Flash is almost gone and one thing I am having to do quite a bit of at the moment is remove swf files from my Lectora titles and replace them with something else that will work in future.

I used Flash files quite a lot with screen recordings of systems software. I would capture the steps in Captivate or a similar screen recording app and, rather than make it a simple video, I would include interactions so that the learner would have to locate and click on the right button to progress. In the past I would output these as swf files and insert them on the relevant page in the Lectora title.

With the ongoing demise of Flash I have to come up with a new solution. Here’s what I do. If anyone else is in the same position I hope that you find this helpful. First of all, in the screen recording software publish the recording as HTML5 and save the published files

Then, in Lectora:

On the Insert Ribbon, select Web window
The Add Web Window opens
Change the Window Source from Web Address to Local Web-based content
Click on the browse button and go look for the published files
You will be looking for an HTML file, typically called index.html (but that depends how your screen recording was published)
Your content will preview in the Web window dialog box. If there are files and subfolders, make sure you select Include all files and subfolders. Then click OK
The Web Window will appear on the page. Reposition and resize accordingly. It’s an object on the page and you may wish to add other objects such as a shape behind it to give it a frame
When you publish your Lectora title you will have an extra subfolder called extern. Inside there will be one or more subfolders (depending upon how many web windows you have created in your title) with the prefix webwin. Each of these subfolders contain all of the content from the recording

And that’s it, really. If, like me, you’re finding yourself going through some of your legacy work to future-proof it, I hope that this is helpful.

Systems training – dealing with the systems owner

Last time I introduced Jayne, a new joiner to the company, to understand the end-user’s take on systems training. This time, meet Georgie. She is in charge of one of the systems the business uses. She has worked with it over many years and has got to know the ins and outs of it very well, including some of its little foibles.

Your job, as the instructional designer, is to somehow get all of that information out of her head and translate it into e-learning that will help people like Jayne use the system more effectively.

Here are my top ten suggestions for how to do just that.

Get the system owner to focus on what people really need to know

Ask the systems owner to focus on what people really need to do and try to keep the explanations as simple as possible. Sometimes they have spent so much time with the system they know it inside out and they may forget others are less familiar with it. They can get carried away with all its intricacies and want to tell you all about it when the end users might need to know the basics.

Ask them to sell the system to you!

Encourage them to provide you with an introductory overview of the system. Get them to sell it to you!  This content could be included in a short and punchy animation or similar at the start of the training.

Talk storytelling with the systems owner

Storytelling is a great way to engage learners and there is usually a story to be told with most systems. There is a process that needs to be completed. Discuss scenarios with the systems owner to put the training in the context of the user such as Jayne. These scenarios could be used for the final training.

Have meaningful data.

In which case you will need to make sure there is relevant and meaningful dummy data. It will make it easier for the learner if the data appears relevant

Can you create just-in-time demos to go with the training?

Consider creating demos for “just-in-time” training as well as for the e-learning module. This will minimise the need to go into too much detail in the formal training. This shouldn’t need the ‘story-telling’ context learning where the learner’s own need creates the context and relevance. You will need to consider where it will sit, though.

How will you capture the steps of the process?

Consider how you will capture the steps of the process with the systems owner. At the very least take screenshots of each step and include copious notes. If you have screen recording software such as Captivate or Camtasia that’s even better although bear in mind that these could be the rough shots and might not be appropriate for the final output – you might need to re-record them when you have a finalised script.

Take lots of notes!

Whether you use screenshots or recordings make sure you include copious notes so that you know not only what button to press but why.

Are you recording from the most up to date version?

Make sure that you have an up-to-date version of the system. You might be able to get away with slight differences such as a paler shade of green on the menu but not if buttons have a different name.

Give realistic timings for the project

Designing and developing systems training is not a quick process (although the time required will depend on the complexity of the system). Let the systems owner know how lengthy the process of going through the steps and reviewing them all could be.

Make sure you have an easy way for the systems owner (and others) to review the training

Consider how the review process is handled. One way is to create short demos (rushes?) of the steps and share these with the system owners and other stakeholders, possibly in conjunction with a Word document listing all the steps.

If you have any comments, feel free to add them below.


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

Systems training – the user’s perspective

word cloud representing systems training

This is one of two postings on systems training. The second one will look at some of my experiences of working with systems owners to develop training. In this case let’s begin by looking at systems training from the point of view of a new user.

Jayne holding CV
Meet Jayne – she is just about to join the company

Meet Jayne. She hasn’t joined the company yet but she will in just a couple of weeks. She has worked in the same industry before but she is joining a much bigger organisation this time with more complex processes. When she arrives what will she need to know to do her job well and when will she need to know it?

On day one she might have attended an induction programme that would have given her an overview of, amongst other things, the systems she will soon be using regularly. At this stage I would suggest all she needs to know is that the system exists, what it does and the part it will play in her day-to-day work. She doesn’t need to know the minutiae of the system.

It’s a couple of days before she gets access to the system. She doesn’t need to do anything with it right now as she is already getting busy with other stuff. And this is just one of several systems she is having to get to grips with. All she does is log in and take a quick look around. Perhaps she had to complete some online training in order to gain access to the system.

Now it’s week four. She’s had her induction training which referenced the system. She completed the mandatory e-learning to gain access to the system. Only now does she start using it in earnest. What support is there now?

By now, in many organisations, she will have two options. The first one is to ask the guy in the corner. He knows the systems and has experience of using it in the real world. That can be good but it can also have its problems. He might know the system well but he may have picked up bad habits along the way that he is now about to pass on to Jayne.

The second option is to log back in to the company’s LMS (another system!) and find out the e-learning she completed all those weeks ago in order to be granted access. That included a lot of demonstrations of the system including one of the process she wants to complete now. It’ll tell her the correct way of carrying out the actions. Trouble is she has to log in to another system and work her way through the original e-learning module to find out the information she needs.

So how can the experience be made better for her?

To suggest a possible solution I am going to reminisce a bit about my early days as a trainer.

My earliest experience as a trainer was in a market research company where I was responsible for the IT and systems training. One of the programmes I inherited was a two-day course on how to complete a series of forms in a Lotus Notes database at the key stages of a market research project. These included the initial client enquiry, a specification for the work to be done, costings, through to requests for invoices to be sent out.

The course consisted of an overview of the system on the morning of day one, after which the delegates were taken methodically through each form and shown how to complete every field. At the relevant points they were also shown how to create new versions of the forms. This would take them up to lunch-time on day two. After lunch they were given a practical exercise where they had to complete all the forms themselves. By the end of the two days they had had a thorough grounding in all the stages of the process.

Whilst the training met the business’s needs at the time, when I joined the department it was recognised that it was due a revamp for a number of reasons.

First of all the business was becoming reluctant to lose members of staff for two whole working days (and the staff were calling out for shorter more focussed training). Secondly whilst the training was detailed it was aimed at one specific job role – quantitative researchers. The responsibilities of other roles with regard to the system was touched on but only briefly. Finally the training took place early in the researcher’s career long before they were likely to start completing the forms on the system.

There were three steps to making the training shorter, more relevant and timely. The first two of these involved making greater use of existing resources.

Firstly I tapped into a network of existing users around the business who would be able to coach new joiners in completing the forms. The business already had a network of “super users” who already had a coaching role – a more formalised version of the guy in the corner.

Secondly I beefed up the online help available. The system had been created in Lotus Notes and a separate database consisting of a series of help pages had been created alongside it. However it had been created a long time ago and was not very user-friendly. It consisted of a series of text heavy pages describing in detail lengthy processes. I broke the help pages into smaller bite sized pieces of information adding, where appropriate, screenshots to illustrate the process. I also created links from within the sections of the forms to the relevant help page, making it easier to get the just in time help the learner needed.

My third and final step was to revisit the original training course cutting it down from two days to just two hours. All that remained was the overview section alongside a new section on how to get help, which was delivered in the first week or so of the new joiner’s arrival.

My experience is one example of how Jayne’s training needs could be met. The training in whatever form needs to be relevant to their needs at that moment. Keep it relevant and timely. Ask two questions:

What do people really need to know?
When do they need to know it?

I hope you found this interesting. As mentioned I am currently reflecting on my experiences of dealing with systems owners and will share with you shortly. In the meantime I would be very interested in other people’s experiences in this field. Please add your comments below.

This posting first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse on December 2nd 2015