Entries by Ryan

Free Tools for Learning & Training Professionals

If you work in training, make sure you check out the free tools posted on our Free Learning Tools page. No-one should have to waste time creating common tools, so we did the work and made a few of the forms we use available to everyone. They’re all posted as Microsoft Word files, so you’re welcome to do whatever you want with them. You even have our blessing to remove the Uncanny Owl branding! Our Evaluation Form for In-Class Courses helps trainers assess Level 1 learning for programs delivered in the classroom. It can be quickly adapted to captured feedback on course content and the facilitator from your audience. The Evaluation Form for Online Course captures reaction scores for training developed online. This can be used for capturing feedback on course content and the approach to elearning. Our Venue Selection Form helps people choose the best location for hosting training sessions. With this form you’ll never have to worry about overlooking an important selection detail or having insufficient data to back up your venue choices. Right now we have 3 forms available but we expect to add more in the near future. We hope you find them useful!

How We Created Grade Hacks

Now that Grade Hacks is live, we’re excited to tell you more about what went into it. It wasn’t easy setting up a learning platform that lets us deliver engaging courseware at negligible monthly cost! Grade Hacks is built on WordPress. Cost and ease of maintenance were certainly big considerations as a bootstrapped venture, and we wanted to do as much work in-house as possible (at the time of writing, Uncanny Owl did all of the Grade Hacks work independently). Since Grade Hacks is a paid course, we used Woo Commerce to handle payment processing. LearnDash is the Learning Management System behind Grade Hacks. No WordPress LMS could do everything we wanted, but LearnDash came closest and Justin (the creator) was a big help when we ran into issues. We also tried Sensei but it didn’t have the functionality we needed and the Woo Themes support team wasn’t responsive enough. Of course, WordPress, Woo Commerce and LearnDash weren’t enough on their own to create the platform that we wanted Grade Hacks to be. We turned to WordPress plugins (over 40 of them!) for things like analytics, achievements, permissions, profiles, email, spam, performance, gift certificates, and much, much more. And even […]

Introducing Grade Hacks

Uncanny Owl’s first product, Grade Hacks, went live this morning. Our experience suggested that schools focused too much on teaching information rather than teaching students how to learn and succeed, so we created Grade Hacks to address this learning gap. Using interactive e-learning lessons, videos, downloadable tools, calculators, progress tracking and much more, we’ve created an engaging learning platform to help high school, college and university students reach their academic potential. We’re offering Grade Hacks at a special introductory price of only $25 until December 31, 2013. Check out the free trial to see what Uncanny Owl can do with e-learning. Everything – from platform integration to content development and tool programming – were performed in-house by Uncanny Owl.

When “Minimum” Trumps “Viable” – Risks of the MVP

Uncanny Owl is working on several new projects, and as a small startup, the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) model certainly has appeal. By creating and launching a basic product, companies are able to assess market interest, leverage the community to shape its future into something marketable, and minimize their risk exposure. It’s an inexpensive way to test new ideas and make sure you’re on the right track. Unfortunately, what we’re finding is that companies are overlooking the “viable” part of the equation. The “minimum” part is certainly important to limit risk exposure and test ideas early on, but if the product doesn’t focus on the “viable” piece too, you’re going to alienate your customers and potentially kill your product while it’s still in its infancy. Without naming names (since we’re clients and want to develop industry relationships), we’ve noticed this a lot lately in the learning-related products we’re using. We’ll buy products with interesting feature sets, only to install them and find out they’re not working as expected or are missing key components that make the tools useless. When we follow up, we’ll get answers about how what we need is coming next month or it’s on the roadmap but […]

Captcha is the thermal port on Yahoo’s Death Star

Yahoo’s captcha system is broken.  Horrendously, tragically broken.  Today, my colleague (who holds a Master’s degree) tried to sign up for a Yahoo/Flickr account.  On the last page of the registration process, he ran into a captcha.  After about five attempts to successfully enter the code, he started to laugh and called me over.  But since I’ve only got a Bachelor’s degree, I wasn’t much help.  We would both stare at the image, try listening to the horrendously garbled audio rendition, discuss the possibilities, then submit our best guess.  Unfortunately, even with both of us straining our visual cortexes to their breaking points, it took us five more tries to finally get it right…10 attempts total.  How many people would have given up before making 10 attempts at a captcha?  I’ll give you a hint: Probably the same number of people that choose Google search over Yahoo. I decided to go back later to try again because I really believed a company like Yahoo couldn’t screw up their registration process – something that is so vitally important to their survival.  The first time must have been a fluke.  Here’s what happened: First Attempt: Looking good?  No, “Please try this code instead”: […]

Experimenting with Explainer Videos

In further efforts to drive traffic to our site and increase search engine rankings, we’ve started to create and post explainer videos. The research certainly backed up the concept. Forrester Research says video on a website is 53 times more likely to drive a first page search result; simplified.tv says videos in search get 40% more clicks than text, visitors stay 2 minutes longer and are 64% more likely to convert; Techcrunch cites informal feedback of 15-75% increases in conversions. Moreover, we’d get a few more external links pointing back to our site and maybe a few views from video services. To minimize risks associated with cost and effort for what really was an experiment, we started off with template-based videos. With under $100 in spending and maybe 12 hours of work, we launched videos for Canada Translates and Uncanny Owl. They may not be exactly what we wanted, but the impression is still very professional and the messaging works reasonably well. Here are the videos: So what are the results so far? It’s only been a few days, so we’re not seeing any traffic increase yet. It’s performing well on Facebook though, with over 10 times more views than […]

An Experiment in Guest Blogging

Last week I decided to write an article on e-learning and see if a popular e-learning news source might be interested in publishing it. Even if it didn’t work out, I thought I might be able to get some feedback and insight on how guest blogging worked. And if it was accepted, maybe we’d get a little more traffic and recognition for Uncanny Owl. Because it was just an experiment, I didn’t put much work into the article. This may have been a mistake, because the article ended up taking off and getting a lot of unexpected attention. Viewed by over 1500 people in the industry, shared over 125 times on social networks, and heralded by the site editor as one of the most exciting things he’d seen for months, the response was overwhelming. It’s kind of exciting to see industry heavyweights cite your work. The experiment was undeniably a success. We’ve had almost 50 visitors check out our website as a direct result of the article, we’ve established more expertise and the quality backlinks will help our search engine placement. I guess it also means we need to write more… Any suggestions for new topics? If you want to […]

Finding the Right Tools

We’re still on the hunt for the right tools for the right workflow – and we’re failing miserably. With so many SAAS products on the market today, it should be easy to find something that fits our needs, right? Surprisingly, we’re struggling. We’ve spent the better part of 2 days looking for the right tool to manage client projects. It shouldn’t be that hard, right? Set up some tasks, organize them into a project, distinguish between billable and non-billable hours, track time, invoice clients, and maybe even give clients access to see what’s going on. But apparently nobody can get it quite right, and to find out what’s missing, these services need me to give them credit card info just to check out their products in more detail. So what have we found? A supposedly great project management tool doesn’t handle time tracking. Task managers don’t allow planning future tasks, and forget about durations, dependencies and non-billable time. Easy invoicing built in? Not if you’re in Canada. Another seemingly great tool won’t let us see all of our tasks at a glance – we have to drill down into 5 potential projects to figure out what’s going on at the […]

Shared Office Space

Sometimes you don’t really appreciate something until it’s gone. We recently moved into a new office space in Toronto. The space is quiet and private, almost the opposite of the cubicle worlds we complained about a few weeks ago. Uncanny Owl is in a shared office space that has dozens of private offices on the floor representing many different companies. It’s funny how “shared” in this context is anything but, and that approach surprises me. There’s rarely any interaction between the tenants and nothing is facilitated by the property management company. At the same time, they want us to keep our office as long as possible; turnover is expensive for everyone involved. So why not pursue every possible opportunity to build roots and reasons to stay? People won’t want to leave if there are friendly relationships or opportunities to collaborate. Yet for some unknown reason, it almost seems like socializing is discouraged – there was a lot of text in our lease agreement about not hiring anyone from other companies here and vice versa. There are no common areas to unwind, no directory of other companies, no facilitated introductions, nothing. It’s very strange. So here we are, lonely and highly […]

Offline Learning and the LMS

Uncanny Owl recently completed a project that required redesigning the interface for an offline iPad application that captures test data. It used Filemaker desktop and mobile applications to track test scores without any kind of network access for eventual consolidation and reporting. It did the job, but it wasn’t intuitive, it didn’t integrate with other learning data, and ongoing maintenance could be difficult. While outside of our scope, we did a little digging into possible alternatives for this type of scenario. It turns out that there really aren’t a lot of tools that support offline data capture for eventual upload into an LMS! The Tin Can API looks promising, but there are very few LMS options and authoring tools that support it, and those that do are very expensive (particularly for the capture of modular test data). There are HTML5 possibilities too, but they would require some customization to get data into an LMS. With all the interest in mobile learning, where are the tools that support offline learning? Yes, maybe something like Storyline could work, but 1 assessment question per screen is a big limitation for our scenario. What tools are you using to support offline learning on iPads?