Friday, December 2, 2011

How to Search Images in Google

Instructional Designers often have the task of hunting images that suit the course content. There are many sites that offer free images. Google is often our ultimate refuge. In this blog, we will explore the different options for searching images in Google (in a very limited sense, of course!).
Click on `Images’ in the Google homepage to go to the sea of images that awaits you!
Giving search words
Searching for images is an art. (`Searching' for anything, is the ultimate function of the virtue of patience, I will say. :) ) Philosophy apart, the key lies in giving the correct search words. Google offers some useful tips for giving the right set of key words. Check them out here. However, the scope of this blog is just to share some tips out of experience. :) 
If you are trying to illustrate abstract concepts, it is often not advisable to give the abstract word itself as a search word, for two reasons-
One, it might be a cliched picture. Two, it might not be the accurate representation. So, use your creative self, and try to visualize  an image. The description of this image will be your key word.
Example, imagine we are doing a course on Corporate Responsibility.
Here is the search result from Google for `Corporate Social Responsibility’.  

Yes, I know it’s very tempting to just go for one of them, as they look so off-the-shelf.
But remember that your audience might have seen the same picture a thousand times. So as soon as they open your module, they are like “Hey Copycat, I have seen that picture before”. That’s not what a wannabe instructional designer will want to hear, is it?
So let’s get creative, close our eyes and think of how we might illustrate the concept of Corporate Responsibility.
Yes, patience is a virtue. We will have to work around the image to get what we want. But that’s individuality.

Let us now try to use one of the above images to make one of our own. So back to our home pitch-

After a little bit of playing around with the image, this is the result -



And this is it's bone structure -



Other useful tips for searching images –
Look at the left hand pane of Google -
You find that there are various options to choose from - Size, color and type. I find the `Type’ option particularly useful. When your module uses just clip arts or drawings, for instance, you can base your search accordingly. For example, here are the three types of results for the same key word - Horse

By the way, if you are very used to dealing with images, you might have realized that we can actually make the `foot print’ that I used to demonstrate the concept of corporate responsibility, instead of buying the image. Stenciling images in power point is a whole topic by itself. We will discuss this in detail in one of the coming blogs.

Do you have any further tips to offer while searching for images? Feel free to add on through the comments section.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Striking a Chord With the SME

This is mostly how a `Request for an e learning module’ buds. Explaining the capabilities and convincing the possibilities have always been a challenge for IDs. So how do you usually break the ice?

Well, the easiest way would be to get started with a call.

What is the scope of the project?

Here is a blatant truth – People normally hate to do or take trainings, just because of the plain reason that anything outside the routine work means a burden. I would’nt say `most’, but at least `some’ of the requests we receive are just a way for the Manager to shed off his `training’ burden.



Do analyze if a virtual course would actually help them, or if the concepts are better understood in a face to face training set up. However, do not forget that you can go for a combo training, where there is a little bit of class room and virtual training. And yes, don’t forget to ask on the target audience.

Split the process and explain it phase by phase

Don’t make the whole process look like a black box. Don’t assume that your client knows the procedure. Divide the whole project into distinct chunk. Anything that splits the process into simple, trackable goals is good enough.

This once happened to me – I was explaining our module delivery project planner to my customer. And weird enough, I found his face looking scarier as I finish explaining each stage.

And at the end of it, he gasped – “Oh, so that’s a lot of work”.And I nodded. “But sorry, I don’t think I will be able to do them all. I have never even come across the term `storyboard’ in my life!”

Yes, it was all my fault. While explaining the planner, I should have stated who does what.  So it makes sense to add a `Who does what' column to your planner, so the SME has a clear understanding of his roles.



Watch out for jargons –

Once while working with an SME, I fell prey to a couple of abbreviations that had to be used frequently in the training. I assumed that the lingo must be a well familiar one, and did not care to question him on it. After rolling out the training, we received a lot of questions on what those abbreviations were supposed to mean. And then came the truth – Looks like the SME’s predecessors had used it, and was just `passed’ on to the next `generations’.

It was my fault that I did not care to ask him for the expansion in the beginning itself. Lesson learnt – I always make it a point to set my fingers on any ambiguous terms and straighten all the mysterious folds.



Measuring the Success

Most of the clients might want to know how to `measure’ the learning rate. Explain to them the various possibilities your LMS (Learning Management System) can offer. Can your team send a periodic test scores to the managers? Great!

Give a Realistic Picture

Don’t claim your training will churn out a super human in every employee. E learning, like anything else, has its boons and banes. And some trainings just simply follow the rule of osmosis.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Alice in Wonder - e- Land

If not an Alice in Wonderland, every one of us instructional designers are Alices in our own wonder e lands. And just as in a movie and the book, and just as everyone of our clan, I have a rollicking time, fiddling around with the colors and scripts. So here's an allude to the `Alice in Wonderland'.

I can count up to as much as six impossible things before breakfast-

Number One, there is a potion that can make long and boring e modules short and smart.

Every learner wishes to hear this dialogue in the first three minutes of the course - "This session will last for 30 minutes". The lesser, the better. Though the Alices like to dwell in the wonderland for more time, people (the learners) like to be out in less than half an hour.  



It is therefore a good idea to get the magic potion that can help you shrink the size of your course timing.

For courses that refuse to get over in half an hour, take out your knife, and cut it into slices. You can of course ask the learners to bite the slices one at a time, spread over a couple of days. And they will love it!

Number two, a cake can make you creative, every time.

I know how tempting it is to hit the CTRL (+ C +V) button every time. But bid a bye bye to the pedant in the course. Get more practical. Show your learners pictures from real life. If you are talking about cleanliness in office, don't just talk, show them. The courses would definitely breathe more life.  Here is another example -

 



Number three - Anything can talk.

Get creative with your narration style. You don't always have to be that unseen and unheard voice talking prophetic stuff to the learners. Make the session more dramatic. The easiest way (and the one that mostly clicks) is to pick up a central character. And yes, anything can talk. A chalk from a teacher's board can teach the best practices involved in teaching, for instance.

In this example shown below, our challenge was to make the topic of `Protecting the Environment' a little more interesting. So we made the planet Earth narrate the whole course, as a personal plea.  

Number four - Mouse can smile

Where to give `Proceed automatically to next slide' and where to give `Cleck by the user' is a definite conundrum for we Alices. O yes, the one on the navigation instructions is a separate book by itself. But do bear in mind that life in an e learning module goes certainly beyond the `Click next to proceed further'.



Number five - There’s a place called wonder- e – land

And there are heroes to save me.I always bump into the elearning heroes for any help or practical advice (yes, free templates included :) ).



They are here at http://community.articulate.com/

Number Six – I can slay the Chatterwokey dragon

If it was Jabberwockey that Alice had to fight with, we e Alices have to fight with the Chatterwockeys... Courses which just have a lot of chatters, with less of `learnable content'. They ultimately drone the learner to sleep and kill all your hardwork. Slay the Chatterwokey dragon and save your learners! 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Stone Porridge

The Stone Porridge

Once, a man who was visiting a new village felt very hungry half way through his journey. He knocked at the doors of many houses, but the response was very unwelcoming. So he decided to change his strategy. He knocked the next house, and asked for food. When declined, he said, “Phew, and I thought you were lucky enough to learn the magic recipe from me”. This intrigued the house wife. “What magic recipe?” she asked.  He replied in an enchanting tone, “Did you know that you can make porridge out of stones?”

In a matter of seconds, she got the stones, and the man set into action. He took water in a pot, and added the washed stones into it for cooking. “You know what?” he said, “This tastes even better with a little milk”. Who doesn’t like good food? So the lady was quick to give him the milk. “And now, a little bit of rice or semolina to give it a rich texture.  Of course, what’s porridge without sugar?” he said.



Once the ingredients were cooked properly, he said, “The porridge is ready”, while throwing away the stone from the cooking pot.

______________________________________________________________________

It’s time again for our annual staff meeting day.  The dance team decided to meet up after office to brainstorm on the show. I joined them too. Now don’t ask me what I’m doing in this group. My dancing career started and ended in UKG.

And here I am, after crossing more than quarter of my life, in a `Dance’ team. But don’t think that it was that dumb a team. I was probably the only black sheep. Others did have a decent little dance career to discuss (if not boast) about.

The team managed to churn out a song and now, the big challenge was choreographing. And what am I seeing in front of me? Even the trained dancers were clueless how to start. Call it starting trouble! Some could `imagine’ the step, but not do it, and some other person could tell what was wrong, but could not figure the right way.


This is when I adopted the stone porridge approach. “What about doing this step?” I asked. I just swirled my hands to make a somewhat `dancy’ step, and it clicked.



It meant a great start to the much distressed, starting trouble plagued group,  that they unanimously agreed.  “Hey. Let’s start with that”, said one of the girls. Once the ice was broken, the choreographer inside everyone bloomed to the full. So, on the third day, my task was to remove the stone from the porridge. And the team was quick enough to replace it with a more graceful step.

_________________________________________________________________________________________ 


Whenever my team deals with a new topic, and is puzzled on where and how to make a start, the stone porridge approach has worked great. Start with a crappy idea, and let it just go on. It’s good enough to clear off the writers’ block, and usher in fresh and creative ideas. At the end of the day, just take away the stone, and your delicious porridge is ready!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Story of an E Card

Among the many crazy things our team does, designing birthday cards is the biggest brain teaser.
So the big challenge here, is to develop a birthday gif file of a colleague. The bigger challenge is to come up with a novel idea for all the 130 (and growing) employees, every year. And the biggest challenge is, to email the `final’ output within an hour.



Designing an e birthday card with pictures of our colleagues had no direct ROI. But we still love doing it. The brightest reason being, its nice to cheer someone on his / her birthday. Putting it in the lingo of Organizational behavior, `It helps to boost employee morale’.
But from the `Content Solutions’ perspective, e card design is a valuable brain teasing exercise. We have to come up with a quick and impressive unique idea and a card. What colors to choose, what is the story, searching for the exact pictures… all in the luxury of one hour.
And the reward? `Good job’ mails, a thank you mail from the birthday boy/ girl, and most importantly, the satisfaction of displaying a creative extravaganza. (O Yes, the birthday treat is an inevitable pleasure!)

Last week, our team got a good volume of applause for designing an e card. There are days where we have spent hours and hours on the design. But with this one, all we took was half an hour. But the `wow’ factor was for the novelty of the idea.
Photobucket

So I thought I will share this with you all, and how we made the card.



The design is of course inspired from Google. In order to emulate the Google page, we took a screenshot of a typical Google search, and re built the `personalized elements’ in Power point. Having the exact fonts and structure did the trick.



Lastly, we take a screenshot of all the slides and convert it into a gif output using Adobe Image Ready.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Love at First Sight LOOK - Some Easy Tips to Design Your Course Template

Making the audience fall in love with the module at the first sight is probably every ID’s dream. Converting dry and dowdy text input to a flashy looking module is probably the biggest challenge for us. Let’s explore ways to add more fun to our courses -

Building a Thematic Template
If you are looking for innovative ways of building your module’s make over, you might want to consider a thematic template. A thematic template is a look and feel which complements the content of the module.

For instance, here is a dummy module page that I have created –
The module aims to discuss some eco-friendly ways of life, and this module is built on a `green trail’ theme.



I have given a site trail map at the onset to let the learner know the key learning objects and the approximate time that he/she will have to spend. This way, we get to avoid stereotyped and allergic terms like `Module Objective’, `Time Taken’, `Test’ and `Key areas for discussion’. The `Trail’ theme also sets an adventurous spirit for the module.

Rollicking Themes
If using a thematic color scheme is a clich├ęd idea, then just go for a fresh and good looking template. The advantage of a generic theme is that you may `pre-build’ them (whenever you get free time), and use them to build modules as quick as a wink.

Let’s say our challenge is to build a product demonstration course. I have experimented with a carnival theme to avoid the routine `website-like’ feel. So, the module `ELX Trade Fair’ is a fun filled carnival place to explore and learn the company ELX’s products.

Here is how the opening page looks like –



Each of the items will branch into their respective slides -



This way, our audience will find the experience more refreshing.
Here are four golden tips while building your template in a Power Point (I owe a great deal of gyan to Tom Kuhlman, my e learning guru) –
Rule No. 1 – Use the Slide Master
View > Slide Master
Bingo! Amateur IDs tend to copy paste the slides instead of using the slide master. Using a slide master considerably reduces your file size.

Rule No. 2 – Use Two PPTs
Do not use the power point where you `built’ the template as your project file. This will only add to your project size.
For instance, your `template building file’ will have all the objects as shapes –

Once you are done building it, now open another PPT, and copy the template items and then paste it into a fresh file, as a png image.
Step 1



Step 2 -

Rule No. 3 – Use Place Holders in your Slide Master
Using a place holder allows you to be flexible with the text part.
To insert a place holder, first go to View > Slide Master. Now, select the slide layout -


Now you can insert the place holder –


Rule No. 4 – Master Title Style
If you don’t intent to use a master title in your template, don’t delete it. Instead, move it above the visible area like this – This becomes useful when your project has complex branching scenarios and hyperlinks –

Creativity knows no bounds. We can go as far as we (and our learners) can challenge us. 
(If you would like to use the template for your e learning course, shoot an email to me (Poornima.Ramachandran@fci.com) and I will be glad to share it with you).

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The e-Altruistic Resolve

As my eyes were ambling through an e issue of The Economic Times, something caught a second glance - Sudeshna Sen’s blog titled ` Philanthropy – Take It From Me’. (http://blogs.economictimes.indiatimes.com/LettersfromLondon/entry/philanthropy-take-it-from-me)

The question in the microscope was `"Why are Indians so bad at giving?". To quote her, “The need for financial security outweighs the need to feel charitable, except for religious or economic purposes. Besides, Indians have this insane need to 'provide' for the next generation that, in turn, generates those fabulous savings rates that are the envy of the developed world. If you had to pay inheritance tax, like in UK, you wouldn't be saving up as much as you do.”

Very true, I agreed. We so much hold back from giving. While the `mango man’ might be willing to dole out money for charring crackers to glory in a local temple festival, or save up all his whittles to gold-plate his daughter on her wedding, philanthropy has always been thought of as a reprehensible act, reserved only for the pompous and flamboyant filthy rich.

Forget the real world, let’s enter the e world, and I’m sure the phenomenon is more or less the same. We almost google for help as many times as we breath… but how many times have we bothered to respond to an online help query?

The thought did not rake my head until I once tumbled over Chris Grant’s blog on digital altruism (http://chrisgrant.wordpress.com/). He describes digital altruism as “a deep-seeded need to do good in the world and how, thanks to new technologies, we can be a part of something bigger than ourselves from anywhere in the world, transcending the market and our own self-interest.” Lo and behold, the whole world is at its altruistic best, and where am I?

So yes, I belong to the major chunk of Indians who are `digital-altruistically’ impaired. I shamelessly google for help, initiate discussions, accept helpful responses from people in some other continent. But never have I bothered to give my two cents (or even a quarter!).



Time for me to emulate my teammate Sayuj, who has resolved to do as many `digital altruistic’ acts as possible during free time.
Okay… so who’s hit the help button today?