Hundreds of E-Learning & Instructional Design Articles… All In One Spot!

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My blog followers know that I love writing about my experiences and insights when it comes to instructional design and e-learning… but did you know that I also write blog articles for the Articulate E-Learning Heroes Community?

Every week I write about everything related to e-learning…. from software-specific Articulate tutorials and best practices, to general instructional and graphic design tips, my articles are all compiled here, in a handy series: Nicole’s Articles.

Bookmark the page now so it’s easy to access, and check back on a weekly basis to see my latest and greatest content. You can also check out the E-Learning Examples hub and the Downloads hub to see my contributions to the demos and freebies. Those can also be great places to get inspiration and ideas for your next projects.

I’d love to hear your ideas and feedback on my articles. Any topics you’d like to see me write about? Any past favourites in particular? I love getting your feedback, so please leave a comment below. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter for daily updates!

Working Remotely: My Top 5 Tips For Being a Productive Employee

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I’ve been working remotely for several years now, and I’ve learned a thing or two along the way. Do I love working remotely? Heck yes! Are there pitfalls? Of course. As is the case with most things in life, there are both pros and cons to working from home. Some pros: I have control over my schedule and hours of work, and I have zero commute, which saves me a lot of time and money. The cons? Working remotely can be socially isolating, and you must be a self-starter who is able to consistently produce results.

Here are my top 5 tips for being a productive remote employee:

Be motivated

Make no mistake, working from home is NOT for everyone. If you’re the type of employee who needs a lot of direction, or who enjoys being constantly surrounded by others, working from home is probably not for you. On the other hand, if you’re someone who likes flexibility, and who is motivated to get the job done, then remote work is probably right up your alley.

My motivation comes from the fact that I love the work I do every day, and I love the organization that I do it for. It’s not hard to be productive when that’s the case. I’m not sure it’s possible to simply “become” motivated, I think it’s a mix of personality trait and of being lucky enough to find work you are truly passionate about.

Have a routine

Humans are creatures of habit; routines give us comfort and stability. This is why it’s a good idea to have a work-day routine that you follow consistently. It also helps make you more predictable and available to team-mates, who quickly get a sense for your rhythm and daily pace.

In my case, I make a point of waking up and starting my day at the office at the same time every morning. I have my coffee, and listen to the same news channel every day while I work. I also have a routine for the first few hours of my day; I get the small, daily tasks that need to be complete out of the way bright and early, so I can concentrate on more important tasks and projects throughout the rest of the day.

Be social

It’s quite easy to get into an anti-social routine when you’re working from home, so it’s important to take active steps to get out of the house and socialize with other human beings. Even if you’re an introvert, humans are social creatures who need to have daily interactions with other people to stay healthy and positive.

I sometimes go to the local Starbucks for an hour or two with my laptop and work from the comfy couches, and people watch as I get my work done. Alternatively, one of my girlfriends works from home one day a week, so sometimes we’ll get together, either at my place or hers, and we’ll do our work side-by-side. Even though we don’t work for the same organization, it’s just nice to have someone to share ideas and chit-chat with.

Being social doesn’t have to occur strictly during business hours. If you’re working from home and socializing less during your workweek, consider taking on more social extracurricular activities, like joining a sports team or a book club.

Get dressed

I won’t lie, it’s nice to have the option to wear your comfy sweats or your pajamas all day… but truth be told, I feel better about myself when I’m showered and nicely dressed. I also have a lot of nice, business-y clothes and can’t stand the thought of not letting most of my wardrobe see the light of day. That being said, I like to get dressed every morning before I sit down at my desk. I also feel better about myself when I want to run out for errands or hit the gym if I don’t look like I just rolled directly out of bed.

Have an office space

It doesn’t even need to be an entire room just a proper desk will do, although I must say, having an entire separate room which acts as my office is an awesome perk for me. When I step into the office I step into work-mode and I can focus on the tasks at hand.

I can’t speak for anybody else, but I feel MUCH more productive when I’m seated at my desk, in a proper desk chair, with my keyboard, mouse, and large monitor in front of me, versus when I’m slouched on my sofa with my laptop on my lap. It might just be me, but sitting at my proper desk makes a huge difference in my productivity.

Reap the benefits

There are advantages to working from home… some of these benefits may include the ability to work from just about anywhere in the world, or the option of running your errands during the day, while most people are stuck in the office and the stores are quiet. So if you work from home, take advantage of the perks! If you’re working hard and getting your job done, there’s no need to feel guilty about reaping the benefits of your work-from-home situation.

These are five of the top things I’ve learned since I’ve been working for a remote organization for a few years now. Have you ever worked remotely? Do you prefer remote work, or working in an office? Share your comments below, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter for more tips, tricks, and e-learning advice every day!

4 Reasons You Don’t Have an E-Learning Portfolio

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I find it surprising when an e-learning developer tells me they don’t have a portfolio. In certain industries, such as web design and graphic design, you simply can’t be viewed as a legitimate business person without a portfolio; I believe e-learning is also one of those industries. When I get asked for advice on hiring a great e-learning developer, my top recommendation is always: Don’t hire someone without seeing their portfolio.

If you don’t have an e-learning portfolio, you probably have a reason. But if your reason is listed below, you should reconsider and remember that you’re working in a competitive, global market, where anyone can create a free blog or portfolio website in a few minutes.

You’re Too Busy

The “I’m too busy” excuse is the most common and most overused. You’re too busy to put time into creating something that could well hold the key to your success and potential future earnings? Your call.

Why this isn’t a good reason: Everyone has the same number of hours in the day. Bottom line is: if something is truly a priority, you will make time for it. If it’s not a priority, you won’t. Potential clients don’t care about how busy your life is; they care about hiring a candidate who can show work that is up to their standard and get the job done.

You Don’t Have Any Experience

Maybe you do have the time but you’re new to the e-learning industry and have zero real-world experience or projects.

Why this isn’t a good reason: First of all, don’t advertise this fact to potential clients. For many people “zero experience” equates to “lacking skills and credibility.”. If you don’t have any real world projects to add to your portfolio, don’t despair: create your own samples. Choose a topic that you’re a passionate about and develop a mini e-learning module. Which leads me to my next point…

You Don’t Own E-Learning Software

I’ve heard many people say the following: “I can’t create samples for a portfolio because I don’t own any e-learning authoring tools.”

Why this isn’t a good reason: Just about every authoring tool out there offers a free, fully-functional 30-day trial. Take advantage of that and use your 30-days wisely! Create a few mini 5-slide e-learning courses that showcase your skills. Another option: Powerpoint! So many people have access to this but don’t take advantage of it to create awesome e-learning; you can even hyperlink slides to create branched scenarios and create engaging samples.

You Signed an NDA

This is one I’ve heard quite a few times: “I’ve done a lot of awesome things, but I can’t share any of it because I signed a nondisclosure agreement.”

Why this isn’t a good reason: Anyone can say they’ve created great e-learning, but at the end of the day, actions speak louder than words. Of course you should never share confidential materials you’ve signed an NDA for, but there’s no harm in asking a client beforehand if you can use a sample of work, stripped of original content and identifying information, for your portfolio. This is a standard procedure in other industries, and often the request is included directly in the contract of work. If you can’t use any of the work you’ve signed an NDA for, don’t panic: you can still create your own samples!

The e-learning industry is getting more competitive by the week and potential clients want a candidate who can demonstrate their skills and abilities, instead of taking a gamble on someone with nothing to show. Don’t give potential clients or employers a reason to pass you over: create that portfolio today!

I’d love to hear your thoughts: are these legitimate reasons for not having a portfolio? Are there other reasons that I left out? Leave a comment below and let me know. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter, as well in the E-Learning Heroes community, for all the latest.

E-Learning Examples: Branched Soft-Skills Scenarios

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I recently presented a session for the E-Learning Guild’s Annual Online Learning Forum 2015 about how to create engaging scenarios for e-learning. (The session was recorded and Guild members can view the recording here.).  In preparation for that session I built a branched e-learning scenario, using Articulate Storyline 2, called The Job Interview.

What do I mean by branched scenario? It means that the learner can follow different paths (or different “branches”) through the course, depending how interview questions are answered. For example: if you select the worst choice for the first question in the scenario and arrive to the interview 30 minutes late, that path, or branch, ends right there. Your interview is cancelled and they’ve moved on to the next candidate.

However, choose the option that has you arriving 5 minutes early and you score bonus points. The order and the amount of questions in the interview, as well as the amount of points scored (indicated through the progress meter), is totally dependent on the choices made by the learner. 

Try it out yourself and let me know in the comments, how many tries did it take you to land your dream gig?

The Job Interview | View Demo

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Want to build a scenario of your own? You may be interested in some of these articles I’ve written about creating scenarios for e-learning:

Want to see another example of a branched e-learning scenario? Tim Slade created a great example on his blog for Call Centre Training.  He’s also written a blog post about it and made the source file available for download. Tom Kuhlmann’s Rapid E-Learning Blog also has a whole section on building scenario-based e-learning, chock-full of awesome tips and tricks, so check it out!

Got tips or tricks of your own about building scenarios? Have you seen other scenario based e-learning examples that you’d like to share? If so — leave a comment; I love to hear your feedback. And since you’ve made it to the end of this article, perhaps you should subscribe to my blog!

Why You Need a Professional Headshot

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As some of you may have noticed on Twitter or LinkedIn, I’ve recently updated my profile photo across all my social media sites; I finally bit the bullet and did a professional photo shoot.

I decided it was beyond time for me to do this because a) I want to portray a polished and professional image, and b) I disliked the only professional headshot I had because it was taken right after I landed from 10 hours of travel. In addition to that, I now wear my hair curly and people literally did not recognize me at events with the old photo and hairstyle. (Tip to others: have you recently made a big change in your appearance? If so, consider updating your photos.).

Long story short: I needed some new professional photos, stat. My sister recommended her co-worker photographer Misha Lytvynyuk and I was not disappointed. In fact, the hardest part was choosing just one photo! These were my top 3 contenders:

collageHere are 3 important reasons you should also consider professional headshots:

Shows You Care

Someone who devotes time and money to professional photos shows they care about their image and want to make an investment in it. That says a lot about a person and their commitment to their career.

Looks Matter

Whether we like to admit it or not, people are judged based on their profile photos. Use a photo that makes you look your very best and remember that this image represents your brand and personality to the world.

It’s What Professionals Do

Have you noticed that almost all successful people have a great-quality, professional profile photo? Put yourself amongst that crowd; a great photo make you look like a polished and organized professional.

Do you have any tips of your own about professional headshots? Any thoughts or feedback about my article? Let me know in the comments below!

Quick Tip For Organizing Your E-Learning Samples

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Every week I create new e-learning demos in my role as Community Manager for the software company Articulate. When I help out community members in the E-Learning Heroes forums I often like to share some of these demos to help illustrate a point or demonstrate a type of interaction. Some of these demos were created over a year ago, and I noticed I had a problem: I didn’t have an easy place to quickly access all of my published samples.

I do have an online portfolio, but it desperately needs updating, and typically a portfolio only contains the crème de la crème of e-learning work, not all of the short little samples and demos.  Much of the e-learning content I create isn’t exactly “portfolio-worthy”, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a valuable example that can’t be helpful for others.

I do also have a “Projects” folder where I keep all the project and published output files for my demos. But what I didn’t have is what I would a “visual repertoire” of my courses where I could easily see them all and access one by clicking on a quick link.

I recently solved this problem quite easily using a simple table in a Google Docs file. Here’s a sample of what it looks like:

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Now my e-learning demos are all organized in one neat table with titles, thumbnail image, description, and link to published output. This has saved me a lot of time of searching through folders looking for the right link. The fact that it’s a Google Doc means it’s always available to me wherever I am, as long as I have internet access. Just wanted to share this quick tip with you! Now if I could just get around to updating my portfolio…

Do you have tips of your own for keeping all of your demo files and e-learning samples organized and easily accessible? If you do, leave a comment below — I’d love to hear your tips or tricks. And since you got all the way to the end of this article, you might want to subscribe to my blog!

Get Inspired With These E-Learning Samples and Examples

As a lover and designer of e-learning, I’m always on the lookout for cool samples and demo courses that I can use as inspiration; when I’m browsing the web I keep my eyes peeled for fun and engaging ways of presenting content, great uses of imagery and cool examples of typography. If I find a great design that I love, I take a screenshot and save it to an “Inspiration” folder. I also have a collection of sites bookmarked that I’ll visit regularly when I have design block and need to get my creative juices flowing. To that end, I thought I’d share a couple of recent e-learning examples created by me that might help you kick-start the design for your own next project. Click on the title of the demo to view the published output.

Demo #1: Weekly Challenge Compilation Course

This is a course that I created for DemoFest at Learning Solutions Conference in Orlando in March 2014 that compiles some of the awesome submissions we’ve received for the Weekly E-Learning Challenge. What is the Weekly E-Learning Challenge, you ask? It’s a fun, informal e-learning challenge hosted by Articulate in the E-Learning Heroes Community. Every week a new topic is presented (for example: drag-and-drops, virtual tours, results slides) and participants create samples and demos related to that topic in whatever authoring tool they have access to (Storyline, Powerpoint, etc.) and share them with the community. It’s become really popular over the last year and the submissions are super creative and impressive.

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This sample course was developed in Articulate Storyline with the goal being to highlight some of the cool submissions that have been created by Articulate community members for the Weekly Challenge.  I “chunked” the submissions into two sections: by Weekly Challenge and by Community Member. For the Community Member section I was going for an effect that simulated a “network” of connected community members; I used a drag and drop interaction to make it more dynamic. After sharing this demo with the Articulate community several people mentioned that they loved the drag-and-drop interactivity in this demo. Since I aim to please, I went ahead and created a Storyline template that you can download here (you might also be interested in this video tutorial with instructions for using the template).

Demo #2: Herbs & Spices Course

One of the ways I know I’m passionate about my line of work is that I often enjoy creating sample e-learning courses just “for fun”, as was the case with this Herbs & Spices course. I have recently discovered a passion for cooking and as a result, I’ve started experimenting with different herbs and spices. I wanted to learn more about them, and thought to myself “What better way is there to learn something than by creating an e-learning course about it!?” That is how this sample course came to be; I did some online research and investigated the most common herbs and spices, tips on storing them effectively, and which dishes to pair them with. I compiled everything I learned into this mini e-learning course.

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I selected a soft green color scheme for this course because I felt green just worked with the subject matter (herbs!) and the wooden texture background represents a cutting board. I used a casual-looking character as my course guide;  he introduces the course and provides the navigation instructions. I like characters because I feel they give your course personality and a human touch. You’ll notice he’s standing in a kitchen: I also love using contextual background images! The image has been faded so it’s noticeable but not distracting.

The final quiz becomes unlocked once you’ve visited both sections of the course (herbs and spices) and all three question slides were custom-built using Freeform slides with Storyline. Don’t forget to check out the three links at the top of the player to see more content!

Demo #3: Payroll 101

Here’s a sample course I built as part of a New Employee Orientation series using Articulate Studio ’13. I’d like to think this goes to show you can build a great-looking course whether you’re using Storyline, or even if you’re building in a “basic” tool like Powerpoint (as is the case for several of the slides in this example.)  This course also features one of my go-to design methods: using lightly blurred background images to set the context. In this case I used the outside shot of a building and the interior shot of an office. This e-learning demo also uses a character to give a personal touch and pop of color.

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I hope you’ve had fun exploring these three e-learning sample courses; sometimes seeing an example is exactly what we need to kick-start our own creative engine. Keep in mind that building your own samples and examples is a great way to sharpen your skills and add content to your portfolio. And since you’ve made it all the way to the end of this post, perhaps you should subscribe to my blog!