24 Weeks-worth of Design Ideas For Your Next e-Learning Project

Articulate’s David Anderson has been running these Weekly Challenges from the Articulate Storyline e-Learning community. In addition to it being a great forum of engagement, practice and performance support for e-Learning developers, the weekly challenge series has also produced a nice compilation of examples from which to brainstorm ideas.

As an instructional designer, I’m always looking for ways to make online training not boring. The compilation below is a great list to bookmark so you can easily find it and browse ideas for future designs.

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[Q&A] How to make complex shape animations with Camtasia

(Click to enlarge.)

(Click to enlarge.)

One of the questions I want to highlight this week from our courses‘ member only Q&A group is this one on the right about replicating moderately complex animations in Camtasia (or ScreenFlow).  That is, beyond the conventional voiceover screencasts that we see a lot on YouTube.

The quick answer is yes.  You can do much of this in any of the “Big 3″ screencasting software/editors.

The longer answer:  Here’s the gist of it in the video below.


A word about third-party plugins for custom text and video animations

I’m admittedly not aware of any third party vendors that support special effects plugins for Camtasia or ScreenFlow — at least not in the way that, say, Noise Industries’ FXFactory installs itself into, say, Final Cut Pro, Motion or Premiere.   Having something like that available would be a HUGE assist in juicing-up the visual quality of your screencasting projects.

I put the question to the Techsmithies (Camtasia) and the Telestream folks (ScreenFlow) and I’ll report back here with their response.   But, I can say that there are a host of third-party suppliers of pre-keyed video and motion graphics clips that provide their media as importable media clips.  A couple you might want to check out include:  Flowtility and Marketing Motion Graphics.

If you have some favorite third-party media vendors, please share them in the comments below.

Posted in Digital-Know-How, Q&A | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

What display resolution should you use for screencasting?

[Q&A] “What display resolution should I set before I record my screencast?”

(Best viewed in HD. Click the settings icon in the player.)

image - question screenshot

(click to enlarge)

Question:  “…I am kind of stuck on the resolution issues.  Screenflow uses by default the whole screen.  I need to record Outlook instructions so I maximize outlook to full screen. In my case a 27 inch iMac.  Do I need to switch the resolution of my Mac screen to 1280 x 720 (can be done in preferences).  Or do I just leave it as is and set the canvas size in Screenflow? Or is it something totally different…?”

Answer:  So the question above came up in the members only Q&A forum that accompanies our courses.  The long answer is that there are several ways you can go about accomplishing a final production at 1280 x 720.  But, the short answer is:

1.  Set your screen to 1280 x 720 (or as close to it as possible… some displays won’t have exactly 1280 x 720 as an option, so you might have to choose 1280 x 800, for example).

2. Maximize your subject software (Outlook in your case) so it fills the display.

3. Then, start your screencast recording at full screen. (I actually also prefer to record at full screen whether using ScreenFlow or Camtasia.)

That’s basically it on the recording side.  After you stop the recording and are ready to begin the editing, then:

1. Set your canvas to (exactly) 1280 x 720.

2. Shift-click any CORNER of your video to scale it up proportionally so as to fit the entire canvas.

I included a video above to show what I mean.

Posted in Courses, How to, Q&A | Tagged | 1 Comment

Can you do green screen effects in screencasts?

November 24, 2013

Yes, you can.

This video is an abbreviated module from one of the lectures in our Udemy course offerings.  For a limited time, I opened up the unabridged version of it as a free preview in the course page of the Camtasia Studio course.  No need to register or sign up for any newsletters, just click and watch.  (Tip:  You can do the same thing in ScreenFlow for Mac and Camtasia for Mac.)

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Q&A: How did I get started in training and screencasting?

thumbnail - online learning podcastIf you’re a DIY online course creator and haven’t yet tuned in to John Colley’s Online Learning Podcast (free via iTunes), then it might be worth your time to take a look the next chance you get online.  John has built a trending podcast by interviewing online course creators and getting them to reveal their workflow, thought process, development techniques and marketing strategies when developing their own courses.

John and I had a great conversation during his show’s Episode 22 where I shared a little background about my “upbringing” in the training profession, and how it is I came to develop my own online courses.  You can click the link above to hear the full podcast, or browse the highlights I’ll summarize over the next couple of posts.

Online Learning Podcast Interview Highlights (Part 1): “How did you get started in the training profession and with screencasting?”

John:  Mel, a very warm welcome… We’ve already established that we’re both veterans, but perhaps you could tell our listeners a little more about you and what you do.

Mel:  Absolutely…. My background is that I started off with the U.S. Navy.  That’s probably where I first got intimately involved with training, as a profession.

image - p3 orion aircraftI was fortunate enough to have a flying career with the Navy.  For some of you veterans who might be listening in, I flew in an airplane called a P-3 Orion.  It’s an “anti-submarine warfare” (ASW) aircraft.  In the UK the equivalent might be what they call a Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft.  Basically, our mission in the P-3 was to go out and hunt submarines.  But, as interesting as all that may be, the main story is how I got involved with training through my early career in U.S. Naval Air.

Safe Environments In Which To Fail

(courtesy: en.wikipedia.org – labeled for reuse)

As many of you can imagine, there’s a LOT of training that goes into preparedness for military and commercial aviation professionals.  I mean, before you actually step into an airplane they put you in these simulators.  And before that there’s classroom based training called “ground school.”  And the fascinating thing to me in all this is the progression of training that progresses through these simulators.  And the reason these simulator training programs were so fascinating to me is because they represent what I would call “safe environments in which to fail.”

By creating those safe environments, the Navy was able to maximize learning by allowing students to try techniques — even if it would realistically have resulted in catastrophe or death — and still be able to recover from those failures in a way that allowed students the opportunity to live another day, to reflect upon those mistakes, discuss them with instructors and try another way that was more aligned with accepted best practices.  And by facilitating that cycle of failure, recovery, discussion and reflection we were really able to evolve skills much more effectively than if we just stuck with book learning and flew in strict accordance with accepted “standards.”

So it was that whole methodology is what got me interested in simulation- or scenario-based training after the military.  And one of the organizations I joined that was doing this stuff was a company called Andersen Consulting (AC).  They’re now called Accenture.  It’s one of the, I guess, “Big 4” management consulting companies who was doing this kind of stuff at the time.

At AC, I joined the Change Management practice.  A typical project found me bundled with our technology team as we implemented new technologies at Fortune 500 type organizations.  The funny thing about changing technologies:  when it changed in any organization, it would typically mean changes to the organization’s processes and how their employees would subsequently do their job… this ultimately meant training.

digital-know-how target audienceChallenges In Training People In Enterprise Organizations

But because these organizations we worked for were also multi-nationals, where the workforce was otherwise geographically dispersed, training had unique challenges in that the people that needed to be trained were geographically distributed.   If you were going to design a training program that was based on instructor-led classroom training, then you needed to account for a design that would accomodate a nationally (or internationally) distributed learner base.

At that time — the early 90s — we didn’t have the internet.  And words like “intranet” were basically typographical errors in peoples’ minds.  So there was a challenge of distributing all the training content to people across wide geographies.   And that’s why computers (which weren’t yet so ubiquitous back then as they are today) were such a boon when you could get them for both the development phase and for the learners.  With CBT, or computer-based training, we could create and distribute training programs to other computers by burning them on to disks and then mailing those disks to regional trainers or training facilitators in each of the geographies.

But even that had a lot of logistical challenges.  Not the least of which was to coordinate the distribution of new CDs — and to force their use in each of the training regions — whenever new updates were made to the core training.

And so when the world wide web evolved, then WBT, or web-based training became the buzz word.  With WBT (wow!) you could centrally locate the training in much the same way we would publish, say, a video blog today, and let learners access the training through the web.  And whenever that content needed to be updated, the updates could be made centrally and have it immediately propagate to everyone who needed access to the training.  But even that had its technical and formatting challenges.

internet_tester_400_clr_12302Early Bandwidth and Video Production Hurdles

Bandwidth was very much an issue — especially in a world where the majority of learners would still need to use dial-up access.  I mean, if you could virtually access a computer  via a 56k baud modem (remember those?), you were on the bleeding edge.  But, happily, that eventually became less of an issue as time evolved.

And, not to mention, on top of the technical, bandwidth and formatting hurdles, there were also development hurdles. I mean, to produce anything with video back then required an entire team, including actors, camera people, audio people, lighting people, script writers, subject matter experts to review the scripts, and so on.  It was a production!  Then there was editing.  And all the editing used to be done on tape drives and analog devices.

camtasia-studioAnd that’s why, right around… the turn of the century, a company called Techsmith, created software called Camtasia.  And that was an eye opener.

It was an eye opener because all the simulation-based training that we used to produce with moderately sizeable teams could now be done by just one person.

And when Camtasia came out–and the proliferation of other screencasting software like it since–we were all of a sudden exposed to a product that allowed us to install software locally and then use the software to record video of our computer screen, then digitally edit that video directly afterwards in the same software.

And since then, of course, it has just gotten more ubiquitous.  All of that production efficiency, coupled with the explosion of technology and bandwidth capacity really opened up the ability for us to deliver video — and learners to consume video — over the internet; it was probably in just the last 5 to 7 years, because of the explosion of bandwidth capacity and the ability to digitally create your own online video recordings and editing capability, where video training really exploded.  It allowed for individuals and owners of home-based businesses to create their own courses or information content…

Next up:  “How did you move from developing projects for corporations to creating your own courses through your own website?”

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What does Camtasia or ScreenFlow Offer That Screencast-O-Matic Doesn’t?

What does Camtasia or ScreenFlow offer that Screencast-o-matic Doesn’t? snapshot - facebook question

I see this question — or variations of it — a lot in discussion groups where folks are creating their first online course.  Usually, it’s in context of someone wanting to spend the least amount of money for screencasting/editing software as they create their first online course.  Understandable.

First some helpful references

  • Camtasia Studio (for Windows – $299), Camtasia For Macintosh ($99) and ScreenFlow (for Macintosh – $99) are powerful, multi-featured downloadable software products that let you — in a nutshell — capture, edit and publish video and audio of anything you can display on your computer screen. 
  • Screencast-o-matic ($15/year for a Pro account), is a low cost alternative that you can use directly online with either a PC or Macintosh.

My Response

For my part, in response to the oft-asked question about the main advantages of software like ScreenFlow or Camtasia over Screencast-o-matic:

I think screencast-o-matic (SOM) is actually a pretty good (I daresay even excellent) software if the course objectives (and of its marketing) call for BASIC screen/voice capture with the occasional bubble, box or text callout as an overlay. In fact, at $15/year (for the Pro version), I think it’s actually quite powerful for the price.

At some point though some online content creators (though not all) find the need to differentiate their presentations a little more from the “basic” look and feel.  (And, let’s face it, to differentiate theirs from the run-of-the-mill “death-by-PowerPoint” type presentations.)  So it’s for those folks that I think one of the other tools like Camtasia or ScreenFlow might actually be more cost effective.  (As an aside: Contrary to what some may believe, the learning curve for comparable functions in Camtasia or ScreenFlow isn’t really more steep than that for SOM.) 

Indeed, there are many features that will teeter the scale one way or the other if you were to compare each feature one-by-one.   But one of the key features that I think gives a lot of power to tools like ScreenFlow or Camtasia over SOM is in their capacity for you to have many more LAYERS (“tracks”) in your screencasting project.  This multi-track capability gives you the ability to layer video objects, images and audio clips over your main presentation and with much more flexibility to change different properties for each of those objects independently of any other object.

For example, in addition to a basic PowerPoint and voiceover narration, some folks may want to overlay a music track, a video clip, and/or a video interview that supports the main presentation — these require 3 or 4 layers (or more). In contrast, SOM only gives you one layer.  (Two layers could be argued, but certainly not more than that.)

(Click here to watch free previews from this ScreenFlow course.)
(Click here to watch free previews from our Camtasia Studio course.)

The video above is an excerpt from Lecture #2 in my course, “Beyond PowerPoint: Teach Online Now With ScreenFlow For Mac.” It shows some of the layering and property manipulations (animations) I mentioned that is much more powerfully done in ScreenFlow or Camtasia than in Screencast-o-matic.

Camtasia or ScreenFlow isn’t for everybody

Again, not everybody will need or want all that extra “flair” in their presentations.  In which case, if you’re in that camp, then screencast-o-matic should work just fine — especially if price is a huge factor.

Posted in Best Screencast Software Series, Camtasia, Courses, Digital-Know-How, reviews | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Udemy’s New Revenue Sharing Model Is Off To a Rough Start

November 3, 2013

What Does Udemy Pay Its Instructors (Now)?

Last month Udemy, a leading marketplace for user-generated online learning, announced a big change to the Udemy revenue sharing model.  It took effect a couple of days ago. Not surprisingly, it has generated a lot of controversy from the Udemy instructor-base.  And, since I’ve previously encouraged students of my online screencasting courses to consider Udemy as a ready-for-you channel for publishing and monetizing their digital-know-how, I felt it was worth helping to clarify–at least for my students–where much of the confusion seems to be at the moment and what you need to know before selling your courses through Udemy.

The Gist Of the New Model

image - figure 1 flow diagram

Figure 1 – Determining Procuring Cause (click to enlarge)

I won’t re-hash each of the terms.  For that, you can read Udemy’s announcement via the link above.  But the gist of it is fundamentally based on an accounting of who (whom?) is the original “source” of the subscriber.

My Realtor(tm) friends have a term called “procuring cause.”  Basically, it refers to the agent who brings the buyer to a purchase transaction.  This “source-”thingy with Udemy subscribers is similar.  This issue is central to the new payout model, so understanding it is key to this whole confusing business.  It’s implications are:

  • If Udemy is the procuring cause (source) of a new subscriber, then Udemy takes a 50% share of your course’s list price.  (After any promotional discounts, if applicable.)  [Note: But, see scenarios 3, 3a and 3b in Figure 2 further below for a special case about how this share is modified based on a particular channel through which Udemy acquires certain subscribers.]
  • If you, as the instructor, are the procuring cause of a new subscriber, then you get to keep 97% of your list price.  (After any promotional discounts, if applicable.)

The flow diagram above (Figure 1) attempts to trace the rules by which you (or Udemy) become the procuring cause of a new subscriber.  (*Sigh…* It’s sad that we need such a diagram, but it is what it is.)   While it sounds simple on its face, there’s an often-missed click-timer issue embedded in this rule that makes things less intuitive.  Trace the blue path to see how this timer thing applies.   The essence is this:

(Assuming the person who clicks your link isn’t already a Udemy subscriber then) You get credited as the procuring cause for that subscriber but ONLY IF she/he creates a Udemy account within 24 hours of first landing on the Udemy site through your couponed link.

  • Upside (sort of): Even if they don’t buy your course during that first 24-hour window, you’re still credited as the “source” PROVIDED THAT they create an account during that first 24-hour window.)
  • Downside (sort of): If the 24 hour window expires and the visitor still has not signed up for a new account, then your best hope is for a subsequent 2-hour window whenever (and IF ever) that student comes back in the future AND happens to remember — and use — your coupon code.

Purchase Scenarios

In the tables below (Figure 2 – Udemy-side Revenue Share; Figure 3 – Instructor-side Revenue Share), I laid out common scenarios.

  • The Subscriber Source column caveats the percentages on the basis of procuring cause for the subscriber.
  • The Channel column further caveats the percentages on the basis of additional incentives (e.g., paid ads, in-house promos, etc.) that may have been used to get the subscriber to buy a course.
  • The remaining columns are hopefully self-explanatory.
  • Finally, the rows with the yellow highlights are scenarios that seem to be all abuzz in the Udemy Faculty Lounge at the moment.
image - figure 2 - udemy-share

Figure 2 – Udemy-side Rev Share (click to enlarge)

image - figure 3 - instructor share

Figure 3 – Instructor-side Rev Share (click to enlarge)

In the Udemy-Instructor battlefield (that’s how it feels at the moment), there are 3 FAQs that seem to be particularly controversial.

  • “Why am I now only getting a 25% share on purchases of my courses even when it appears that I am the original source of the subscriber?”
  • “Whoooaah… Udemy gets a 75% share for life of purchases by Udemy advertising-generated subscribers?”
  • “What the hell is this 24-hour/2-hour thingy about?”

FAQ #1: Why am I now only getting 25% share on purchases of my courses even when it appears that I am the original source of the subscriber?”

Well, as it turns out, the instructor is apparently not the procuring cause of the subscriber in these cases.  As far as I can tell from the discussion, much of the confusion here seems to stem from caveats related to scenarios 3a and 3b above.  (Go up there and take a look at Figure 2 now before continuing.)

It’s understandable that many of us, as Udemy instructors, expect that if the payment report says that the sale is “organic” and that an instructor-coupon was used by a subscriber in the sale, then Udemy should only have taken a 50% cut; not the 75% share that’s causing so much consternation.

image - figure 4 - reporting format

Figure 4 – Snippet of current payment report format (click to enlarge)

But here’s the thing: the source AND the channel are what count.  What’s not so transparent in the current reporting format is who, originally, was the source (procuring cause) of the subscriber in question AND what channel was used to procure that subscriber.  As scenarios 3, 3a and 3b above try to summarize from the discussions is that:  if Udemy is the source AND the subscriber came in by way of an advertisement that Udemy paid for (e.g., Facebook, Google, Groupon, etc.) then Udemy takes the higher 75% cut.  And if that weren’t controversial enough, then add this phrase:  For Life.

That last bit is a nice segue to FAQ #2.

FAQ #2:  ”Whoooaah…Udemy gets a 75% share for life on purchases by Udemy advertising-generated subscribers??”

Um, yes.  (I was gob-smacked by this one, as well.)  Unfortunately, I don’t think this point was sufficiently outlined in Udemy’s original announcement, which is what I think is causing so much consternation.  Hell, I just re-read that whole announcement and can’t find a reference to it at all.  But, when threading through the discussions in the Udemy Instructor Lounge battlefield, there’s this revelation from one of Udemy’s reps:

image - fig 5 - udemy share on ad-generated subscribers

Figure 5 – Udemy share on ad-generated subscribers (click to enlarge)

So, there it is.

FAQ #3: “What the hell is this 24-hour/2-hour thingy about?”

This last one in my “top 3 FAQs” was indeed mentioned in the original announcement.  But it’s one of those things that bears a visual graphic to fully appreciate.  So, again, it’s worth taking time to trace through Figure 1 above.  By tracing the blue boxes in Figure 1, you’ll get the sense of a clock that starts in the nebulous background that governs affiliate marketing engines.  I won’t re-hash a narrative about; I’ll let you trace the diagram and revisit the sections underneath it about “Upside” / “Downside”.


Figure 1 is the centerpiece of the model; it’s worth taking time to understand it.  While Udemy unfortunately spins it by making it sound simple enough, (paraphrase: if you source it, you own it; if we source it, we own it), the mechanics of the 24-hour/2-hour timer bears some highlighting, as does the 75% for life scenarios in 3a and 3b of Figure 2 above.

I’m reserving my comments for now about how much I think this new model tilts the scale in Udemy’s favor (or not) at the expense of their partners, but keep an eye out for a future post with my thoughts on it.

In the meantime, I’d welcome your thoughts about whether or not you think it’s a fair deal and, more importantly, how would you advise other would-be Udemy instructors about whether or not you’d recommend they put the effort in to creating a course for the Udemy marketplace?

Posted in Courses, Digital-Know-How, events, Q&A | Tagged | 12 Comments