Getting the cogs whirring!

The latest versions of Lectora come with a range of animation effects, including fade and float in which makes for a smoother look and feel. However there doesn’t appear to be a rotate or spin animation effect. So this set the little wheels in my brain whirring and thanks to Math Notermann’s posting on the Trivantis Community I came up with a simple (ish) solution to make a spinning effect.

It is done completely with Lectora’s own capabilities

This was created using a series of timers and the change contents action; no JavaScript or CSS was used. There may be more elegant ways of doing this using some hard coding (feel free to share them in the comments below, if you would like to) but this is a relatively straightforward process which anyone with a knowledge of Lectora should be able to accomplish.

Step 1:
Choose your image


The first action is to create the object you want to spin. I chose a cog.

The next step is, in an image editing software; create multiple versions of your image at slightly different rotations. I rotated my image at 10 degree steps. Depending upon the complexity of your image you will not need to create images for every step. In my case the image rotated to 90 degrees looked the same as the original so, with 10 degree steps, I only had to create eight images.

Make sure you name all the images so they are easily identifiable.

Step 2:
Add your images to the Lectora title

And then delete all but the first one. This makes sure all the images are available when you apply the change contents action.

Alternatively, copy the images to the images subfolder for your Lectora title.

Step 3:
Set up timers and action groups

Screenshot of timer

Add a number of timers to the page;

turn off the auto start and set them as initially hidden – you don’t need to be able to see them in run mode. Set them to count down and the timer to one second.

Screenshot of action group

Create a number of action groups containing two actions:

  1. Change contents of the image on your page to the next rotated image file
  2. Play the next timer in line

Back in the timer set the done playing action to run each action group so timer one should run action group one, and so on.

Set an action to start the first timer – and the animation effect! Or you could set the first timer to start automatically.

How to get your rotation to stop and start in the same place

So you have set up a series of timers which, on finishing, sets off an action group to change the contents of the image to create the illusion of it rotating. Each action group then sets off the next timer to keep the spinning going. You might also have created a button that starts the first timer off.

What if you want to stop the spinning and start again from where you left off?

Hitting the start button again will jump back to the start image which does not allow for a very smooth rotation.

Screenshot of actions

In each action group set an action to modify a variable that increments by one each time until you get to the last action group where you should reset it to its first value.Screenshot of actions properties

Now on your start button modify your action to play timer one only if the variable is at its first value. Then create a series of actions for all the other timers to start if the variable is at the relevant value. The stop button just needs to stop all of them.

You can now start and stop your cogs from whirring!

You can view the example and download the files from the Trivantis Community. If you have any comments, please add them below.

Reflections upon completing a MOOC

I am currently working on a project researching the use of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) so I thought it would be useful to try one for myself to find out what they can be like for a learner. I chose an open course from one of the major providers on a subject of personal interest to me (photography). Here are a few of my early thoughts.

Before I go any further it is probably best to define a MOOC. It can be a very vague term but the key features of a MOOC appear to be:

  • It is online
  • It can incorporate short videos and activities
  • Learners can access help via an online forum
  • It can include peer mentoring and assessment

I think the crucial aspect of a MOOC is the opportunity it offers dispersed learners to work together to meet their learning needs. This is the Massive part. It is the end-user interaction that is important as it gives the learner to opportunity to learn from the content but also from their peers.

End-user interaction is a crucial characteristic of a MOOC
The earliest MOOCs were developed in conjunction with large academic institutions and were open to all. More recently there has been a move towards creating MOOCs for corporations and other closed institutions. The course I took was one of the former run in conjunction with MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art. It was for personal use (the subject was the art of photography) so unlike a professional course there may be different issues surrounding motivation and completion (typically only 4% of participants complete a public MOOC). Having said that the organisers of the event had many efforts to keep the participants engaged both before the programme and throughout.

These included a welcome email which apart from offering practical information on accessing the course, also helped build anticipation so encouraging the learner to buy into the course and retain their motivation. The welcome email included useful information on how to stay the course such as inviting a friend to complete it with you, and sharing your progress on social media. Secondly, the course itself was relatively short (six weeks) and really only required about an hour’s commitment each week. Having said that, there was additional reading the learner to uncover more about the subject. Finally there was a good mix of materials to keep the learner engaged such as videos, podcasts and a live webchat.

The programme consisted of three parts: the actual content which included text, videos and slide shows; a discussion forum; and assessments.

The content could be viewed on different devices and the videos could be downloaded to my iPad. However different technology was needed to make some of the content work – there was a mobile and desktop friendly versions of the slideshows (and the former didn’t always work).

The first week of the discussion forum was an opportunity for the participants to introduce themselves. It was a bit intimidating on day one to view the empty discussion forum (there was no input from the moderator at this point) and wonder what I should say. Eventually someone else beat me to it. In later weeks the discussion was more directed with a specific question being asked. I noted that there appeared to be less interaction between the participants at this stage. The questions could encourage lengthy responses and it was possible that others found it difficult to reply in an appropriate manner.

The third part of the programme was the assessment. Whilst participation in the weekly discussions was optional the learner could not proceed without completing each week’s assessment. The programme included a process to identify the learner completing the assessment, in this case using my webcam and keyboard strokes. The questions themselves were very often little more than a memory test so I quite quickly got into the habit of going straight to the assessment, printing the screen and having it by my side as I worked through the rest of the content.

So the key things I got out of the programme (apart from new perspectives on looking at photographs) was that:

  • There needs to be a process of building anticipation beforehand to encourage motivation.
  • Some means of accountability needs to be encouraged to maximise completion. In this case it was about doing the course with a friend. In an educational or work environmental this could equate to fellow students or work colleagues.
  • The content needs to work across different platforms successfully.
    The purpose of discussion forums needs to be considered carefully. In week one they were a chat facility – in later weeks they were more a means of submitting short essays.
  • If multiple choice questions are used the wording of the questions needs to be thought about to avoid them simply being a memory test

One size fits all?

Undoubtedly, mobile learning is a massive growth area.

The Towards Maturity “In Focus Report on mobile learning in the workplace” shows that 71% of respondents to their 2013 Benchmark Study use mobile devices (up from 36% four years earlier – so no doubt the figure has gone up even more by now).1

Pros and cons of mobile learning

There are many advantages to mobile learning (or, more accurately, multiple device learning). It increases the opportunities to learn; a learner could access it on their way into work. Smaller devices can also offer on the job training, providing an aide memoire which could be particularly useful for employees who work off site. In some parts of the world mobile devices are the only means of access to the internet.

On the other hand there are a number of issues to consider, especially in the corporate environment. For example, who owns the devices the content is accessed on? If you are working for a company do you really want to use your own phone for work purposes? And if you are the company do you want a range of different devices accessing content on your servers? Having said that, it is interesting to note from the Towards Maturity study, however, that around half of the organisations that responded provide devices for their staff. There is also the work/life balance issue. Should an employee be expected to learn in their own time? Should they be getting paid for it?

Despite this it seems to be the case that more and more people are using their mobile devices for learning, and more and more organisations are offering their learning across multiple devices.

There may be more mobile devices in the world than people

A lot of this is driven by the simple fact that there are lots of mobile devices in the world. Indeed we may well have passed the point where there are mobile devices than people in the world.2 They have now become so ubiquitous in our lives. Research suggests that we use them for almost three hours a day – more than we make use of desktop computers.3 It would be strange, therefore, for an employer not to offer employee services that could be accessed on mobile devices.

Is mobile learning simply the same content on different devices?

So mobile learning makes sense. But is it just simply a case of making the same content available on different devices? The CTO of Articulate seems to think this might be the case. His argument is that whether watching a movie on the big screen or on our phones we expect to see the whole thing and it should be the case for learning.4

Do we use mobile devices in a different way to desktop computers?

I am not 100% convinced that this is the case. I think making a smaller version of the desktop e-learning module might not always be the right answer. E-learning, in my book, should be as interactive as possible to maximise the amount of learning and it is not always possible to completely replicate on a mobile device an activity designed for a desktop computer. It’s harder work but we need to be thinking about creating content that is specifically mobile friendly. A good starting point would be looking at how we use mobile devices compared to desktop computers generally.

Worldwide over half of the visits to the internet now are done on mobile devices.5 Google say that now more searches are done on mobile devices than on desktops.6 However for many types of websites we still use desktops to visit them7 and the purposes for accessing the internet on a mobile device is different. The main purposes are for social networking, searching, or checking the news and weather.8 I would suggest that we use mobile devices more for shorter activities such as adding a post to social media or finding out a discrete piece of information. Apart from watching videos, longer activities are left to larger devices.

Mobile learning should reflect the different ways we use mobile devices in our day to day lives.

This is what we need to be replicating in our e-learning; creating the more detailed content to display on desktops and tablets, and more discrete pieces of content for smaller mobile devices. Of course good practise would be to break the e-learning module into the smallest chunks but perhaps it would be better to use the unique strengths of each device to create a more blended approach rather than replicating the same content on each device.

I would suggest that mobile devices would be best for videos (downloadable), access to forums so the learner can check out and respond to the latest comments on the subject being covered, aide memoires on key learning points so they can be accessed on a just in time basis, and some exercises and activities. The content for the desktop version would be more detailed, including more information on the key learning points, and providing a platform for more detailed activities.

Mobile devices are becoming (have become!) prevalent in our lives and they are being used to deploy e-learning. However it is more than just a question of simply making the same content developed for desktops available for smaller devices. Each method of deployment has its own strengths which can be utilised to design and develop optimal e-learning.

This posting arose from my experience developing e-learning content using rapid authoring. I have used Lectora extensively and have written previously about its latest version. In a later posting I will look in a little more detail at how a range of rapid authoring tools can create content that is appropriate across platforms. I’d also be interested in other people’s view if they’d care to share them in the comments section below.


1. Towards Maturity In Focus Report 2014
2. More mobile devices than people
3. Mobile Marketing Statistics
4. Delivering E-Learning (PDF)
5. Statistics and facts on mobile internet usage
6. Google says more searches on mobile than desktop
7. Percentage of desktop vs mobile visits 2016 data
8. Types of websites visited on smartphone or tablet

Creating good out of bad

Last week I attended the Virtual Patients Symposium, “We Are Our Choices” in London. This brought together participants across Europe and the world involved in a number of projects regarding online learning in the medical sector. The latest of these is called WAVES (Widening Access to Virtual Educational Scenarios), a project I am involved with. It brings together academic and enterprise partners to make scenario based learning more accessible for a wide range of professions. You can find out more about the WAVES project at

The symposium covered a range of topics with a number of interesting speakers across the medical spectrum. This posting is my reflections on the main theme of the symposium, scenario based learning, and on some of the issues that could prevent it happening.

What is scenario based learning?

Scenario based learning presents the learner with a simulation of a real life experience to allow them to gain the relevant skills and information which they can use when they are presented with the same or similar situations in their work. The learning could be delivered in a number of ways, for example in a classroom or online (the focus of the WAVES project), and is placed in context to make it easier to engage with and to commit to memory for future use.

Scenario based learning techniques are widely recognised as a key tool in the educational toolkit, for safe training in competency and decision-making.

The Elearning industry website has a great introductory blog on the subject (

Error based learning

Scenario based learning is learning from your mistakes

Another definition of scenario based learning is to think of it as error based learning – learning from your mistakes – this was a key theme of the conference. One of the speakers gave a stark insight into the medical world. Doctors will kill patients. Throughout her working day a doctor has to make numerous decisions on the cases she sees. These will branch ever outwards into different directions. Some of those directions could lead to the death of a patient. So scenario based learning, allowing people to make errors in a safe environment such as a classroom or online and learn from them, can be crucial. This is the case not just for the medical profession but for other fields as well.

Barriers to Scenario Based Learning

However, with error comes failure which can be hard to come to terms with. Some people are more likely to fear failure than others.

As part of the WAVES project I interviewed a number of people about their experiences of scenario based learning. I was struck by a comment made by one interviewee that he felt younger people had a greater acceptance of failure than older people. It was just a hunch on his part and I have no data to prove it or otherwise. However, it was raised again during the conference. A YouTube video was shown of a five-year-old child playing a shoot ’em up game. He is momentarily distraught when he loses a life but soon bounces back to start “killing” again. It could be that younger people, more used to gaming, are happier to fail in virtual environments.

One of the reasons for fearing failure is the shame they will experience as a result. This may be an age issue but it could also be cultural, whether at a country level (with some delegates suggesting this was a particular problem in their country) or at an organisational level. One delegate from a corporation suggested this was an issue where he worked. In healthcare, the focus of this conference, it was suggested there has been a culture of not admitting that errors occur. This could make it harder to implement scenario based learning which has at its heart, permission to fail in a safe environment.


So, given the challenges, how do we embed scenario based learning into an organization? Over the next two to three years, the WAVES project will research the field and come up with some ideas that will be helpful for the learner, the trainer or educator, and the technologist implementing the solutions. In the meantime, the conference looked at cultural changes that needed to happen so that error could be seen as normal, to be learned from and moved on from.

Encouraging people to recycle their errors and make good out of bad

One suggestion was to provide regular opportunities for people to reflect on their day to day work and any mistakes made, to encourage them how to “recycle” errors, and, as one speaker said, to make good out of bad.

It is a big ask but it is something that needs to happen in critical fields such as the medical and health sector.

More about the WAVES project

If you would like to know more about the WAVES project please visit or get in touch with me.

We have also been collecting data about people’s experiences about scenario based learning (and MOOCs – another focus of the project). The survey is still open for a short while if you would like to add your views (

Becoming an expert

Do you need to be a subject matter expert to be an instructional designer?

Is it realistic to know the topics you are creating e-learning for inside out?

How much of the topic should you know?

“A good trainer should be able to train anything even rocket science or brain surgery.”

I always recall something my first boss in training told me, “A good trainer should be able to train anything even rocket science or brain surgery.”

As a freelance instructional designer I would argue it is not always possible to know everything about every topic you are likely to work on.

Realistically you are probably going to work in a specific field, and there will always be subjects that you are more interested in than others. And, obviously, the chances of having to design a course on rocket science are pretty small!

Having said that, as a freelancer you may not always be able to choose the projects you get involved in so you might find yourself having to become an expert on a wide range of topics. For example I have designed e-learning on subjects as diverse as plastering and cancerous tumours! Someone I know has worked on projects as diverse as foot reading and playing the piano! None of these topics we necessarily knew much (or anything) about before starting.

Getting the information from the SME can be a complex and daunting process, especially if the subject is one you don’t know much about which could be the case. so how do you go about it?

How to become an instant expert

One model of learning is the four stages of competences

  • Unconscious incompetence
  • Conscious incompetence
  • Conscious competence
  • Unconscious competence

You will need to go through these stages as you work on the project. The good news is that you only need do become consciously competent. The second good news is that instructional design process, especially writing the storyboard, can guide you through these stages.

Moving from unconscious incompetence to conscious competence.

Unconscious incompetence

There are four stages of competence. The first stage is unconscious incompetence. You don’t know the subject and you don’t know you don’t know the subject. This might typically be the case before the client gets in touch with you. It could be a subject that you may be aware of but to date you have never given it any thought.

Conscious incompetence

The next stage is conscious incompetence. This is when you become aware of the project and the subject matter. Suddenly you now know that you don’t know anything about the subject. This moment of realisation could be accompanied by a sense of panic! It can be a scary experience thinking you have to design some e-learning on a subject you currently know nothing or very little about.

But remember you are not necessarily being hired because of your knowledge of the subject but because of your skills as an instructional designer.

Conscious competence

The third stage of the process is to become consciously competent about the subject. Now you know what you need to know about the subject, and you know it!

Your skills as an instructional designer will help progress you to the consciously competent level.

The first step is a needs analysis. Who are the learners and what do they need to know or do? Get your SME to focus on their audience and the specific content they need to know to be able to do their job. Focussing on the audience and their needs can help you understand the subject to the level you need to. It may be that the audience already has a level of knowledge above yours so you may need to have someone available to talk you through the more advanced aspects of the subject. This could be the SME but it may be appropriate for it to be a third party. This could particularly the case later on when you need to repurpose the content for the module to ensure it continues to be accurate.

From your analysis you can produce actionable objectives – make sure you have agreed clear learning objectives. Again, this will help you understand the subject matter yourself.

As a result of the actions you can now, with your SME, decide the appropriate content. Break the content down into chunks. This makes it easier for you to understand and, of course, it’s easier for the learners at the end. There is only so much information they (and you) can process at once.

A major part of the process of writing the storyboard is adding the relevant content – but is it a question of just copying and pasting? It can be quite an intimidating experience taking the carefully honed words of the SME and having to rewrite them. In some cases you might have to. Again this is where you can use your skills as an instructional designer to come up with the appropriate wording, gaining agreement from the SME, where necessary asking them to write the content for you under your guidance.

The original text might be written in the wrong tone, for example content designed for a face to face audience may not be appropriate for a virtual audience lacking the visual cues of the presenter. Or it could be the tone varies between different types of content, for example an instruction manual and a presentation. There may also be some missing bits, especially if it was originally part of a presentation where the gaps were filled in from the SME as they presented; you will need to ask them to fill in the gaps for you. And, of course, the existing content will not include instructional text and you will definitely need to change the text if you are going to include activities, rewriting it as questions and feedback.

Unconscious competence

The storyboard process is one of moving from a state of unconscious incompetence through to conscious competence. The final stage is unconscious competence where you instinctively know the subject. This may be the state of your SME but not necessarily the state you as an instructional designer need to acquire.

There is also an argument that there should be a fifth stage beyond unconscious competence. It has been suggested that this could reflect a level of complacency once one has learned the subject so well that it becomes second nature to them; it is as this stage that the risk of errors could creep in or that skills and knowledge might not be kept up to date.

It is here that the Instructional Designer, as a fresh pair of eyes, can play a role in not just creating the training for the original audience but also in helping the expert in reflecting upon their own knowledge of the subject and occasionally advancing it. There have been several occasions when the SME has turned me and said, “I’ve never actually thought about that before!”

As for you, you’ll probably never need to move on to the stage of unconscious competence with this particular topic – by then you’ll probably be on to something new.

Isn’t that the point of being an instructional designer – always learning?

Tell me or let me learn for myself

Which works best?

One of my earlier postings was all about trying to create interactive training whether the learner is encouraged to uncover the information themselves, rather than simply having it presented to them. This is a conversation I have regularly with some of the people I have worked with. My inclination is to go with the higher levels of interaction but is it worth going to all that trouble to create something where they have to complete an activity when you could have just told them? I thought I would reflect upon the pros and cons of each approach.

It’s worth pointing out right at the start that an effective e-learning module can (and probably should) contain a mix of the two but what should the proportions be like?

Let’s begin by looking at presenting the learning.

My first question would be how well can the information be retained.

The answer is dependent upon how well the information has been presented. Masses of text is likely to slide off the eye balls, but perhaps if it is presented in a more engaging manner; a video, for example; and a script that has been well-written then it is more likely to work.

The second question I would ask myself is how well can it meet an actionable objective.

If the training requires the learner to be able to do something differently afterwards, telling them might not be enough. It might be necessary to in some way replicate the activity. This is not just the case for task based training; it is also appropriate for when trying to change behaviours or attitudes. An exhortation, if well presented, might work but allowing the learner to experience (as far as possible) why they should change their behaviour or attitude would be much more effective.

To present information effectively, the subject needs to be presented in a simple and engaging way and it needs to primarily relate to information awareness objectives (“I know…”, “I have been told…”).

Has the instructional designer fully engaged with the content?

One other risk is that sometimes just presenting the information might mean the instructional designer has not fully engaged with the content; they are doing little more than a simple copy and paste job.  No-one reading this will have produced such material themselves but I am sure we have all experienced examples of e-learning where the interactions seem to consist of clicking on multiple buttons to display pop-ups, the sole purpose of which is to cram as much text as possible on the screen (with the occasional bit of clip art thrown in).

So what about interactive? Is it better? Well, it can take a long time to develop and can be technically demanding but then so can a high quality video or animation. The ID needs to really engage with the content provided by the SME – not simply re-present in a truncated form – in order to repurpose it for exercises or games but a good quality ID will do that anyway.

Are learners more likely to retain information they have found out for themselves?

Surely the learner is more likely to retain something they have had to uncover for themselves rather than simply be told it? You would think so but the jury is out on this one. One of my favourite books at the moment, “Urban Myths about Learning and Education” devotes a whole chapter to the subject and suggests that it might not always be the case. Sometimes the learner is so busy doing the exercise they fail to take it in.

If you want to change behaviours simply telling them might not be enough.

An activity can be more easily mapped to actionable objectives. “I can…”, “I am able to…”. Arguably this is what training in a corporate environment is all about. Your job as a trainer is change how people do things so it affects the bottom line of the business whether this is to sell more products or services, or do something in a more efficient manner. If you’re trying to get people to do something differently simply telling them might not be enough; it might be better to create an activity that puts them in the situation.

As an example I can, as a former cycle instructor,  tell you that the safest place to ride a bicycle on a road with no high quality segregated cycle facilities is the middle of the road, right in the eye line of the driver behind you. In my experience most people’s reaction is to disbelieve it. However, have a look at this. It was a simple online game I created for a cycle training company. You may not still be convinced but you may now be more open to the possibility. (Note it was published in Flash).

Keep the presentation short and sweet

So upon reflection, both have their place and to create training that is exclusively one or the other would not be effective. However, when presenting information, it should be done in an engaging manner and it should not be a short cut for the instructional designer to avoid engaging with the subject. And it should be kept as short as possible. Most of you are probably fully aware of Cathy Moore’s contention that the information should be the minimum required for the learner to be able to successfully complete an activity which matches their real world experiences.  And finally, make sure the approach is appropriate to the subject and the objective; if the learners just need to be aware of something there is really no point creating an activity (although a part of me wonders if all the objectives are simply awareness raising whether that is a job for a department other than learning and development) but if they need to be able to do something then an activity would be the best solution.