Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Great Blog for eLearning Professionals of all levels

If you are looking for a one-stop shop for tips on how to build effective, low-cost elearning courses, look no further than one of my favorites blogs, The Rapid E-Learning Blog. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Changing Education Paradigms

Here's a great video that animates a talk given by education and creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Elearning Course Development Tools

A couple weeks ago I read an article in the New York Times about how the Do-It-Yourself economy has silently crept into the business world. Since most of our clients are already doing these types of things (and HAVE been for quite some time) I thought to myself as I was reading the article, "we're already doing these types things and for quite some time!"

What we haven't done, though, is talked much about the various tools and available resources we actually use to develop a more engaging, "hands-on" interactive environment for our students.

So what tools do we use and what can you learn about low-cost (and often free) options for developing online distance education courses and exams.

Authoring Tools
To start off, it's been a few years since a many of our users discovered the wonders of Rapid E-learning Authoring Tools like Articulate Presenter, Adobe Presenter (yes they both have the same name), Adobe Captivate and Techsmith's Camtasia to name a few of the most popular. These programs are easy to learn, usually serve as great launching off points and main building blocks for developing online courses. And they work really well to enhance the capabilities of our existing system.

From there, depending on the requirements of the project, other programs and resources are usually introduced into the production process.

Audio Recording and Editing
With the recent up-tick in the introduction of multimedia in online courses the demand for cheap and easy ways to record and edit sound has increased as well. The good news is that audio is becoming much easier to implement in your online courses and most PCs ship with basic recording capabilities.

If you want a more advanced audio recording capability (like 'say'... editing) the free, open source program Audacity appears to be the hands-down winner in the functionality (more than you and I need) versus cost contest. Audicity has a huge community of users which means plenty of support if you run into problems or are looking for advise on how best to solve a particular challenge.

Movie Editing
Of course, in addition to audio, more and more course developers are starting to consider video. Although a little more daunting than recoring and editing sound, those with the right equipment and drive to develop this medium can bring moving pictures to their online course offerings for very little cost.

If you are ready to embark down this path, the movie making software that ships with your computer should be good enough to suit most of your needs without having to search for other low or no-cost options.

Windows and Macintosh computers both have movie editing programs (Movie Maker and iMovie) that allow you to edit digital video clips easily on your PC. I have to admit that I have not used either of these programs beyond the "poking around" stage but based on the reviews and the growing number of videos populating my computer I am tempted to try one of them out soon.

A couple of snippets of advise about video: before bounding down the path of video creation make sure you ask the hard questions about whether video is the right vehicle for delivering an instructional message. Inserting a recording of an instructor delivering a lecture is not a good use of video for your course, in my opinion. Oh, and keep the video clips short and accessible in a variety of ways. What do I mean by short? That's for you decide.

Clip Art and Royalty Free Stock Photography
While images have been a staple in online courses for much longer than audio and video, the number and quality of site offerings in this category seems to be growing. You'll have to check them out yourself depending on your needs but several, like iClipArt now offer stock video, audio, and animations in addition to photographs, art work and clip art. These sites usually charge site usage fees anywhere from a week to a year but the fees are reasonable and well worth it.

A couple other sites include:

The list of helpful tools is long and varied. If you want to do more research in this area and have a bunch of free times Google "elearning tools" or check out one of my favorite blogs "Jane's E-learning Pick of the Day."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Distance Learning Beats The Classroom

Distance education has been a legitimate educational offering for over 150 years. For almost that long researchers have been conducting studies to determine whether distance education-in its many forms-is as good as "live" classroom learning. The results of these studies have often revealed that distance education offerings can be just as effective in terms of the desired learning outcomes. Over the years, researchers have coined the phrase, "no significant difference," to characterize the results of these studies. Thomas L. Russel has even written a book about it and compiled a list of these studies on his website, nosignificantdifference.org.

Of course, for those of us who have completed Distance Ed courses, or (like me) studied the field, the results of these studies are not surprising. In May of this year, the U.S. Department of Education released a meta-analysis that concluded NOT that online learning is just as good as classroom-based education but in many cases, actually better.

Of course, this doesn't mean that you can just slap anything up on the web and expect better results than the classroom. However, U. S. Department of Education review of studies describes several revelations that might help course developers improve their online offerings. Donald Clark on his blog Plan B extracts a few highlights of the report that should help you gain some insight for developing your next online offering.

Online better than face-to-face

“The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving traditional face-to-face instruction.”

Jury out on blended

“Instruction combining online and face-to-face elements had a larger advantage relative to purely face-to-face instruction than did purely online instruction.

Online and on-task

“Studies in which learners in the online condition spent more time on task than students in the face-to-face condition found a greater benefit for online learning.”

Online is all good

“Most of the variations in the way in which different studies implemented online learning did not affect student learning outcomes significantly.”

Blended no better than online

Blended and purely online learning conditions implemented within a single study generally result in similar student learning outcomes.”

Let learners learn

“Online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and prompting learner reflection.”

Online good for everyone

“The effectiveness of online learning approaches appears quite broad across different content and learner types.”

Get them doing things

“Online learning can be enhanced by giving learners control of their interactions with media and prompting learner reflection.”

Groups not way forward

“Providing guidance for learning for groups of students appears less successful than does using such mechanisms with individual learners.”

An interesting little observation, tucked away in the conclusions is, “one should note that online learning is much more conducive to the expansion of learning time than is face-to-face”. In other words it’s better at getting learners to continue learning after the event. What more can you ask for?

Of course, I recommend that you read (at least scan) the 93 page report and draw your own conclusions about developing online courses.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Google Survey Tool: Measure Student Satisfaction for Free

I finally got around to checking out Google's "new" survey tool and I have to say I'm impressed. Not only is it fairly easy to create surveys, Google has made it VERY easy to embed them directly onto a web page or course content page (in an LCMS) and track the live results via, yes, a Google Docs Spreadsheet.

This survey tool is also pretty flexible given the price (um, free with no usage limits) with almost 70 different themed templates and the ability to distribute your survey via email (link or embedded) to a mailing list.

So if you need to create a survey, sign-up for Google Docs (which you have already if you have an Gmail account) and choose New -> Form and then start by choose a question type. I personally like the "Scale" question type which creates a 5 ordered Likert item with very little effort.

One drawback, although I am not sure this isn't true for similar services like Survey Monkey, is that the Google logo displays fairly prominently in the Thank You notice sent to the survey taker after the survey is complete.

A small price to pay, in my opinion, for a darn good free service.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What about PowerPoint?

Bad for decision making, good for instruction.
  • PowerPoint removes information from the decision making process.
  • It reduces complex ideas to bullet points.
  • Decision makers are given less time to think.
  • The Pentagon has made a cult of the PowerPoint presentation.
  • It is an excellent vehicle for instructors.
  • Read more here http://www.armedforcesjournal.com/2009/07/4061641

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"How do I market my online classes or exams for little or no cost?"

A while ago, one of our newer clients asked me if I had any advise on how to market online courses and exams. When I asked her what type of marketing the company was currently doing, she told me that they had paid for ads (print and online) in trade publications specific to their industry. Apparently, they did not get the response they had expected and were looking for other, perhaps expensive, marketing ideas. While paying for ads can be an effective way to market your courses, there are other cheaper, often better, ways to get the word out about your online courses and drive people to your school just as effectively, if not more.

So what ARE some different ways to market online courses and exams?

I had some ideas, based on my experiences, but I decided to start by conducting an informal poll of our clients to see if I could uncover more tactical marketing techniques in order to improve the sales of their online materials.

Here are the top responses:

Direct Mail

Believe it or not, it appears that direct (snail) mail is alive and well in our high-tech, digital world. It is relatively inexpensive, and as one client puts it, "that marketing piece has a tendency to stick around a home or office where perhaps a number of people might have a chance to see it. Compared to online advertising, "if you are lucky enough to get a web search hit, once the user closes that browser window with your ad on it, it's gone." The other nice thing about direct mail is that it can actually be more targeted and cheap compared to other more trendy options. Often industry organizations like trade association and government entities maintain (and will sell) contact information of the various members in your target field. Unfortunately, different states have different policies about providing this type of information. If you do end up getting a chance to market your courses or exams to the certified members of a particular State or association, one client advises that you make sure your curriculum matches their requirements.

One caveat about marketing from 3rd-party contact lists. Be careful about using email for marketing purposes unless there is a high likelihood that they know who you are. For example, we have a client that teaches live seminars where they collect opt-in email subscription information for sending out a monthly newsletter. If the newsletter manages to get to a person's inbox, the likelihood that these people will open email from this organization is fairly high. Whether they read it is another matter so make sure your content is also useful and interesting.

Website Marketing
There are a bunch of activities that fall into the category of Website Marketing. This article, aimed at Internet start-ups, covers quite a few things your organization can do to "get your face out there in cyberspace" (more than are worth discussing here). The basic suggestions, of course, involve driving traffic to your site by showing up high in search rankings so that you can persuade people to purchase your courses or exams. The most well-known strategy involves the placement of key words or phrases into the content of your website that relate most closely to the subject of your courses or exams.

Another search related tactic that can improve search rankings involves building the number of external links to your site. If you are interested in trying a few things to improve your site's "visibility," do some searches on search engine optimization and make sure to read what Google has to say about the subject.

To increase related keywords and boost your chances of having people link to your site, one client recommends writing useful, informative articles about your area of expertise. This will allow you to include keywords and hopefully get related sites to link to this article. With this in mind, it is a good idea to avoid fluff articles. You may improve the keyword search count on your website but few people will want to link to that article and even less will come back looking for more.

Referral Links
Have you heard about affiliate programs? These programs allow the publishers of websites or blogs to earn money by referring website traffic to a specific product or service on another eCommerce site through the use of referral codes embedded in the link. Big ole' Amazon has the most well-known program but many online businesses are successfully using similar programs to boost sales, including publishers of online courses. The great thing about these programs is that they allow sellers to extend their marketing reach by paying a small commission to those who refer actual BUYERS. Unlike the keyword ad programs -- sold by the search engine companies who charge you for every "click"--affiliate programs only cost money if you make a sale. And the best thing is that it's fairly easy to implement. By inserting a special code into your URL you can send that link to an organization that features complementary content or services like trade associations or the various industry related publications. The affiliate then places that link somewhere on their website or blog (perhaps as an ad) and when someone clicks on it the embedded referral code is transferred (via a browser cookie) which allows you to track a user's purchases until the cookie expires. Referral code cookies can be set to expire at any time and show up in the transaction reports of your online courses so you can easily track affiliate activity to compile payment reports.

Offer free courses or tutorials

One client I spoke to highly recommends offering a small portion of your course materials as a free sample. This can be done by publishing free tutorials on interesting subjects related to your industry or by creating a free teaser course available from an online learning system. The great thing about free learning materials is that it allows you more opportunities to increase your keywords, possibly get some external links, and provide a sneak peak to the window shoppers that come to your site looking for courses and exams. If they see that the substance and the quality of the course materials meets their needs they are much more likely to pay for a course and even refer others to your site. This will also give potential affiliates an opportunity to see the quality of the course materials they might be endorsing on their sites.

Post instructional videos
If you haven't noticed, the internet is not just text and pictures anymore. YouTube and other similar (but not as big) video posting sites have become the next place to go for information about a variety of subjects. Believe it or not, school-age kids are starting their search for knowledge on YouTube and other video sites. Not surprising, apparently not all YouTube search queries return the desired results. In my opinion, this is actually and opportunity for you to market your courses. Now it's probably going to be a while before the grown ups catch on and start looking for quality information from videos, but when they do, you should be ready with quality videos that provide useful information that have the potential to lead them to your courses or exams. Of course, not all subjects lend themselves to video but even a video about your courses could drive traffic AND boost your site ranking!

Eventually, if you produce enough videos you can create your own channel so people can bookmark or create a feed that will bring them back as new videos are posted.

Some thoughts about Ad Words?
I suppose an article about online marketing should at least mention the use of pay-per-click advertising. Of course, the most well known program is Google Ad Words, where "adverstisers specify the words that should trigger their ads and the maximum amount they are willing to pay per click" (Wikipedia/Ad Words ). In trying to market your courses, there are probably some opportunities to utilize pay-per-click advertising if the key words associated with your courses are not too expensive. No matter how cheap each click through may seem, make sure you do the math and figure out the cost to sell one course in order to determine if it is worth it. One course developer points out that a well written, informative article will sit on your website and draw traffic to your site long after it is written whereas paid advertising costs you money every day.