by Mike Simpson | [email protected]
Published originally as a paper for “How to Design an E-Learning Program,” a University of Toronto course
It would seem there is nothing more important in e-learning than the creation of the course content and the assessment of the learner, therefore choice of media editors and assessment tools play a primary role. It’s also important how they are used and how the developers review the tools and systems throughout all periods of the design and learning process.
In discussing media editors, important for the creation of assets like video, I’ll briefly touch on aspects of the recording process. I’d like to emphasize also that this is a day and age of rapid advancement in technology and tools can sometimes be used for broader purposes than the prescribed uses. For example, looking solely at Adobe products, it is amazing that Photoshop can edit video, or that “Clip” a mobile app, could be used to edit a simple video. There’s a range of options for media production and some can cover more than one base.
In the section where I address assessment I briefly comment on the appropriateness of some testing forms or tools for their relevance in the Absorb-Do-Connect model of learning first proposed by William Horton.
Let’s define media editors. Media in a broad sense can include text, photo or graphic, but here we are focusing on audio, video, and animation or interactive content. Each offers different benefits and each offers its own difficulties in production.
For the purposes of my analysis I will expand the topic to include e-learning authoring software. Examples of each include:
- Audio or Sound Editors (Adobe Audition, Audacity)
- Video Editors (Adobe Premiere, Sony Vegas, Final Cut Pro)
- Animation/Interactive Editors (Tumult Hype, Adobe Animate, Powtoon)
- E-Learning Authoring Tools (Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate)
Audio is perhaps the best and easiest companion to learning materials full of text and images. It’s relatively easy to produce and has a big impact. Choices range from Adobe Audition to Audacity. Cost can be an issue, as Adobe CC is a monthly charge while software like Audacity is free. In either case, the key more or less is that the content has to be strong. Either product is capable of polishing the audio and exporting appropriate formats. As a friend once said “it’s not the toys – it’s the noise.” Probably the microphone or recorder used is more important than the actual editor. Having said that the pricier tools like Audition may have more useful automation processes and integrate more easily with other tools (Audition with Premiere or After Effects). Better software equals better workflow and time saving, but not necessarily a better end product. Video editing software follows much of the above. There are very sophisticated tools like Blender which are free, but if you use Adobe CC for example, Premiere may fit best in your process.
What’s probably more difficult than creating audio or video, which is often scripted or based on text that borrows from ready-made content, is creating original animations, or “motion graphics.” This can be very time consuming. This area of media creation requires more artistry than any other and has a high level of difficulty.
It is interesting that Articulate software which is loaded with presets and ready-to-go templates, could be used to create sophisticated motion graphics. An example of this can be found at the Storyline E-Learning Heroes blog:
In the above, the designer, Ian Monk, used shapes to create all the animated objects. It’s very creative. Of course caution should be used. Whiz bang animations are desired only when they support the learning objectives and help learners absorb concepts. They otherwise may be a distraction.
On a related topic is the idea of using software which creates pre-fab animated video, such as Powtoon and VideoScribe. Powtoon creates animated videos based on preset characters, situations, while VideoScribe creates whiteboard style animations complete with moving hand, whiteboard and marker. Both offer an opportunity to create interesting media without much need for sophisticated equipment or artistic talent.
Software like Storyline 2 can be used to create very interesting slide animations, or even motion graphics however it can’t as yet produce audio or video. External tools like Adobe Premiere or Audition or any number of alternatives must be used. (Free alternatives such as the audio editor Audacity exist and can do the same kind of work).
Any e-learning developer can record sound and shoot video. This process though should be approached with the same caution and attention to detail as the general process to design the look and feel aka graphics of the project.
According to the Articulate e-book: “5 Highly Effective Strategies for Creating Effective E-Learning”:
“…you don’t want to make your learners cross their fingers in hopes that your content will be good—despite its awkward appearance. In fact, you want to do the opposite: use appealing visual design to entice your learners. You want them to think, “Wow, this course looks really cool.”
The graphic design of the course must be good. The materials have to meet the expectations of an audience used to attractive user interfaces and the kind of slick, engaging design used all over app and the web. Your course must look cool – even if that content might truthfully be a little dull (i.e. compliance training).
A tool like Adobe Premiere contains many subtle titling tools and some over the top visual looks that can add pizzazz. The key with this kind of powerful editor is to manage your assets in an organized fashion and make sure you create a video which supports your learning goals.
Assessment and Testing
Assessment is an area which requires investment of time and attention toward process and tools. Though testing tools are built into software like Storyline 2, it is a good idea to start the assessment development process at the same time as the preparation of the learning objectives. In essence, you want to make sure they align.
This is discussed in the following article at the Articulate Community:
Though there are 5 tips in the article I believe the strongest points are made in tips 1, 2 and 5. In the first point the writer, Nicole Legault, states that one should seek to “align quiz questions with course objectives.” This is a central tenant of all learning. The writer says that the quiz acts as a kind of review process, that “helps your learners retain key material and make your course more cohesive overall.
In tip 2 and 5, Ms. Legault argues for using a “variety of question types” and to “create feedback” for your questions. Variety in assessment formats is as important as instructional content is in early readings or slides. Pop ups or tool tips can appear after a question is answered to confirm a correct answer or gently demonstrate where the learner erred.
That “when you see clearly how learners are faring with your quizzes, you’ll have better insight into whether your course material is preparing them adequately for the final assessment.” This is an iterative process. Quizzes prepare both the learner and instructor/designer for final tests, and offer opportunities to fine tune materials on the fly.
It may be tempting to invest the bulk of time, energy and expense into the visual materials but the assessment process deserves prime attention and treatment as well. It’s possible at this point to hire an SME or subject matter expert to help with creating a group of solid questions. Determining whether the questions cover all bases can help lead the developers back to the original learning objectives and offers opportunity to better write or structure the core content.
In the book “E-Learning by Design,“ William Horton writes:
“Invest in good tests. Tests will (1) tell you how well your design is working, (2) help learners monitor their own progress, (3) show what content learners can skip and what content you can omit, and (4) make your objectives crystal clear.”
In my final point I’d like to suggest that unless you are working on e-learning for compliance there can be some flexibility in the kinds of assessment that take place. A typical assessment like an interactive quiz authored in e-learning software takes the form of a “do” activity where one completes a task based on modelling correct answers or technique as presented in the previous readings or slides. It’s also possible to have learners apply their new skills or knowledge in more abstract ways (connect activities), asking for short essays that allow the learners to express and opinion or reflect on the lessons and how they may be applied to their work in the future allows the materials to go beyond a rigid result. Lastly, I believe that although software like Storyline, Captivate or iSpring can author wonderful engaging quizzes, the best approach may be to first utilize the quiz preparation tools inside the LMS or CMS (whatever system holds your course content, quizzes can be generated with built in tools or via plugins).
It is possible to enter further discussion as there are additional tools that are essential in the management of online courses, namely the learning management system (LMS) and learning record store (LRS). The record store is a database system which compiles learner records (attendance, time spent, completion, scores) and generally acts as an intermediary. The development of the LRS was in 2011 with the appearance of the Experience API or xAPI, a next generation SCORM system.
From Wikipedia: “An LRS can exist inside a traditional Learning Management System (LMS), or on its own. LRSs can communicate learner data with other systems, such as LMSs, sensor-enabled devices, mobile technology, and other LRSs.”
If we want to be able to have learners engage with quizzes anywhere and anytime, or have the resultant data available for cross-purposes or export to other systems, taking a serious look at your potential assessment tools to see if they meet current and future standards is paramount. But that’s for another discussion.
– Mike Simpson 2016
Mike is working on completion of the E-Learning Certificate at the University of Toronto. He is a teacher/trainer and designer/media producer keen on exploring work and creative projects at the intersections of education, media and publishing. For more information about current projects such as “Scots to Canada,” or to view his online resume/cv, please use the links at the top of the page.
Bibliography / Resources
Horton, William. E-Learning by Design, 2nd Edition. N.p.: John Wiley & Sons, 2011, E-book.
5 Highly Effective Strategies for Creating Engaging E-Learning (Articulate E-book)
How to Write Good E-Learning Quiz Questions
Storyline 2: Flat Icon Animation
More on Absorb-Do-Connect from Designed for Learning
Learning Record Store
Software mentioned in this paper:
Adobe After Effects
Articulate Storyline 2