Course Building Strategies

  Creating Learning Content   Planning Your Courses move Creating Learning Content right Utilizing Best Practices move Case Study Examples move right Using FlexTraining to Pull it All Together

  The Create Learning Content phase of course development is where you create actual online learning material.  You may decide to use external files, such as Flash movies, PowerPoint files or streaming video, or you may decide to enter your material directly into the FlexAuthoring content authoring tool. 

If you use multimedia files and image files, you will probably want to use FlexAuthoring to organize and deliver these files, and add required text and navigation. There are many ways to develop and deliver learning content when you use FlexTraining. 

Steps in the Create Learning Content Phase

  1. Understanding File Formats 

Learning content may be developed and presented in a number of formats. There are many options, and the choice of format is usually a tradeoff between ease of development, ease of delivery and effectiveness.  FlexAuthoring is the preferred method of assembling and delivering your content and can even be used to create lessons from scratch.

Below is a matrix of file formats commonly used in e-Learning projects with notes about the usefulness and utility of each.

Learning Content File Formats

Format Extensions Note
HTML .htm .html Fast delivery, easy to create.
Images .gif .jpg Keep images fairly small for fast delivery.
Flash .swf Dynamic, interactive.  Difficult to create from scratch, but many tools can easily build Flash from other formats.
Video/Audio Files .avi .wav .mov .au Very slow if actual files are used.  Need to convert to another format before using.
Streaming Video/Audio .wmv .wma Faster than using raw files, but students need a Windows player to view.
PowerPoint .ppt .pps Quick and easy development, but very slow delivery, and students need a viewer.
Word or Excel .doc or .xls Easy development. But content can be dry and "textish", and students will need Word/Excel to view.
PDF .pdf Easy development. Content can be dry and slow, and students will need PDF viewer.
Specialty / proprietary Various formats Slow, bulky, need plug-ins

FlexTraining's integrated FlexAuthoring Tool is not a file format, but rather a means to pull together content of various formats (especially text, images, video, audio and Flash) into a consistent delivery and tracking interface with built-in navigation and bookmarking.

If you did not license FlexAuthoring with your FlexTraining system, you will still have basic authoring functionality. FlexAuthoring simply adds a much wider variety of templates.

2. Subject Matter Determines Format 

Your subject matter will often determine your choice of file formats and how you will actually build your learning content.  For example, if you are training an audience on sales techniques and methods, you will likely want to use video as the basis for most of your lessons.  On the other hand, training customers on how to use a new software product would not be a good fit for video.  

In some cases, you might be in such a hurry to get your training up and running that you would develop content using text and images, where a better long-term choice might have been narrated video or Flash.  Fortunately, you can make gradual changes to your content after your project is launched without starting over or rebuilding an entire course.

3. Keeping it Simple 

If you are like most FlexTraining course developers, the primary goal is to deliver and track effective training in a timely and cost-effective manner.  Most developers need to take a realistic look at the people and resources available to them as they begin the task of developing learning material.

Sometimes people strive for complex, elegant training content where cleaner and simpler material would get the job done.  Here are a few questions to ask yourself about the content you are developing:

  1. Does the content make sense and flow logically? Ask a co-worker.
  2. Is it clean and error-free? Typos and bad grammar can distract learners.
  3. Is it interactive? FlexAuthoring's Learner Exercises make adding interactivity simple and easy.

Multimedia is a great way to spice up your content, but for many companies it is a luxury and might just as well be added in a subsequent development phase.

4. Shared & Re-usable in FlexTraining 

Many people are concerned about spending time and resources to develop multimedia files for use in one training system, and then having to recreate everything if they change systems.  This is an issue that should never come up.  All your image and multimedia content should be completely re-usable once it is created.

FlexTraining uses built-in libraries to manage your images, audio, video and other multimedia content.  In fact, your content files remain in these libraries at all times and can be used by as many courses as you like without creating additional copies or undergoing any type of conversion. 

This architecture provides total re-usability for your media files, both within FlexTraining courses and outside of FlexTraining if you should decide to use another training system at some point in the future.

5. Software/Document/Forms Training 

Online courses covering computer software, business forms or specialized documents would normally be best developed using a "screen-capture" tool such as Adobe's Captivate product.  These tools capture movement and data entry from your computer screen and produce Flash files as their output.  These Flash files can then be placed in the FlexTraining Media Library and combined with the built-in navigation tool in FlexAuthoring to create professional-looking training lessons. 

As a simpler but less effective alternative, you could take "still images" of your documents or software screens and save them as GIF and JPEG files, using FlexAuthoring to combine them with text and built-in Learner Exercises.

6. Soft Skills and Streamlined Video Production 

A course on phone-answering skills or sexual harassment might be termed a "soft skills" course.  These courses would not likely utilize screen-shots or document images.  More likely, you would shoot video clips of certain realistic scenarios involving your subject matter and use the videos in combination with text and navigation in FlexAuthoring.

Most video capture equipment and software will generate what's called raw video, which might be in a very large format such as "AVI." AVI-format video is too large to efficiently deliver over the web, especially in a training environment.  So you would likely convert the video to a "streaming" format such as "WMV" that consumes less bandwidth and does not cause the student to experience long delays.

Another alternative for video delivery is to use Flash to convert the video to a ".SWF" flash file.  This format is also efficient for internet delivery.  See the table above in the "Understanding File Formats" section.

In this example, the production steps would be as follows:

Capture videos with a common digital video camera (recommend using a tripod and decent quality microphone)

Edit your Video using an inexpensive desktop video editor, such as Studio AV from Pinnacle Systems.  Add transitions and titles for a professional look.

Convert your edited AVI-format video to a streaming format like WMV.  Or, use Flash to convert the Video files to a Flash format

Load the finished videos into the FlexTraining Media library for use in the courses you will soon be developing.


What you should have when you are finished

basic MM

As you complete this phase, you should have a significant collection of media items at hand, including:

1. Images relevant to the subject matter being taught.  Images should be cropped and resized to share the screen with headings, text, and/or learner exercises.

2. Media item files, captured, converted and edited as needed.  Formats might include WMA, WMV, Flash and others.

3. Media files in your FlexTraining media library, uploaded from your computer. 4. An updated content development plan document, indicating what formats (text, image, audio, streaming video, flash) you plan to use for each course and section.


Success tips for the Create Learning Content phase

light bulb training
  1. Most customers begin with modest ambitions for content formats (text and images, for example) to build their initial courses.
  2. Consider your audience and the software they have on their computers.  If your students won't have speakers on their computers, narrations will not be effective.
  3. If you have the time and experience to develop audio narrations, they are a low-cost and easy way to add another dimension to your training.
  4. If you decide to use video, choose small dimensions like 320 X 240 or perhaps 480 X 360.  This keeps file sizes manageable and leaves room for some text on the screen as well.
  5. For Audio, an MP3 format is a good delivery format which uses small files and provides good quality.  A WAV format sounds good, but uses large file sizes.


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