What if… Google Pack for Elearning

What would a Google Pack for elearning look like? Are there free or open source equivalents for common elearning developer tools? What about administrators and learners? Here’s my quick stab at these ideas. Those using RSS feed will likely need to read this post on the web site to view the HTML tables that follow.

For those who don’t know, Google Pack is a Free collection of essential software, with a few more niceties thrown in too. It includes Firefox, Google Desktop search, Norton Anitvirus special edition, Ad-Aware SE (anti-spyware) and Acrobat Reader. It also includes Google Earth and the Picasa photo organizer and more. A pretty good start.

Learners, Developers, and Managers/Administrators alike will need other basics- web browser, email, IM, word processor. Developers will likely want the latest and full versions, and some development tools. Its a similar list for administrators, but I’ll hold back on editors and development tools. For learners I’ll go on a limb and recommend the portable versions. Smaller footprint, easily installed on a desktop and offers the option of a USB thumb drive for mobile learners. Though it looks like I’m picking "lesser" tools for learners, I actually use those tools myself in many cases, and I think other developers should use them too.

I’ll cheat a bit and fill out some "development" tools in the learner category. This allows learners to create content, and gives developers a Fee or Free option; use the free "learner" tool if you like. For administrators, I’m going to just go with what likely comes with their machines and open-source where appropriate/applicable. Note that sometimes the SME (subject matter expert) can be a learner and sometimes a manager or administrator.

The table of software applications and links follows below. My own choices appear in bold.

A Google Pack for Elearning
Google/Internet Explorer/Norton Antivirus
Office tools (Word processing, presentations, spreadsheets)
Document processing (more than memos)
Instant Messaging
Learning Management
Desk phone (POTS/VoIP)
Elearning – General
Elearning -Rapid Elearning
Articulate, Breeze, Captivate
Web editor
Web server technology

1-Heavily customized with lots of great extensions.
2-I use this as a PortableApp running off a USB thumbdrive when it’s handy to do so.
3-Very interesting, very free, very beta.

Excellent Daily News on Mobile Content

FierceMarkets has done it again. They have an excellent daily newsletter about mobile content. This covers all types of mobile content, such as mobile music, gaming, video, marketing, etc. That is just a heads up if you are into m-learning, but you’re not hardcore on all things mobile. However, if you are even close to having a hard core interest in this area; then Fierce Mobile Content, or FierceMoCo, is THE list to register for to get the latest scoops in this space. Click the FierceMoCo link to sign-up.

Good Blog and Links on S1000D

Today at the AICC meetings in San Diego, Bill Shook of Boeing did a really nice overview of S1000D and it’s benefits and relevance for training and elearning. The PowerPoint should be up on the AICC web site in the meetings minutes here in a few days. Hungering for more information on S1000D I stumbled onto a blog while surfing the in-room discussion and the blogosphere at the same time.

I have no idea who Martyn is, but I like the content and comments that go on at his blog on S1000D. The reference links are pretty handy too.

S1000D – “Sense Out of Confusion”

A great place to start your S1000D adventures whether you are in technical documentation or training.

I tire of blogging about blogging, so here goes

Despite the title, I must go on with this to share my experience with blogging tools.

Qumana versus w.bloggar. Bottom line: w.bloggar wins as a client-side online/offline tool for making blog entries. I’d like to know if anyone knows of something better, and if anyone has had success running w.bloggar off as USB stick as a portable application. Now for the details.

I need an online/offine blogging tool, ideally supporting Windows and Palm, and the blogging software/services from Blogger and Movable Type.

When only dealing with the Movable Type application, I really like Sharp MT from RandyRants.com (plus his blog is much more than mildly amusing). Pocket SharpMT is is also available for PocketPC and I used these tools quite happily for my old Macromedia blog hosted on Movable Type. Unfortunately, I now have need to post on several blogs including other blogging hosts/services, and SharpMT doesn’t support Blogger.

I REALLY like w.bloggar, but there are a few nits (no technorati tags, no automated pings, no support for advertising links, podcast support needs updates). The w.bloggar set-up is quick and relatively intuitive. It has a good editor with tools for inserting/formatting common HTML tags, and the ability to display a preview OR view the raw HTML. It also supports multiple blogs using multiple different services, includes spell check, and the ability to retrieve/edit old posts as well as save drafts locally, publish, or publish and post entries. It is also installs as less than <4MB, where as Qumana is closer to 9MB.

I thought I would like Qumana, but I personally found it annoying during a brief trial because:

  • It adds a little promotional blurb for Qumana to each entry by default
  • No ability to add "title" attribute to href links (and I strive for W3C XHTML 1.0 validation, which enforces this)
  • No ability to edit inserted HTML tag for links
  • Adds an auto-run and persistent system tray icon
  • Preview is with IE
  • Very rudimentary "Insert HTML" capability, and no ability to edit that inserted HTML other than delete

Know of something better than w.bloggar? If it’s not Qumana, then please let me know. There, the blogging about blogging is out of my system. For now.

Elearning Needs Tools for Scenarios, Flows, and Decision Branching

The elearning industry needs tools that visualize learning scenarios for learner decision paths, storyboards and simulation branching. Activity in this area seems to have submarined and it needs to resurface.

Where is the innovation in approachable, ease-of-development for elearning? We have access to all theses cool virtual character, simulation and multimedia capabilities. Expectations run higher and higher with each new release of a millionth game or “bullet-time” movie CGI effect.

However, when we want to get great elearning done, we are still left with hand-waving, white-boarding verbal metaphor communication with a Flash expert. What gives?

Elearning had a plethora of new visual tools for creating content in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s including Authorware, CBTExpress, IconAuthor, Lectora Publisher, Quest and more. Recently, "Rapid Elearning" for “SME Empowerment“* seems to be the flavor of the month, though high-end elearning content still gets developed in Authorware, Flash or ToolBook (or general purpose tools like Java, or proprietary purpose-built tools & workflows).

I want a tool that lets me, a somewhat tech-savy instructional designer, to script and visualize 80-90% of the scenes, effects, judging, remediation, enrichment and branching of simulations and scenarios. I want to see the paths through the simulation and decision process. I want to easily prune the deep branches of the decision tree to make learning more time efficient, but leave enough breadth and depth to give in realism in consequences and complexity. I want to add points for a fast-path, demerits for recoverable false-steps and stiff penalties for hazardous decisions and actions.

I need ALL of that more than I need drawing or animation tools. A graphic designer or animator can do all those things well, and I’m not ever matching their proficiency. However, there is too much instructional design theory and design to easily, effectively communicate my intent to a programmer via a simple script or block of PowerPoint slides.

Why is this SO HARD? Can’t new tools be built now that are friendly for web deliver, and instructional design of scenario-based learning? Project management tools seem to handle contingent, critical path and parallel tracks quite well. Role-playing game & MUD tools and engines accommodates rules and scenarios.

Are there tools from other use cases and applications that can be the basis for what we need?

Here’s what got me started on this rant. John Dowdell of Adobe had a nice succinct post on Diagramming interactivity. About the same time, the ElearningPost blog had an entry The Basics of Branching Logic that refers to a Jay Cross interne Time Group blog entry on decision games that I had also read. Couple all this with the high-value long-running series of simulation posts by Clark Aldrich at the ASTD Learning Circuits Blog.

There is clearly a need for an approachable, powerful means to author scenario-based learning and decision games.

*Thanks my friend and colleague Eric Rosen for the cool 60’s-sounding terminology the “SME Empowerment Movement” as an alternative for the now ubiquitous "Rapid Elearning."

Prepare for a Flurry of Blog Posts

There has been a noticeable lack of recent entries here. My mother recently suffered a stroke and I travelled back to be with her and my siblings. Though the stroke was debilitating and exhausting, her condition quickly stabilized. She has now begun the arduous process of therapy and recovery. Thanks to all who provided prayers, thoughts and other support.

Prior to leaving (and since), I’ve seen a few items of interest and had a few thoughts about flows & storyboards, a "Google Pack" for elearning, and elearning simulations. This week I am in San Diego attending AICC and IEEE LTSC/SISO Interface Standards meetings, so I’ll have some information to report as well.

Elearning Predictions for 2006

Back when I hosted the Macromedia Elearning Seminar Series I really wanted to get Lisa Neal from the acm as a guest. I appreciate the short insightful look ahead she gets each year, collected from the leading gurus, researchers, analysist and pundits.

Predictions for 2006 E-learning experts map the road ahead By Lisa Neal, Editor-in-Chief, eLearn Magazine

While you’re at it check out eLearn Magazine online and the acm itself.

Online Symposium on Simulations at The eLearning Guild

This one looks interesting, and doesn’t require travel.

Elearning Simulation and Games Symposium February 8-10, 2006 | Online

Based on the published agenda, I’d check out these sessions:

  • The State of Simulations and Games in e-Learning (Clark Aldrich)
  • Everything You Know About Simulation is Wrong (Rich Mesch)
  • Engaging Learning: Effective Simulation Games By Design (Clark Quinn)
  • Mobile Learning Games and Simulations (David Metcalf)

There are several interesting sessions on using Adobe Flash for elearning, and it looks like Frank Hanfland of safety-kleen will be updating and expanding his Macromedia MAX 05 presentation with additional information on ROI and business drivers for elearning simulations.

Registration is $495 USD for Guild members or $619 standard rate. Joining the guild for $99 is definitely worth it; you get discounts for their conferences as well as the online events, and access to the eLearning Guild library of polls, research and articles about elearning.