Tips for eLearning Audio recording on the go

So you’re looking to record audio for your e-learning courses but you don’t have a big budget.

First, let me clarify something for you. A Mercedes is going to cost more than a Daewoo. The price difference will become ultimately clear when you drive them. A Mercedes is a higher quality car than a Daewoo. The same thing goes for microphones. That doesn’t mean that a Daewoo is all you need to get to where you need to be.

I don’t own a Mercedes microphone but got a couple of very simple but sufficient microphones. I’ve got a simple Logitech USB desktop microphone and a basic Logitech microphone headset. Both where below €28,- and more importantly both have a noise canceling feature. I mainly use them for screencasts with voice-overs, video tutorials etc. and they work brilliantly. The price is great as I record anywhere and everywhere, so when it breaks I just get a new one.

There are a couple of basic things you need to take into account though.

1. Always record in the same place

For a single project I always record in the same place. That way the background noise and acoustics are the same throughout my entire course. So that doesn’t mean I’m in a single spot every time I record my audio, you can find me in my home office in the attic, at the kitchen table or in one of the many meeting rooms at the office,  but it does mean that I use a single spot per project. When selecting a spot I check a couple of things:

  • Is there an air-conditioning system and how much noise does it make (I prefer to be in a room without)
  • How much traffic is passing by this spot (co-workers walking to the coffee machine, cars and trains, that kind of background noise)
  • How are the acoustics of the room
  • What is the availability of the room

If I think it’s a place I can record, I setup my laptop and microphone and do a little random recording and listen back to the quality of the recording on my headset and listen for the before mentioned background noises. If they’re hardly there you’ve found a good spot.

2. Use the same tools during your project

Now when you start recording, and this may seem obvious, within your project, always use the same tools. Don’t switch microphones and use the same recording program. These things simply effect your recordings, making them stand out from the other files you’ve already recorded.

I sometimes use Audacity to record my audio but usually I record in Articulate Storyline, Studio or Replay using the built-in recorder. They’re simple and effective and give me the quality I need.

Tip! Check your recording levels before you start recording. For some reason my laptop ‘resets’ the recording level to 80, which means I have to manually set it to 100 before I start recording.

3. Let others know you’re recording!

Very thoughtful, those colleagues that pop in to ask if they can get you anything to drink or, when working at home, your wive that comes up to tell she’s going to the market. For some reason this is always in at the end of a long take… So tell them you’re recording, put a post it on your door and get rid of those well intended but annoying interruptions.

Happy recording!

 

This post is part of the weekly Articulate challenge on Audio Recording.
Read many more tips right here in the challange recap.

 

Time-lapse video for dummies

View org. chart demoView time-lapse video

For a recent Articulate eLearning Heroes challenge I created an interactive org chart. Once I posted it I got a lot of positive reactions and questions asking me how I set it up. Inspired by a time-lapse video done by fellow Articulate Super Hero Tim Slade I set out to create my first time-lapse video.

So for those of you new to the term a time-lapse video, simply put, is basically a video put on fast forward. So a video of sunrise to sundown displayed in 3 minutes would be called a time-lapse. You might have seen such a thing on tv or in a movie. The same principle can obviously be applied to a software instruction or demonstration video as well.

So what kind of tools do you need to this, I wondered. I need something to record my screen so I can create a record me building the interactive org chart. I need a video editing tool that can fast-forward my video and add some up-tempo music to accompany the video and a place to host my video to share it with the world.

Recording your video

Now I’m lucky to have Articulate Replay, a super simple yet powerful screen recording tool but there are quite a few other options out there. There’s SCREENR.com where you can record 5 minute videos, which you can download to your local machine, as well as other software programs you can use to capture what is happening on screen. As I said I started Articulate Replay, pressed the record screen button and started recording the video without audio. After 21 minutes I was done and published the video to mp4 format.

Editing your video

moviemakerUnfortunately I did not have any video editing software on my pc and did not want to spend any money on it so a quick google search led me to Microsoft Movie Maker, a free software tool that allows me to edit videos, Yeah!

I basically opened my video in Movie Maker and clicked the Edit tab where I found the playback speed feature and played around with a different time settings and decided to go with 16x playback speed as I did not want my video to last much longer than 2 minutes and this turned out at 2:40 and seemed to play at a reasonable pace, viewers still being able to see what was happening. After that I added had to find some nice music to add to the video. I chose Pharell Williams – Happy, as it always makes me happy and has that up-tempo beat that works well with fast playing video (try adding some ballad and you’ll know what I mean). Again Movie Maker came to my aid as I could set the audio to fade in and out at the beginning and the end of the video and even assign at which time the audio should start (there was a 14 second intro in my mp3 file before the music actually started playing).

Shareing your video

With that all done I saved my video ‘for Youtube’ getting a high-resulotion mp4 file which I was able to upload to YouTube since I have a free account there. Obviously there are other ways to share your video like Vimeo, Instagram and Facebook. …And that’s it really, so go ahead and try it yourself!

 

My first podcast… Aaaarggh!!

Last week I did my first podcast. It was one of the weekly Articulate community challenges hosted by David Anderson. The mission, should we choose to accept it, was to record answers to interview questions and post them online. Now I do regular screencasts, which I enjoy a lot and most are done in one or two takes. So I figured doing a podcast would be easy-peasy.

…but it wasn’t. It took me hours to do and what feels like a gazillion takes!  So why was this so different from doing a screencast? It’s just answering questions and you’re not even recording your actions on screen together with your yourself on the webcam. By all accounts this should be simpler. This was the main thing on my mind after all those hours I spend trying, and failing, to create the podcast.

It was when I looked at my process it all became very clear to me. When I do a screencast I prepare some basic things, visuals for what I’m going to show, when recording myself I prepare the environment (remove the laundry hanging behind me and pushing all those boxes outside camera range) and that’s about it. I start recording and voila, the magic just happens. Now for the podcast I prepared my answers to the questions and I figured that was it. Record it and done… not so. For some reason ‘scripting’ myself is very unnatural. When I screencast I just start talking about what I’m doing and why without any kind of script. So working with a script made me over analyze… well everything really. Am I talking at a good tempo, how is my pronunciation, am I talking at a constant volume, am I keeping to my script, how’s the background noise, does it feel natural. All these question were going through my mind when I was recording… that and remembering to breathe!

I hadn’t guessed I could talk so much in a single breath, however after a little while it becomes increasingly difficult. #$%^!@ since when do I need to think to breathe??? Stop all this thinking!

So I sat back and stared at my laptop for a while and did nothing, trying to clear my mind and, when the frustration subsided, I tried again. I told myself no need to keep to the script exactly it was just preparation, you know the answers to these questions. Relax! It doesn’t need to be perfect.

I pressed the record button and just talked…

I wasn’t the only one participating in this challenge, check out the other contributions right here.

What’s in your e-learning utility belt?

As an instructional developer, elearning designer, or whatever you call what you do when you create online training, you run in a lot of cool tools that will make your life easier and make you into that super amazing elearning guru that your are… Collect them and create your very own Superhero-eLearning-Utility-Belt.

In this post I’ll share some of my favorite free tools with you!

http://office.live.com
The new free online version of Microsoft office. So much better than Google docs. I mostly use Word as I’ve got a paid version of MS office 2010 but it the ease of use of the new online office, connected to my Microsoft OneDrive really makes it easy to create, edit, store, print and share my documents when and wherever I need.

http://www.dropbox.com
What can I say, my professional life is in my dropbox. My software, my administration, source files. It’s all safely tucked away in my dropbox. My computer can crash a gazillion times (as windows machines do) all I need to do is install my dropbox client, leave on my pc for the night and I’m good to go!

http://www.bufferapp.com
Social media/marketing tool that allows me to buffer my tweets, linkedin and other social media posts in a way that I can go online post and retweet whatever I deem valuable and it automatically spreads the messages at optimal time intervals over the various media. Brilliant!

http://www.pinterest.com
Design inspiration finder… Just type in some keywords that relate to your course topic and the most beautiful images, infographics etc. will appear.

http://www.iconfinder.com
Search for a gazillion icons and icon themes. There’s even a ‘license free’ button. Super easy!

http://www.dafont.com
Need a new font for your project. Find it at DaFont. Be sure to keep things simple and clean. Don’t go overboard on all the mad fonts that you can find. The advanced search feature let’s you filter for license free fonts.

https://www.google.com/fonts/
Even better then DaFont, is google web fonts. I just love these clean fonts and so should you. They’re free and easy to use.

http://www.pixlr.com/editor
Super easy Photoshoplike online image editor. When I’m not using powerpoint to edit images and don’t have photoshop handy this is where I go.

http://colorschemedesigner.com/
Brilliant online tool to get some cool and complementary color schemes

https://creativemarket.com/ | http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/category/freebies/
Designer websites that offer freebies. You can get amazing stuff for free. Just download it and store it for whenever that project comes along that needs just that. I especially love backgrounds and UI examples.

http://community.articulate.com
How can we miss this one… The tutorials, the forums, the blogs, the downloads, the freebees from fellow Articulators… I would not be where I am today without this amazing community.

 

Death, Taxes, and E-Learning Mistakes

There are quite some mistakes to be made when you’re designing and developing e-learning. Here’s a list with 10 common mistakes that are easy to prevent or fix.

You don’t need a course.

Yep that’s right. A lot of courses are being developed that shouldn’t exist at all. Ask yourself: “What is the actual business need?”. Simply because there is a desire to build a course doesn’t mean there is a need for it. Is it the best and/or cheapest solution to solve the problem for which the training is requested? If not… don’t even go there.

Don’t just start… Prepare!

So you’ve assessed if a course is the best solution. If you want to make that course an effective and meaningful learning solution make sure you know all you need to do exactly that. What is the actual problem? What is the target audience? What has been tried already? What is going wrong now? How do we measure success? What is the budget? What platform(s) will the course be accessed on? Are there accessibility requirements? Is it something that will be translated into additional languages? Who are the stakeholders? These are just a few simple questions you absolutely need an answer to before you start doing anything.

Help your subject matter expert!

Eight out of ten times your SME will think everything they know about the topic is important. If you don’t help your SME to see the difference between vital practical information that will address the problem the most effective and efficient way and information overload you’ll end up developing an eBook instead of a course. Show them the power of real world examples and if need be how they can refer to ‘additional information’ e.g. via an additional resources page. My mantra when working with SME’s is: “Is this information absolutely required to meet our learning objective(s)?”.

Respect your learner!

Your learners are not complete idiots, so don’t treat them as such. Give them what they need and challenge them. If you want any kind of transfer of knowledge or skills you need to give them meaningful information and activities.That way the learner has to work for his newly acquired skills and will experience a sense of accomplishment when they finish a task. Anything else will be perceived as boring and will have little to no effect.

These four are big ones but relatively easy to prevent or fix.
Now let’s take a look at some very practical design mistakes.

If they cannot navigate, they won’t.

Keep your course navigation simple and consistent. Do not try to be clever simply because you want to try something different. Something that might seem like your next creative Mona Lisa might be your users MC Escher. There is nothing so frustrating as trying to take a course and getting lost along the way. The same thing can be said by locking your navigation, forcing people to spend X amount of time on a page etc. Most students will abandon your course faster than the roadrunner.

Clean up your mess!

I often see courses that are just a complete mess. Slides copied from various sources having different color styles, writing styles ,photography styles, button styles and layout styles. Pages that are crammed with text (if we reduce the font size it just might fit) or overloaded with animations. Consistency is key here. Do not burden your user with all that clutter as they’ll try to attach meaning to all kinds of things they don’t need to. This is one of those times a template might come in handy.

Give them a way out…

When your user has reached the final slide of your course don’t let it be the final slide. Add an exit slide explaining they can now close the course, suggest additional resources and/or whom to contact if they have additional questions. You do not want their last thought of your course to be: “Am I done now? What do I need to do? Have I done something wrong?”.

Quiz me!

If you’re going to assess your students knowledge using a quiz take it seriously. Provide meaningful questions and give meaningful feedback. In my experience this is one of the most neglected areas of e-learning. I see so many quizzes I could pass just slamming my head against the keyboard. If I do accidently hit the wrong answer my feedback will most likely be: “Incorrect, click next to continue…”. Making us think by asking challenging questions is how we learn. Give us meaningful feedback and we learn from the experience.

Say what?!

Voice-overs can be a fantastic way to engage learners, it allows you to provide meaning to what is shown on the screen. That is, if you’re doing it right. Never, ever, ever, ever have the text on screen and the voice-over be the same. Learners will be reading paragraph 3 while your voice-over is still blurting out paragraph 1. There is nothing more confusing and it kills all learning. Use it to introduce an activity or give feedback while showing what the narrator is saying. Do you remember those times when someone was giving a presentation and they were reading all the content that was on the slides. Sure you do… do you remember what it was about? $%^&# No!

Scenarios are your friend!

Real world examples help us make sense of things that would remain abstract. There is always some kind of story to be told now matter how small. Yes writing a short text with some bullet points is an easy way to explain the benefits of product X but that doesn’t mean your learners will remember any of it. Creating a short sales scenario will have a much bigger impact. A few simple questions with some good, real-world, choices will do miracles for your course and your students engagement. Don’t you think? Yes, I do! / No, I really don’t / I’m not sure but I’d like to try it!

 

What does an e-learning specialist really do?

“Have you ever tried explaining what you do to your friends or parents? Anyone? Chances are you were met with a blank or quizzical look. While most jobs can be tough to explain to people outside your industry, e-learning design has to be one of the most challenging jobs to explain. The industry is relatively new and requires designers to juggle a variety of skills from writing to design to project management to counselling.”.

In this week’s Articulate e-Learning challenge we’re asked to create an explanation of what we do using the “What people think I do/What I really do” concept.

What my friends think I do
Honestly, I don’t think they have the slightest idea… I guess they’re just a little less clueless then my mom. The first thing that came to mind was “computer nerd”. So I googled it and found this great picture that reminded me of the best Southpark episode ever, the World of Warcraft episode, which as a retired WoW junkie seemed scarily familiar.

What my mom thinks I do
My mother, pretty much like most mom’s I’m guessing, never got beyond the “My son does something with computers” explanation and always telling a neighbor I could help fix their computer… (sound familiar?), when in reality the times that I actually unscrewed the cover of my PC to add some additional memory or change the video card, 8 out of 10 times I broke it. So no, I cannot and will not fix your computer. 🙂

What my boss thinks I do
This depends on the boss of the moment really, our company is going through a lot of changes and since most people from the management and leadership teams I’ve worked with over the past years no longer work here, most understanding of my actual job role and contribution to the company seems to have disappeared with them. Since the term “e-learning” is in my job title and they know we’re using Articulate software it must mean I develop e-learning in PowerPoint all day long, right? 😉

What my colleagues think I do
With today’s e-learning authoring tools you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to develop meaningful and motivational e-learning. With the pressure no longer on development, coming up with an effective, beautifully designed learning solution has never been easier. The speed in which we can deliver these powerful solutions might seem like rocket science to many.

What I think I do
I actually played around with this one a bit. My first thought was of MacGuyver, the guy that could do (really) anything with just his Swiss army knife, a potato, some duct-tape and a paperclip. With the ongoing financial crisis and constant company restructuring, we more and more often have to make due with scarce resources under an enormous workload. Since I couldn’t find a decent McG picture I went for the second best thing… The hamster wheel. 🙂

What I actually do
I love my job, as it places me at the frontline of nearly every strategic corporate program the company is launching and tries to embed in the organization. Everything, from Health and Safety to Personal development and Compliance, from Management programs to Sustainability, Diversity and Employee Engagement, I’m there; designing, consulting, project managing, facilitating, implementing and measuring the effectiveness the online learning programs to move the company forward and making it a better place to work.

Web style tabbed interaction for Articulate Studio

View demoDownload PowerPoint file

A while ago Phil Mayor from eLearning Laboratory created a cool Storyline 1 web style tabbed interaction template and shared it with the Articulate community.

A lot of people liked it and since I’m a big fan of Articulate Studio as well I decided to recreate the interaction in PowerPoint so that it’s available whether you’re a Storyline or Studio user and shared it in the comments of Phil’s post.

This template features:

  1. Easy adaptable color scheme
  2. Several content pages with their own theme color
  3. Smooth animations for a professional organic experience

Again, many kudo’s for Phil’s interaction and I hope you enjoy the PowerPoint/Articulate Studio version.

Creating an interactive glossary

View demoDownload SL1 fileDownload SL2 fileHow it's done video

In the five years I’ve been working with Articulate  Studio and Storyline I’ve never implemented a glossary. Never. It’s not that the functionality isn’t good, it is, it’s simply a lot of work to fill a glossary and since none of my clients ever wanted to put time in writing down all the terms and definitions I’ve never used it.

Lately however, I’m getting a lot of questions when  I am training companies in Articulate Studio and Storyline about the glossary function. And although they love the default functionality and how easy it is to use, often, when they really want a glossary, they want more then just a term and definition. They want to add media to the definition but they also want jump into the glossary from the content when one of the glossary terms is on a page. Unfortunately this is just not possible with the default functionality.

Okay, you could add media to your glossary with Engage, but when using Studio13 and Storyline Upd4 you can no longer import Engage interactions. Also neither Studio nor Storyline allows you to jump to a specific step into an Engage interaction (and back).

Therefor, my answer to the glossary paradox has  always been:”Well, you can always build your own glossary in Storyline.”. Usually followed by disappointed looks, rolling eyes and big sighs. And I totally get that. When you’re just venturing into the world of Storyline building your own glossary might seem a daunting task.

In reality however, it’s really easy to do. Let’s take a look at the steps:

  1. Open a new project and go to your master slides
  2. Create a new slide (or use an existing) and start building your glossary content
  3. Add  an ‘A B C D E…’ object to navigate, add a ‘Terms’ content area and a ‘Definition’ content area. You might want to think ahead and add scroll boxes for both, you never know when you are doing a glossary with a gazillion items
  4. When you’re happy with what you’ve got exit the Slide Master and select your new layout for your content slide
  5. Add a slide layer you call DEFINITION. On this slide you add a Text box that serves as a title and will be used to add the glossary ‘term’ to. Also add a text box for the actual definition. Again, it would be smart to put it in a scroll box so your definition can be as extensive as it needs to be.
  6. Copy that slide 26 times, giving you 27 slides. Name them a-b-c to # for terms starting with numbers (e.g. 2Pac – an American rapper and actor)
  7. Now the boring part… On the first slide (A) add hotspots over the A-B-C etc and link them to their respective pages. Once you’ve done that you are going to copy all the hotspots (incl. the links) to all the other pages, linking them all together.

And that’s it. Now you can import your glossary into any Storyline project you’ve got, adjust the look and feel and voila! I like to call my glossary in a lightbox slide so I can jump straight into a specific letter page and if I want to go all out use a variable that tells me which layer to open on the glossary slide. That way the user doesn’t have to select the term again.

If you like it, please let me know in the comments!

Give your Articulate quiz result slides a make over

At the Articulate eLearning Heroes website David Anderson hosts a weekly elearning challenge. This weeks challenge was a quiz result slide make over. I got a lot of positive remarks on my entry so I decided to show you how I came up with the idea and how I put it together.

As you can see, there’s a lot of room for improvement and you really should spend some time tweaking your quiz result slide to match the look and feel of your course. Your learners will love you for it!

 

Creating animated title pages for Articulate Replay

A very cool and easy to use feature of PowerPoint 2010 is the ability to save your slides as a video file (.wmv). Creating your own animated videos has never been easier, especially since you can use all those cool PowerPoint features to create it.

In this post I’ll show you how you can use PowerPoint to create animated title screens for your Articulate Replay videos.

The steps are as follows:

  1. Create a new PowerPoint slide and set it to your required screen size (Regular=4:3 or wide-screen=16:9)
  2. Double the size of your PowerPoint slide e.g. a default 4:3 has a width of 25,4 cm and a height of 19,05 cm. Doubling the size will make my slide 50,8 cm x 39 cm. This will ensure your video resolution is large enough to match your Articulate Replay screen recording.
  3. Go to the Transitions tab and disable Advance Slide on mouse click. Now check the box Advance Slide After and set the amount of time you want this slide to be on screen
  4. Now create your slide with the animations you want using PowerPoint’s animation features
  5. When you are done check if all your slides have the Advance Slide on mouse click disabled and the proper time set for the Advance Slide after X seconds.
  6. Now save your file as Windows Media Video (.wmv) file and import it in your Replay project

TIP: You can also use slide transitions when using multiple slides.