Friday, September 23, 2011

Building m-learning : Eliminating Redundant Effort

Training Magazine’s Learning 3.0 Conference in Chicago on 4th and 5th October 2011 features a talk by Bijoy Banerjee on what he calls Single Source Content. I talked to Bijoy, Senior General Manager at Harbinger Knowledge Products, about his vision for eliminating redundant effort in building m-learning and e-learning.

Okay, what's the pain point you are addressing?
BB: Today’s learners are prepared to access learning on desktops, laptops, smart phones and tablets. As a training content developer, are you prepared to support all these different devices, their operating systems and browsers? That's what I'm trying to address.

So, where do we begin?
BB: Well, step one is to get out of denial. Acknowledge the challenge. Recognize that the prospect of creating content for all these devices, platforms and browsers separately is daunting - particularly when you think of the separate development and maintenance efforts and cost. Clearly, creating separate content files for each target delivery point is quite an uphill task if not impractical.

And- what's the big idea?
BB: Well, don’t lose heart yet! It’s indeed possible to address all these different devices, browsers and platform by a single content output, developed as a single project, at a single cost allocation. We call it Single Source Content.  Single Source Content is a “Single File” of content - HTML5 based - that runs seamlessly on desktop, laptop and all mobile platforms. The content can be delivered online through a learning management system. It can also be carried on the learner's device and played offline. Finally, it complies with tracking standards (SCORM, AICC) and accessibility guidelines (Section 508).

What are the advantages?
BB: With this solution you don’t need to separately plan for eLearning and mobile learning content development. Just develop the content once, and then push it from LMS, as is usual  in the case of eLearning delivery, to be accessed by multiple devices and their browsers. Because you need only a single project for developing the content, the single source content solution provides great cost efficiency. Not only that, single source content solution brings great operational efficiency as well - while updating the content, just update one file and the updated the content is available across all! Finally, nothing matters if learners don’t find the learning engaging and interactive. Single source content scores there too! 

Interesting, and one needs to dive deeper to understand better. Where do we find out more about this approach?

BB: You can get a sneak peak at this solution in Training Magazine’s Learning 3.0 conference in Chicago on 4th and 5th October. Or you can write to me at

Thanks, and good luck for your talk in Chicago.
BB: My pleasure, and you are most welcome.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Power vs Ease of Use: Do We Need to Choose One?

Industry gurus have long maintained that authoring tools can be either powerful or easy to use. They say: choose one. I say: I want both. Is that possible? Well yes, if the tool designers pay attention to flexibility.

Consider interactivity templates. The very idea of a template connotes a cookie-cutter approach. Easy to learn, easy to use. How do the template designers maintain the ease of use and yet provide powerful features that the course designer can control?

The answer is in flexibility. Here is a short checklist for template designers who want to build flexible interaction templates.

  1. Element Size and Placement :  Provide control to the course designer over the placement of  whole elements, not just text labels, images, buttons and videos. Example: An interactive pyramid diagram template where the course designer controls the size and location of the pyramid - in addition to its levels and content.
  2. Ample Space for Text: Some people just cannot say it in a few words. Support for long text strings clearly helps in such situations.
  3. Text Hyperlinks: When there is a need to provide additional information that wouldn't fit the real estate of the interaction, a text hyperlink is the best way out.
  4. Liberal Limits: How many pages in a flip book? How many steps in a process? How many bullets in a slide? How many terms in a glossary? How many hot spots in a rollover exercise? How many flash cards per interaction? The course designer has to exercise judgment in making sure there aren't too few or too many. That said, the role of template designer is to support a wide range between the minimum and the maximum number of such elements.
  5. Video Support : With the explosion of video content over the web, users are expecting video support in several interactions. 

This list is obviously illustrative, not exhaustive. The recently released Raptivity 6.5 has several interactions that illustrate the use of these design practices.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Enhancing Interactions with Media Elements

A few years back, e-learning courses were largely static, with a few interactions here and there. As interactivity takes center stage, more and more learning happens through interactions. A learner may spend more time working through a simulation, playing a game or exploring an interactive visual than reading the course material. With this, course developers are increasingly feeling the need to provide additional information elements within interactions.

A large number of interactions today are developed using interaction templates. Templates can however be limiting when it comes to providing additional content elements. For example, consider an interactive Android phone tutorial where the learner rolls her mouse cursor over parts of the phone and explores its features. Now suppose the tutorial designer wants to provide a link to a Wikipedia article on Android - or to a Youtube video featuring the phone device. How cool will it be if the designer could add a button to the interaction itself, linking to the article or the video?

There are several use cases where media elements enhance the impact of interactions:
  • Assessments where the learner watches a video and then answers questions. 
  • A set of flash cards where the learner gets to pop up a text that explains a mnemonic to memorize what's on the cards. 
Diehard fans of Raptivity loved the Raptivity Media Toolbox that was showcased in a recent webinar. Using the Media Toolbox, a course designer can add custom buttons or hotspots to an interaction.
Raptivity Media Toolbox
Each button or hotspot can lead to a hyperlink, which can be a web URL. A button can also pop up a video (.flv/.f4v), an image (.jpg, .png, .gif) or  text.

Buttons work great  for learners who  have the curiosity to click and discover extra content. In other cases, you simply embed text or image media in the interaction - and the media will simply show when the interaction is displayed - no clicking is required. A video can also be embedded, so it starts playing as soon as the interaction loads.

This feature set provides advanced flexibility to Raptivity. Presently it works with certain packs of Raptivity 6.5. For more information visit and explore the power of Media Toolbox.