Friday, September 26, 2008

Unison Takes Gold in Brandon Hall Excellence in Learning Awards

I have three kids (ages 14, 8, and 11) and I have to admit that seeing Unison, our collaborative rapid e-learning development web application, win Gold in one of the e-learning industry's top award competitions is something akin to seeing one of your kids do something great.

The ground-breaking collaborative and web-based online course authoring features in Unison have been in the works for years and we've worked innumerable late nights and early mornings getting it to market. We have an exceptional team of designers, programmers, marketing, and support staff and it is one of the most satisfying things to date to see their hard work recognized and acclaimed.

While industry awards are great and coveted and we appreciate them as much as anyone, I am, in many ways, more gratified to get phone calls and emails from our customers that are already using Unison praising our efforts and explaining how they are able to meet their objectives better by using Unison. Having the financial votes of confidence and support from T-Mobile, Intermountain Healthcare, Costco, Petsmart, Baker Hughes, General Physics, and so many others adds the kind of credibility to what we are doing that an award can never do. Our Unison customers are our life blood and our best supporters.

In an effort to keep the nature of competition friendly and fun, Brandon Hall asked that all acceptance speeches be in the form of a haiku or a limerick.

No, I am not kidding.

So, without further adieu, here's the "award winning" Unison Limerick (authored by Isaac, our Unison Project Manager):

Unison makes collaborative courses
With content from various sources,
Whether it's clients or SMEs,
With every user you need
You finally all can join forces.

CONGRATULATIONS to my dedicated and incredible team at Rapid Intake! I don't express it as often as I should--I work with some of the best professionals and people I know. I'm proud to lead, work with, and learn from and with them.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Keeping Interactivity at the Center of eLearning Development

I participated in Bryan Chapman's pre-conference session at the Brandon Hall Innovation in Learning conference. Bryan's session was titled Keeping Interactivity at the Center of eLearning Development. He focused on creating reusable catalogs (I've often called them libraries) of reusable interactions that can be used in different courses by just changing the content of the interactions.

The main reason e-learning developers don't include interactivity in their courses?

Based on a survey, here are the top results in order:

  • Cost
  • Time
  • Steep Learning Curve
  • Hard to Integrate (how do you track the SCORM data or get an HTML interaction to work with Flash)
  • Why Should I?
  • Not in PPT (if you only know how to use PowerPoint, you're going to be limited when it comes to interactivity)
  • Lack of Creativity (meaning they aren't sure what kind of interactions to build)
He also gave these ratios for development hours to create a one hour e-learning course:

PowerPoint Conversion: 33:1
Typical eLearning: 224:1
Simulations: 750:1

Then, of course, he explained that there are tools that assist with making interactivity better. He mentioned Hot Potatoes (which has some simple HTML-based interactivity) as well as CourseBuilder for Dreamweaver, then newer tools such as Raptivity, Instructional Spice. We were flattered that he also included Rapid Intake's tools ProForm Rapid eLearning Studio and Unison Collaborative Web-based Rapid eLearning Development Solution in his list of tools he would recommend.

His presentation went right in line with my recent post about creating reusable interactions based on instructional patterns. It was great to hear a different perspective advocating the same kind of solution to the problem of scalability when it comes to creating effective content.

He gave me an opportunity to show how you can use Rapid Intake technology to aggregate modular interactions built from multiple sources. Class participants emailed me sample interactions they'd built with some of the other tools and I combined them into a course using ProForm. I then demonstrated how ProForm and Unison can be used to pull disparate content together as well as build original Flash/XML based content.

PowerPoint conversions are here to stay (for better or worse...probably a mix of both :), but that wave is passing as tools that make building interactions faster, less expensively, and easier are coming to the forefront to show that building highly interactive e-learning content can make sense, even for those who are brand-new to elearning development.

P.S. One related link - if you are using CourseBuilder for Dreamweaver, there is a book available here on how to use it. It was written for Dreamweaver MX 2004, but CourseBuilder really hasn't changed in its functionality since then (only an update for Dreamweaver 8 has been released). So it might be helpful.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Rapid eLearning - Fad or Future? Instructional Pattern-based Development Heralds in the Era of Rapid Interactive eLearning Development

When I first realized that converted PowerPoint presentations being passed off as "e-learning" were starting to gain momentum as a movement in our industry (circa 2003-2004), the instructional design idealist in me wanted to pull my hair out.

I wondered, is this going to change the definition of "e-learning"? Will learners come to associate converted presentations with the concept of online learning in such a way that it would have a detrimental impact on the larger e-learning movement as part of the solution to training and performance problems?

Seeing that we were rapidly moving away from custom course development, where everything is built from scratch (and being part of the movement to make things easier and faster myself, having put some of my own thinking into our own tool development), I began to wonder if Rapid eLearning development was going to be fad or not? Would it burn out a then beleaguered industry?

As I explain in the white paper titled Using Instructional Patterns for Rapid and Effective eLearning, it is not a fad, and converted PowerPoint presentations play an important role in moving our industry forward. I also contend, however, that we should not stop there! Instead, we should be building and adopting systems that help us quickly create effective e-learning solutions by making it easier to create pattern-based solutions--patterns that we've found get results in the real world.

Programmers have been using code patterns for decades now. If a programmer wants to accomplish a certain task, like sorting from A to Z (to be simplistic), why go through the trouble of figuring out the code? Simply apply a pattern to the problem that someone else has already figured out.

In the same way, most content can be approached instructionally by an already proven pattern.

A simple example comes from software simulations. For many years we all built software simulations from the ground up using Dreamweaver, Flash, Toolbook, Authorware, and whatever other tools we had at our disposal. Even though a variety of simulation models across a spectrum (from what I call "lock-step" to "full re-creation" of the software or environment, like Microsoft Flight Simulator where you have infinite sequences through the simulated experience) were available, time and budget almost always forced us to do the lock-step simulation. (A lock-step simulation being the type that gives you one correct step to accomplish at a time, without having options to fail. If you do the wrong thing, we provide feedback that says, "Sorry, that's not right. Do this...") Over time this type of simulation became accepted as "effective enough". It could be created relatively inexpensively compared to full blown simulations, but still allowed the learner to try it for themselves.

That's what I call "competent medocrity". Sure, it would be ideal to have a full simulation, but we all recognize that's rarely possible due to time and budget constraints.

Now what do we see all over the place? Tools that have evolved to make it easier to build a simulation based on that lock-step pattern such as Firefly, Captivate, Viewlett Builder, and more. There are dozens. We don't need to build it from scratch anymore. The benefit? We can build a simulation for less money and time than before because the tools follow an establish and accepted pattern.

What patterns do you see from your own experience? What patterns do the tools you use help you to follow?

When we set out to build Flashform (which became ProForm) and its online cousin Unison, we wanted to create a tool that would not restrict instructional designers, but rather provide a platform on which they could build their own rapid development system based on the patterns they see as effective. Some templates are provided, of course, based on patterns that we think are effective, but the real benefit is the ability to create XML driven, form-built, content that is based on your patterns.

Want to build an interaction without knowing how to program it? Just fill out the forms and set the options and away you go. Have an instructional approach that isn't "templatized" yet? Make a template, create a form, tie them together via XML (it's easy with Rapid Intake tools, or you can do it all on your own using Flash or Flex) and then recreate that content following that pattern the next time without reinventing the wheel.

In Unison you choose from a library of reusable templates that are organized into different categories (the following image are the ones in the Learning Games category):

This way, we get beyond converted PowerPoint to Flash presentations but into real learning interactions. I predict that tools will be so easy to use in the future, that building interactive e-learning that is designed on proven principles will be easy. Those tools will be to instructional design and e-learning development what the modern word processor was to typing and writing by hand. Yes, rapid e-learning is here to stay, and tools will be built on instructional patterns so that as instructional designers, we can focus on effective content, not on programming.

Get the white paper now: Using Instructional Patterns for Rapid and Effective eLearning

Friday, September 12, 2008

About Me...Extended

In case you find this helpful, here's just a little more info about me:

When I was in high school and we were learning Pascal and BASIC on Apple IIEs, Mr. Braithwaite, our instructor was missing one day. We all sat around for a few minutes wondering what to do, then I got up and taught...and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It was probably the first time I realized how much I loved teaching, and teaching technology.

My love affair with computers and programming stuck with me, but I was drawn towards humanities in college and kept computers and programming as a hobby.

When I graduated from college with an English Literature degree, everyone was asking me, "What are you going to do with an English degree." At that point, like most English majors, I had no idea, I just knew that I enjoyed reading, analysis, and writing. That approach landed me my first post-graduate job--stuffing soap in boxes for $4.30/hour as a temp at a local factory. Yes, all of that hard work for four years had paid off!

But eventually I got my first job as an instructional writer at a local software company, writing and doing instructor-led training.

A few years later, when I was a training manager for a software company in Vancouver, WA (where we lived for about 10 years), I built my first e-learning course, with Toolbook (that was in 1998) and realized I had found my love! Teaching, writing, media, and computer programming combined into one discipline. It was a dream come true. Shortly after that, in 2000, I founded Rapid Intake. Since then I have been immersed in e-learning design and development, and of course, entrepreneurship.

I now live near Salt Lake City, Utah, in the United States, with my wife and three children.

For a more official bio, you may find this useful:

Garin Hess has been managing, designing and developing interactive e-learning solutions for over ten years. He has worked as instructional designer, developer, technical lead, and project manager on various projects that have produced solutions for a variety of organizations, including large-scale implementations. He is the co-author of four e-learning development titles on using Adobe Dreamweaver and Flash to create e-learning solutions. He has also been an Adjunct Professor in the Instructional Technology program at Brigham Young University (Hawaii). He is currently the CEO of Rapid Intake, a firm that helps organizations learn faster by opening the rapid interactive course development process to everyone with its rapid e-learning development tools Flashform and Unison.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Why the eLearning Juice Blog?

We have an official Rapid Intake blog, but before I was CEO of Rapid Intake, I was an Instructional Designer, Trainer, e-Learning Developer, and Training Manager. I'm passionate about learning in general and e-learning development. I wanted a place away from Rapid Intake to post my thoughts on e-learning development topics. I hope you find them useful.