation and make sure that everyone can access all the documents at all times. If you can keep everyone informed and make sure that everyone knows what is going to happen at the start of the project the risk of issues during the change process will reduce.
March 4th, 2013
1. Play some games
If you are going to start on a game based learning project then you are going to need to understand how games work, the types of games that are available and what types of games you enjoy. I’ve regularly come across from people who want to get involved in game based learning and they have never played a computer game!
You don’t need to go and spend hundreds of dollars or pounds on a console. You can get games for your mobile, tablet or your PC for a few pounds and many games are now free for the first few levels.
Make sure that you get a good range of games – think about type, audience, style and genre. Don’t just buy games that you like and don’t spend too much time on one game. Spend some time paying each game.
Play each game and make a list of the things that you like, don’t like and list features that you find interesting. Start thinking about what is attracting you to particular games, is it the graphic design are their elements of the gameplay and interface that is compelling. If possible play some multi-player games and look at how players interaction and work together within games.
If you find anything of interest make a note of it, you want to start to build a list of the things that you are regularly finding in games. If you continue to review and play games you will start to look at more detailed elements within games like level design, reward systems, progression, knowledge acquisition and character recovery and performance. This elements can all be applied to how you create your e-learning courses and projects. Reward systems is an obvious and overused element from games that has been used in game based learning and e-learning but I’m personally interested in recovery and recuperation within games and how this can be used within e-learning design.
Think about how multi-player games and co-operation can be used in team building and social e-learning.
I’d suggest that you also play games from the last 20 years, look at classic games like Pac Man, Bubble Bobble, Super Mario Bros, Mario Kart, Sonic and see how those games were constructed. Look at how coins are used in reward systems, lives and levels are used in progression and how secret levels are used within game to reward exploration.
As you begin to look at more games you will how the concepts of recovery, recuperation, co-operation have developed further over the last 20 years.
2. Find a games designer
If you are going to get involved in game based learning then it makes sense to link up with a games designer, a designer as opposed to a programmer. If you can find someone who has been involved in the creation and design of games then they can bring some game design techniques to your learning design. It is a great idea to mix up e-learning design and game design on projects if you have the opportunity.
A game designer will understand the mechanics of how a game work. We’ve been able to combine e-learning design and game design into many projects and we’ve had several game designers who developed into full e-learning designers and still continuing as game designers.
3. Speak to you local college and university
See if your local university has a computer game design degree. We set up links with 2 local universities over a number of years involving work experience programme and workshops – we will able to learn from their course students and also share our experience in e-learning and interface design.
If you are able to set up a link you should treat this as a 2 way relationship you need to be able to share your experience in e-learning design and also learning from the computer game design course. We were able to provide access to some of our software and we created a workshop called creating a learning game in a day – we treated this like a commercial project and put a lot of time into setting up the day at the university. The work created from the university course was excellent during the session and there was a lot of shared learning during the session.
4. It’s not all leader boards, badges and points
It is not all about leaderboard and winning points.
I read lots of articles about how games based learning is about leaderboards and winning shields, points and rewards. It can be part of it – but it is not everything.
Game based learning can be part of your design toolbox – it doesn’t need to be everything. People have got confused that you have to use 100% game based learning or nothing – wrong! Game design has lots of techniques that can be applied to a range of technologies from mobile, programming to e-learning.
Game based learning can be very subtle – you can apply game design theory and techniques to your e-learning design. It does not need to be a game based learning project to use game theory and design.
There are some great techniques from game design such as exploration and recovery that can be incorporated into e-learning design. The first games like pacman had 3 lives many modern games incorporate recovery allowing the user to have a longer game experience – can you apply recovery to your e-learning design? Do you lock out users if they get a test wrong? Do you make users have to start a course again if they get a test wrong? How does a user navigation through course content?
A basic understanding of game design will lead to a greater understanding of how you can improve your own e-learning and instructional design.
5. Read and watch some videos
There are some great publications supporting game design and game based learning. Edge magazine has some excellent articles on the industry and also has some of the best reviews.
GamesBrief is a website about the business of games and has some excellent videos and and presentations from Nicholas Novell – this will give you an insight into the commercial elements of how games are created and what makes games successful.
Jane McGongal is one of the leaders in game design.
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