Entries by Ryan

Styling LearnDash Courses and Lessons

As many of our LearnDash readers  will know, the popular LMS plugin for WordPress uses custom post types for course and lesson content. That’s great for people familiar with WordPress, since it makes adding and managing content easy, but many page layout tools for WordPress don’t recognize LearnDash objects out of the box. As a result, many users assume they’re relegated to the default WordPress editor. They’re not, and in the post we’ll explore how to use Visual Composer to improve the look and feel of your LearnDash materials. At Uncanny Owl we typically use Visual Composer to design WordPress pages and posts for clients. It’s a paid plugin, bundled with many themes, that adds a drag-and-drop layout builder and a number of content elements to WordPress. When it’s first installed, Visual Composer is only available for pages and posts, not the custom post types used by LearnDash. To enable it on LearnDash pages, navigate to Settings > Visual Composer in the WordPress administration interface and make sure “sfwd-courses” and “sfwd-lessons” are both selected. The screenshot to the right shows the relevant areas. The images below demonstrate what can be done relatively easily with Visual Composer that would take significantly more effort without it. […]

Top Study Skills Program Goes Free

We recently made the decision to adopt an open education model for Grade Hacks, our study skills platform. The program combines elearning courses, videos, downloadable resources, calculators and more to help high school, college and university students improve academic performance. The 30-day program has already helped hundreds of students achieve better grades in school. The shift to a free model was made for 2 reasons. First, we want it to help as many students as possible. Making it a paid program proved a significant barrier for many students (more so than expected) and we didn’t want financial means to stand in the way of students reaching their potential. The program covers many important strategies that aren’t taught in schools and we knew we could help more students than we were reaching. Second, the program ended up being a driver of consulting business for us. As a showcase platform on the LearnDash website, we’ve received quite a bit of traffic from organizations interested in building out their own LMS solutions. What they could see without registering, however, was very limited. By opening the site up we hope to further expand interest in Uncanny Owl consulting services. Even though we’ll take a […]

Uncanny Owl Turns One

Last June, Ryan and Ken founded Uncanny Owl to help companies improve training using technology—and we’re still doing it. Better yet, we’re still enjoying it! Over the last year we’ve had a chance to support some great local and international businesses. The Brick, the TSSA, the OCSTA, Transcription Express, ManchesterCF, Luminance, DisclosureNet, Envirogate and many more companies all use solutions developed by Uncanny Owl. From courseware to learning platforms to websites and everything in between, we’ve had the opportunity to work on a lot of interesting projects with a lot of interesting people. We’ve launched new products, published widely-read industry articles, and helped people solve learning problems. Over the next year, we look forward to even more collaborations and creating new programs that help more audiences improve their capabilities and expand their knowledge. If you were part of our first year, thank you for your support. For everyone else reading this, we look forward to future collaborations.

A Better eLearning Voice Over Workflow

Editing voice over work can be tedious and painful. For one recent course, we received a single 1 hour audio file from our voice talent that had to be chopped up and incorporated into almost 100 slides in Articulate Storyline. Listening to a 1 hour file, cutting it up and saving it manually to individual files for each slide is far too time-consuming, so I wanted to share our approach in case it can help other people save time editing. For audio editing we use Audicity. It’s free and works well. After loading the source file up in Audacity, the first thing I do is double the playback speed. At 2x the normal speed I can still understand what’s being said well enough to identify where slide audio begins and ends, and I can also make out potential recording errors. Listening to the audio at normal speed just to identify dividing points takes too much time. The best way to divide audio by slide and do a batch export is by using labels in Audacity. Start at the beginning of the recording and press CTRL+B (command+B on Mac). This creates a label; name it “Slide 1”. Now listen to the […]

Websites, LearnDash and More

At Uncanny Owl we do a lot more than just create engaging elearning programs. While that’s certainly our core business, we have completed some interesting work in other areas over the last month that’s worth sharing. We continue to get a lot of attention for our LearnDash work. We’ve helped both a boating company and transcription business set up LearnDash platforms and course content recently (names withheld because they haven’t launched) and we start another big LearnDash project next week. Most of our inquiries for LearnDash work seem to come from California now; a number of startups are turning to LearnDash as a low-cost way to develop Minimum Viable Products in the edtech industry. For basic hypothesis testing and model validation, it works quite well—even if some manual interventions are still needed in the workflow. If you’re looking to build your MVP and need some LMS features, we may be able to point you in the right direction or lend a hand. We’ve also been busy with some web development projects recently (which does tend to go hand-in-hand with LearnDash development). A few days ago we launched a redesign of ManchesterCF.com, a Toronto-based company that provides financial crime training and […]

Delivering Better Webinars

I recently participated in a webinar facilitated by a large elearning group that was delivered to about 1,000 people. It’s been a while since I sat in on a webinar of that size, and given the group’s industry and audience, I expected a really polished session that I could learn from. What surprised me most were just how many easily fixable issues still pervade webinars, even at the top levels. The problems started during the introduction. The facilitator was clearly reading notes from a script and stumbling through them as admin activities were taking place in the background. For scripted content, why are people still not prerecording everything to ensure a polished performance? If there’s no video and no audience interaction, the people on the webinar will never know the difference; they just get a great delivery. With the introductions out of the way, the problems shifted to the presenter and her interaction with the moderator. First the presenter had trouble gaining control of the webinar to show her materials (wasn’t there a run-through?). Then the lack of an audio check meant that the moderator had to interrupt the presenter to see if abandoning the headset and going with a […]

Screencast Workflow Best Practices

We recently created a number of screencasts for clients to support software training. As public-facing screencasts for enterprise software, the standards had to be very high. That meant 1 single person couldn’t do everything; we needed a professional voice actor, a software SME, and someone from our team to take care of instructional design and editing. While we’ve certainly created many screencasts, I looked online for workflow best practices for creating high-quality screencasts with multiple resources. Unfortunately, very little guidance and a lot of complaints were all that I could find. For this type of screencast you can’t wing it; having the SME record the video and then building a script around it just doesn’t work. And getting the voiceover work done prematurely, without proper planning, tends to mean rework. So what’s the best approach? While it might not work for every situation, we’ve developed an approach to screencasting that generally works well for Uncanny Owl. Here are the steps we follow: Plan everything. We start off by looking at the planned outcomes and objectives. What does the learner need to get out of the screencast? What’s the best way to achieve it using the software? This certainly requires a […]

How to Save Money on eLearning Projects

Sometimes the elearning solution you want costs more than you want to spend (or more than you can spend!). Balancing budget and scope is always a challenge, and the cost of elearning can vary widely depending on the context and requirements. According to a 2010 research report by the Chapman Alliance, the cost of a 1-hour elearning course might average as little as $10k for a basic, linear course with static media to as much as $50k for a highly interactive and dynamic program. In this article, we’ll look at some ways to keep your project costs lower when you work with elearning vendors. Make sure your goals and objectives are clearly defined before including any outside parties in an elearning project. What do you really need and what are the expected outcomes? Risk and unknowns are going to increase quote costs and potentially lead to expensive rework late in the project. The more you can define and prepare up front, the less you’ll need to spend. Keep everything as simple as possible. Use animation and interactivity sparingly to improve knowledge transfer, not just to look good. Think about what really needs to be custom and what existing resources can […]

Directory Experiments and Social Content Creation

We covered the launch of www.torontoelearning.com in a previous post and just completed some updates for April. Since stabilizing the platform, we decided to test it with a completely different market—regional track events. The new website, www.torontotrackdays.com, has already seen huge interest from the local racing community (250+ organic likes on Facebook within 6 weeks of launch!) and has become the most complete source of track event information for the Toronto area. So far, we’re very pleased with the results and its positioning for the upcoming track season. Toronto Track Days also gave us an interesting opportunity to test some new technical ideas that we can apply back to future elearning projects. (We’ve had a number of complex platform requests recently, so it helps to know how far we can push our sites with available tools.) The event calendar we used for torontoelearning.com wasn’t robust enough for the large number of events we required, nor the complexity filtering and sorting that users would need, so we developed a Gravity Forms solution. Now users and businesses can enter events, see them immediately and make changes as needed; all without our intervention. With so many early users it’s been a great experiment in […]

Toronto eLearning Hub Updates

Looking for the latest Toronto elearning events and job postings? Toronto’s elearning hub has had its first monthly refresh, so all of the new listings are now available online! If you notice anything missing, please submit them and we’ll make sure they’re included on the site. Torontoelearning.com has now been up for a month and we’d love to get your feedback. Is it helping? How can we make it better?