Interactive board games in Lectora

Recently I sat in on the Lectora Inspiration Wednesday, “The Magic Behind Powerful eLearning Design – Learning Theory”. I always appreciate the efforts of organisations such as Trivantis to reach out to the e-learning community and offer webinars such as this to increase my knowledge as an instructional designer and developer.

The topic was really about designing e-learning to ensure it met the learner’s needs but one of the other things I took away from the session was the example; a board game style interaction so I thought I would have a go at creating my own.

I wanted to make the game random so that it would give a more unpredictable element to the experience.

Clicking the die would generate a random number between one and six, and the counter would move the relevant number of spaces on the board. When it stopped a piece of information or a question would display. The learner would need to read the information or answer the question before they could move on to get to the end of the game.

Such interactions are appropriate for presenting bite-sized information in a more engaging way than bullet points. It does take longer to create, of course, so you would need to consider whether the cost, time and effort is justified (although read on to learn about a shortcut). Also the version I created included a random element – the throw of the dice to move the counter – which meant that the learner might not see all the content. As a result you might need to include a summary of the learning points at the end.

It’s the sort of thing that could be used to help reinforce learning particularly on a topic where the learners feel they may already know the subject and may have got into bad habits. It’s an interactive way to present the information they should already know but may have forgotten as fun facts. The multiple choice questions scattered throughout add an extra element.  If you would like to try the exercise, click on the screenshot below

screenshot of e-learning game developed in Lectora
Screenshot of the finished game. Click on it to launch the game in a separate window

There were a few things I needed to do to make this work.

First of all I needed to capture a random value to send the counter on its way around the board. Lectora is one of the better authoring tools when it comes to managing variables. Somehow to me, at least, it seems more intuitive than some of the other products available. It allows you to capture a random value to a variable when you are setting up an action. If you are interested there is a great video on the Trivantis website about working with random variable values.

Screenshot of Lectora Variable dialog box showing random value
At the bottom of the value box click on the expand button to display the dialogue box and then click on the Random Value button. Choose the smallest and largest numbers that can be entered and click OK.

The next thing that I needed to do was to get the counter to move the relevant number of spaces. This was slightly more problematic for a couple of reasons. First of all I needed to counter to move from the square it had landed in which would obviously vary depending upon the random value generated. Secondly I needed to get the counter round corners; as you can see from the screenshot the board game meandered a little bit.

I spent some time wondering whether I could capture the random value and use that to tell Lectora where the counter had got to and needed to move from. In the event it seemed easier to introduce a learner interaction to capture that information. The learner needed to close the box that displayed when they reached the next square; I added an action to that close button to tell Lectora where we were.

Lectora isn’t so great when it comes to animating objects but it does have the move to action which allows you to move objects from one position to another.  It is possible to have objects move in a straight line. In this module I wanted them to go around corners as well.  The solution here was to have a series of move to actions in action groups. The first action group would take the counter to the corner and then trigger a second action group that would move the counter on around the corner (in one or two cases there even needed to be a third action group when the counter had to go around another corner). A crucial thing was the timing of the actions. I needed to put a delay on the actions turning the corner to make sure it didn’t happen until the counter had completed its first move; otherwise it wouldn’t move all the way.

In this screenshot action group “A11 move04a” moves the counter a set distance and then fires a second action I called “turn corner” which then triggered action group “A11 move04b”

Another issue I needed to overcome was an appropriate naming convention for the action groups. I prefix them with the word “action” so that I can differentiate them from groups containing objects. The rest of the name is made up of a description of what the actions will do. In this case I also had to number the actions to keep track of them all. However, if the name becomes too long it is difficult to see it all in the dropdown list when you setting up action to run an action group, as you can see in the picture below. I had to come up with a shortened naming convention in this case.

The names of action groups were shortened so that I could see them all in the target dropdown list.

I hope that you found this an interesting read on some of the practicalities on using Lectora in creating an interactive board game with random variable values and multiple move to actions. One of the joys of Lectora is that it has many ways of doing the same thing so I would be interested in others may have resolved the same challenge. Please add your comments in the comments field at the bottom of the page.

And that shortcut I mentioned? If you feel this interaction might be useful for you but you don’t have time to create it yourself, for a short time I am making the Lectora files for you to use to base your own version on. Simply get in touch to find out more.

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

cog_b60

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.

Bonus:
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.

Things I wish I’d known when I first starting using Lectora Part 1

Opening new software for the first time can be intimidating.

All these features which in time will make your life easier can look overwhelming right at the start.

I have been using and training people in Lectora for many years now.

I thought I would put together some of the things I have picked up over the years that might be useful to new users.

This is series of infographics. Number 1 is all about the title explorer, layering, inheriting and naming objects.

Click on thumbnail below to download the first one. 

And watch this space for future infographics.

Infographic showing how to use the Title Explorer in Lectora
Infographic: Starting Lectora 1 – The Title Explorer

Changing contents

USING THE CHANGE CONTENTS ACTION TO HAVE BUTTONS CHANGE APPEARANCE

Lectora has an option to change the state of buttons but currently the states are active or inactive only (there is also a down and over state when you click or hover over them). There is no option to create a selected or visited state, for example. You may want to include these to allow the learner to see which buttons they have clicked to keep track of their actions.

Trivantis may have plans to update this but in the meantime a simple workaround is to create multiple image files for active, selected, visited and inactive, and use the change contents action to have them switch state.

I have created a couple of examples which you can view from the links below. You can also download Lectora library objects from the same links.

Example 1: active, inactive and selected

In the first example, the learners are required to click the buttons in order. There are three images for each button: inactive, active and selected. This example could be used if you need your learners to click on topics in a certain order. The inactive topics become active (and change to the active image) once the previous button has been clicked. A chosen button changes to the selected state until another button is clicked.

Example 2: active, selected and visited

In the second example, the learners can click on the buttons in any order. Clicking on a button changes its state to selected and any previously clicked buttons to a visited state.

How this was achieved

  1. Create the images for the buttons in each state and add them to the page as images.
  2. Delete all but the images for the state you want them to be in initially
  3. Have an action on each image to change the contents of the object to the selected state image when clicked
  4. Create additional actions to change the states of the other buttons to visited, active etc. You will need to include variables to record when a button has been clicked

Showing my workings out

Clipboard and pencil with drawing

I wouldn’t normally do this but this was for a personal project so here are my workings out for a recent Lectora title I developed. It was all about checking your bicycle before heading out to make sure it is safe to ride.

The main thing I wanted to do here was apply the move to action I used in my earlier example to a specific project. I was also keen to explore the issue I discussed some time ago about second guessing your learners and provide them with the opportunity to complete the activity in any way they like. Hence the drawing.

You can view the finished product here.

Parts of bicycle screenshot

Essentially what I wanted people to do was to move the image around to explore and click on the highlighted areas to
find out more about what to check for. I also wanted some way for the learner to be able to keep track of which section they were looking at so I included a thumbnail with a highlight that
moved with the learner’s interaction. I broke the image into quadrants but I wanted the learner to move to each quadrant in any order.Parts of bicycle thumbnail

As before I had an action that modified the variables used to define the X and Y positions of the main image so the learners could move it around but in this case these were set to specific values (-650 and 35, and 35 and -367 respectively) rather than added to.

Variable bicycleY set equal to minus 367

To move the highlight around the thumbnail I chose a different method. I had one variable with four potential values: TR (top right), TL (top left), BR (bottom right) and BL (bottom left). The highlight would jump to the relevant segment depending upon the value of that variable.modify variable screenshot2

There were quite a few things to work out which is why I found it useful to lay our my ideas in a drawing.

I am happy to share the files with anyone who would like to see them in detail. Please add a comment below. And, of course, if you have a different way of doing this and are willing to share your ideas, please add those below as well.

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Avoiding the tyranny of click next

When researching my recent blog posting on desktop vs mobile learning I was struck by something that should probably have occurred to me a long time ago.

Rapid authoring tools display content on a screen by screen basis

Most, if not all the rapid authoring tools create content based on individual screens: content is displayed on a single screen and the learner clicks next or performs a similar action to move on to the next screen. This could be seen as the legacy of PowerPoint (many of the products integrate with that application) but it goes back even further to that old fashioned technology, the book, where we turn the page to read the next bit.

The tyranny of click next!

This can lead to the tyranny of “click next”! Also, many websites no longer run on this basis. Typically the user scrolls or jumps down a single page to view the content. As I suggested in my earlier piece e-learning content should be developed to more closely match the learner’s experience of using the web generally.

This got me thinking whether you could do something similar with a rapid authoring tool such as Lectora and you can view the result here. I must admit it is one of the things I like about Lectora – it is a blank canvas ready for you to add your own ideas.

Lectora is a blank canvas upon which you can add your own ideas

I would be very interested in people’s comments, especially if they have attempted similar ideas. Also I would be happy to share the Lectora files if anyone else would like to adapt them for their own purposes. Just get in touch!

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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

Responsive development with Lectora 16

Lectora 16 is the latest version of Trivantis’ rapid authoring tool.

They’ve jumped straight from 12 to 16, using the current year (possibly to avoid unlucky 13). The selling point of the new version is responsive design – being able to create content that can be deployed to different sized platforms from desktop down to phones.

Before Lectora 16 if I needed to create content for different sized platform I had to create different Lectora files

Previously with Lectora I either created multiple versions of the same module, maybe with the theme templates to quickly repurpose the content; or I put some code that detected the platform and resized accordingly. This didn’t allow you to layout the content differently for the different sized platform – which is where Lectora 16 comes in. It allows you to visualise how it will look on different platforms so that you resize and reposition objects accordingly.

So how does it work in practice?

I thought I would find out so I rebuilt an existing piece of content in Lectora 16. You can view the results here.

If you have had any experience with Lectora 11 or 12 the overall appearance doesn’t look too different. There are two main differences, however.

screenshot of New Responsive Title in Lectora 16 The first is on the splash screen which now includes the option to create a new responsive title; there is still the option to create standard e-learning content. If you change your mind and decide that you need to create a responsive module after all you can’t switch; you’ll have to start from a new title. Of course, you can always import the frames from the old module into the new one.


The second is the new toolbar with a series of different devices from a desktop in the middle to tablets and phones (landscape and portrait). The two things to recognise at this stage are (a) the arrows extending out from the desktop – the layout of the other devices depend upon this one; and (b) the colours of the different devices – which we will return to shortly.

When developing responsive content start from the middle – the desktop version. Layout the objects on the screen; the text boxes, images, etc, and add all the interactivity as required. Once you have that sorted move out to the next stage; the tablet. Begin with the landscape version as they may not be too many changes to make here; check the content, and re-position and resize accordingly.

As you do so, take a look at the sizing handles and note how they change colour to match the colour of the device at the top of the screen. This lets you know that it will be different to the desktop version. Changes made here will cascade down to the phone level. You can of course make changes specific to that level as well.

screenshot of the reset button in Lectora 16
If you want to put things back the same as the desktop level click the reset button.

screenshot of the text scaling tool in Lectora 16
There is also an option to change the text size in the text boxes as a percentage of the original size.

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the lower stages you can substitute different sized imagery. This is particularly useful when switching between portrait and landscape views. Also you could use it display different information; have an exercise in landscape and get the learner to turn their device to see more information once they have completed the exercise.

I found it great way to develop content for multiple platforms.

It’s cleverly laid out so the developer can quickly see what they’re doing for each size of content. The colour coding works well in this regard. It doesn’t need any coding knowledge, just some patience switching back and forth to get everything laid out just so. But it is less work than having to build multiple versions of the same file. Publishing is no different except that the published folder contains three new subfolders for each device. File size does not look overly massive.

I did experience one or two issues. The first one was that text in the text boxes did not always appear as I expected. Sometimes it would be cut off by the edge of the box. The best practice appears to be to over-size the text boxes to allow the text room to grow. This fits in well with the best practice of not overloading content on smaller devices.

The second issue was more to do with the appropriateness of re-purposing the same content for different sizes, especially a mobile phone. Whilst you can deliver complex exercises on a desktop or tablet, a mobile phone may be more suitable to smaller bite sized activities. So you may need to consider whether the content you are creating is suitable for delivery on every platform. However you can have unique content for each device – simply drag it off the page when it’s not needed. And I have not tested this yet but I imagine there are ways that you can create specific pages that are only accessible in certain formats. I would be interested to know if anyone has had a go of this yet?

You can view my effort here. Note this module was created in a trial version of Lectora 16 so you will see a small window display to start with.

If you use rapid authoring tools and need to create simple content for multiple platforms, Lectora 16 could be for you.

The challenges and rewards of developing interactive e-learning

wordcloud representing interactivity

It’s all about interactive these days isn’t it? Creating eLearning where people have to do things rather than just watching. It’s at the heart of most theories of learning design, for example Cathy Moore‘s action mapping which focuses on practice activities that “mirror the real world as much as possible.”. I recently attended the ELN annual conference called “Beyond Click Next” which looked at how to create e-learning which is more than just a series of pages punctuated by a next button on the right.

What are the challenges when you are developing e-learning content that goes beyond click next? How far do you go in attempting to mirror the real world?

My experiences as a developer include the use of a range of rapid authoring tools such as Captivate and Lectora to create a range of content. I create a range of modules which include simulations of different systems or applications. I also attempt to include interactive exercises into other modules I am working on. This posting will reflect upon some of my experiences in these two areas.

One project I worked on involved reminding people how to do specific tasks in Microsoft Word in order to create technically accurate documents that could be submitted to regulatory authorities. There was an element of teaching grandmothers to suck eggs with this module but we needed to make sure that everyone could complete the tasks. The trouble with applications such as Word is there are multiple ways of doing everything.

Did we keep it simple, programming the content so that there was only way to do it and writing a proscriptive exercise such as “Using the home ribbon, change the style of the text to Heading 1”? Or could we allow for every permutation such as keyboard shortcuts, right clicks and so on and then write the exercise in more broad terms such as “Apply Heading style 1 to the first line of text”. In our view the former almost gave the answer away and so rendered the exercise meaningless whilst the latter made it more of an exercise. It also avoided the frustration some learners might feel if they are forced down a certain route to complete an activity they can already do. The latter of course also required more programming and a lot of branching.

Then what happens if the learner is presented with a complex exercise to uncover information? They might wish to approach the exercise in different ways and as far as possible this should be allowed for.

What happens if the learner is presented with a complex exercise to uncover information?

An exercise I was required to create involved presenting the learners with a spreadsheet of costings for a project. The purpose of the exercise was to identify which elements of the costings might change as a result of changes in the project. As they identified them individual values would change and the total costings would go up. They were presented with two or three scenarios. The exercise needed to be kept as flexible as possible as again we did not want to direct them down a certain path; rather we wanted them to explore the spreadsheet and consider the individual costings.

In this case we had to second guess the learner quite a lot. What happens if they left the exercise or if they wanted to start again halfway through? Supposing they wanted to just go back one step in the exercise. Could we allow them to do that? These are just a handful of situations that might crop up and would need to be considered by the designers of the content.

So there are a lot of technical issues to be considered when creating a complex interactive exercise such as allowing for different ways to complete an exercise successfully whether it is a simulation of an application where there are multiple ways of completing a task, or a complex interactive exercise which the learner can explore in a range of ways. It will also obviously take longer to design, develop and test; there are also more chances for bugs.

So why do it at all? We could just explain the learner has to do the exercise in a certain way. Or we could just present the information rather than getting them to uncover it. Of course in some cases going to all the effort of creating a complex exercise that puts the learner in control might not be worth the effort. The interaction does need to be relevant. Getting a learner to complete an exercise for the sake of it is not a good idea.

Personally I would prefer to create more complex user interaction. There are a lot of good pedagogical reasons for this, for example it is always better to allow learners to discover things for themselves rather than simply presenting the information, and a realistic exercise makes the training more relevant. Also, if an exercise has to be done in a specific way it makes explaining how to complete it more complicated; you don’t want to distract from the learning by having to explain complex rules.

There is one other reason why I prefer creating more complex user interactions. It’s way more challenging as a developer!

I would be interested to know other people’s experiences of developing complex interactive content? Do you feel it is worth it?

This posting first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse on November 17th 2015