Let’s not forget Captivate!

December 5, 2011 by

captivate-buttonsCaptivate is a much used tool for the many useful tools it comes with.

However adding personalisation to Captivate buttons is not as easy as another packages are, so we want to help.

You can download our handy pack of Captivate buttons that will allow you to add a touch of green design to your eLearning package by clicking here.

To use the buttons, you just have to copy the png files into the following location in your hard drive:

Adobe Captivate 4\Gallery\Buttons

Hope you enjoy them and if you have any issues, please feel free to contact Rob Hiklin, the clever mind behind them, to resolve your every question.

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And another Articulate skin to giveaway!

December 5, 2011 by

skin_desktop_thumb[1]And let’s the giveaway continue with another, very different but no less attractive skin for you Articulate users.

This time the skin doesn’t have the logo XML driven logo from the previous skin, so it is a lot simpler to use and just as good looking.

Although some people think that desk themed skins are a bit old-fashioned, Paco Garcia Jaen, eLearning developer and Graphic Artist who did the art direction for this skin (thought he can’t remember doing it, it might be someone else’s, but it doesn’t matter…) disagrees with the statement.

Paco says: “Real life desktops are a dynamic space that people customise until they feel comfortable and ‘at home’, so it’s only natural that people like desk themes as they can also feel comfortable. Using every day items, like a cup of coffee, clips or a pen, provides with a familiar environment for the learning to make it more attractive to the learner”.

So there!

Of course without the talent of Rob Hiklin this skin wouldn’t have seen the light of day. Unless another of the developers had created, but the point is that Rob did and he did a great job with the original art direction!

You can download the skin by clicking here.

Hope you enjoy it!

Let the season of giving start early!

December 5, 2011 by

They say that Christmas is the season of giving and loving. Why that doesn’t last all year round is beyond me, but we thought it would be very nice to actually live up to the season’s name and give away something. For free.

I know they say there is no such thing as a free lunch, but there is a such thing as a free Articulate Skin!

Paco Garcia Jaen, one of our developers and graphic artists (and talented writer of this post!) has art-directed this skin and Rob Hicklin has built it so you can use it as you see fit.

flare-skinThe skin shows a colourful but neutral theme

The logo is also XML driven, which means you can add your own logo to the skin if you wish.

In order to do that, just you have to change the provided image with another one, but leaving the name as it is at the moment.

The detailed instructions are as follow:

  1. First of all download the Skin Package and extract it onto your hard drive.
  2. Inside the folder, there is a file that contains the skin package. Double click on “kineo_skin_package_Flare.artpkg” to install it.
  3. Amend the logo sample and add your own logo. It is important the size remains unchanged, so don’t resize it. Also remember to keep the file name untouched. If you rename it as anything else, or change it into another format, it will not be seen by the skin.
  4. The XML file drives the image into the skin.Click here to download an image with the folder structure to save your files in So yu will need that file too.
  5. Create your Articulate e-Learning and publish it as normal, making sure you choose the skin as template.
  6. Once you’ve published it, drop the XML file and the logo file in the root folder where you published it.
  7. Enjoy your course with your new skin!

Dramatic time-lapse from the Developers’ window

November 4, 2011 by

Yesterday there were stormy scenes outside the windows of the developer corner of Kineo Towers. Utilising smart-phone technology, I managed to capture this time-lapse film over the course of the storm.

Pictures were taken every 5 seconds for an hour and you can see the results below. Needless to say, I was pretty pleased that I managed to capture a brief rainbow (you can just about see it at 0:16) on camera right in the centre of the screen!

Free Articulate skin

July 4, 2011 by

Click here to download an image of the skinIt is with great pleasure that I present you, dear reader and Articulate user with this free skin for your enjoyment and pleasure.

This rather bucolic skin has been art directed by Paco Garcia Jaen, and developed by one of our developers, Robert Hicklin.

“The inspiration for the skin came because I wanted to create something different, informal but useable at the same time, and something with the potential to be fun to use too.” – Paco Garcia Jaen

The skin features an illustrated landscape using wooden posts as navigation, menu, transcript and help buttons.

Rob Hicklin – “We decided to add some fun effect with the flying birds on the roll-over states. It was a matter of creating something we haven’t done before and that tells the audience that the skin is interactive, that is not a passive element of the e-learning experience.”

To make it even more flexible, the development team created the skin so the logo is XML driven and customisable by simply changing the image supplied.

How to use the skin

  1. First of all download the Skin Package and double click on it to install it.
  2. Download the logo sample and add your own logo. It is important the size remains unchanged, so don’t resize it. Also remember to keep the file name untouched. If you rename it as anything else, or change it into another format, it will not be seen by the skin.
  3. Download the XML file that drives the image into the skin.Click here to download an image with the folder structure to save your files in
  4. Create your Articulate e-Learning and publish it as normal, making sure you choose the skin as template.
  5. Once you’ve published it, drop the XML file and the logo file in the root folder where you published it.
  6. Enjoy your course with your new skin!

Complex pictorial HotSpots in Powerpoint

November 26, 2010 by

complex-hotspotBy Rob Hicklin and Paco G. Jaen

Expanding on a subject subject by subject can be tedious if the learner has to go from one slide to the next in a linear fashion.

With this incredibly easy method, you can turn any presentation into a fully navigable hotspot interaction.

You can download the full package here.

The ppt contains 9 slides with a central image and 8 images placed conveniently around it. Each one of those images is a separate graphic whilst the woman of the arrows and the woman have been placed in the Slide Master to make it easier for the slide to be duplicated and remain consistent.

Once you have your Slidemaster ready, this is a step by step guide to creating these hotspots.

  1. In the first slide place the images around the central photograph and set up the layout that will be repeated on the next few slides.
  2. Create as many slides as hotspots you need to have. In this case, 8. this will mean you’ll have one more slide than the number of hotposts. One slide for the initial layout and one for each one of the hotspots.
  3. Select one of the images and right click on it. In the menu that will appear on your screen, select “Hyperlink”
  4. Select “Place in this Document” on the left pane. You will get a list of the slides you have. In this list, select the slide you want this particular image to link to.
  5. Repeat the process with every image you want to convert into a hotspot, being careful to link to the right slide.
  6. When you have assigned the right slide to all the images, select them all and copy them into the clipboard (Crtl – C in PC, Cmd – C if you use Apple computers)
  7. Go to each slide and paste the images (Ctrl – V in PC, Cmd –V if you use Apple computers). They should all appear in exactly the same place of the originals, so if you flick from slide to slide, you won’t see anything moving.
  8. Each slide should have the description for a particular image. Select all the hotspots, but leave the one the slide corresponds to untouched, and then apply a B&W or a colorize effect by right clicking and going into “Format Picture” at the bottom of the menu. Then repeat that step for each slide.

When you have finished you will have a fully interactive hotspot. Now is just a matter of adding the relevant information and text about the topic in each slide, publish, and wait for the compliments to come!

Dealing with IE6 – a Step by Step Guide

November 1, 2010 by

When developing html websites there will often come a time when you need to deal with IE6. More often than not you will find a website works perfectly well on most modern browsers; Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari etc. and even IE8, but will look completely different in IE6. This is a little step-by-step guide to; handling the inevitable loading in IE6, which common problems to look out for and how to fix them as neatly as possible.

Keeping it Neat

These steps may seem straight forward, but by following them, you will be able to better ensure your code is more organised, easier to debug and free from messy hacks and workarounds.

Step 1 – write all code for modern browsers – those that comply with CSS specification.

I think it best to initially ignore older versions of IE and simply write your html and CSS code to run in a ‘normal’, modern browser. Usually, if your website works fine in one of these, it will also be compatible with all others – maybe with a few minor tweaks. In doing this step first, you will ensure you have clean code that is written ‘how it should be’ – or as close to a ‘CSS standard’ as possible.

Step 2 – test on modern browsers.

Test the site on other modern browsers. You should not experience many major problems at this stage as most should render similarly. If anything, you may have to make a few minor adjustments, but there should not be any need to begin writing hacks and separate stylesheets.

Step 3 – launch the site in IE6.

After launching the site in IE6, note down all major bugs and CSS problems/differences.

Step 4 – create a new stylesheet exclusively for use with IE6.

One of the best ways to deal with the event of a user using IE6 is to include a separate stylesheet which will be applied in this event only. The way to do this is through use of conditional comments. Conditional Comments are standard HTML Comments with special mark-up added that is understood by Internet Explorer browsers. So if you want to load in a stylesheet only for IE6 you could add the following lines in the head section:

<!–[if IE 6]>
<link rel=”stylesheet” type=”text/CSS” href=”/assets/CSS/ie6.CSS” />
<!–[endif]–>
Or for IE7:
<!–[if IE 7]>
<link rel=”stylesheet” type=”text/CSS” href=”/assets/CSS/ie7.CSS” />
<!–[endif]–>

Or, perhaps your problems exist both in IE6 and 7 and you want to use the same stylesheet for both. In this case you can use a comment that targets IE versions less than 8.

<!–[if lt IE 8]>
<link rel=”stylesheet” type=”text/CSS” href=”/assets/CSS/ieold.CSS” />
<!–[endif]–>

Note: You must include the conditional statement after your existing stylesheet, therefore, if the problem browser is being used, the existing stylesheet will be overridden.

Click here for more information on conditional statements.

Step 5 – use this guide, blogs, forums and other materials to fix common bugs.

You can now make IE6 specific changes to this stylesheet without interfering with the existing, working version of your CSS. Read through the Common Bugs and CSS Issues section to see if you can identify some of the problems you have found. For those that you can find, try to apply the fixes provided.

Step 6 – use brute force to fix any remaining issues.

If you have any more issues that you could not find a solution for, resort to a brute force approach to fix the remaining problems.

Common bugs and CSS issues

Check DOCTYPE – Avoiding ‘Quirks’ Mode

In general if you notice strange things when launching in IE6 or loss of some functionality, it could be because ‘Quirks mode’ is activated. All browsers have a ‘Quirks mode’ and basically it is a technique used by some web browsers for the sake of maintaining backward compatibility with web pages designed for older browsers.

It is triggered by using no DOCTYPE, an old DOCTYPE (such as HTML3.2) or a broken DOCTYPE. In IE6 it is also triggered if you have anything else above the DOCTYPE. Before you do anything with IE6 make sure you have a full HTML or XHTML DOCTYPE, including the URL, and there is nothing above it in the source – such as comments.

For example:

<!–DOCTYPE html PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN” “http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd”&gt;
xmlns=”http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml&#8221; lang=”en-gb”>

Double Margin Bug

When using floated divs with margins, IE6 tends to double the margin size.

For example:

#divname{
float:right;
margin-right:20px;
}

[This would be rendered as ‘margin-right: 40px;’]

The standard fix for this problem is to add display: inline; to the div. However, this then means you cannot apply a static width to your object – which you may well need. It is generally best to try and side-step this issue by using padding. If you want to push this object away from its parent element – add padding to the parent element, as padding should not be affected by this bug.

No Transparent PNG Support

Up until IE7, there is no support for PNG files with transparent backgrounds. So, if images on your site are appearing with backgrounds surrounding them and you’re using IE6 or lower, this is probably the issue.

To fix, you need to save all your PNG files in the PNG-8 format. To do this you need to simply open the file in Photoshop, select FileàSave for Web & Devices. A popup window will appear. In the top, right-hand corner there will be a drop-down box from which you need to select PNG-8. Save the file and ensure it is updated in your site folders.

Click here for a solution if it is imperative to keep your PNGs as 24-bit.

Step-down

When floating objects, they generally sit nicely side by side until the width of the div they sit in has been reached; however, there is a recurrent problem in IE6 by where the browser automatically adds a line break after each floated block element. This is called Step-down.

To fix this you can either:

-include a parent element line-height and set it to 0, i.e. line-height: 0px;

-set the elements being floated to display: inline;

-use padding on the parent element to even out the difference.

The Peek-a-Boo Bug

Do parts of the content on your page randomly disappear on loading and then appear again when you scroll or refresh the page? If so, it’s more than likely you’ve got the peek-a-boo bug. This bug has been somewhat suppressed in IE7 but is still occasionally a problem and of course, is still ever-present in IE6.

The best-known tips to fix it are to add the following CSS lines to the affected elements:

position: relative; /* peekaboo bug fix for IE6 */
min-width: 0; /* peekaboo bug fix for IE7 */

However, this bug is a tricky one so this simple solution may not always do the trick.

Click here for more information and further fixes.

Links Move when Hovering Over

If your links or divs jump or move slightly when you hover over them, it may be a padding problem. Make sure you do not use percentages to define padding, i.e. padding-left: 20%;

Disappearing Div with position: absolute

If you find divs start disappearing, check what position you have given them. Basically, in IE, an absolute positioned element next to a floated one will disappear, so inserting a statically positioned box between them will cause the absolute element to be shown.

Click here for more information about this bug.

Agency in scenario driven eLearning

October 21, 2010 by

me 04 high res2 By Paco Garcia Jaen

First of all I will make this very clear; I am a game player -a big, big games fan. I have been playing videogames, board games and role playing games since I was a child and they have had a massive impact in developing my imagination, my visualisation skills, my social skills and even my empathy skills. This is important for me to make clear since the start of this article because I want everyone to know that I am biased. Yes, I believe in games as a medium to develop healthy personality traits and interaction skills.

Having said that, and before you dismiss me as yet another geek, I will also let you know that I am a psychotherapist specialised in relationships and run a gaming club where more than 100 people interact online and about 50% of those meet regularly around a table to play games and interact socially. If you disagree with my musings and my reasoning, please do tell. After all interactions like that help form relationships!

If you are a video-game hater… well… I’ll deal with you in another article! 🙂

Agency has been defined in video games as the feeling the player gets as a result of the consequences of the actions taken during gameplay. This is my own rephrasing of the definition, I am sure you can find something more accurate, but I’ll leave that up to you.

This is a very important concept to keep in mind because it implies that the player needs to be able to make decisions that will have an impact he or she will care about. Many recent videogames’ biggest strengths have relied on achieving a big sense of agency. Dragon Age: Origins, Bioshock 2, Mass Effect 2, Heavy Rain, Alan Wake, to name but a few, have been applauded for giving the player a credible sense that their decisions would have an impact in the development of the game.

Recent games have also been able to provide with environments that, either fantastic-looking in the extreme (Dragon Age: Origins, Mass Effect 2, Bioshock 2), or as realistic-looking as possible (Alan Wake, Heavy Rain), allow the player to suspend disbelief and accept the the environments presented as believable. The very same environments have also managed to emotionally connect with the player to the extent that a desire to preserve it and the virtual people who populate it becomes an integral part of the gaming experience.

The importance of the ability of the environment to help disbelief, and to provide with characters to connect with, are two of the elements that help to form an emotional connection and enhance agency. Of course the congruence of the choices will also impact on whether the player cares about the consequences or not. If one has to make a decision that will affect what cup of coffee has to be bought, that is likely to matter less than to make a decision where the fate of a kingdom is at stake.

For me, it is quite interesting to extrapolate those situations to board-games. I don’t mean Cluedo, or Monopoly (please don’t get me started on those!!!!). I refer to more modern and recent design board-games and role playing games, where players are presented with mechanics that allow for much more creative approaches to gaming and strategy. Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan, Agricola, Battlestar Galactica… most of the modern games I am talking about have a very large scope for decision making. Despite the fact that some games are competitive and others are cooperative, they all have one thing in common: They provide a strong feeling or emotion as a result of the decision one takes throughout the game. Not just because our decisions (and a good share of luck!) will determine if we win the game or not, but because we can see the consequence of each decision, as well as the consequences of all the decisions we take.

That has left me feeling many times that scenario driven e-Learning attempts and mostly fails to create agency.

Most scenarios present a situation in which the learner’s input is simply to choose from a very limited number of reactions. There is no chance for the learner to improvise an alternative solution that the designer didn’t think about. Also there is little chance for the designer or the client to learn about those alternatives in order to implement them later on.

The consequences of the few options we’re given are of little or no importance to the user either. Let’s take a look at this storyboard example:

  • The first image shows how Roger, a customer service representative is on the phone to a client. The client is complaining because some paperwork has gone astray and now they have to pay a fine.
  • The second image shows Roger explaining that he needs to get some details from the customer in order to proceed further
  • The third image shows Roger looking at the phone perplexed because the client has insulted him and put the phone down.

The following screen is a quiz asking Roger what he should do next. The options are:

  • Log the call and jump onto helping the next customer
  • Report the client in the database so he’s flagged as problematic
  • Talk to the manager about the call

Although the learners will be familiar with the situation (let’s assume this course is delivered to a customer support team) and will have probably been there themselves, why should they care about Roger? What if they think of another solution? And if they’ve been in that situation before and resolved it in a different way?

Although the environment is perfectly credible and the situation is familiar, the agency in that scenario is very close to null. The learner will feel very little out of answering the questions.

Why?, because the learner didn’t have an input. They didn’t have a choice. The designer did, and then gave them the choices. For that matter, they were given very few choices that they might not agree with.

In videogames the impact and moral dilemma compensates for the limited number of choices. In board-games the number of choices is high enough, and are influenced by the other players, so there is an element of unpredictability to them, and thus to the outcome. Most important there is an element of the player’s personality. They can be more cautious or aggressive, cooperative or dictatorial, straight forward or devious, forward or lateral thinking…

In Elearning?… not so much!

Lastly in scenarios as currently presented in the vast majority of Elearning courses, there is very little (if any) of the learner’s imagination to be exercised. It is the designer’s imagination that gets exercised, based on that he or she thinks the learner needs or will understand, and unarguably, limits the scope of the learning experience. Then whatever the designer imagined as a good scenario is presented to the learner… thus the learner has no input. In this day and age where technology is more powerful, easier to reach, and where we understand how humans react to machines and machine scenarios better than ever before, there is little excuse for Elearning not to catch up with Agency and start giving the learner a more engaging and satisfying experience.

Unfortunately, the sort of Artificial Intelligence that drive video-games, and the very nature of human interaction that is so essential to board-games, are not something we’ll be able to recreate easily anytime soon. So what is the solution? How could eLearning actually learn from the videogames industry and the recent generation of board-games and improve the user experience?

Personally I think the learner should have a much greater and active role than just reading screen, watching videos or animations, listening to (often tedious!) narration or dialogue and clicking answers and provide inflexible and terribly predictable feedback. A more customisable application where the learner can input text that will receive coherent and congruous feedback rather than a set reply. The chance of participating as the character in the scenarios, rather than looking at the photo of someone they don’t care about. To witness the consequences or their mistakes rather than just being told their decision wasn’t the right one. Cooperative eLearning, where two different individuals can drive the same scenario independently and see how their reactions affect both the other person and the global outcome.

Easier said than done?… Maybe. But then, are you really going to tell me you’re not up to the challenge?

Moodle Database Activity

October 17, 2010 by

I’ve been using the Moodle database activity. It’s a great tool and highly flexible.

One of the ways I have used it, is for creating shared learning logs. All students on a course log each time they put something they have learned into practice. You could just use a blog for this, but with the database you can specify the kind of information that you want to capture.  Students can see one another’s logs and you can also allow them to comment or rate the logs.

I’ve also used it to create lists of resources – e.g. useful blogs for e-learning developers. You can see a demonstration of how I did this here.

The only downside is that, by default, when you view entries in the database, it is a bit of a mess. You need to know a bit of HTML to really get the information to display the way you want it to.

Toolbook

September 29, 2010 by

I’ve been getting up to speed on ToolBook, one of the older authoring tools. It’s not too bad though a bit clunky. It has some standard issues – what you see isn’t really what you get, bullet points are pointedly problematic. In publishes to HTML which could be a plus though. One thing I have found is that there is quite a lot of documentation out there and some good resources:

Toolbook.org – useful blog with ‘how to’ and links

Toolbookdeveloper.com – this has free and paid for widgets and add ons for toolbook

ToolBookConsulting.com – the blog has lots of tips and links to downloadable widgets and fixes

Let me know if you know of any other sites I should be aware of.