Entries by Ryan Moore

Hosting High Traffic LearnDash Sites

Update: Please note that this post is a summary of tests we conducted to assess the number of simultaneous learners a site can support, not total learners in a system. LearnDash can accommodate tens of thousands of users in the database, but most hosts can’t accommodate that number of learners being on the site at the same time. The tests in this article were to assess how many simultaneous learners the hosting plans could accommodate. At Uncanny Owl, we’ve been building and managing LearnDash sites for several years. In that time, you might think that we’d have a hosting solution for every possible type of LearnDash site, but we simply don’t. We have LearnDash sites on Flywheel, WP Engine, Cloudways, Kinsta, even Digital Ocean and Vultr instances. We set each site up on a platform that’s a suitable fit for the site and volume of learners, and generally we target accommodating 25 to 50 simultaneous learners. That might sound like very few, but we find it’s enough even for sites with several thousand learners. It’s just very rare for a large group of learners to visit the site and complete learning activities at the same time. As such, we target the site’s actual load to make sure our clients […]

Best Practices For a First WordPress LMS with LearnDash

We help small and large businesses create WordPress-powered Learning Management Systems. While every business might come to us with different needs, everyone’s early questions tend to have similar themes. Is a WordPress LMS the right fit for my needs and program? How can I deliver a great learning experience? We thought many of our answers to questions like those would be of interest to a wider audience, so this post captures what we generally recommend for WordPress LMS projects. Before jumping into any WordPress LMS project, we always make sure that WordPress is the right fit. It’s definitely the wrong choice for many projects! For programs with fewer than 100 users, a cloud LMS can be more cost-effective. I personally find that a WordPress LMS (like LearnDash or Sensei) works best for self-directed, linear elearning programs. Courses with a lot of video, text, images and downloads fit well, and it’s best for programs with relatively simple needs. Facilitated programs can work in a WordPress platform, and we’ve created and seen examples of some that are quite effective. Tin Can support is available, and while we have created several programs that rely on an LRS, I’m never thrilled with the outcome. My strong preference, if Storyline, […]

Case Study: English in 30 Minutes

We recently helped a client in the UK launch English in 30 Minutes, a new online learning program that helps students and young professionals improve their English skills. The site had been in development for a year before Uncanny Owl became involved, with work performed by both site owners and 2 other developers. When we took over, functionality was lacking and there were multiples issues with both design and operation. Uncanny Owl’s mandate was to do whatever was needed to create a functional and engaging site that made it easy for people to learn English. Uncanny Owl did everything from copywriting and design to custom plugin development and implementation. Using LearnDash for LMS capabilities, we created a robust learning platform that can accommodate thousands of global learners. Issues and Solutions The site we took over was broken in a number of key areas. Because we didn’t know what had been created or how, we ended up abandoning the existing WordPress platform. We were able to salvage some course materials, like quizzes, but most elements needed to be rebuilt. While we never like to have clients pay to essentially perform the same work twice, the state of the platform and our own […]

Setting up Zapier with LearnDash

LearnDash (the company) released a very exciting update on Wednesday that allows LearnDash (the plugin) to talk to over 300 third-party applications. This means that key LearnDash events, like course enrolments and completions, can now trigger actions in other applications, like adding a learner to a mailing list, sending an email, creating a help desk ticket and more. LearnDash uses Zapier to talk to other integrations, and it works really well—once you understand how to do it. We were a bit too excited by the Zapier release and installed it as soon as it was available, and before instructions had been posted. This caused some initial confusion, both for us and one of our clients (who also wanted to jump on board). To make things a little easier, we created the screencast below to walk through the process of setting up your first zap. We hope that was helpful! Over the next few months we’ll be building new zaps for ourselves and our clients. If we come up with anything interesting, we’ll post it here!

We’re Hiring!

Uncanny Owl is looking for an experienced WordPress Developer to join our team on a full time or contract basis. We need help with all development stages of WordPress projects, including creating and customizing complex plugins, modifying and styling themes, and even some front-end design. Experience developing large membership sites and previous work with WordPress LMS tools (e.g. LearnDash and Sensei) would be a huge benefit. A Toronto-area candidate is preferred but your skill set is more important than your location. For more information and to apply, click here. No agencies or companies, please.  

WordPress LMS Survey Results

As part of our work with WordPress LMS solutions, we tend to deal with the higher end of the market, which includes small and mid-sized businesses with the budget for robust learning platforms. Our  focus means we unfortunately aren’t as connected as we would like with the larger WordPress LMS market, so we decided to conduct a survey last week to see how other people use products like LearnDash, Sensei and WP Courseware. We had a fantastic response from the community and what we discovered surprised us. We reached out to approximately 150 people by email. These people had visited the Uncanny Owl website over the last few months and provided their email address to us. None were clients. In fact, we had never communicated with any of the participants outside of the survey. Of the 150 people we invited, 16 people from around the world chose to participate. We asked participants questions about how they used WordPress LMS plugins, their programs, their audience, their issues and more. Responses were candid and the people who participated seemed to appreciate the opportunity to be heard. Here are the findings that we found most interesting: Almost half (44%) of participants used, or planned to use, […]

A Beginner’s Reaction to Using WordPress LMS Plugins

As experienced users of WordPress LMS plugins like LearnDash and Sensei, we at Uncanny Owl sometimes overlook the challenges that new users face when building a learning-enabled website. Documentation and support for LMS plugins vary widely, and for many small businesses interested in delivering learning, both their knowledge of WordPress and instructional design may be quite limited. To reconnect with how new users experience WordPress LMS products, we thought it might be a fun experiment to set an inexperienced WordPress user up with a basic site that only included a theme and an LMS plugin, since this is how many businesses approach LearnDash projects. Our tester had only very basic WordPress experience and we set up separate WordPress instances with LearnDash, Sensei and WP Courseware. We provided only minimal guidance to get things started, but did make plugin documentation and support resources available. Our tester was assigned the basic task of setting up a course with each plugin, adding some simple lessons and setting up a quiz. After experimenting for a few hours with all 3 LMS tools, we asked her to write a summary of her experiences. What follows are her observations. “I started with Sensei and did some […]

Drip LearnDash Lessons by Group

We were very excited to see lesson dripping by calendar date in the most recent LearnDash update. It’s an easy way to unlock course materials for all learners on a specific date. But what about time-bound courses delivered to multiple groups? It’s common in school and other facilitated programs to have a set of students start on one day, have course materials released every week, and then have other groups start the program later. For anyone wanting to use LearnDash in this scenario, the Drip Lessons by Date functionality won’t work, because selecting a date means that date applies to everyone. That approach won’t work for some of our clients, so we put our own spin on the LearnDash drip feature. What we did was add a field for a LearnDash group selection above the calendar date field for dripping content. The drop-down list retrieves a list of all LearnDash Groups and current drip dates (if any exist). Once a group is selected, the admin can identify a unique drip date for that group and save it. Here’s a video that goes into a bit more detail about our approach and how it works. Right now we’ve decided against making […]

Breadcrumb Navigation for LearnDash

Out of the box, navigating complex courses in LearnDash can get confusing. With potentially dozens of topics, lessons and courses, it’s easy to get lost. Sidebar navigation helps, but it’s mainly for navigating within the same level rather than getting back to higher levels. What’s missing for some courses is context and being able to go up levels easily. We ran into this challenge with a recent LearnDash project. What it needed were breadcrumb links, but without customization, theme breadcrumb generation is broken for LearnDash. The problem is WordPress usually thinks that the parent of every course, lesson and topic is “Home”. For most applications, this makes breadcrumbs almost useless. To address this shortcoming, we created a plugin that makes it easy to navigate up levels by using breadcrumb links. Just as you would expect, every topic rolls up to a hyperlinked lesson, which rolls up to a hyperlinked course, which rolls up to a course dashboard. And at the top level is, of course, the homepage. We know breadcrumb navigation for LearnDash would be useful to a lot of learning projects, so we’re making the plugin we created available below. There’s no cost to use it, but there’s also no support! If […]

WordPress Developer Needed

Right now we’re really busy at Uncanny Owl, so we’re building out the team to improve our capacity and capability. That means we have an immediate need for a part-time WordPress developer, ideally in the Toronto area. We need someone who’s done a lot of work with WordPress customizations. Great PHP and CSS skills are critical, but we need someone who’s comfortable interacting with clients and who can work independently too. If you or someone you know wants to work with us, check out all of the details at https://www.uncannyowl.com/contract-wordpress-developer/.

LearnDash Demo Site Update

We launched a big update to our LearnDash demo site earlier today. At first glance, the updates might not be obvious; after all, the site is less about look & feel than it is about showcasing what can be accomplished with LearnDash and WordPress. What you will definitely notice is that an account is now required to use the demo. While this does mean an extra step is required to use the site, it also means that it’s a lot easier for visitors to reliably test progress tracking, achievements and more. So what else has changed? Our old login page is gone; we had a handful of issues that we weren’t happy about and the new page looks nicer. Registration is very different now too, as are all forms across the site. All of these changes are, of course, included in new sites that we build. This also marks the first time we’re incorporating marketing automation (via Active Campaign) into a production site. Over the next few weeks we’ll be incorporating several new strategies that leverage automation tools to improve learning outcomes. (On a side note, we’re excited to be using Active Campaign; while it’s missing features we’d really like, the […]

WP Courseware 3.0 Released

Fly Plugins released a big update to WP Courseware on Thursday, bringing it up to version 3.0. The update primarily brings enhancements to quizzes that help to bring it more in line with what competitors like LearnDash and Sensei are offering. Question pools, randomization, timed quizzes, feedback and more are all now available. The video below outlines some of the highlights. If you already have a WP Courseware site, you’ll notice a number of changes to quizzes after you upgrade. The quiz creation interface is quite different; everything is divided into tabs. Of course, there’s still essentially only one type of graded question—multiple choice—but at least more quiz options are available. On the end user side, really the only difference that’s visible is a new button to download quiz results as a PDF file. Still, it’s nice to see an update; there haven’t been many over the last year (the official change log still doesn’t reflect the last 2). The most recent updates were actually sponsored, so perhaps Fly Plugins is slowing down the active development of new features. It’s also worth noting that prices are going up on WP Courseware in about 2 hours. What they’re going up to hasn’t […]

LearnDash Review Revisited

A few months ago, Ken wrote a brief review of his experiences using LearnDash to develop Grade Hacks, Uncanny Owl’s study skills program. It remains our second most-visited page on this website and attracts a lot of traffic for people searching for LearnDash reviews. Since that article was originally published 6 months ago, LearnDash has gone through a number of big changes, including the release of version 2.0. Ken’s original article is now outdated in a number of areas and we thought it was time to revisit some of the problem areas to see where things stand in the current release (2.0.3 at the time of writing). Navigating between courses, lessons, topics and quizzes was a significant source of frustration for us early on, especially while developing large training programs. In the version of LearnDash used for the article, courses, lessons and quizzes (standard and advanced) were very distinct objects and navigation between related items was difficult. In the most recent version of LearnDash, everything is now grouped under a single LearnDash entry in the WordPress admin interface, the 2 quiz components were combined, and course objects now include related items on the editing screen (made possible by LearnDash now […]

WordPress LMS Showdown: Sensei vs. LearnDash

I recently decided to build a new LMS demo site with WooThemes Sensei, which gave me the opportunity to spend a lot of time setting Sensei up and integrated it into an existing site for this review. Since most of Uncanny Owl’s platform consulting work involves LearnDash, it was great to explore a different approach to a WordPress LMS solution. In this quick review I’ll discuss some of what I really liked about Sensei (compared to LearnDash) and where I  have concerns about using the plugin to deliver training. First, some history. Uncanny Owl started working with WordPress LMS products just over a year ago. At that time we did a very comprehensive internal review of what was available and settled on the one we platform we thought was best—LearnDash. We actually purchased a copy of Sensei to try over a year ago, used it for a week, and then asked for a refund after finding it couldn’t deliver what we needed. A lot has changed over the past year, however, and our excitement about some of the new Sensei features encouraged us to see how far they’ve come. Both Sensei and LearnDash do a great job of doing what they need to do: structuring courses […]

Instructor Led Training with WordPress

Facilitated training isn’t just for the classroom and complex Learning Management Systems. Even though WordPress learning solutions are primarily targeted at self-directed programs, it is absolutely possible to build facilitated learning with them. In this post I’ll share some of the ways we do this for our clients at Uncanny Owl. Let’s suppose you want to offer a 4-week paid course to the public. Each week, you want learners to go through some self-directed lessons (that include text, video, and offline readings), participate in online discussions with you and other learners, and then complete a weekly quiz. At the end of the 4th week everyone must complete a final test. If they pass the final test and all weekly quizzes, they’re issued a printable certificate. WordPress probably wouldn’t be your first thought when delivering this type of common course structure, but it should be! With a few plugins, like LearnDash as your LMS and a membership plugin, it’s actually quite easy. To build this kind of program, your first step is probably going to be to create 4 courses, 1 for each week of the program. You can then build lessons for each week that include your readings and video. […]

Keeping Client Sites Up and Running

At Uncanny Owl we do everything we can to make sure our clients are happy before, during and after projects. We design simple, straightforward solutions that are easy to manage, yet the platforms will be do sometimes require periodic updates and oversight to stay secure and operational, just as any other software does. That’s why we build long-term relationships with our partners and help out proactively—so they can focus on their business rather than their systems. In the past we’ve managed ongoing maintenance on an individual basis. It worked, but coordinating everything on a monthly basis just wasn’t a good use of anyone’s time. As a result, we’re pleased to now offer standard maintenance packages to all of our clients—past, current and future. Packages start at just $100 and give clients the peace of mind that their systems will stay up and running no matter what. More information about the packages and details are available on our new Worry-Free Website Maintenance page. If you’re a client and have questions, drop us a note and we’ll be happy to help!

Chrome Broke Captivate

Do you retest your elearning whenever a browser update is released? If you don’t, a recent issue affecting Chrome and Captivate HTML5 content might have you reconsidering. I was recently on our LearnDash demo site and happened to notice that the sample lesson with an embedded Captivate module stopped working. The module simply wouldn’t load. Fearing the worst (how long had visitors been staring at a broken site?) I tried the page in another browser and, lo and behold, it was still working. I did a bit of digging, searching for recent pages with the keywords “Chrome HTML5 Captivate” and discovered a very significant issue that causes the latest Chrome release to not render HTML5 Captivate files properly. Shocking! And how many other elearning developers aren’t using Chrome or checking olds course regularly, so wouldn’t know anything’s broken, and how many others would know what to search for and discover the Adobe article? If you have publish elearning modules from Captivate 7 or 8 in HTML5, you need to visit this page and follow the instructions now. Try your modules in Chrome and see if they work. If they don’t, it’s not enough to drop the HTML file into existing content; […]

LearnDash Demo Video

Our LearnDash demo site has been great to give people a taste of what can be done with LearnDash, but for companies interested in using LearnDash themselves, it’s not enough. They want to get behind the scenes and get a tour of things they might have missed on the front end. To help companies develop better explore our LearnDash demo and get a taste of what’s going on behind the scenes, we’ve created a 6-minute screencast that goes over some of the highlights. We hope it helps in your evaluation and use of LearnDash! Check out our LearnDash demo screencast below. Make sure you watch it on YouTube or in full-screen mode so you can read everything!

11 Reasons Hosting Your Own LMS Beats the Cloud

Businesses that need easy, out-of-the-box systems to deliver training online are increasingly turning to Learning Management Systems in the cloud. Startup costs are low, they’re scalable, they can be deployed quickly, and many of them provide a great learner experience. For small audiences, infrequent learning or when simplicity is paramount, a cloud LMS is likely the right solution. But they’re not right for every situation, and for many organizations, hosting their own LMS is an overlooked—yet potentially better—solution to learning. We put together a list of 11 reasons to explain why we set many of our clients up with their own LMS (typically WordPress-driven) rather than rely on a cloud solution. 1. Your Rules With a cloud LMS you’re stuck with what’s offered. Customization is generally limited to branding and some basic options, which may or may not include the functionality you really want. Want to mix facilitated sessions with self-directed modules? Maybe integrate event planning, webinars, ecommerce and social sharing? What about custom automated emails and reporting? With your own WordPress-based LMS, like the ones we offer our clients, you’re only limited by your imagination. Choose from thousands of widely-tested plugins to add capabilities or dig into the code and […]

WordPress LMS Guide and Kit

Selling training online is really hard to jump into. There simply isn’t a lot of consolidated information available; after narrowing your selection of platforms, Learning Management Systems and authoring tools, you still have to learn them all—and then create the actual content. Then there’s ecommerce, marketing, maintenance… the list goes on. It’s simply a lot of time and learning for businesses to invest and the guidance that’s needed is scattered and incomplete. Maybe what’s needed is a comprehensive guide to get businesses off on the right foot. That’s why, in November of this year, we’re planning to publish the first resources that will help businesses get from wanting to sell learning to seeing training sales deposited into their bank accounts. From installing WordPress to program planning to learner evaluation and marketing, we’ll collect the key knowledge businesses need to launch and sell expertise. To get to that point, however, we need your help. We want to know you’re interested. We want to know what you want covered in the book. If you’ve struggled with getting your training online, we want to hear about your issues. Use the form below to sign up for book news and show your interest. If […]

Slashing LearnDash Consulting Costs

LearnDash is a great low-budget LMS, but getting it (and WordPress) set up just the right way can be surprisingly time-consuming and complex. More often than not, customizations and complementary tools are needed to deliver the right user experience. For someone jumping into WordPress, an LMS and PHP for the first time, it can all be a bit overwhelming. That’s why so many companies turn to Uncanny Owl, and it’s why LearnDash now represents about 40% of our work. Many people choose LearnDash because of the low price and simplicity compared to other Learning Management Systems. Going from a LearnDash license to a live website requires a lot of work, however, and the $5,000 to $10,000 price for a typical LearnDash implementation with Uncanny Owl was a barrier to many companies. Of course, that’s a small price to pay for the companies that spent months trying to build their own sites before turning to us! With so many LearnDash projects behind us, however, we’ve come to realize that most of our clients want the same things. They want lots of placeholders with lots of content types that they can reuse; they want everything to look pretty and be user-friendly; they want it […]

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. […]

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 […]

Looking for Compliance Training?

Uncanny Owl can help! Compliance training is one of the highest-growth areas of workplace training and it increasingly needs to be about more than just checking off boxes. With a recent survey finding that the frequency of compliance communications increased by 51%, and PwC reporting more scrutiny by regulators and auditors of program effectiveness, compliance training is on every company’s radar. Our new overview of compliance training outlines some of the reasons that elearning solutions by Uncanny Owl are a great way to deliver elearning programs that reduce risk, costs and instances of non-compliance. More than just an easier way to track compliance training completion, our elearning programs let companies track performance trends and behaviours changes. They’re also fun and interactive! To find out more about how we can help with your compliance training, tell us about your project.

What BYOD Means for eLearning

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies are quickly gaining enterprise support and many elearning programs aren’t ready. In the past, elearning professionals could design and test for a handful of devices and be confident that their materials would work. That’s all changing. A 2013 Cisco study revealed that 9 in 10 Americans currently use their phones for work purposes, and 62% of companies planned to support BYOD officially by the end of 2013. In a recent article on eLearning Industry, I reflected on the effect BYOD will have on elearning. Design and testing will require significantly more attention, and testing tools like Sauce Labs and eLearningQA may soon become part of the elearning professional’s arsenal. Mobile and HTML5 will also figure heavily into BYOD elearning strategies. To find out more, check out the full article .

First eLearning Project? Start Here

A lot of our website visitors come from Google and are looking into elearning for the first time. I’m sure it’s the same for many elearning companies; new clients find you because they need web-based training, but they don’t necessarily know what’s involved or how projects work. We really want people to know we’re a trusted partner that’s looking out for their best interests, so we decided to put together some guidance to help businesses tackle their first elearning projects. To help businesses, Uncanny Owl now offers a free 7-day email course to introduce businesses to elearning projects. We don’t want to mislead businesses or sell services that don’t add significant value, so the email program we created is simply to help businesses make informed choices, whether it’s with us or with someone else. We cover whether or not elearning is the right choice, how to prepare for elearning, how to promote success, how to choose a vendor, how to manage implementations and how to measure outcomes. If you’re a business interested in elearning, sign up below to learn more about elearning projects! If you’re another vendor reading this blog and want to create something similar, we’re happy to provide […]

Pitching eLearning to Small Businesses

I’m still new to elearning consulting and marketing my business. My partner and I have a really broad set of skills, so we started off by saying we did “everything”, which of course meant that nobody knew what Uncanny Owl did. Worse, our networks aren’t that big (I was at the same company for 9 years) and we quickly discovered that all of the big corporate projects we could do in our sleep weren’t interested in an unknown company with a small team. Forget Google; they only found companies through word of mouth and existing relationships. Of course, even though we knew that, we continued to pitch to the big companies in big company language because that’s all we knew. That changed a few days ago. I went to my first networking workshop hosted by our regional chamber of commerce. My original plan was to make an appearance and find out what they do, knowing that there are very few big companies in the region and even fewer doing elearning. How much benefit could there really be in talking to small business owners? So I started the morning talking about what I thought I did (“I create online training for […]

Improving eLearning Usability

What makes people want to use your elearning? How do you remove barriers to learning and make your programs accessible? I recently examined these and other questions in an article on elearning usability published by trainingindustry.com. It’s available online at http://www.trainingindustry.com/learning-technologies/articles/improving-e-learning-usability.aspx. It isn’t hard (or expensive) to make your elearning easy to use and engaging, but it is something that needs to be planned. Good elearning should consider the quality of the learning, the quality of teaching, the quality of the learning environment and the quality of interaction. If you create elearning that’s strong in all of those areas and is relevant, learners will get more out of it. Your learner’s time is valuable and should be spent learning the subject matter, not your system. Testing for usability issues in elearning should also be on every learning professional’s radar. This is not something you and your team can do yourselves; you’re too close to the project, as are your other key stakeholders. Get testers who are representative of the audience, plan your testing, and make sure you observe rather than coach. For professional help with elearning usability testing, take a look at eLearningQA.com.

Cloud LMS Security

Thinking about using a cloud LMS? They’re convenient, easy to maintain and scalable. But how safe are they? I recently wrote an article for eLearning Industry about the security practices of cloud LMS vendors. What I found wasn’t particularly reassuring. With few exceptions, cloud LMS providers don’t perform security audits, they don’t deliver your data over secure connections exclusively and they store all of your personal and learner data (except passwords) in plain text. Using a cloud LMS product carries additional risk if you care about where your data is stored. One of our recent projects included a requirement that data not be stored in the U.S. Since all cloud LMS providers seem to host in the U.S., we couldn’t use any of them! Moreover, most providers use Content Delivery Networks to provide a better experience, which means they use servers close to your users to deliver your courseware and, as a result, your learning is potentially stored in dozens of countries. When you’re shopping for a cloud LMS solution, make sure you do your homework and ask lots of questions. Are their security practices aligned with your expectations? Your clients trust you with their information; make sure you can […]

For Discussion: eLearning Pre-Launch Testing

I need your help. I’m trying to get an idea of what elearning professionals are doing with regard to prelaunch testing. More companies are adopting Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) environments and making their learning more accessible, some by using cloud LM S products rather than hiding their learning behind firewalls and gateways that make learning painful. This should mean that learning is more vulnerable technically, since it’s harder to deliver the same experience across platforms and external servers can’t be as tightly controlled. But is it a problem? Are companies running into more technicals problems when launching to large audiences? I’ve never seen a big interest in (or budget for) significant technical testing of learning products. Developers might click around from a few browsers, or recruit a handful of users to test, but it’s hardly realistic when it’s a small group of testers (and platforms) doing manual testing. Moreover, with the increase in HTML5 over Flash for rich elearning output, layout and rendering issues should be on the rise because each browser handles things a bit differently. Tell me about your experiences and expectations in the comments. Does elearning need more performance and compatibility testing? How are you working […]

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”: […]

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 […]

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?

Hypothesis Testing – Finding Participants

Further to the last Uncanny Owl post, we’re finding it more difficult than expected to get certain groups to complete our surveys. We’re trying to collect data for our Canada Translates project, and to do that we need feedback from 2 groups – translators and businesses that need translation. Finding translators was easy. We just found a board that’s used by translators, posted a compelling offer, and waited for the responses to trickle in. That part was pretty easy. But where do you find random people who need translation? We’ve tried Google ads, our networks, targeted landing pages and more, but we’re still not getting submissions. Here’s one of the pages that’s not attracting interest or converting: www.canadatranslates.ca/canadian-translation/. How can we improve our participation rate? On a related note, here’s an important lesson that we learned: Be very careful with Google’s “Broad Match” option in adwords. The scope was far too broad to be of any use and we spent more on advertising than we should have. Multiple, targeted ads were much more effective.

Hypothesis Testing – A Lesson in Hacking

Last week we recovered from a catastrophic data loss with one of our hosting providers. This week some of our hypothesis testing attracted the interest of a rather clever script kiddy looking to mine Amazon gift cards. We’re having lots of fun online. 🙂 We’re currently trying to get feedback from translation customers and providers over at www.canadatranslates.ca. To do that, we’ve got some links and ads directing potential clients to surveys to collect some of the data we need to validate our business model. As an incentive to participate, we offered professional translators $5 gift cards to complete a 5-minute survey. A few people participated the first day the site went live but it wasn’t popular. Overnight on the second day, 40 surveys trickled in. This was pretty shocking – how did we go from 1 every 8 hours to 6 per hour? I looked closer and the submissions didn’t make sense. Values weren’t aligned with what we expected, email addresses didn’t match names, submission times weren’t too far apart… the data was just too suspicious. I took everything down while I investigated. Whoever tried to mine the gift cards did a pretty good job of trying to make […]

Hello World

Welcome to Uncanny Owl’s official blog! This is where we’ll informally talk about some of the things we’re working on and some of the things we’re learning. It’s also where we’ll ask for help from you.