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!