What BYOD Means for eLearning

BYOD eLearningBring 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

elearning projectA 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 some technical details. The sign-up form is integrated into a few pages on our website with custom code, but there are great plugins available if you have room in your sidebar. The form is linked to a Mailchimp list, which is where we set up Autoresponders to deliver staggered emails. The course content is all original; if you offer something similar, please don’t steal our lessons! 🙂

We hope you enjoy the course!

Migrating Manuals to iPads & Tablets – Part 1

offline ipadThe request sounds simple enough: take paper-based training manuals and turn them into something that’s iPad-friendly. There are lots of iPad apps that support formats like Word, PDF and EPUB, so how difficult could it be? The problem is that very few apps provide all of the key benefits of going paperless, such as centralized syncing with offline viewing, version control, embedded audio and video, easy navigation and linked documents.

Here were the client’s requirements:

  • a simple development workflow that avoided complicated and expensive authoring tools
  • the ability to push out updated guides automatically
  • offline viewing when no internet connection was available
  • embedded videos
  • links between guides

First Attempt, First Failure

We started with a Word to Adobe Acrobat workflow. This lets authors create everything they need, publish to PDF and then add multimedia and hyperlinks in Acrobat with minimal training. To take care of automatic updates and offline syncing, we decided to use Dropbox. It pushes files out automatically when an internet connection is available and “favourite” files are available offline. Dropbox also supported embedded video (one of few PDF readers that did). Unfortunately, it didn’t support links between files, but that was identified as a non-critical requirement that we could work around.

This solution worked well until Dropbox released version 3.0 for iOS halfway through the project. Video capability was dropped. Where video used to be, a big white box now greeted users.

The Solution

The Dropbox update meant we had to find a new solution. Luckily we discovered Documents by Readdle, which supported syncing with Dropbox, video in PDFs, and, surprisingly, links between documents. Syncing worked, video worked, updates worked, and best of all, the app was completely free. Our Word to Acrobat to Dropbox to Readdle Documents solution worked and was well received by the client.

Of course, some tradeoffs had to be made to keep things simple and cost-effective. Content updates can be challenging because they require republishing Word files and adding multimedia and hyperlinks in Acrobat again. Our client expects very infrequent updates, so it works for our needs, but might not work for other situations. Syncing is also a bit cumbersome in that the Documents app has to be open for the sync to happen; it’s not as simple as just having the iPad within wireless range for updates to be pulled down. Someone has to open the app.

After developing this solution, we were asked to create an alternative for iPads that will always have an internet connection. Stay tuned for our solution!

Pitching eLearning to Small Businesses

small business elearningI’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 large corporate audiences”) and had some awkward discussions. But I kept talking to people, and I kept listening to figure out if there was a way I could help them.

As it turned out, there was. The small business owners I met shared some similar traits: they had a lot of expertise, they wanted to grow, and they were open to new ideas. Some of them actually offered training and coaching locally. Others had products or services that weren’t easy to understand. These were all problems that we could help with! We can sell expertise and make things simple with elearning. Our big local competitors weren’t targeting this market at all and, as luck would have it, we’re one of the few companies with a lot of expertise in learning platforms that integrate an LMS with WordPress, which many small companies use for their websites.

So I changed my pitch. And now we have a few leads, a few new contacts, and some new opportunities to pursue. We even have a new services page to try to reach out to this market (we’re still tweaking it!). The projects and budgets may not be as big, but it’s an interesting market that not many elearning companies seem to be targeting.

Of course, maybe the other elearning companies know something that we don’t. We’re just hoping it’s the other way around.

Improving eLearning Usability

elearning usability testingWhat 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.

Introducing eLearningQA


At Uncanny Owl, we like to experiment with new product ideas. Our latest is a service called eLearningQA and it’s targeted at elearning professionals.

In our experience, many elearning companies and designers don’t have a strong grasp of testing. Learners are rarely (or superficially) involved in the development process, even though their use of the elearning ultimately determines a project’s success of failure. Moreover, elearning professionals typically do technical testing themselves using platforms and devices that don’t necessarily reflect what their audiences are doing. With the rise of Bring Your Own Device environments, mobile learning and bigger audiences, robust testing is becoming even more important. Unfortunately, many companies don’t have the tools or expertise to perform testing themselves.

We created eLearningQA to try to address that gap. It focuses on 4 testing areas to improve elearning programs: usability testing (is it easy for the audience to use?), cross-platform testing (does it work for everyone?), load testing (will our LMS go down when the launch email goes out?) and expert feedback (is it actually a good program?). Most elearning companies can’t do these things themselves, especially with objectivity. They may not have the tools or people to perform neutral usability testing, but it’s essentially that they really know if their programs are easy to navigate and use before launch. And how many companies can perform both manual and automated testing to make sure their elearning works on the 20+ desktop and mobile platforms their learners use? Or see how their LMS holds up when 500 learners are in there at once? Even if companies can track down people and tools to support testing, few will understand how to interpret the results and take appropriate corrective action.

Once companies start realizing the importance of testing and see how much it can improve programs, we hope they turn to eLearningQA. We can perform or coordinate all of that testing, and even better, we can interpret the results and suggest practical and cost-effective strategies to make improvements. After all, if companies have the opportunity to spend 3% of their budget to deliver a better program that improves learning outcomes by 20%, wouldn’t they consider it? We hope so, and that’s why we’re testing the market to see if there’s a place for eLearningQA.

Cloud LMS Security

HackerThinking 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 put just as much trust in your LMS.

Check out the original article here: http://elearningindustry.com/cloud-based-lms-is-your-data-safe-in-the-cloud

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 it into your workflow, and what tools are you using to give your stakeholders more reassurance?

Thanks for your feedback!

Free Tools for Learning & Training Professionals

In-class evaluation formIf 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!

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.

offline ipad

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?