Experiment in mp4 linking

What I do

Exporting Datastream Charts to PowerPoint

This is an experiment in creating and linking to mp4 videos. We’ve been looking at mobile learning options. What you lose in interactivity, you gain in availability…


Learning to play piano on the Internet

Good ways to learn stuff

The Swan Method is a new series of online piano lessons devised by Richard Swan, a London based musician and teacher.

Richard has an idiosyncratic teaching method which he has distilled into a set of online piano lessons. Basically it’s my favourite method, learning by doing. You learn a tune, and while you’re learning that tune, Richard talks you through how that tune was put together, and helps you understand the theory behind the music.

I took  a look at the first training video during the test phase. They are very basic,  but clear introductions to the keyboard, showing the names and positions of the notes.

Richard employs a split screen method, with a headshot in the  top half of the screen, and an overhead shot of the full piano keyboard in the bottom half of the screen, so you can see what he’s talking about. You can rewind and replay demos, and the site is built in WordPress, which makes it mobile-friendly.  Conceivably, you could balance your smartphone or mobile device on the keyboard, and play along, replay, play along again, repeat until done.

I’ll confess to being one of Richard’s piano students, so I’m familiar with his teaching method. He doesn’t expect students to learn to read music before trying quite complex pieces, and much of his technique relies on making you remember how a tune goes, or a chord sequence, rather than writing it down for you. It’s great for giving you the confidence and the musical building blocks to try things that you wouldn’t normally think were pieces for beginners, and you end up playing quite complex tunes in a matter of weeks.  I can now play some semblance of jazz after a total of twelve lessons over a year or so. However, I had one-to-one lessons, sitting at that very piano in Richard’s parlour. I do wonder how well his very personalised and tailored methods will transfer to an eLearning setting. Also, how can you measure success? He might get several hundred subscriptions in the first month or even year, but how can he measure his students’ progress, and how will he help them move on to more “difficult” pieces without the personal interaction afforded by traditional piano teaching?

All rather interesting. The music world is full of self-taught musicians, so I’ve no doubt that this will succeed, but I’d be interested to see to what level.

Informal learning

Good ways to learn stuff, Measuring eLearning, What I do

I hate stock photos, so here’s a pretty Datastream chart instead.

Where I fall down with most eLearning advice and practice is that it’s directed internally, towards employees or students, and not externally, ie, towards customers.  So, there is a plethora of tips and tricks and ideas for getting people to remember fire regulations, diversity policies etc which are all great, and probably work brilliantly. I particularly remember a conversation about framing a piece on fraud legislation within a detective story, which sounded like great fun for both learner and developer.

This isn’t, however, where I’m coming from. Most of my time is spent trying to work out how to deliver the maximum information about our productsandservices in the shortest time available.

Our typical user works in financial services, usually in a very fast-paced environment where she or he needs to make decisions quickly. They don’t have time to work through a detective comic or click around a screen: they want to know how to use RSI to analyze share performance; or what buttons they click to create a portfolio report for their clients, who needed the information yesterday. The market is bouncing up and down like a Harrods lift on the first day of the summer sales, and there are a hundred hungry competitors eyeing their desk space.

Our approach has been called “product help on steroids”, and I think it’s more than that, but it’s a good place to start. Our teams create short (by eLearning standards) courses, lasting up to around 45 minutes (PowerPlus Pro is…complicated). Within each course is a menu of topics. How you take the course is up to the user. If they’ve only got a few minutes, they can click on a topic and get a short elearning video that takes them through a typical task in about five minutes. As the topic is usually done in-product, the user can have his or her version of the product open at the same time, so they can follow the actions. The player allows them to pause the action, rewind, or  move onto another topic. We’re also experimenting with PDF takeaways so that users can have a reminder on their desks.

In general the user feedback has been very positive, but our issue now is that, given the rather stodgy image of eLearning, how do we get our lovely little topics in front of the customers, and (hopefully) cut our support costs by reducing the support calls?

More thoughts later…lunchbreak is over, and I’ve got a bunch of modules to QA for tomorrow’s launch.

Learning design: thoughts on French museums

Good ways to learn stuff

I’ve just come back from a holiday in Biarritz, which turned out to be a rather wet and windy object lesson in different styles of learning.

Our original plan was to kick back on the beautiful beaches, try a bit of surfing, and maybe stroll along the promenade in the balmy evenings to a dockside cafe for fresh fish and rough local vin.


It rained. And then it rained. And then it rained again. Then there was a bit of sun. Before more rain. For  a week.

The first rainstorm drove us into the Musee de la Mer, on the seafront. This was billed as an amazing interactive experience with an aquarium. The interactive experience was a little pricey, so we stuck with the aquarium option.  It was pleasant enough, but strangely for a modern aquarium, little in the way of interactivity – though we did get to coo at a baby seal and I took pictures of baby hammerhead sharks in the big shark pool.

Learning by doing

Hurrah! So we went to the beach for our surf lesson. Daughter went off with the kids group, and I stayed with the grown ups, feeling rather lardy and middle-aged in my pink surfing t-shirt and wetsuit. We soon worked out that the teacher’s English was about as good as my French, so I asked him to conduct the lesson in very slow, basic French, and the other student surfers were very patient and lovely.

The only way to learn to surf is to do it. The teacher made us practise the basic stance on the beach, and then threw us into the waves. When we fell off the board, we started again, with lots of encouragement and feedback on keeping our fesses up. This worked really well, and I managed to kneel on the board a few times before pitching into the sea for the millionth time. I can’t say that I enjoyed it, but I did learn how to fall off gracefully, and my daughter was nearly standing on the board after two hours. Even though it was hard work, it was a good learning experience.

Show and tell

The rain drove us off the beach for the rest of the holiday, and into various museums and “experiences”. The standard small museum experience went a bit like this.

  1. Visitors pay their money, and are directed to a small anteroom, where a DVD is played telling them a variety of interesting facts (in French) about the topic in hand.
  2. Visitors are then ejected to wander around the museum. Everything is behind glass. you can’t touch anything, and everybdy whispers.
  3. Exit via the gift shop.

At the Sare caves, we saw lots of pictures of bats. Baby bats are very cute.  The presentation is entirely a voice-over (usually going too fast for lazy English ears), plus a series of still pictures of countryside, a diagram, pictures of a cave and then..it’s over. We were treated to a son et lumiere exhibition where the group were directed to stand in certain spots, then lights went on, plinky-plonky music played, and a disembodied voice talked about pre-history, or rock formations, or water. The lights went off, and we moved on. The presentation ended with a bit of philosophising and odd projections of blinking cartoon eyes on the cave wall in front of us.

The museum of Chocolate actually played an English version of the DVD, which was nice. Except that Sarah the Instructional Designer fidgeted angrily at the bad translation, the dilatory editing, and the strange interpolation of old-school Playschool-like films of chocolate production lines (good) with still pictures of a cartoon cocoa bean in Aztec costume. I couldn’t help feeling that this DVD needed a presenter and a few interviews – perhaps something that encouraged the audience to empathise with the process. For example, the cocoa farmer could have taken us through the rather tortured process of picking and ripening cocoa beans and getting them ready for market. A supervisor or chocolatier could have taken us through the manufacturing process. It would have personalised the process, and made it more real for visitors.

 The chocolate memorabilia and machines were laid out in two small exhibition rooms, and we got a free cup of chocolate when we had finished (before exiting via the gift shop)

So, what were they doing wrong, in my view? The lack of interaction is probably advisable when you’re dealing with large groups, particularly if you want to keep costs down, but plonking visitors in front of  a projector doesn’t seem a particularly constructive way to teach. There was little opportunity to ask questions, no real explanation of how the exhibits fitted in with the production process and the emphasis seemed to be on pushing as many visitors through the museum as possible. Not sure if that’s a good experience, a good use of technology, or if many people return after they’ve nabbed the free chocolate.

Compare this with, say, the new Planetarium at Greenwich, where technology has been used to create interactive star maps and mission simulators that are not only great fun, but actually teach you something about basic astrophysics, and give you an idea of the planning considerations of a space mission. You also have real people: astronomers, astrophysicists etc talking to you, not a disembodied voice.

There was an excellent museum of Basque history and culture in Bayonne, that combined an interesting layout with fascinating artefacts (including a giant espadrille). Taking you from the original aims of the museum, through themed rooms on the Basque way of life, family relations, religion, death and sport (pelote – it’s like playground hand-tennis, only harder and faster), that left us feeling enriched and educated. There were videos that demonstrated various local techniques, paintings, and an old 30s film of Basque life that showed local dances like the Fandango (yes it’s real), and a real attempt to engage the imagination of the audience.

Badges?! We don’t need no stinkin’… Oh, wait, maybe we do.

Learning Management Systems, Measuring eLearning

Badges?! We don’t need no stinkin’… Oh, wait, maybe we do.

So, this blog talks about using badges to display a user’s status in an eLearning community – I suppose like the badges you get when you have donated 10 pints of blood (my dad is about to donate his 50th pint, and I’m pretty sure I’ve used at least three of those donations). I do wonder how that could be used with our clients. We’ve been concentrating on building the library over the past few years, and maybe we need to come up with some ideas about the internal and external learning community: do we need a community of learners in our organisation? What would it contribute?

iBooks authoring tool

Interactvity tips and ideas, Mmm...nice.

This iBooks authoring tool looks like a typical Apple product to me: lovely to look at, easy to use.  However, I started looking at the specs and the review in more detail. I’m not a Mac user, so I can’t comment on its performance, but the scope is rather limited. You don’t seem to be able to edit the file once you have uploaded it to the tool. You can add interactivity and polls, but how do you record the results?

Still, this tool, and the process for publishing to iTunes university look interesting. I need to investigate further.

Blowing my own trumpet

What I do

I don’t really intend to use this blog to blow my own trumpet (much – not when I have a small child to do that for me),  but I’m quite unreasonably proud of this:

Technical Analysis: Using the Relative Strength Index.

I’m afraid you will need to register as a Thomson Reuters customer, but we’re working on that.

We decided to take an alternative look at creating online learning for technical analysis in the financial field. We wanted to take our short, sharp approach and see if we could create a short module that told a user everything they needed to get started with a technical analysis tool.

So where did we start? The primary source was our SME responsible for technical analysis. The SME had an idea for some on-demand snippets on applying technical analysis in Thomson Reuters products. Somehow his draft scripts ended up on the eLearning team’s desk, and I drafted a script that had the presenter explaining the analysis, working with animations produced by our inhouse Flash expert.

The biggest challenge from our point of view was the combination of the presenter and the animation. Previous versions of these modules had an onscreen presenter who waved vaguely at the screen. This kind of worked, but the video team weren’t comfortable with the process. This time I took an idea from The Boss, who suggested we use the SME as the narrator and concentrate exclusively on the animation for visuals. The SME was based in NYC (he has since left the company), in the same office as the video team, and off he went to the studio.

It worked! Under strict supervision from the pros, he recorded a really lovely, engaging and personable version of my/our script. I’ll overlook the fact that he made changes during the recording that he “forgot” to tell me about. I’ll even overlook the seemingly endless back-and-forth, and stripping away of most of our special effects, because the end result was pretty good, and unique, and useful.

QR Codes – eLearning Blog Dont Waste Your Time

Learning Management Systems, Measuring eLearning

QR Codes – eLearning Blog Dont Waste Your Time.

I’ve seen QR codes, but didn’t know what they were, or what you did with them.

This very helpful blogpost pulls together a bunch of links and resources on QR codes, where to find a QR code reader, and their uses in education.

We’re still exploring the possibilities for making our modules available for mobile users (the iPhone doesn’t play Flash, which kind of hampers our activity in this area), but this could be useful in future.

Qualia Soup

Interactvity tips and ideas, Mmm...nice.

I really really like this You Tube channel run by an artist and secular humanist who uses animation and graphics to explain controversial scientific issues clearly and unambiguously.

I particularly like this overview of Evolution that demolishes many creationist arguments in under 10 minutes.

Qualia Soup has a lovely, slightly sardonic tone that manages not to tip over into sarcasm. His essay on the problems of “proving” paranormal activity with anecdotal evidence is a masterpiece.