Posted tagged ‘free’

Constructive criticism of Coursera

23 November 2016

Well it’s taken me over 3 and a half years, but I’ve finally completed another mooc.

I use the term completed loosely, because while I consumed all the content, I didn’t submit any of the assignments. In other words, I completed the course as far as my personal learning needs are concerned, while still feeding the naysayers’ MOOCs-are-a-failure-because-their-completion-rate-is-low argument.

The mooc in question was e-Learning Ecologies: Innovative Approaches to Teaching and Learning for the Digital Age by the University of Illinois on the Coursera platform. I found the Australian accents of the instructors a pleasant surprise, and the quality of the content top-notch.

The course revolved around 7 affordances of e-learning “ecologies”, with 2 presented each week. I have put the word ecologies in inverted commas because I would have used the term “pedagogies” instead. Nonetheless, while most e-learning professionals would be familiar with (or at least aware of) each of the affordances, I found it worthwhile to review them in turn, which also provoked deep tangential thinking.

Speaking of tangents, one of the instructors supplemented his presentations with interesting vignettes about his educational heroes from history, which I found both informative and engaging.

Pulp fiction cover entitled Amazing Wonder Stories: Cognitive Reality: Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and other stuff!

Despite my overall satisfaction with this course, however, I experienced yet again a couple of perennial bugbears. Accordingly I offer the following points of constructive criticism to Coursera.

1. Lack of instructor interaction.

I am sensitive to the “massive” in mooc, and appreciate the fact that the instructors can’t possibly respond to every contribution in the social forum.

However, I found their total lack of participation really quite odd, especially in the early days when I seemed to be the only one posting anything.

Given the subject matter of this course, it’s also ironic!

2. Obscure pricing.

It may be widely known among enthusiasts that moocs are free, but this fact is not widely known among the general population.

I’ve lost count of the number of times my colleagues have contacted me to double- and triple-check that the Coursera courses which I have curated for them are indeed free. Either the price (i.e. $0 or “FREE”) is not mentioned, or the effectively meaningless “Audit” is used in its place.

Coursera’s push towards paid courses – which, by the way, are not moocs – only serves to muddy the waters.

I don’t know if it’s due to Coursera’s genesis in Higher Education or for some other reason, but it’s evident they do not understand their prospective customers in the corporate sector.

Game-based learning on a shoestring

23 February 2015

Game-based learning doesn’t have to break the bank. That was the key point of my presentation at The Learning Assembly in Melbourne last week.

Sure, you can spend an obscene amount of money on gaming technology if you want to, but you don’t have to.

Take Diner Dash for instance. In this free online game, you play the role of a waitress in a busy restaurant. As the customers arrive you need to seat them, take their order, submit the order to the chef, serve their food, transact their payment, clean their table, and take the dirty dishes back to the kitchen.

Leave any of your customers unattended for too long and they’ll walk out in a huff, costing you a star. When you lose all your stars, your shift is over.

It’s all very straight-forward… until the customers start pouring in and you find yourself racing to do everything at the same time. Straight-forward rapidly becomes complex!

Diner Dash screenshot

While Diner Dash is just a simple little game, it can afford an engaging learning experience.

For example, suppose you incorporate the game into a team-building workshop. You could split the participants into teams of 3 or 4 members, place each team in front of a computer with Diner Dash pre-loaded, and instruct them to score as many points as possible within a given time period.

Of course the game isn’t meant to be played in this way. Controlling the waitress by committee is awkward and inefficient. The participants will panic; they’ll snap at one another; someone will commandeer the mouse and go it alone; someone else will butt in; and they’ll all start to talk over the top of each other.

But that’s by design. Because when the game is over, you introduce Tuckman’s model of team development and suddenly the penny drops.

What Diner Dash has done is provide the participants with a recent experience of team building. Sure, the premise of the game was fictitious, but the dynamics among the players were real. So when it comes time to reflect upon the theoretical principles of the model, they don’t need to imagine some vague hypothetical scenario because they’ve personally experienced a highly charged scenario that very morning. It’s fresh in their minds.

Hands around laptop

Other themes that could emerge via a game like Diner Dash include time management, priority management, customer service, problem solving, decision making, strategic thinking, adaptability and learning agility.

Another is collaboration. If you were to put a leaderboard at the front of the room, I could almost guarantee that each team would default to competition mode and battle it out for supremacy. But wasn’t the objective of the activity to score as many points as possible? So why wouldn’t you collaborate with your colleagues around you to do that – especially those who had played the game before! This observation never fails to enlighten.

So, getting back to my original proposition: game-based learning doesn’t have to break the bank. With resources such as Diner Dash available for free, you can do it on a shoestring.

How to become an eLearning Professional

19 November 2013

That’s the title of a free e-book to which I was flattered to be invited to contribute a chapter.

The book is introduced by the editor, Christopher Pappas, as such:

This is not your average looking, cliché reproducing, metaphysical, theory-loving free eLearning eBook. Do not expect to read any speculations, rhetorical questions, and abstractions related to eLearning. This is merely a powerful weapon in the hands of those who are truly interested in becoming the field’s Top eLearning Professionals. Make no mistake however. It’s addressed only to those with a passion for eLearning, eagerness to evolve, desperate to reach their potential, hungry for uniqueness, and ambitious enough people that want to make a difference in someone else’s life.

Cover art for How to become an eLearning Professional

The free “How to Become an eLearning Professional” eBook is filled with the knowledge, wisdom, experience and inspiration of carefully selected eLearning professionals, with long-standing, successful eLearning careers, innovative projects up their sleeves, impressive eLearning portfolios and even more impressive CVs. All of them create a highly influential eLearning team of experts, but each one has his or her own distinctive path, skills and know-how, leading to the creation of a multidimensional, and highly helpful for those who want to advance their eLearning careers, professional mosaic.

This can only mean one thing. What you are about to read is not some generic eLearning advice you could easily find in any “eLearning for Dummies” manual. This free eLearning eBook contains hot eLearning tips, secret concepts, specific steps and insider information that will help you become a top-notch eLearning professional.

No pressure then!

But in all seriousness, I stand by the advice that I offer in the book, and I appreciate the insights shared by my eminent peers.

I recommend How to become an eLearning Professional for newbies and veterans alike.


24 January 2012

Last year, Jeff Goldman published Free US History eLearning in honour of Independence Day.

I thought it was such a wonderful idea, I have decided to do something similar in honour of Australia Day.

I hope you find the following Aussie-flavoured e-learning resources to be informative, fun and “bonza”…

Australian outback on the iPad

Facts and figures

Come To Australia. It’s nice here. You’ll like it.
Where we live in Australia
ABS Spotlight
Australia, a nation transformed


There’s Nothing Like Australia in an App

Photos and images

Picture Australia

Great Australians

Australian Dictionary of Biography
Australia’s Nobel Laureates
On the Money
Heroes of the Air

Aboriginal culture

A History of the World in 100 Objects: Australian bark shield
Indigenous Language Map
Mystery object: Torres Strait Islands
Happytribe’s Aboriginal Dreamtime Stories
Australian History by La Trobe University

European settlement

Cook’s Endeavour Journal
Gold rush
Augmented Reality browsing of Powerhouse Museum around Sydney
The Great Depression
Australian History by La Trobe University

Military history

Make your own conscription poster
Gallipoli: The First Day
The Story of the AE2
The Bombing of Darwin
The Petrov Affair Webquest

The Arts

Design and Art Australia Online
Music Australia
Australia Dancing
Sydney Opera House: Education
Sydney Symphony: Learn and Explore

Science and Technology

Australia Innovates
Australian Geographic
Science Image

Mobile and Social Media

Statistics about mobile phone usage
Asia-Pacific Social Media Statistics
State of Australian Social Media 2011
Social media use by Australians


The first golden age of cricket
AUS Olympic Champions


Aussie English for the Beginner
World Nomads Australian Language Guide

On the Money

11 October 2011

I had so much fun creating Australia’s Nobel Laureates, I decided to create another simple interactive learning object.

This one’s called On the Money and it pays homage to the great people who feature on Australia’s currency:

Australia's Nobel Laureates

On the Money

Launch the learning object

Download the files

This time I used Adobe Captivate 5.5. I’m still getting used to it, but I see the residual rollover effects have been fixed.

I also used audio this time to increase media richness.

If I were to create this learning object again, I would probably make better use of Captivate’s master slide functionality.

Australia’s Nobel Laureates

27 September 2011

The Nobel Prizes will be announced next week in Norway and Sweden.

Despite a few controversial decisions over the years, the awards have retained their international prestige for well over a century.

In honour of the event, I have created a simple learning object that showcases the Nobel Laureates from my own country:

Australia's Nobel Laureates

Australia’s Nobel Laureates

Launch the learning object

Download the files

This object was relatively easy to produce, and it surprises me that there isn’t more of this kind of thing in the education space.

To remedy the situation, I would like to share with you the 3 steps I took to create my learning object, and in doing so demonstrate the fact that just about anyone can do it.

My caveat is that I am neither a multimedia developer nor a graphic designer – though my role often involves wearing those hats. There are probably better of ways of doing this, but the following worked for me…

Step 1: Create a bunch of image files

My learning object accommodates 10 Nobel Laureates, so I created 10 images in PaintShop Pro, plus a landing image.

On each one I placed the title and subtitle, the mugshots, plus the content that was unique to each laureate (year, name, prize and motivation).

I’m a big fan of layers. You may have noticed I put a background image on the base layer, then overlayed that with a semi-transparent blue floodfill, over which I laid an image of the Nobel medal, over which I laid another a semi-transparent blue floodfill.

Of course you don’t need to go to all that trouble; you can use a plain background. However I think the layering effect adds an aesthetic richness.

Once I got the first image right, I copied it and edited the unique content for the next image. That way I didn’t have to re-do the titling and background.

Step 2: Import into Captivate

After I got all my images in order, I inserted each one onto its own slide in Adobe Captivate 3, ensuring the canvas size was exactly the same as the image dimensions (in this case, 1024 x 768).

Then I added a transparent button to each slide to execute a pause, inserted a click box over each mugshot, then pointed the click boxes to their respective target slides.

Note: I tried incorporating rollovers, but residual effects were screwing it up. My friend and Captivate guru, Marnie Bristow, tells me this glitch has been fixed in the latest version of the software.

Step 3: Publish it

I could have done Step 2 in PowerPoint. If you prefer it and it works for your audience, go for it. However, there are some good reasons to shell out the extra cash and go with Captivate:

• You can publish in swf format, which is really small to download;
• You can add SCORM, if you are that way inclined; and
• You can also record system simulations, which is what it’s designed for!

When I published my learning object in Captivate, the software produced a swf file, an accompanying skin, an html host, and a javascript source. All four need to travel together, so I uploaded them to a folder in Dropbox, then linked to the html file.

My learning object files on Dropbox

You should be able to do something similar on your own web server, intranet, LMS or VLE.

By the way, I realised I stuffed up by making the learning object so big. While most monitors have a screen resolution of 1024 x 768 or greater, I forgot about toolbars and the like that compete for real estate. Luckily I had a couple of “get out jail free” cards up my sleeve:

1. Resize the project in Captivate; or
2. Edit the dimensions of the object in the coding of the html file.

I decided to go with the latter because, if someone wants to use the bigger object, I might as well let them.


So there you have it: How to create an interactive learning object in 3 steps.

Hopefully you are brimming with ideas about your own learning objects that you will make.

And if an Australian wins a Nobel Prize next week, I won’t mind updating mine. In fact, I have my fingers crossed!

The 2 sources of freebies

2 August 2011

A little while ago I attended the latest Learning Cafe in Sydney. The theme this time around was Learning in a cost conscious environment.

We’ve all seen it with our own eyes: when a company hits hard times, its training budget is one of the first casualties.

Bob Spence rightly pointed out that the training function is often seen as a cost rather than an investment. To counter-act that perception, the L&D team must do a better job of demonstrating its worth to the business in terms of performance and, ultimately, profit.

Stack of money

We all nodded in agreement and a lively discussion ensued on how we should go about doing that.

However in the back of my mind I was empathising with the poor bunnies who are stuck now with slashed training budgets. What can they do about their current reality?

Of course the remedy is simple: spend less. The challenge is doing that without compromising value.

While there are many pieces to this puzzle, I think an oft-overlooked one is the exploitation of freebies. Freebies are everywhere, just waiting to be gobbled up. The trick is finding them.

There are 2 broad sources…

1. The external environment

Everyone knows there’s a wealth of free learning resources on the web, and many of them are relevant to the corporate sector.

I’m referring to things like:

• Blogs
• Slides
• Videos
• Podcasts
• Webinars
• Social networks
• E-Journals
• News articles

Why waste money reinventing the wheel?

Whatever topic you care to nominate, odds are some expert somewhere around the world has written about it, talked about it, filmed it, or presented a slideshow about it.

And published it to the web.

2. The internal environment

This one isn’t as obvious, but it’s arguably more important: every employee knows something worth sharing with their colleagues.

Furthermore, I contend they have an obligation to do so.

Our job as L&D professionals is to facilitate that collaboration. I’m referring to things like:

• Discussion forums
• Wikis
• Communities of practice
• User groups
• Brown bag sessions

Why pay for training when you have an army of SMEs at your disposal?

Whatever topic you care to nominate, odds are some expert somewhere in the organisation can write about it, talk about it, film it, or present a slideshow about it.

If that person does not exist, perhaps a number of employees can chip in their nuggets of knowledge and experience, and together make a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.