3 Inspiring Ideas from the Global Giveback Site

Posted by Mike Culligan, LINGOs Director of Content and Impact

Many of this blog’s readers already know that LINGOs’ GlobalGivebackCompetition provides a unique opportunity for learning developers to “give back” their wealth of skills in the service of building custom-made, high-quality e-learning courses for development, relief and conservation agencies. In the first two rounds of the competition, volunteer developers have built over 50 courses, provides access to resources LINGOs member agencies would never be able to access at commercial market rates.  So, as agencies sign up to participate in Global Giveback 3 (go to http://ngolearning.org/globalgiveback/ to learn more)  it is not surprising that this is their primary objective.

However, many readers don’t realize that the Giveback competition doesn’t just provide essential development opportunities to life-saving organizations; it also inspires volunteers.  A quick visit to the Global Giveback Showcase immediately provides a number of inspiring ideas for designing eLearning interactions. 

Inspirational Idea 1:  Rethink Course Navigation

Have you seen Christian Aid’s course on Using Communication Tools? The volunteer team (led by Tom Kuhlmann of Articulate) designed a user experience that is simple and intuitive – we love the clean, white template that emphasizes the great visuals!

In addition to the fresh and modern design, the course navigation is leaps and bounds ahead of the traditional course outline. Instead of next and back buttons, the developers designed an icon-based navigation ribbon at the bottom of the page. So simple! So effective! Yet I’ve never seen anything quite like it before.

To take the course go to the GlobalGiveback1 Showcase and click on “Using Communication Tools at Christian Aid.”








Inspirational Idea 2:  Invite the Learner to Engage in Building the Content 

Two-time volunteer Amanda Warner never disappoints. Her courses invite to the learner to engage in scenario based interactions. Amanda’s “Build, Manage, Improve Credit” (for Acción International) provides a super cool decision engine where learners attempt to fix their credit record. The interface is so simple, but the interaction is playful and engaging. 

Each time I enter the Repair Credit section of the course, I find myself drawn into the interaction: I do it once, then, I do it again, then again. After the fourth time running the exercise, I have thought about credit records through four different perspectives!  (Aside – I also highly recommend a visit to the GlobalGiveback 2 Showcase to see Amanda’s winning course “Client Protection and Financial Education in Microfinance.”)







Inspirational Idea 3:  Harness the Cloud 

I once worked with an HIV project where the technical experts worked out of thirteen offices in eleven countries. Imagine trying to coordinate these teams around the development of an eLearning course. How would you access files? How would share access to development tools? How would you manage team participation? While this scenario sounds extreme, it is a common challenge when working with development agencies with staff dispersed across the world.  It is just as likely that a Subject Matter Expert will be located in Panama as she would be in Kenya, Indonesia or Tajikistan. 

The team that developed the GlobalGiveback 2 Showcase course, “How to Design a Team Building Workshop” “harnessed the cloud” to address this challenge. The team from ACDI/VOCA and its partner QuickLessons developed their course using QuickLessons’ web based course development tool. Because the tool is hosted on-line, team members contributed to the development of the course regardless of their location and without having to download the course development software to their computers. Furthermore, they were able to share course files through an on-line document repository that was accessible from any location. These features, and the ability to comment of course versions through web-hosted board, permitted rich collaboration from a geographically-disbursed global team. 

So, if you are thinking about building an e-learning course and are looking for creative ideas from other organizations that have previous experience, visit the LINGOs website and explore the Global Giveback resources section.  The results are sure to inspire you and your team

Can you build a course in 15 minutes? (and free Articulate Templates)

Posted by Michael Culligan, LINGOs

The other night I saw a Geico advertisement that touted “this commercial was made in only 15 minutes!” 

Sure, the commercial is kitschy, but 15 minutes!   This got me thinking, could I develop a course in 15 minutes?   Well you could argue that a commercial is a lot different than a course.  The concepts in television commercials are so simple.  The messages are designed to be very short.  Wouldn’t learning topics require different mechanisms than those of a television commercial?

Not necessarily, just this week I discovered a You Tube video that employs the  same software Geico used (try it free at  www.xtranormal.com )  to critique the  “quantitative easing” policy recently introduced by the Federal Reserve. Talk about a boring topic!  It is complex, convoluted, arcane and technical.   And yet, the video takes this very polarizing and complicated topic and puts it into a format that keeps people engaged for seven minutes. While you might disagree with the critique presented in the video (and many do), focus on the fact that the developers have successfully developed a rapid, inexpensive communication mechanism that has already been shared with nearly 3 million people!

A recent post on the Articulate community site examines ways the videos created by XtraNormal can be used in the e-learning context.  The video’s author shows viewers how to embed XtraNormal videos  into her elearning course.  She uses the videos to simulate conversations between co-workers, providing  scenario based conversations for e-learning.   Clearly,  this is a technology that has many weaknesses, but it is yet another example of the directions in which technology is moving to make rapid e-learning a more accessible and less expensive option for everyone.

AND NOW FOR THE FREE TEMPLATES: The XtraNormal software product is one example of a great resource I learned about via Tom Kuhlmann’s Rapid e-Learning Blog (I highly recommend you all sign up for his e-mails.) Another great example of resources I learned about through the blog is a set of Articulate Presenter templates that is available for free until January 1st. Learn more about these free course templates. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the screen to find the link to the free templates. You will need your Articulate Rapid eLearning Studio license key to receive the templates.

LINGOs to Upgrade to Articulate 2009

For those of you who subscribe to the Articulate Word of Mouth Blog or the Rapid e-Learning Developer Blog (both are highly recommended) –   you have been hearing a LOT about the new release of the Articulate Rapide e-Learning Development Suite 2009.  The LINGOs team has been following the new release with great interest and many of  the new features for Articulate Presenter 2009  (in particular) are especially exciting.  For example, the new audio recording utility allow developers to circuvent the process of editing sound files in a separate application; the new interface design allows developers to edit audio, animations and scripts in a single window; and the 2009 version allows courses to be outputed directly into a podcast format!

I know many LINGOs members share our enthusiasm for the new version, since I have received a number of inquiries over the past month regarding LINGOs’ plans to upgrade.  Good News!  Last week we completed a discusson with the Articulate team and LINGOs will be upgrading to the new version before the end of January.  More information about the exact date and the upgrade process will be forthcoming.  In the mean time, be sure to visit the Articulate site to learn about the new features included in all of the products that make up the Articulate Rapid e-Learning Development Suite v2009.

Articulate Flash Player Updater Ready for “Prime Time”

In two previous posts, I had indicated some of the impacts that the new version of Flash Player has had on courses developed in Articulate Presenter and on the user experience of Articulate Engage v1.

The Articulate support team has done an excellent job documenting the fix to the compatability problem, and I am happy to share that the Articulate Flash Player Updater patch is fully operational.  A previous version of this Flash Player Updater had addressed all the challenges associated with the Presenter Output files, but had not succeeded in fixing the problem that caused Engage to fail when loading in a Flash Player v10 loaded machine.  The Updater has now been tweaked and is working perfectly on my machine that is loaded with Flash Player v10.

If you are using Articulate Presenter or Articulate Engage, be sure to download the most recent Flash Player Updater.  Follow the instructions provided by the Articulate Support Team at the following site.

Important! New Flash Player Release Might Impact the Performance of Articulate Courses

Today’s posting on the Articulate Word of Mouth Blog   identifies a potential challenge Articulate course developers will have with the newest release of the Adobe Flash Player.  If you or your users upgrade to Flash Player v10 (released today), you may not be able to properly view courses created with Articulate Presenter 5.

The blog post does a good job identifying where the problem lies with the compatability of Flash 10 Player and Articulate courses.  Earlier today, I downloaded the new version of Flash Player, and was able to replicate the problem identified in the blog post.  With the new version of Flash Player, I was unable to view Articulate Courses that were previously loaded to the web and to the LINGOs LMS.

The good news is that the blog post provides instructions on how to ensure any courses you developed previously are accessible by your audience with Flash 10 Player installed.  In summary, Articulate recommends that you do  do the following:

1.       Download and install the new Articulate Presenter 5 Updater for Adobe Flash Player 10, which will update the stealthray.swf file to correctly detect the Flash Player 10 version number.

2.       Review FAQs about this updater in the Presenter 5 Knowledge Base: Why are my presentations not loading with Flash Player 10?

3.       Run the updater (look for the Flash 10 Updater icon on your desktop) on all your local and Web-based Presenter 5 presentations.

4.       Clear your browser cache (and instruct your users to do the same) and view impacted Presenter 5 presentations; they should play just fine now.

Important notes:

  • The LINGOs team has tested the fix identified by Articulate and we find it is working.  NOTE – however that the automatic updater does not appear to correct the problem if your published course files are embedded in .zip folders (which is the norm with LINGOs courses loaded to the LMS.)  To update your published files that are found in .zip files, you will need to republish your course manually (which we did  and were able to successfully load content that is accessible via the Flash 10 Player on the LMS)
  • The newly released Articulate Rapid E-Learning Studio ‘09 (including Presenter ‘09) and other Articulate products (such as Quizmaker 2.x and Quizmaker ‘09) are not impacted by this Flash 10 issue.  LINGOs member agencies are not yet using this version of the product, but we hope to move that direction in the future.

§ The updater will also update your installed Presenter 5 files, so new presentations will not need to be updated

Learn more in the Articulate Knowledge Base

Loading Articulate Presenter Courses in the IntraLearn LMS

A previous article  discussed the interoperability of courses generated by Outstart Trainer and the IntraLearn LMS.  Now it is time to examine the same question in the context of LINGOs’ second e-Learning authoring tool – Articulate Presenter. 

Below you will find instructions to access a course that addresses the topic of “Designing Projects in the International Development, Relief and Conservation Sector.”  This course was designed using Articulate Presenter – the flagship application in the Articulate Rapid e-Learning Suite. 

As you navigate the course, be sure to view page 14 of the course – Writing Descriptive Statements.  On that page, you will see an example of the way that Articulate Engage files can be embedded in a course.  Engage provides a quick and easy alternative to developing web-based interactions  – without needing to purchase Adobe Flash.  Furthermore, unlike Adobe Flash, there is no coding to learn when developing interactions through Articulate Engage  If you would like to learn more about  Engage and/or Presenter visit the Articulate website.   

To access the Proof of Concept of an Articulate course loaded in the IntraLearn LMS follow these instructions;

go to http://lingostest.org 

username:  sample

password:  s1mple  (for clarity’s sack that password is s(the number one)mple)

 Select the course entitled “Project Management Fundamentals:  2.1 Conceptual Design”

Increasing the Quality and Consistency of User Access to LMS Content

As more agencies adopt Outstart Trainer and the Articulate Rapid e-Learning Suite to develop custom-made content for their Learning Management System (LMS), the frequency with which users encounter challenges accessing this content will increase.  This is due to the complexity of the LMS’ task- processing SCORM code, managing interactions, and tracking learner progress through a variety of operating systems, software versions, pop-up windows, browser configurations, firewalls and security settings. 


Despite the complexity of the challenge, however, there are some best practices that are highly recommended to increase the quality and consistency of  user access to LMS-loaded content.  These  recommendations are the following:

  1. Ensure that end-user workstations meet the minimum requirements for operating the LMS – The best way to ensure that learners’ workstations are configured so as to avoid problems with pop-up blockers, tracking cookies, managing Java applets, and accessing ActiveX commands is to require users to complete a minimum requirements test.  LINGOs provides access to a “Plug-In Test” that checks user workstation configurations to ensure that they are compatible with the IntraLearn LMS and its courses.  All LMS users should check their workstation configurations by accessing the Plug-In Test at the following URL:   http://lingoscatalog.org/vhelpdesk/index.cfm .
  2. Ensure that end-users understand how to install the Java plug-in and accept session cookies – While a user might have no problem accessing a course outside the LMS, once a course is embedded inside a sub-portal, the LMS needs to track the user’s progress in the course.  In order for this functionality to work correctly, users need to ensure that Java is installed on their machine and that their browsers are configured to accept cookies.  If the results of the Plug-In Test reveal that the machine does not meet these minimum standards, instructions on how to allow Cookies permissions and install Java plug-ins are found at the following link:  http://lingoscatalog.org/vhelpdesk/docs/browser_settings.pdf
  3. Avoid loading custom-developed courses into pop-up windows-  Experienced LMS users might have noticed that the pre-loaded off-the-shelf courses available on LINGOs’ LMS sub-portals generally do not open in pop-up windows.  Instead, they are embedded in a frame of the LMS.  When courses are loaded in pop-up windows, the complexity of the communication between the course and the LMS increases significantly and there is a much higher likelihood of running into access problems.  Given the increased complexity resulting from loading courses in pop-up windows, it is highly recommended that all custom-made courses be loaded as embedded content in the LMS frame.

These three recommendations will not prevent agencies from having any problems with user access to their custom-made courses.  However, they should  significantly improve the consistency with which users can successfully access your content. 









Case Study: Troubleshooting SCORM, IntraLearn’s LMS and Articulate Presenter

ACCION International has developed a series of asynchronous courses using the Articulate Rapid e-Learning Studio application. The courses are rich in their design and content, addressing a variety of training topics in the areas of general management, financial management and project management.  Recently, however, as ACCION prepared to load one of its courses into their IntraLearn LMS sub-portal, they found that the course was experiencing loading problems – running on some machines, failing to launch on others, and freezing up a few computers.

ACCION’s experience is not unusual among LINGOs member agencies working with asynchronous on-line training. Deploying asynchronous courses in international development, relief and conservation organizations is complex. Users work off a variety of operating systems and service packs; There is no standard browser configuration among field offices; Firewalls differ from region to region; and bandwidth can be a serious constraint. Furthermore, even organizations that work in a single standard environment with uniformly high-speed internet connectivity  (and there are none that I am aware of), are still challenged to ensure that the SCORM packages (the code that allow agencies to track learner progress) generated by course development tools like Articulate Presenter are communicating correctly with the learning management system that tracks learner progress.

In this case, LINGOs and ACCION worked together to discover that the course was being loaded as a pop up window in ACCION’s IntraLearn LMS sub-portal.  As a result, SCORM code transfers were interrupted between the course and the LMS.  At this point, I can imagine the reader’s eyes have just glossed over and you are overcome with a desire to go to sleep. But wait! Before you close this browser and move on to a more interesting article on http://www.people.com, hear me out for just one more minute!

There are two crucial lessons to be learned from this case:

LESSON 1 – TEST EARLY; TEST OFTEN!   ACCION’s testing process uncovered the problem early enough so that it could be addressed before the courses had been deployed to learners around the world.  If a Country Represenative had been the one uncovering this problem, it could have resulted in serious adoption repercussions that might have been avoided.  As indicated earlier in this post, deploying asynchronous learning is a complex process and developers should ensure that their courses are tested thoroughly, inside the LMS environment, with SCORM tracking operational, and on a variety of system/browser/firewall configurations.  As is always the case in project management, correcting problems is always more cost effective early on in the development process.

LESSON TWO – LEARN FROM YOUR LINGOs COMMUNITY  What wasn’t shared in the case study above, is the fact that this same pop up problem was encountered by another LINGOs member agency several months earlier.  As a result, the diagnosis and troubleshooting process to resolve the ACCION challenge only took about 30 minutes.  This underscores one of the central advantages of working within the LINGOs Learning Tools Community. Rather than each agency having to test, diagnose, troubleshoot and resolve course development problems individually, each of the agencies can learn from the previous work of other agencies.   In this case, the “Fix” to the problem was posted to the Articulate Presenter Workspace of the LINGOs website, allowing other agencies to learn more quickly and efficiently.

These two lessons apply to all of the Learning Tools (Outstart Trainer, Elluminate Live, IntraLearn LMS, the Articulate Rapid e-Learning Suite) supported by LINGOs.   The Learning Tools section of the LINGOs web site is continuously updated to reflect the most recent knowledge of the LINGOs member community.  Take some time to explore!

A 60 Minute Masters in Instructional Design

One of the more insightful assessments I have heard regarding technology assisted learning came from a colleague after he attended his first on-line synchronous meeting.  He said, “This is an incredible technology!  I hope we don’t use it to host more bad meetings.” 
This assessment has become my guiding principle as I continue learning and working in this field.  While recent innovations in technology are truly incredible (on-line classrooms, rapid e-learning development tools, RSS feeds, streaming video, YouContent, collaboration software, etc.), we must be careful not to become blinded by the “wow-factor” of the technology.  The secret to high quality learning, remains high quality content. 
Clive Shepherd, a UK-based e-learning designer who has worked with LINGOs and its member agencies, asserts that a central requirement for high quality content is high quality instructional designers.  Furthermore, he recognizes that for many organizations it is the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), with little or no training in instructional design, who design the majority of training content.
To help organizations improve the instructional design skills of their SMEs, Clive (and a group of professional instructional designers from around the world) has created a course entitled “The 60 Masters”, designed to train SMEs in the basics of instructional design ( Note- Originally Clive set off to create a 30 minute masters, but soon realized that even a high-level overview course would require 60 minutes.)
I highly recommend these materials for a number of reasons.  In addition to the fact that they are excellent, relevant and freely available (although you must register to access the content), Clive also outlines an articulate argument why organizations should invest in building the capacity of instructional designers.  Furthermore, the course (built in coordination with Kineo) is a great example of good instructional design employing Articulate Presenter and Articulate Engage  . 
Link 1:  Clive Shepherd’s Presentation on “Why We Need More Instructional Designers”
Link 2:  The “60 Minute Masters” Course (audio enabled; registration required)
Link3:  The “60 Minute Masters” Course (no audio; no registration required)