Creating A Quality Video Production Studio For eLearning At Home

More Instructional Designers are working remotely nowadays. Home offices were never designed for studio recording, yet videos must be professional. I’d like to share what I have learned about setting up a quality recording environment in one of the most challenging home office environments imaginable. This post was first published on eLearning Industry.

Fundamentals Of Learning Technologies: Part 1

Learning Technologies Fundamentals: Part 1 

Think of how much of your life has been spent learning? Daily learning comes from a variety of sources including coworkers, family, and friends. In schools, learning is much more structured consisting of books, whiteboards (blackboards), teachers, and class schedules. To ensure that learning material is retained by students, the teacher uses a combination of individual exercises, group exercises, and quizzes. Creating this learning material was time consuming and tedious. However, the benefit has always been scalability. Once learning material is created, it can be used over and over again. Not just for one school - lots of schools throughout the country.

Enter digital software and computer hardware technology. Books no longer need to be typeset, learning material can be instantly updated in the cloud, and 35mm slides are replaced with PowerPoints. The restriction of mandated scheduled learning has been displaced by curriculum that can be delivered anytime, anywhere. How we learn in the workplace is undergoing a massive transformation.

And it all starts in the electronic classroom.

The Elements Of Classroom Learning

There are typically three stages involved with the life cycle of live classroom training from conception to class presentation.

Elements Of Classroom Learning: Process Diagram

Instructional Design Production Delivery
Function Create the learning material. Create the learning material for the course. Schedule and hold training with students in a classroom setting.
Role Instructional Designer. Production manager. Instructor.
Participants Subject Matter Experts and compliance reviewers. Production staff, suppliers, and vendors. Students, venue staff, registration managers.
Output Slides and associated documents, code, or other artifacts are created. Produce final courseware material and prepare for printing. Scheduled class of the course in a classroom setting. Each student receives course material (like handouts of the slides, exercise task descriptions, and so on). Slides are projected onto a screen.
Sample tools and technology Microsoft Office apps (PowerPoint and Word) to produce initial storyboards and courseware material. [1] Adobe, Microsoft, and Autodesk tools can be used to finalize professional graphics and layout. Everything to be printed can be exported to PDF format using Adobe Acrobat. PowerPoint, Inateck wireless presenter (WP1002), Casio Green Slim Line Projector (XJ series) equipment. Online student registration logistics are provided by vendors like cvent and RegOnline.
Schedule Takes some period of time. Usually takes less time than Instructional Design stage. Set class times, highly structured.

My company, Leading Software Maniacs, creates and presents innovative live workshops for software developers and managers. Workshops are usually presented as a set of slides that are accompanied with printed handouts for students during a class. Highlights of live training include:

  • Classes take place at a set time and location.
  • Interaction is encouraged between instructor and students. Table arrangement usually accommodates 4-6 attendees per table (round tables work best). Food and beverage service should be provided.
  • Marketing and promotion for live workshops needs the help of local professional organizations hosting the event (PMI® comes to mind). Armed with a trusty laptop and a lightweight projector, there are literally hundreds of agile consultants presenting agile workshops hosted by PMI local chapters throughout the world.
  • Inexpensive software tools and hardware devices gives new meaning to DIY. Now, most anyone can create world-class learning material.
  • There’s considerable effort in handling the logistics: Venue selection, registration, and attendee fee collection. Working with vendors, partners, and attendees takes considerable personal interaction. Even with online software tools.

There can be different folks responsible for each of the three phases, however for most of us, the creator of the course is usually the person producing and presenting the material.

Learning Technologies: Enter eLearning 

As many businesses have benefited from massive automation, learning is going through similar transformations. Educational technology, or eLearning, is possible due to personal computers and the internet. Software apps provide integrated solutions that enhance how to connect learning with computing devices. This software-driven approach allows self-direction, mobility, and even collaboration and evaluation.

Originally known as computer-based instruction (CBI), eLearning offers key dramatic benefits.

Live classroom eLearning
Creation of presentation material Use PowerPoint to create slideshow. Use PowerPoint to create slideshow. Use screen recording software/devices to produce a video for viewing.
Storyboard outline and presentation flow Optional. Mandatory. [1]
Marketing and promotion Local for the event. Social media.
Class setting Classroom or conference room. Work desk, coffee shop, or home.
Class schedule Must be scheduled. Can be scheduled online or self-directed.
Expenses Travel, venue, and registration. Registration only.
Handouts Printed. View in browser, downloadable.
Student/Teacher collaboration Yes. Limited, perhaps through chat room or forums.
Computing device Rarely required. Desktop, laptop, and mobile (tablet).

There must be great opportunity to supply technology for eLearning. According to Capterra, there are at least 500 Learning Management Systems providers in the market. [2]

Learning technologies can provide a mechanism to evaluate how well students are learning in addition to offering more guidance if they fall behind. Even the use of games has become an accepted way to motivate and aid in the retention of information learned. I've posted a quick survey on how you like to learn. The survey is anonymous and will take no longer than a couple of minutes to complete. An analysis of survey results will be included in part 2 of “Fundamentals of Learning Systems”.

References: 

  1. Whitaker, Ken. “Storyboarding Is A Total Waste Of Time.” eLearning Industry. October 25, 2015.
  2. Capterra. “Top LMS Software.” Capterra.

This post was first published on eLearning Industry.

Storyboarding Is A Total Waste Of Time

Is Storyboarding A Waste Of Time? 

Leading Software Maniacs has delivered live workshops for software development community for some time. My assumption was that transitioning live courseware to eLearning wouldn't be difficult at all. I culled existing material (PowerPoint slides) to something suitable for self directed study. I researched Learning Management Systems (LMSs) offerings and selected DigitalChalk as my vendor of choice. The transition steps included the following:

  • The live workshop content was simplified to those slides that could be used in a self paced, self directed manner.
  • There was no need to include group exercises, either. In a self directed eLearning course the exercises were either removed or simplified.
  • A workbook couldn’t be just a PDF document composed of pages of slide thumbnails. Rather, it needed to be designed as a permanent reminder of retained learning since it isn’t unusual for eLearning portals to cut off access to streamed videos after viewing. (This isn’t the case for DigitalChalk, but other eLearning sites, including Lynda.com, may employ a time based subscription model or limit the number of times a video can be viewed.)
  • Since the plan was to record voiceovers, I stepped through PowerPoints. I could use all sorts of tools for that, but Techsmith’s wonderful Camtasia was the perfect tool to record stepping through PowerPoint screens while talking. To my pleasant surprise, post recording editing was a breeze. Camtasia made the removal of those horrible “ums” and pauses effortless.
  • Finally, I sent a test link to the eLearning course online page to reviewers and asked them to view the video, download and read the associated workbook, and pass a quiz to ensure that learning objectives were met.

The need for a storyboard? Nope. Besides, isn’t storyboarding primarily a tool for comic book and movie planning? Waste of time!

New Course Creation Requires Massive Collaboration 

Then I needed to create material for a new gamification learning product being developed from scratch. This time I didn’t have anything to start from. I hopped right in and put together a PowerPoint draft, realizing that I had gone way too deep into the details. User feedback had more red ink than space available on the slides. The transition from one slide to the next didn’t flow, the content didn’t reinforce the learning objectives, and everything simply felt scattered.

One particular person noticed that if the storyboard was modularized, some of the parts could be reused in marketing presentations, business overviews, and even tutorials.

A complete redo was required. I had not only wasted my time, I wasted the time of my reviewers.

5 Storyboarding Must Haves: Becoming Reacquainted With The Need Of Storyboarding 

You may wish to immerse yourself in viewing Daniel Brigham’s excellent video on how storyboards apply to Instructional Design preparation [1]. The result was the creation of my list of storyboard must haves:

  1. Storyboards must have a goal and benefit clearly stated.
  2. Storyboard elements must have just ’nuff detail.
  3. Storyboards must be visual.
  4. Storyboards must be designed for change, so reordering needs to be effortless.
  5. Storyboards must have the elements necessary to provide a blueprint.

There’s one nice to have:

  • Storyboards should be modular and reusable. Using a hierarchy (nested outline) would be even better.
  1. Storyboards Must Have A Goal.
    It is very easy for any storyboard to get off track from the project’s original attention. Having a one pager that summarizes the reasons and benefits can go a long way. This overview is vital for you and your reviewers to keep the project’s context in mind throughout storyboard development. I have provided a template you can download and freely use [2].
  2. Storyboards Content Must Be Simple.
    All of us have the tendency to get a little too detailed as we create our “masterpieces”. Simplicity counts more. Storyboard text doesn't have to be perfect. A storyboard is a mockup, a draft. It isn’t the final product. One tool that you might find useful is the outstanding Hemingway app that forces you to simplify text with a readability grade on your text. I use it with most everything I write.
  3. Storyboards Must Be Visual.
    Most of us retain information easier with visuals (graphics). A paragraph consisting of financial details is far more difficult to understand than a bar chart. A concept is more understandable if drawn as visual relationships. You don’t have to be a Rembrandt either. Stick figures work. There’s another benefit. Anyone involved with UX (User eXperience) design knows that visualization benefits collaboration and understanding. An excellent tutorial on UX design is from Chris Nodder’s book, Evil By Design [3]. All in all, you need some way to draw or to import a graphic into a storyboard frame. If you do import a graphic, make sure you keep a copy of the graphic in a subfolder along with your storyboard. Typical outliner apps only accommodate text and symbols. They usually don’t allow graphics. Both Microsoft PowerPoint and Word are pretty good at handling the mix of text with graphics. (Using Word is a little tricky, since you can’t easily arbitrarily place graphics anywhere on a page.)
  4. Storyboards Must Be Designed For Change.
    The art of storyboarding demands that topics (storyboard frames) move around based on how topics relate to each other. If the flow of storyboard frames need adjustment, simply drag them to a new position. However, many storyboard templates require specific page (slide) numbers or employ a fixed format (like three storyboards per page). And as a result, once you commit a storyboard frame, major changes may be difficult to make depending on the tool you use. This is why Microsoft Word isn’t the best tool for storyboarding.
  5. Storyboards Must Have All of The Elements.
    A storyboard consists of frames that incorporate a number of basic elements to properly define a draft mockup. According to Amit Soni, a storyboard should include screen title, graphics, navigation, text, audio script, and review comments [4]. In addition to that, there may be some other elements that could be useful including the storyboard frame’s purpose, specific references to workbook or handout material, completeness (is the frame considered done?), and even a unique code (not a page number) to specifically reference the storyboard frame [2].

Here’s an example storyboard frame that I use:

PowerPoint Storyboard Template - Scaled 50perc (72ppi, MPR34)

You may need to consider specifying the source since there may be times when the final eLearning material is recorded from another tool. An example is switching from PowerPoint slides to a funny chalk recording performed with PowerPoint. Also, audio may augment voice with sound effects, too.

Making The Storyboard Reusable 

You’ll probably find that storyboards contain information that can be reused. Designing something once that can repurposed for other uses is a very powerful concept. In my case, a storyboard for a future gamification product includes an overview of the game. If designed correctly, it should apply to a product overview and into a customer survey, too. The benefit is that you save time and your design is consistent. For that reason, my storyboard template specifies the screen dimensions (4:3 and 16:10) as well as checkboxes for other uses (marketing, support, and so on).

Recommended Tools

You don’t have to spend a ton of money to purchase storyboarding tools. There are two apps that I really like: Microsoft PowerPoint and the Omni Group’s OmniOutliner Pro [2]. Both of these outstanding apps satisfy my must have and nice to have requirements and both allow PDF exports for reviewers to use. Better, yet, share your storyboard files in the cloud (DropboxOmniPresence, or OneDrive) and your reviewers can markup the storyboard directly.

I’m now a storyboard believer!

References

This post was first published on eLearning Industry.