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!

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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!

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!

Good Reads: Post-Course Evaluations and E-Learning Analysis

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One of the great things about being a Community Manager is that I get to write new content related to e-learning, instructional design, and training on almost on a daily basis. Some of the articles that I’ve written for my Articulate blog have been quite popular, so I thought it might be a good idea to share some of my most well-received articles here as well. 

Post-Course Evaluations: What E-Learning Designers Need to Know

If you’ve been in the training industry for awhile you may have heard that post-course evaluations are sometimes referred to as “smile sheets”. This is because as long as the evaluations receive mostly positive ratings, or “smiley faces”, we tend to classify the training as a success. However, the post-course evaluations are almost never a true reflection of how successful the training/e-learning actually really was and what it’s impact is on the bottom line. This article looks at some of the difficult questions you need to ask to help truly measure the success of your e-learning with your post-course evaluations.

Full article: Post-Course Evaluations: What E-Learning Designers Need to Know

Post-Course Evaluations for E-Learning: 60+ Questions to Include

If you have developed a post-course evaluation before you know that it can sometimes be a challenge to come up with meaningful questions for your learners. To help you out with that, I’ve put together this comprehensive list of over 60 questions that can be included in a post-course evaluation. Of course it’s important to refer to the previous article, and keep in mind that these evaluations don’t mean the training had a successful impact on the business. You can select the questions that apply to your specific project from this detailed list.

Full article: Post-Course Evaluations for E-Learning: 60+ Questions to Include

The Top 3 Types of E-Learning Analysis

Here is a look at three of the most common types of analysis carried out by e-learning developers and instructional designers. These are the needs analysis, audience analysis, and task analysis. The needs analysis is done up-front to determine is the training is actually necessary or not. An audience analysis is then developed to identify the learners, their demographics and their specific needs.  Finally, a task analysis breaks down the specific tasks that the learners need to apply in order to improve their knowledge and skills on the job. Having a solid grasp on these three types of e-learning analysis will go a long way in ensuring your projects are successful!

Full article: The Top 3 Types of E-Learning Analysis

Needs Analysis – When Is E-Learning The Solution?

Have you ever been asked to complete a training needs analysis to identify if an e-learning or training project is really necessary? If so, you’ll know that doing this can be a tricky endeavour, and it can be hard to differentiate between the training that is wanted and the training that is really needed. If this is a task that you’ve been faced with before, you might be interested in reading about a simple process you can follow to identify if training is really needed. It is a straightforward approach that involves comparing your employees current and expected performance, to identify if there is a performance gap that can be solved with a training solution.

Full article: Needs Analysis – When Is E-Learning The Solution?

I’m hoping that you can glean some meaningful insights from these articles that I’ve written. If there’s something else you’d like me to share or write about, please leave me a comment and let me know. And since you’ve made it all the way to the end of this post, perhaps you should subscribe to my blog!

4 E-Learning Examples To Inspire Your Next Project

As e-learning developers, we’re always on the lookout for examples that will give us ideas and inspire our next course design. That’s what I’m hoping to share with you in this post! Working with Articulate Storyline and Articulate Studio ’13 on a daily basis means I get to develop all kinds of cool e-learning courses and interactions. I want to share some of my most recent e-learning examples, in hopes giving you ideas for a project you’re currently working on!

E-learning Example #1: Interactive Hover Menu

This is a cool interactivity I created with Articulate Storyline. Hover over an object (such as the lamp or monitor) to view available actions. Once you’ve completed an action, different options become available on hover.

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This interaction was inspired by the game The Sims. If you’ve ever played you know that when you hover over an item you are offered multiple choices for what to do with that item. For example, hover over the refrigerator and you might be given the following options: “Get a drink”, “Make dinner”, or “Grab a snack”. I wanted to challenge myself to recreate this functionality using Storyline.

Almost everything in this interaction, including the monitor, lamp, cork-board, and coffee mug was created using shapes directly in Storyline. You don’t need to create fancy graphics in a separate application: you can create your own great-looking graphics right inside Storyline. You can view a published example and download the .story file for this example on the E-Learning Examples section of the Articulate site.

E-Learning Example #2: Labeled Graphic Interaction

Here’s a great construction-themed interaction developed using Engage ’13. The content was construction safety information, which inspired the black and yellow colour scheme, as well as the thick, chunky black fonts. I like to let the subject matter guide the design whenever possible.

For this project I purchased some great images from iStockphoto that were heavily discounted. One thing I’ve learned is to look for photos that are on sale. A large, high-quality image will often sell for between 20-40 credits on iStockphoto; this particular photo was only 2 credits. If you look beyond the first page of search results and dig around, you’ll often find great photos for a fraction of the cost.

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You can check out the published version of the e-learning interaction, as well as a more detailed post I wrote about how I built it (Engage ’13: How I Built This Labeled Graphic Interaction) on my Articulate blog.

E-Learning Example #3: Colorful Pencil Template

Here’s an example of a fun Articulate Storyline template I created with a bright color scheme. I  was inspired by these colorful crayon photos I came across on a great free stock photography site called MorgueFile. I loved the crayon photo so much I had to build a template around it. I ended up going with a light blue color scheme. I picked up the shade of blue from a blue pencil in the photo, using the color picker tool. You can easily edit the template to make it whatever color works with your project.

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Interested in using the template? You can head on over to the E-Learning Examples site to check out the published version and to download the .story file.

E-Learning Example #4: Tablet Style Template

Tablets and handheld devices are all the rage these days, so I thought it would be great to build a fun tablet-themed template. This template was created in Articulate Storyline and the tablet, all of the app icons, and the sheets of paper in the example are built completely using shapes in Storyline.

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View a published example of the template and download it to use it in your own projects on the Download page of the Articulate site.

Remember: when it comes to sharing examples of work and demos  of your e-learning, you don’t always need to share a completely polished course. Often, small tidbits and examples are enough to inspire us for our next project.

If you enjoy reading my blog posts you might be interesting in checking out my articles on the Articulate website! I post new articles there every week on everything from working with Subject Matter Experts to how to do an e-learning needs analysis. As always, I love to see your comments and feedback!

e-Learning Design: Navigation Styles

You’re designing an e-learning course and you’re wondering how you should set up your course navigation… the good news is there are more options available to you than just the standard left-hand menu and your typical next/back buttons. This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with using the left-hand menu and the next/back buttons — there isn’t. In fact, I think it’s usually a good idea to stick with what people are used to because it means your learners won’t have to guess about how to navigate or where to click. People have certain expectations about how they should be able to navigate an e-learning module (influenced greatly, I believe, by how they navigate websites) and if you deviate too much from the norm, it could lead to confusion!

Here is a list of 6 navigation styles you can use in your e-learning projects with some tips and info about each one. I’ve also included a published course that I developed  featuring an example of each nav style, to help you get inspired.

Horizontal Navigation

  • Commonly used navigation style in web design.
  • Drawback to using horizontal nav is that you can only display a limited number of links horizontally (probably 5-8, depending on text size and number of characters), so this might not be the best option for complex courses with a lot of information.
  • A drop-down sub-menu can be used to link to additional information.

Vertical Navigation

  • This is the menu style that is most often used in e-learning courses. Adobe Captivate, Articulate Presenter and Storyline, Lectora and Oracle UPK are all authoring tools that display a menu/table of contents on the left-hand side by default.
  • As with the horizontal navigation, a drop-down sub-menu can be used to link to additional information.
  • Limit the number of links you use in your vertical menu or it can become overwhelming for users.
  • Interesting fact: according to usability study on navigation patterns vertical navigation bars on the left performs better than vertical navigation bars on the right.

Horizontal and Vertical e-Learning Navigation

Tabbed Navigation

  • Tabs are popular in web design and are usually used horizontally.
  • Tabs can also be used vertically, but be careful because this might make it difficult to read the text.
  • They make navigation intuitive because people are used to seeing tabs to navigate (in filing systems, notebooks, binders, etc.).

Next/Back Navigation

  • Next and Back buttons are standard in e-learning courses. Even when you want to avoid boring, linear, “click-next” style courses… you sometimes still need to use a next and back button!
  • These buttons are often used in conjunction with another type of navigation (vertical menu, horizontal nav, etc.).
  • Arrow icons are often used to add a visual cue of going forward and backward.

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Breadcrumb Navigation

  • Breadcrumbs are used as a secondary form of navigation and not as the primary nav.
  • They are used to show a learner where they are in an e-learning course; they orient learners when there are multiple layers of navigation.
  • Interesting fact: breadcrumb navigation gets its name from the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel, where they leave breadcrumbs along their journey, so they can find their way home.

Grid Style Navigation

  • Usually created with images, although it could be shapes and text as well.
  • Good option for a main course menu and for courses that have visually rich content.

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I hope this post has given you some ideas for how you want to set up the navigation in your next e-learning project. Here are a few links to some great resources that helped me write this post:

Recording a Screencast: Do’s and Don’ts

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I’m always interested in learning more about new tools that are available for e-learning developers, so last weekend I decided to try my hand using the free screencasting tool Screenr!

Before I made my first recording, I did a bit of homework into what goes into a great screen recording and I’ve compiled some of the top tips and techniques. Follow these Do’s and Don’ts of screen recording to help you create your own screencast!

Select a topic

  • Do have a clear purpose for the screencast
  • Do keep it short and simple

If the process is too long, chunk it down and make several short videos. This is something I learned myself as I was trying to cram a somewhat complicated 10 step process into a 5 minute video. I realized I was trying to show too much at once, and broke it down into two five-step processes instead.

Write a script or storyboard

  • Do script out your process step-by-step. (This is a critical step. Without the script you might forget a step, ramble about useless information, do something backwards, etc.).
  • Do create a storyboard of the different shots, or screens, you need to capture and in which order.
  • Do include any “set-up” instructions that are required to do your screencast in your storyboard. For example, you might need the application to be logged in and displaying a specific window, or you might need certain data or information to already be input in the system. Think along the lines of cooking shows – some things take too long to demonstrate in the time available, so different versions of the dish are made ahead of time and are ready in varying degrees, so they can just pull it out of the oven and Voila!

Select your recording software

If you’re unsure about which software you’d like to purchase, you can download a free trial of any of the paid software options to get a feel for the features and interface

Set up your screen/applications

  • Do close all other applications and windows.
  • Do hide your start menu and any visible taskbars, menus.
  • Do turn off all pop-ups, alerts, and notifications.
  • Do have all the data you need in front of you (if you need to input data as part of your process).
  • Do hide your favorites, quick links, and any other personal information that might show up on the screen if using an Internet browser (no one wants to see your personal links).
  • Do use an “administrator” or “general user” account (if possible) so your recording doesn’t reveal any names or personal information.
  • Do ensure applications are open, running, and ready to go before you start recording. Set it up to the exact screen you’d like to start from – don’t waste time navigating to a screen unless it’s an important part of the process that learners need to see.

Select an appropriate screen size/resolution

  • Do take screen size into consideration. The recording size will depend on things like: your audiences’ monitor display resolution, the size of the slides in your e-learning course, etc. At this point in time, it’s probably still safe to optimize for 1024 x 768.
  • Do keep the recording area as small as possible – without making it so small that you can’t see features or easily navigate in the application (this will help minimize file size).

Practice, practice, practice.

  • I don’t think I need to elaborate!

Use the right equipment

  • Do have a good microphone.

This is another thing I learned myself when I did my first few recordings using my laptop’s mouse trackpad and the built-in microphone. Result: really crappy audio quality. Since then I went to Best Buy and bought microphone for under 30$ and the audio quality is now far superior. Apparently learners will tolerate bad visuals over bad audio, so this is key!

Control your voice

  • Do speak clearly and enunciate words.
  • Do stick to the script.
  • Do add some personality.
  • Do use emphasis at key moments.
  • Don’t use jargon or overcomplicated words.
  • Don’t breathe too loudly, smack your lips, etc.
  • Don’t talk too close to the microphone.
  • Don’t say “so, like, eh, um,”. Personally – I am really bad at this, but working on it. Very helpful to have a clear script to follow.
  • Don’t be monotone and boring.

Control ambient sounds

  • Do choose a nice, quiet location to do your recording.
  • Do make sure your heater or air conditioner won’t come on.
  • Do put your cell phone on silent and unplug the landline (or turn off the ringer).
  • Do put your cat or dog outside.

This is yet one more thing I discovered firsthand (experience is the best teacher, they say!) as I was recording last weekend. I had the PERFECT screencast going — everything was going exactly according to script, I wasn’t saying “so” too much… so of course, my dog chose that moment to break out into a horrible, hacking cough in the background. Thanks, Charlie. Now I go into another room when I need to record.

Edit your recording

Share your recording

  • Do share it on video sharing sites (YouTube, Screenr, Vimeo, etc.)
  • Do share it on social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)

So far following these tips have really helped me improve my recordings – however, it’s like everything else in life, practice makes perfect! The more screencasts you record, the more comfortable you will be with it, and your recordings will improve over time. If you have any other tips or best practices that I did not include, please leave a comment…. and since you made it all the way to the end of this post, perhaps you should subscribe to my blog!