Training Trailers

June 22, 2012

I read something in Eliot Masie’s Learning Trends newsletter a couple months ago. He proposed the idea of creating previews of training courses similar to movie trailers. We’ve thought of some compelling use cases for these. Maybe on our corporate website when someone searches for training offerings? Maybe to show managers who have to pay to send someone to training? Maybe we show them in the classes to retain students for future classes?

Everyone involved is sure of one thing. We want the training trailers to be short. 60-90 seconds. We also agree that they do not have to be comprehensive. There is no way in this short of a period of time that we could preview everything you will learn in a multi-day training class.

We are having a hard time coming up with the right “theme” for these training trailers. Maybe they are high production blowouts like you would see for the latest superhero movie? Maybe they stick to the facts and show what you’ll learn in a dry and informative manner? Can they be humorous like an informercial? What style of trainer will appeal to prospective students considering the class and managers who have to pay for the class?

One thought I have is to use the projection screen in our training center as the background for our content. This will help portray the proper context of a training class. The screen provides a nice frame for the conent. The video would start and end with the projection screen coming down and going back up. But this will only work if we go with more of an informative approach so we’re back to needing to come up with the right theme first.

We’ll be creating storyboards and testing out many different themes. Hopefully we find the right one and these videos can be a success.


Pilot Projects

April 17, 2012

In my quest to expand my knowledge of eLearning tools, I recently completed the Captivate 5 Essential Training at (my compliments to James Lockman for a good course.) Now it is time to create my first project with Captivate and I am running into difficult choices regarding the scope of this pilot project.

Pilot projects need to be small and adapatable. The expectation is that changes will need to be made after Beta testing. In Tim Harford’s book, Adapt, he notes a couple things that can apply to pilot projects. He wrote, “First, try new things, expecting that some will fail. Second, make failure survivable: create safe spaces for failure or move forward in small steps.” A pilot project cannot involve a great deal of investment or the cost of making changes will be too great.

On the other hand, the tendency for an instructional designer is to want to provide the best learning experience possible. In this Captivate project, I want the timing of the slides, the placement of images, and appearance of captions to be just right. I don’t want Beta testers to focus on nits such as typos or color choices when I would prefer that they focus on the overall storyboard and learning plan.

Here is what I have decided to do for the first pilot project. Complete 2 of the 9 learning modules as fully as possible. Get the timing and placement of everything in those 2 modules as good as I can. For the other 7 learning modules, provide outlines or storyboard slides. This will allow me to get feedback on the nuances of some slides and on the overall learning path while keeping me from spending too much time on the pilot project. That’s my plan.

What do you do for pilot projects? How do you balance the desire to create your best work against the need to rapidly produce a pilot project to start receiving feedback?

Duration of eLearning

April 19, 2011

I write and teach a live class that takes 2 full days from 9am to 5pm to complete. There are 11 lessons and 22 practice exercises in the live class.

I recently converted that class to an eLearning course. The eLearning course has 5.5 hours of videos in segments that average 2.5 minutes each. It also has the same 22 practice exercises and some new self-test quizzes at the end of the 11 lessons.

Again, 5.5 hours of video and the live class takes 14 hours (if you subtract 1 hour each day for lunch.)

I am running a Beta test of the eLearning course right now and I am blown away by how long it is taking my students to complete the course. 3 of the 10 students are done and it has taken them 40 hours on average! They are spending almost 3x longer on the eLearning course than on the live course! The students are claiming that the 40 hours was spent on the eLearning course. They claim that they weren’t just logged in while doing other work.

Does eLearning take longer? Do students spend more time on an eLearning course than they do on a live class?

Analyzing Scope Creep

April 8, 2011

I am going to write a story about a project at home that started simple enough but grew into a very large project. My wife and I decided that I would build a swing set for our daughters. Having never done one before, I assumed that my costs would include the costs of the swing set and some mulch to throw underneath. I also assumed I could recruit one friend and do it in a day. Everything sounded simple enough during the Conceive phase (Portny et al, 2008.)

Problems started during the Define phase. While researching all of the project tasks, it was discovered that our backyard was not level enough to set down a swing set. This would add several weekends of landscaping tasks to the project. We also learned that from various safety recommendations that a handful of trees were too close to the project area. This would add extra cost and an extra weekend of delay while the tree crew did their work. Looking back, my wife and I wish we did more research before we promised a swing set to our daughters. The stakeholders (my daughters) were not very patient about the delays.

The Start and Perform phases went well. It was difficult to do the landscaping but I prepared the site without too much difficulty. The tree crew did a wonderful job with tree removal and stump grinding. Finally, the “contractor” (one of my best friends) and I were able to assemble the swing set in one morning within budget (I owed him lunch).

The Close phase brought one more change of scope. We decided to upgrade the mulch to recycled rubber mulch. It is cleaner, safer, and helps the environment. This raised the year one costs because this is more expensive than wooden mulch, but is expected to save us money in the long run because we will not need to replace it every year. It also delayed the finish of the project because we had to find a vendor who sold the material in our area.

In the end, my daughters were very happy and love their swing set. The cost was higher than we anticipated and it took several extra weekends due to the yard work, but it has been worth it watching them play in the yard.


Portny, S. E., Mantel, S. J., Meredith, J. R., Shafer, S. M., Sutton, M. M., & Kramer, B. E. (2008). Project management: Planning, scheduling, and controlling projects. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Communicating Effectively

March 18, 2011

For this blog assignment, the members of the class were asked to observe a multimedia message delivered in three formats: an email, a voice mail, and a face-to-face conversation. The message is from Jane to Mark asking for a report that Jane needs or else she may miss her own deadline. We were asked to record our impressions of the message in each of the formats and offer some comparisons.

When I read the email, I wrote that Jane was respectful, but plaintive and desperate. She really needs this report from Mark as soon as possible. When I listened to the voice mail, I wrote that Jane was grateful for Mark’s efforts, considerate of his other tasks, and matter-of-fact that she needed Mark’s report. When I viewed the face-to-face video, I wrote that Jane was indecisive and that her body language didn’t convey the urgency of her request. Her non-verbal communication did not indicate that she had to have the report as soon as possible. This exercise demonstrated that the same text, delivered in different media with different tonality, can convey different meanings. Effective communication varies in spirit, tone, timing, and considers the personality the communicators (Stolovitch, 2011).

Of the three, I believe the voice mail delivered the message in the best fashion. Jane was able to convey an understanding that Mark was busy, but also made it clear that she had to have the report he was expected to deliver.

It’s important to consider the method of communication and choose the one that is most effective. Some team members respond well to email while others are inundated and do not give an email its proper attention. Some team members welcome face-to-face discussion because the other team member took the time to keep them informed. On the other side of that, others may feel face-to-face is confrontational and awkward. An effective project manager can communicate is willing and able to communicate in different manners and can choose the method that works best for the client or individual team members. Budrovich (2011) notes an example where the CIO of a company required face-to-face meetings because he didn’t respond well to email. The project manager needs to adjust their method of delivery to the needs of the stakeholders for the most effective delivery.


Budrovich, V. (2011), Video Podcast: Practitioner voices: Strategies for working with stakeholders. Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved from

Stolovitch, H. (2011), Video Podcast: Communicating with stakeholders. Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved from

Learning from a Project “Post-Mortem”

March 11, 2011

For this blog post, I need to do a post-mortem for a project that I select. I need to think about a project I’ve completed and take a critical look at what went right and what could be improved upon.


I’m selecting a project I undertook 2 years ago to update the FrameMaker templates for our training manuals. The templates have been used for many years and they are bloated with extra paragraph and character styles that writers rarely use. Also, the template varies from book to book as authors add styles that they prefer. The result is that templates have over 70 paragraph styles and over 25 character styles, only a fraction of which are used with any frequency.


I was able to create a much shorter list using roughly 25 paragraph styles and 10 character styles. I focused on the styles that were used most often in the books. This was a tedious process but it identified the styles that had to remain. For the styles that were no longer needed, I found replacements  that closely mirrored the original appearance and function.

I also worked with the translation vendor to identify the costs of changing from an obsolete paragraph style to something else. With roughly 2000 pages of training materials, translation cost is the biggest expense of the training group. I had to make sure that the cost of switching paragraph styles was low. The vendor identified a couple conversions that would be expensive so I omitted those paragraph swaps from my final proposal.


Unfortunately I was not thorough in my assessment of the translation costs. I focused on the conversion from one paragraph style to another. While most of the conversions would not affect the translation cost, the vendor insisted on a process called DTP (desktop publishing). The DTP costs were significant because every page had to be reviewed in every language to make sure that the paragraph switch did not change the spacing or cause page reflow. This project was undertaken during the economic downturn so there was no money to spend on DTP and the project had to be dropped.

Even if costs had not been a factor, there was another obstacle I did not anticipate either. Some writers were very attached to their paragraph styles. They added them for a specific purpose and weren’t interested in hearing about the replacements I was suggesting. If my suggestions changed the indent or font slightly, they would argue why theirs was better and necessary. Unfortunately, my manager who suggested the project was one of the people who couldn’t give up their paragraph styles either. Without funds and without managerial support, the project was abandoned.

Reflecting on Distance Learning

February 27, 2011

As shown by attendance numbers and degree offerings, online learning is growing in popularity. The Sloan Consortium reports a rising trend in schools with traditional courses are offering online courses as well. There is also a rising trend in enrollment and in the percentage of people who believe online courses offer a superior learning experience (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2009). Despite these encouraging trends, there are still skeptics of online learning.

The skeptics believe that the lack of face-to-face or group interaction hinders the social aspect of learning. Some believe that the online, for-profit schools may deliver inferior instruction or have reduced admission standards. Others note the ease in which someone might be able to cheat or misrepresent their work in an online setting. How can the academic community address the concerns of the skeptics to promote wider acceptance of online learning?

To promote high educational standards, institutions must apply the same admission standards for online colleges as for traditional colleges. Institutions should also market the academic fidelity of their online programs in addition to the “convenience and flexibility” attributes of such a program (Gambescia & Paolucci, 2009). Instructors should consider the use of a plagiarism prevention tool such as Turnitin. The scoring rubrics of classes should demand properly cited work to proper credit is given to the sources a student used to research their work.

Instructional designers and course creators should apply the same effort to create a high quality online course as they would a traditional course. A traditional course that is repurposed for online use without consideration for online access, interaction, and feedback will result in poor quality. Instructional designers should consider the use of ADDIE or another instructional design process to understand the needs of the learners and to design a course that meets those needs (Piskurich & Chauser, 2010). Formative evaluations of the course should occur in the form of Alpha and Beta testing before a course goes live (Laureate Education, 2010). Summative evaluations of the course should occur after every term or session to ensure that the learners’ needs are being met.

Both institutions and course designers have to do their part to promote the positive aspects and high quality of online learning. Care must be taken to provide a learning experience that equals or exceeds the experience from a traditional setting. The objections of skeptics of online learning will diminish as more learners, instructors, and friends and colleagues of those groups experience the positive nature of online learning.


Gambescia, S., & Paolucci, R. (2009). Academic fidelity and integrity as attributes of university online degree program offerings. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(1). Retrieved from

Laureate Education (2010), Video Podcast: Developing online courses. Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved from

Piskurich, G., & Chauser, J. (2010), Video Podcast: Planning and designing online courses. Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved from

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Converting to a Distance Learning Format

February 20, 2011

For this assignment, I needed to create a guide that would help an instructor who is changing their face-to-face instruction to a blended learning environment. I’ve offered planning suggestions, ideas for enhancing the course in an online environmnet, and tips for their role as an online instructor. The guide is available in the attached PDF.

Converting to a Distance Learning Format

The Impact of Open Source

February 6, 2011

Background on Khan Academy

For the next assignment for my Distance Learning course, I need to review an open source educational website. We have to look at the site from the critical eye of whether it appears to meet the guidelines of a good distance learning site according to our course text.

I have chosen to review Khan Academy, a site started and run by Salman Khan. Khan Academy has over 2,000 videos with exercises for about 100 of those videos. More content is being added all the time. On each video page, learners can post comments or ask questions. The questions get answered by other learning members of the community or volunteers.

An excellent feature of the site appears in a learner’s profile. The learner can view statistics such as number of video minutes or exercise minutes watched, number of videos completed, and total energy points, which appear to be a measure of how much a student is doing and how well they are doing on the exercises. There are also badges a student can earn for completing certain achievements such as achieving proficiency in a certain number of exercises or earning a certain number of energy points.

Review of Khan Academy

The courses appear to be well planned. Large subjects are separated into several courses such as Aritmetic 1, 2, 3, and 4. Each video is kept short to accommodate the attention span of a distance learner. The videos I watched were focused and stayed on topic.

The Comments and Q&A sections of each course’s page offer some means of interaction and feedback. One of Bates’ golden rules for the use of technology in education is that interaction is essential (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, and Zvacek, 2009). Khan Academy does not provide enough essential interaction. The learner is not linked to a teacher or facilitator. Students are not placed in classes so they have no specific colleagues to interact with. Also, a learner is not forced to participate in these sections to complete the lesson. To stimulate interaction, possibly the site could award badges for the number of comments or correctly answered questions in the Q&A section.

As for activities, only 100 of 2,000 courses have exercises. The number of exercises is increasing, but right now there are not enough activities for student to practice with. Learning activities need to exist so learners can practice and evaluate their understanding of the course materials (Simonson, et al, 2009).

The site has a clear interface and it is very easy for a distance learner to find the materials they want. All of the courses are listed on a single page so a learner could use the Find functionality of their web browser to search for a keyword. There is also a search function in the upper right of the home page to help learners located a course. To log in to the site, learners can use their Google or Facebook information so they do not need to register or create a new user name and password combination. The course pages are also simple as the courses are displayed in the familiar YouTube interface.


The Khan Academy website is an amazing collection of learning modules that helps students around the globe understand mathematical and scientific topics. The site is easy to navigate and the videos are well structured into reasonable size clips. The site is lacking an effective method for interaction and more exercises are needed. The Khan Academy is a promising example of an open source education website.


Khan Academy.

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2009). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (4th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Selecting Distance Learning Technologies

January 21, 2011

For this assignment, I need to recommend distance learning technologies that best support an asynchronous training module. The employees at a manufacturing plant require safety training. The employees must demonstrate their knowledge of safety procedures to their supervisors to demonstrate completion of the course.

With asynchronous training, the instructional designer may include presentation slides for lists of safety rules and video demonstrations of proper safety techniques. I believe a media sharing site that can host audio and video and provide assessment is necessary. Recently for work, I reviewed a company called Brainshark that provides an elegant solution for this need. Brainshark hosts narrated presentations, videos, and related files such as documents or job aids that students can download. Students are directed from a learning portal showing the available modules into the individual modules. The modules can be broken up into short pieces with a table of contents to guide them through the course. Their Rapid Learning module provides feedback to the administrators that includes: who watched each module, how much time did they spend on each module, and what were their scores on the assessments in each module. For an example of the BrainShark eLearning solution, visit:

Instructors need to take care when creating pre-recorded audio and video for asynchronous training. The multimedia elements should be engaging and professionally done so the learners remain focused on the content instead of distracted by the inadequacies of the production quality. Essex (2006) includes six great tips for pre-recorded content in his article on podcasts.

One drawback to the Brainshark solution is that the student is unable to share comments, ask questions, or discuss the material. Therefore, a separate web discussion technology is needed to actively engage students in learning (Laureate Education). A discussion forum can be used by the instructor to stimulate ideas and promote interaction between the students. Students can continue existing discussions or create new threads to ask questions. Discussion forums can be public or private where members must be invited or approved by the forum administrator. An example of a public forum is the 3DVIA Composer forum where customers and prospects can discuss issues about this product. Another example for eLearning is the discussion board for the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).

There are many other wonderful tools and sites to facilitate asynchronous training. Media sharing sites and discussion forums seem to be necessary elements for successful asynchronous training.


3DVIA Composer discussion forum.

ASTD forum.


Essex, C. (2006). Podcasting: A new delivery method for faculty development. Distance Learning, (3(2), 39-43.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). The Technology of Distance Education. Multimedia program retrieved from

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