Kathy says ‘Reducing guilt is the killer app’

Posted by bryanzug - 2006/03/14

Over on Creating Passionate Users, Kathy Sierra posted that ‘Reducing guilt is the killer app’.

I buy it — how about you?

Can’t tell you how easy it is for my eLearning and design efforts to get stuck in the mud because the system just doesn’t give users the feeling of ‘You can do it!’ (to quote Jaime Escalante who I saw speak once when I was in college — he was amazing — all he said for 20 minutes was that phrase — over and over — “You can do it!” — with a Cheech Marin accent — inspiration comes in many forms — some stand and deliver more that any visio diagram ever will — how can we create systems that, through their UX design, say this?)

Kathy nails it by identifying the emotional stress of not measuring up to all of the stuff people don’t know but that seems within reach (a kind of knowledge proximity, as it were).

And here’s her choice quote on what to do about it —

Help users revolt. Help them realize that perhaps their problem wasn’t their fault. Struggling to learn these tough technical topics? Maybe it isn’t you. Maybe it’s the way these topics are taught (or rather, the way they are not being taught). Part of our mission with the Head First books is to let learners off the hook! To say, “It is not your fault. Traditional learning experiences (including many text books) are usually not designed for the best interest of your brain…”

More on this later regarding Seth Godin’s recent talk at Google. I finally got my video iPod setup the other day and watched the video of it — some very important ideas in there — distilled very nicely.

The eLearning Access/UX Shell Game

Posted by bryanzug - 2006/02/09

One of the most overlooked necessities of success for an eLearning system is easy self-service access (and navigation).

Ever since the cut-to-the-chase design of Google’s interface beat the everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink design of MSN and others, clear and simple “Don’t Make Me Think” system design has become the expected norm of nominal users everywhere.

And, when it comes to eLearning systems, this consideration will often make the difference between whether your $100k+ investment in this stuff is going to return results that are more of a bang and less of a whimper.

A great case study of this reality can be found in a recent edition of Elliot Masie’s Learning Trends Newsletter.

In it, Graham Higgins, the Chief Learning Officer of Cathay Pacific Airlines, talks about how engineering their entire organization around employee’s easy access to self-service activities was the hedgehog concept that would lead to the eventual great success of their eLearning initiatives —

We started in the mid 90s with self help flexible benefits, you choose how to spend your benefit dollar value. From those who preferred to be looked after we had open hostility, we had taken away our care for them. 2 years later it was just the way we did things and it was smart, convenient, and gave people some control that they valued.

I love the fact that Higgins then goes into detail on how ‘putting something online’ is not the cure-all that many frame it to be. The hard lesson of many eLearning projects is that anteing up the cost to put training online is no guarantee of success.

Like its many capital expenditure cousins, eLearning has as good a chance as any of leaving organizations feeling like they’ve just paid big bucks to play a board walk shell game — all those promised benefits are under which one?

And yet, as Higgins points out with a couple of tipping points toward success, it doesn’t have to be that way.

First example he notes is that these projects require careful attention to user experience (UX) design — ie. Is this thing easy to use? Is it intuitive? Do I have to think how to do what I’m trying to do?

Self-serve, however, if it is on line needs to be designed with the same insight and investment as a commercial website. I have been in conversations with software vendors where they reassured me that the interface is not that intuitive but they will provide user training to make it work. No No No. That really is abandonment, if your customers feel that your site is hard to use they wont use it, why make it difficult for employees to self help. If customers feel that your site is there to push your choice of product they will go elsewhere, why should we design employee processes that don’t give choice, control and ease of access.

The important nugget to remember here is “ease of access” (and, if you know anything about me by now, you know that Steve Krug’sDon’t Make Me Think” approach to this stuff is the Bees Knees).

As Web Yada.Whatever.You.Wanna.Call.It has shown us, it’s doesn’t matter how much it costs if it’s not easy to access and use.

Another great point Higgins makes is that Cathay Pacific did not force folks into getting knowledge a certain way — instead, they focused on the knowledge itself. If you had it, you could test out, if you didn’t, you had easy access to get it in a way that suited you.

The step forward was to agree that if someone could take an assessment and demonstrate the capability to apply the new knowledge to his or her job, then it was not necessary to show that they had attended a seminar or completed the package. How they got that knowledge didn’t matter, we provided access to self teach tailored on line learning options for different work streams, copies of the policy, descriptions of cases, links to external websites, and email access to the in-house experts.

Combined, these guiding principles created a Buildup-Breakthrough Flywheel momentum that resulted in great success —

10,000 employees, and we hit 96% success within a couple of months. The main failure points? Some people could not remember their login in Ids and used their friend’s, no track or trace for them. Back to the design of easy access.

Good stuff to note on this eLearning journey.

eLearning Software Recommendations for the Subject Matter Expert (SME)

Posted by bryanzug - 2006/02/03

I get asked a lot about what tools to use for creating software training eLearning.

I usually break things down into two specialist areas — that of the Subject Matter Expert (SME) and that of the Technical Producer. This post covers my short list of recommendations for the SME.

Producing eLearning is unique in that we are often asking people who have little background (or interest!) in full blown multimedia design to create multimedia lessons that are then aggregated, in various ways, to create courses.

To a typical SME, having to learn a second career as a multimedia developer is pretty discouraging.


Because it removes them from the natural habitat of their knowledge base (which is the reason you’ve asked them to be a SME in the first place — there’s a post in there somewhere about the care and feeding of SME’s, but I digress).

It is only natural that we want SME’s to have easy tools and methods at their disposal in order to rapidly prototype their content (you can probably tell I have one hand raised in favor of agile development).

Here’s my short list of SME tool categories with quick explanations of each of my picks.

Lesson Creation

Adobe Captivate (formerly Macromedia Captivate — $500 list)

I’ve used Captivate most over the past few years as my content creation tool of choice.

Captivate combines sequential object aware screen capture with a PowerPoint on steroids approach that leaves most SME’s feeling empowered (instead of intimidated). It also has tools to build in pretty nice interactive simulations and is SCORM compliant.

(SCORM compliancy for tools is something that deserves an article in itself — In short this is an industry standard that enables tools, systems, and content to talk to one another — ergo, you want to make sure any lesson creation tool you use is SCORM compliant.)

Go to this case study I wrote last year for MX Developers Journal for the details of why I used this tool for a particular project.

The short scoop — Captivate is easy for the SME’s to rough out their lessons, then the content can be pushed out to various formats for editorial review or further technical development (Microsoft .doc, compiled Flash .swf, developer Flash .fla).

Knowledge Planet’s Firefly ($10,000 list)

A tool that I have not had a chance to use but have been pretty impressed with in demo’s is Knowledge Planet’s Firefly. Don’t let the fact that it’s hard to find Firefly details on their web site fool you — this thing is powerful (see a Firefly demo here).

It is also SCORM compliant and does just about everything that Captivate does — but, instead of capturing screenshots of software, Firefly builds an interactive mimic of the entire application interface of anything you are capturing.

Not only does it provide a richer experience that feels much more like the real app, it also provide multiple task paths that SME’s can easily edit. (i.e. What’s the ‘correct’ way to print in Word?). This, combined with an instructionally sound “See, Try, Do, Test” lesson model may make Firefly worth the $$ (which I often see discounted every quarter to $5000 sans personal training).

Image Editing

I’m a firm believer that eLearning content prototyping should not bottleneck at the door of the geeks (read graphic designers and multimedia developers).

I don’t know about you, but my teams always have way too much great content to produce to wait around for anything that impedes the rapid prototyping process.

I say, let the designers create the master styles and set the SME’s free to rapidly storyboard their stuff.

As such, every SME needs to know how to do simple image formatting (crop, resize, outline, drop shadow) and they need an easy to use tool to do it.

Adobe Fireworks (formerly Macromedia — $300 list)

Fireworks is my tool of choice for editing images for the screen (this applies to SME’s as well as multimedia devs). It combines the best of pixel and vector image editing features into a single tool and keeps everything in a layered and fully editable .png file.

With the Adobe acquisition of Macromedia, it’s unclear what Fireworks future will be, given that it inhabits a middle space between the Adobe heavyweights of Photoshop and Illustrator.

For now, it’s still my tool of choice because I think it does the best job of handling this space without being an intimidating tool – again, a very important variable for the SME.

Version Control

Whenever a lot of file collaboration is necessary, version control software becomes imperative. The last thing you every want to do is lose vital pieces of work (which is easy to do if you are passing files around among even a few participants).

Microsoft Visual SourceSafe (VSS)

The standalone version of Microsoft Visual SourceSafe is the tool I’ve used most often on my teams. Problem is that it is woefully outdated in it’s standalone form (thought it’s great if everybody is an up to date Visual Studio developer — good luck with SME’s on that).

Microsoft’s standalone product offerings on this have been so lame for so long, that I’m actively looking for an alternate solution. (And, no, Microsoft’s Sharepoint is not a solution for this in my book – it wasn’t built for multimedia files and is more difficult to manage over the long haul than even the old standalone versions of VSS).


The tool that has generated the most buzz for standalone version control of late is called Subversion. While I have not used the tool, it (along with some accessories) looks very interesting. (e.g. Tortoise adds Subversion control to Windows via right click menuing in the file explorer).

If I were setting up a new environment, I would definitely take a look at Subversion. Did I mention that it is open source and free?

That’s the short scoop. These recommendations, of course, are all predicated on the supposition that you have a Learning Management System (LMS) and a Learning Content Management System (LCMS) to feed content through.

Feel free to send alternate suggestions in the comments — always interested in hearing about alternate solutions. Continue reading eLearning Software Recommendations for the Subject Matter Expert (SME)…