Why is it that sometimes animated characters make content more compelling and sometimes they seem, well, creepy? It seems like this can be the case, even for the same use, but just with different viewers. My friend and colleague, Professor Mark Salisbury, produces 2-3 minute segments on Knowledge Management for an NPR affiliate in Albuquerque, New Mexico among other locations. There are quite a few of these segments (and some supporting graphics) available on his web site (sample radio segments). I genuinely enjoy the segments for their content, as well as the recollections they inspire of good times and good fun working with Mark.

Recently he started using the Oddcast hosting service SitePal to make what I would call "pOddcasts" like this, The Knowledge Worker. I’ve heard about the research on animated characters and understand the need to more clearly personify the characters or vignettes in elearning– I even encouraged it while at Macromedia (Animated Talking Characters for Elearning). However, in this case the technology just doesn’t add value for me. I don’t know if it is because I know Mark and have seen him speak, or because of my demographic (40+, non-gamer), or whatever.

Has anyone else run into this experience with virtual characters? I saw a presentation at the Learning 2005 conference that was titled, Can Virtual Characters Produce Real Results in Simulations? I really enjoyed the presentation by Tomas Ramirez and Greg Sapnar of Bristol-Myers Squibb. They cited some good fundamental research on use of virtual characters and included tools like a Virtual Character Decision Maker’s Matrix job aid (from Night Kitchen Media) for selecting and developing characters. They referenced the work of Clark/Lyons and Reeves-Nass on virtual characters. This makes me wonder, was the issue for me that there already was a real character in my mind, so there is some sort of disonance when I see the virtual Mark? How can one ensure that virtual characters increase effectiveness and comfort for the learner?

Does anyone have other thoughts about this or pointers to relevant research?

Online Elearning Seminars Added to Calendar

I’ve already received feedback on my Elearning Events Calendar and am posting a few online events to the calendar. I just added an ASTD event, Virtual Classroom session- What’s Next in eLearning, with Tony Karrer, Ph.D. Next up, I’ll be adding entries for the Adobe eLearning Luminary Series that starts in a few weeks with guest speakers such as Chris Howard of Bersin & Associates and one very special guest.

Google Calendar for Elearning Events

When I was at Macromedia, there were always a slew of tradeshows to attend, and I often had to juggle conflicting schedules and opportunities. I regularly pulled together a calendar with all the various events from different sources to help with planning and preparation. Now I’m trying out the new Google Calandar application on my domain and I set-up a public calendar with the major trade shows and events for elearning. The calendar currently includes events from Adobe, AICC, ASTD, Elearning Guild, I/ITSEC, Masie Center, and VNU. For example, you can see October Elearning Events.

Elearning Events Calendar
 HTML view
 iCal/.ics link
 XML view

Anyone interested in adding an elearning event should send an invite or email to me at .

Another vendor adds PENS support- OutStart

Businesswire shows that OutStart Announces PENS Support. I’ll update the link to point to the OutStart site, as soon as it is available there.

Great to have another vendor on-board, and I look forward to seeing their implementation working with others at the plugfest that starts tomorrow. The interoperability labs run Tuesday afternoon, with vendor presentations the following morning on Wednesday. I’ll post a wrap-up on Wednesday night to document how things went.

How-to use Captivate 2 and PENS

Here is a quick 2-3 minute demonstration of how to publish directly from Captivate 2 to an LMS or LCMS using PENS- Publish directly to LMS with Captivate 2 using PENS. I’ve been getting a few question about this from end-users and various vendors preparing for the PENS Plugfest, so I thought it would be easiest to just post a Captivate demo. Note that the demo is a plain old SWF from Flash, but using PENS like this requires Captivate 2, since it is a new feature.

AICC PENS Plugfest in Vancouver

I’ve been busy preparing for the AICC Meetings and PENS Plugfest happening next week. For starters, I added SSL support to the hosted version of the PENS test tools that I offer online (sample HTML form here, and PHP-based PENS command validator here or SSL here). This change has not been integrated to the official release yet. The official release is always available from AICC PENS Interoperability Validation Suite.

I’m wondering what experiences others have had with content-LMS integration issues, and how we can head-off these issues for both implementers and users. With past specs, I’ve noticed that ambiguities about the format of data elements could be an issue, as could the presence/absence of optional elements. Based on this, the validator checks for the presence of all required elements and the absence of unknown extraneous elements. The PENS validator also applies a regular expression against each element to check formatting, and where possible the regular expression is drawn directly from the underlying RFC or IETF recommendation.

Another area of headaches was code that depended on URLs to literally start with "http://" URLs and then suddenly broke when someone used a content launch URL or a LMS tracking URL that used SSL ("https://"). A similar issue is code that either depends on the URL having a trailing "/" or breaks in the absence of a trailing "/". To test those cases, I’ve hosted the PENS validator at URLs like http://pens.lmstesting.com/test/index.php which should still work when one sends a PENS collect command to http://pens.lmstesting.com/test/. As a beta user, I tested the Captivate 2 implementation of PENS against both those cases. Soon, I’ll go back and test with content published to an SSL URL and with a PENS server hosted behind SSL.

Are there other specification implementation "gotchas" that we should look for in the test tools? Things to watch for next week when the vendors gather for the Plugfest? If so, please let me know here, without ranting too much on specific products. Thanks.

AICC Certifications for Oracle and Saba – They Do Care

Congratulations to Oracle for achieving AICC certification of Peoplesoft Enterprise Learning Management 9.0. Likewise,, kudos to Saba for achieving AICC certification of Saba Enterprise Learning Suite Version 5 on September 6, 2006. Back in the Spring of 2006 I questioned the commitment of some LMS vendors to standards. It is great to see two major players like Saba and Oracle stepping up to the task. Saba is now certified for both AICC and SCORM 2004.

We’re still waiting for either a SCORM 1.2 or SCORM 2004 or an AICC certification for the SumTotal LMS that was first released in December 2004. In the same time frame, many major competitors have achieved two or more certifications, as have some smaller firms with solid LMS offerings. Since Claude Ostyn left SumTotal I haven’t really seen much corporate participation in ADL or AICC activities from SumTotal. Hopefully, they are still keeping an eye on LMS fundamentals as they move towards performance-management.