Friday, August 21, 2009

Key update for Adobe Presenter

In Adobe Presenter 7.0.5 released yesterday. Adobe has enhanced the support for embedded Captivate created flash content in Presenter presentations. At last Captivate content containing FMR (Full Motion Recordings) will now play properly without you having to manually copy the Captivate output files to the Presenter data folder.

In addition, the Adobe Presenter team have also fixed a number of issues related to the loss of display fidelity when Captivate content was imported with incorrect dimensions.

You can download the Presenter update by simply choosing Help > Update in Adobe Presenter or any other Adobe product. The update can also be downloaded from the Adobe Presenter Downloads page.

Visit the Adobe Connect Pro User Community to review more of the key highlights of the Adobe Presenter 7.0.5 update.

Friday, August 14, 2009

What does Broadband Support have to do with eLearning? – Part 1

Recently, I had to contact two broadband provider support teams. One of which was an extremely pleasant and productive experience whilst the other was like pulling teeth.

In this blog post I am going to start with the “pulling teeth” experience. In this instance I was asked to help out some folks who had signed up with an ISP for the first time. Like many other people they had relied on the company that they purchased their computer from to help them get up and running so that they could perform simple tasks like sending and receiving e-mails, viewing web pages etc.

Anyway, they had encountered some problems and through a third party I had been asked to help them out; in a previous life (when we were all using 28 K modems) I was an ISP support technician and only too familiar with the way that some companies address support issues.

So on their behalf I got through to the Broadband support help desk. To save some time, I thought it would be helpful to explain to the support person that all I needed was for them to confirm that I had the correct customer email address and password. The response I got was that they couldn’t just give me the customer’s credentials and instead I would have to go through a long winded linear process.

Whenever I hear the word linear, I automatically think of linear eLearning and how sometimes this can be very inflexible; more on that later.

So now I have to go through the process of confirming each of the support person’s steps which they duly broadcast down the phone to me. Everything was fine until the support technician told me to confirm a screen that I didn’t have. The problem was that somebody else had tried unsuccessfully to configure this mail client application and although I knew what the problem was and how to solve it, like a stuck record, the support person could not be flexible, instead they insisted I had done something wrong.

What does this have to do with linear learning? Well, in many sense asynchronous linear learning can be like this support technician because the learning is simply broadcast out to the learner. Ever faithfully followed the steps in a video tutorial only to find that what the trainer is showing is nothing like what you are seeing on your screen? I have and typically this can lead to two things occurring:

1. The learner starts to lose faith in the training / trainer.
2. The learner is left having to try and work out why they cannot reproduce task to match that of the trainer.

In addition, I tend to start shouting at the video screen, trying somehow to will the learning to provide me with the solution – not that this ever works.

Now don’t get me wrong. Getting learners to work out solutions for themselves in the right environment is perfectly acceptable; however, in the wrong environment this ultimately leads to the learner becoming frustrated and losing faith in either the training content or the trainer themselves.

Also, in the case of much of the eLearning content that is created, the learner is never given the opportunity to correspond with the trainer so that they can find out what the problem might be and learn from either their or the trainer’s mistakes.

If you are creating linear and / or video based training it is important to make sure that you provide your learners with a way of asking questions. Whilst many of us don’t want to be inundated with e-mails, one way of addressing this issue would be to provide learners with a newsgroup forum. If that isn’t possible then consider setting up a mailing list or post updates to your course via a Blog or Wiki.

Irrespective of the type of eLearning content you are creating, it is important to understand that in many cases your courses have to be considered as living and breathing entities that will need to be modified and updated - maybe many times - to meet the requirements and expectations of your learners.

Just in case you were wondering I eventually managed to convince the support technician that our screens were different and they then agreed to give me the information I needed to get my customers up and running, as well as provide them with some basic “how to send e-mails” training.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Creating eLearning Prototypes using Adobe Captivate

There is much talk in the eLearning industry at the moment about how can you ensure your eLearning content is engaging.

One of most popular trains of thought is that instead of following traditional instructional design models such as ADDIE (Analyze, Design, Deploy Implement and Evaluate); instead you should create prototypes even before you write your eLearning specification documents.

The thinking here is that by creating quick prototypes and showing them to your learners they can then help you in the process of developing the best learning. After all, if your eLearning content does not resonate well with it’s target audience then what is the point in creating it in the first place?

Let's be honest here; if your eLearning content is as dull as dish water then the chances of your learners getting anything out of it are pretty slim.

The idea of creating prototypes before you really understand what the learning problem is, as well involvement from those who are going to consume the learning, is now seen by many as the best way to ensure your eLearning projects are successful since it results in your prospective learners / users giving you their ideas for free.

Whilst many of the cutting edge eLearning companies still rely on Flash and ActionScript to develop their eLearning content, when it comes to creating rapid prototypes is Flash – as in Flash Professional, not Flash the platform – really the best choice? In my mind the answer is, “no”, because creating eLearning content in Flash is a time consuming process and a better option most of the time is to use a rapid eLearning authoring tool.

Whilst there are many rapid eLearning tools available, I think that when it comes to creating prototypes Adobe Captivate is the best choice; here is why.

Flexible Working Environment
Adobe Captivate provides you with a flexible working environment. Because Adobe Captivate uses the Slide rather than frame metaphor, prototyping in Captivate is incredibly straight forward.

Adding and Editing Content
Adding content (even graphics created in Adobe Photoshop) is very straight forward. Not only that, but thanks to Captivate’s Library panel, replacing existing content with new imagery or audio can be accomplished within just a few steps. In addition you can edit any imported content graphics, audio, Flash files in the applications such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Fireworks, Adobe Flash and Adobe SoundBooth.

Storyboarding your audio
Thanks to the Text to Speech feature introduced in Adobe Captivate 4, you can now include voice-over in your prototypes, enabling you to storyboard any narrative you want to include in your prototypes.

Adobe Captivate includes great interactive objects and control. Anyone who has used Captivate will know that you can insert Click boxes, Text Entry Boxes, Buttons etc. but if you own Captivate 4 that really is just the tip of the ice berg.

Let’s be clear here; although some in the eLearning community still consider Adobe Captivate to be IT System training author tool, that really isn’t the case any more.

Advanced Interactivity
Adobe Captivate 4 introduced Variables and Actions which enable the regular Captivate user to create complex interactive effects. Need to include a button that when clicked will hide several objects? No problem, you can do this thanks to the ability to set Multiple Actions. Want to hide the playback control on Question Slides? Again, easy as pie. You can do this using System Variables.

Want to learn more about Captivate and Variables? Read the “Break the ice with Variables” post on the The Adobe Captivate blog.

Now you may be thinking this is all fine but I can create my prototypes in PowerPoint and output to Flash using other well known eLearning tools and, yes that is true; but Adobe Captivate too can import PowerPoint presentations and– thanks to the Roundtrip PowerPoint workflow introduced in Adobe Captivate 4 you can both edit and keep your PowerPoint and Captivate content in sync.

User Feedback
However that isn’t all that Adobe Captivate brings to the prototyping table. One of the biggest advantages I think that Captivate offers is in being able to receive feedback from your users and integrate this directly into your Captivate project files.

Adobe Captivate 4 introduced a revolutionary new feature called SWF Commenting. SWF Commenting enables you to send your SWF files for review. Your reviewers install a very small AIR application which enables them to add comments to your SWF files without them having to have Adobe Captivate installed. Once they have completed the review process they can then send their comments which can then be imported to the appropriate slides in your project.

Repurpose your Captivate content in Flash
In addition to these points Captivate also provides you with the ability to export your entire Captivate project to Adobe Flash Professional so even if you do want to create your main project or components of the project in Flash, you can still repurpose much of the prototyping you have created in Captivate.


In short, Adobe Captivate provides you with the best environment to create prototypes, modify the content based on user feedback and output to the Flash platform available in the eLearning space.