Course Building Strategies

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

  This phase is where you utilize proven techniques and practices to help you produce the best content, with the least time and effort, leading to the best results possible.  Most of these best practices are not directly dependant on the provided technology, but you will utilize technology to support and implement each practice.

Below are selected practices which have, with experience, proven to have a positive impact on online training projects.  These practices tend to either cut costs and development effort, or improve the quality and effectiveness of the training itself, or both.

Steps in the Best Practices Phase

  1. Read the FlexTraining Management Guides 

If you have not already done so, read the FlexTraining Management Guide and, if you purchased FlexAuthoring, read the FlexAuthoring Guide, as well.  These are provided with the FlexTraining software in hard-copy form and will answer most all your potential questions about what you can do in FlexTraining.  In addition, review the remainder of this Content Strategies section and the FlexTraining help system.

2. Utilize the FlexTraining Authoring Tools 

FlexTraining comes with an integrated content authoring tool that lets you build individual learning screens that you can then group into lessons as you assemble your courses.  This authoring tool comes with four basic built-in templates, and if you also purchased FlexAuthoring, you will have over 20 templates to choose from.

You do not have to use the built-in authoring tool.  You can simply assemble your PowerPoint shows, Flash movies, PDF files or web pages into online courses, and FlexTraining will provide tracking and navigation.  Many customers have launched successful training projects and operated in this manner for years.

However, using the authoring tool, or FlexAuthoring, gives you another level of control and interactivity.  It provides more robust navigation and more detailed bookmarking for student progress.  It also lets you create content from the ground up without requiring any knowledge of HTML or web page development.

3. Interactivity Reinforces Learning 

Instructional designers tell us that the key to knowledge transfer and retention is interactivity.  If a student interacts with an online course, rather than just viewing it, he will retain the information longer.

There are many ways to offer interactivity within your courses.  Within the content itself, you can provide interactivity in formats such as PowerPoint and Flash.  Buttons, clickable icons and form fields are examples of interactive content.

If you use the built-in authoring tool, you can provide interactivity with an easy method we call "learner exercises."  These exercises can be added to most learning screens simply by choosing a template.  Each exercise consists of a question and up to four candidate answers, which you provide.  You can also include an image or a video in the exercise.  Multimedia responses are available for your selection for each possible answer.

4. Narration Adds Life To Learning Content

A voice-over narration can spice up your learning material with a modest amount of effort.  You can add a narration to every learning screen if you are using the integrated authoring tool or FlexAuthoring.  The steps are as follows:

A. Develop your content for each learning screen without the narration, using whatever text and images you choose.  You can add the narration at any time later.

B. Based on your content, write down a summary statement or two for each screen that will become your narration "script."  Don't repeat the exact words from your learning screen - your students can read.

C. Record your narration using a recording tool like the Windows Sound Recorder or a more capable product such as Sony's Sound Forge Audio Studio.  Record it several times, if necessary, to get the narration right.  Use a normal computer microphone.

D. Save each narration on your computer as a separate MP3 file.  MP3 is an efficient audio format that works well over the internet.  If the recording tool you are using lets you choose quality parameters, choose one from the middle of the pack (for example, you might choose "Radio" settings for decent sound quality).  Avoid CD Quality and Stereo settings - these options create larger sound files with little or no benefit. 

E. Upload your files to the FlexTraining Media Library and give each a meaningful description.  You can test them within the Media Library screens to verify that they look and sound as you intended.

F. Add the narrations to each learning screen using the built-in authoring tool.  Simply select the narration from the list on the screen.

After you have recorded and utilized a few narrations, you will see that the process is straightforward and the improvement in your learning material is considerable.

5. Smart Choices for Video

Video can be difficult to manage and deliver, or it can be simple if you make the right choices.  If you decide to take on the challenge of creating video content, follow these guidelines:

A. Record your videos in AVI file format.  AVI is not suitable for delivering video because it creates files that are very large.  But it is an excellent format for saving and editing your video and adding titles and transitions.  Other "large file" formats are OK as well.  Just don't expect to save video in a final, efficient streaming format right after you record it.

B. After recording, edit your videos in a simple, inexpensive editing software like Pinnacle's Studio AV product (there are many others).  After editing a video to your satisfaction, save it again in AVI format.  Use long file names that describe the contents of each video.

C. Consider converting the finished video into Flash format for use in FlexTraining using the Flash development environment.  Flash is efficient for internet use, and almost all web browsers already have the Flash player built-in.  This simplifies the delivery management process.  Streaming formats such as Windows "WMV" format are a decent second choice.  Streaming formats are bandwidth-friendly but require the student to have a player on his computer.  For most people, Flash is the best choice as a final delivery format.

D.  Upload your Flash or streaming videos to the FlexTraining Media library and add them to your learning screens using the authoring tool.  Do not load the "large file" videos which you saved in AVI format into FlexTraining.  These large files are not useful within FlexTraining - they hog bandwidth and slow things down.  Just keep them on your computer in case you decide to re-edit them another day.

6. Choose Images and Multimedia Carefully

In general, use images, photos, audio, video and other multimedia objects that:

  1. Support the lesson objective
  2. Are student-centered
  3. Build on previous learning
  4. Have useful and meaningful content
  5. Are consistent with learning principles
  6. Maintain student interest/attention
  7. Are quality images, movies, etc.
  8. Are complete and accurate
  9. Use appropriate terminology
  10. Are properly sequenced
  11. Are clean and visually appealing
  12. Give proper stimuli and enforcement

7. Consider a Pilot Approach

One strategy to consider would be the idea of selecting a single course to use as a "pilot."  The pilot concept means that you fully develop all the screens, images and multimedia you need for this single course, and actually assemble and deliver the course, before beginning working on the material for your other courses.  The primary benefit is that you will experience every step in the development process on a small scale.  This experience will help you work more efficiently when developing subsequent courses, possibly changing your mind about what kinds of material to use. 

Put another way, you might develop enough material for one course, view your resulting course, and then change your mind about what kind of text, images or narration to use. For example, you might decide you narration distracts from the on-screen text and needs to be shortened.  Using a pilot approach, you will only have to rework a small amount of material before you continue on with your other courses.

The verbiage in this "Content Strategies" section does not specify whether you will be building all your content at once or utilizing a single-course pilot concept. The decision is yours, but a pilot approach is an excellent way to save time and effort, and to produce course material with which you will be pleased.


What you should have when you are finished


As you complete this phase, you will have most of your content development work completed.

1. If you have chosen not to use the integrated authoring tool, you will have your content files (PowerPoints, HTML, PDF, videos, or other) uploaded into the Content Library within FlexTraining.  The Management Guide will tell you how to assemble these into online courses.

2. Assuming you are using the built-in authoring tool, you'll have a set of template-based learning screens, as well as images and multimedia suitable to your purpose.  Many of your learning screens should include learner exercises to provide interactivity based on the templates you selected.

3. You should have one or more online tests defined for each course, based on the built-in testing framework.

4. Narrations and other multimedia should be complete and loaded into the FlexTraining Media Library.  While the Content Library holds files for direct use in your courses, the Media Library holds the images and multimedia items you will use to build learning screens in the authoring tool.

5.  Learning screens should be organized into lessons and assigned sequence numbers within each lesson.  Changes to sequence can be made at any time later.


Success tips for the Best Practices phase

  1. As you build learning screens, use the preview tab frequently.  Also, quickly assemble your course and schedule it so you can view the course from the student module.  Do this early and often in the development of each course, so you can see how your course will look to the learner.  See the Management Guide for instructions on assembling and scheduling courses using the FlexTraining Content Builder and Scheduling Wizard, respectively.
  2. Keep video and images small for easier screen layout.  Don't make your students scroll down through a learning screen unless it is unavoidable.  Short screens make on-screen navigation easier for the learner.
  3. Test students at the beginning of each course (pre-test) and at the end (post-test).  This technique lets you verify that the online students are actually learning.
  4. If you create your own narrations, speak slowly and enunciate every word carefully. Most people tend to rush their speaking in normal conversation and to skip over syllables that need to be pronounced.
  5. Set realistic expectations with management about the timing for your training to go live.  FlexTraining is the fastest training development system available today, but you will still need to verify and edit your content carefully as you build courses.


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