Friday, December 30

Looking Forward to TechKnowledge 2012!

TechKnowledge is less than a month away, and I can’t wait!

This is going to sound a little doe-eyed, but last year’s event was no less than transformative for me; I presented at a major industry conference for the first time and met a slew of incredible people who have continued to be amazing resources over the past year.

Some of that happened through serving on the planning committee for the 2012 event. We’ve worked hard over the past year to bring you a conference that serves a wide range of audiences and needs. Look at the schedule and you’ll see some sessions that go well beyond the basics, such as Reuben Tozman’s session on ID for a semantic web and Tim Martin’s session on the next generation of SCORM, as well as a wide variety of foundational sessions.

I’m also thrilled that in addition to the less-formal panels called TK Chats that were pioneered last year, there will be a Tech Kafe: a space for people to meet and chill when they want to keep discussions going--hopefully through Twitter as well as in person--even when they’re not up for a formal session. (More on that later.) And I’m excited that there will be a keynote, several concurrent sessions, and a TK Chat devoted to gaming/gamification/gamefulness; with so many opportunities to learn and discuss, I hope attendees are going to be able to figure out how much is hype and how much is relevant to their own organizations.

Finally, you’re going to see more integration with social media, both leading up to the conference and during, with efforts like the TechKnowledge 2012 Blog, the Twitter-based Tech + Knowledge scavenger hunt, and Tech Kafe. (And Brian Dusablon and I even contributed to the conference previews in a highly unofficial capacity by drinking and talking with Julie Dirksen and Diane Elkins, TK12 speakers on usability and accessibility, on The ToolBar podcast this month.) Whether you’re at the conference or not, stay up-to-date with all the TK happenings by following the hashtag: #astdTK12.

I’ve asked other members of the planning committee to share what they’re looking forward to most, as well. Here’s what they have to say:

As much excitement as I have for all of the great concurrent sessions at this year’s TK, I’m even MORE excited about TK Chat and Tech Kafe (new this year). Chats are informal talk-show-style conversations with deep thinkers on key topics -- we’ll have a little stage and a cozy couch and roaming microphones to get everyone involved. Right next to the TK Chat area is the Tech Kafe, a chill-out space where you can continue those deep conversations and connect with other conference attendees and speakers. I plan on hanging out in these two spaces as much as I possibly can. So come on down and join the fun!

Events like TechKnowledge 2012 are opportunities for me to dwell together with friends and colleagues from across the learning and training community. I enjoy the opportunities for us to sit together and explore what we’re each doing. I’m always seeking to adopt new patterns into my craft, as well as have my assumptions challenged. My favorite thing that happens at events like TechKnowledge: the discovery of someone bright and wonderful who happens to share some huge ideas that I didn’t know I needed to know. It happened to me at TK11 and I’m really looking forward to lightning striking twice this year, too.

It’s always fantastic to join together at TechKnowledge with like-minded learning professionals, and friends new and old, and this year will be no different. We will come together from around the globe to share best practices and encourage one another to take the next step in our learning journeys. I am also looking forward to hearing from the keynote speakers: Jane McGonigal, Stuart Crabb, and Lisa Doyle. Each one is sure to share cutting edge thinking and best practices about learning. They will challenge me to try new things and see new possibilities. I can’t wait!

Conferences like TechKnowledge provide the opportunity for individuals in the learning community to get together and share ideas and concepts about how our craft can be improved. As much as I enjoy the concurrent sessions, I think my favorite part of these events is actually getting to meet many of the folks that I interact with on a daily basis over services like Twitter. While learning communities online are pretty fantastic, nothing beats the face to face interactions that can be found at these conferences. These opportunities to meet new people and converse without the limits of 140 characters are really what makes TechKnowledge such a great event.

There are so many good reasons to join us in Las Vegas in January. And when you do, don’t be afraid to ask questions, answer someone’s tweets, start up conversations in any way you can. The most important lesson I learned last year is that conferences are like soylent green: They’re made of people. And TK12 will have plenty of people worth getting to know.

See you there!

Judy Unrein designs learning solutions at Artisan E-Learning, blogs at E-Learning Uncovered and onehundredfortywords, and tweets at @jkunrein.

Friday, December 23

Gearing Up for a Laptop-Free TechKnowledge 2012

While I like my laptop, I’ve gotten very tired of lugging it around conferences, and my mobile devices get better battery life and pick up WiFi signal better than my laptop anyway. So I’ve decided to go to TechKnowledge almost laptop-free. (As it turns out, since I’m presenting a Creation Station and probably doing client work during the week, I’m going to have to bring my laptop, but I’m definitely going to minimize taking it to the event itself.)

Here’s how I’m preparing.


I have an iPad case that I love; it looks slick, protects the device well, has Smart Cover functionality, and allows me to stand it up at a variety of angles for reading and notetaking. Just for this effort, I’ve bought an Apple Bluetooth keyboard as well, because there’s no way I can last a week only typing on iOS. They cost $69 at the Apple Store, but I got mine from Other World Computing for $49 (brand new, but without a box or instructions). Setup instructions are here.

I don’t have a stylus that I’m particularly fond of yet, especially for sketching, but I’m looking to try some out beforehand and possibly at the conference itself. In particular, I know that both the AluPen and the Cosmonaut will be in attendance with friends of mine, and I welcome other recommendations, too!

This isn’t a consideration for me this time, but if you’re presenting a session with just a slideshow, you can do that laptop-free too... you just need Keynote and the proper connector. I’ve been told that the VGA adapter is the one you’ll need for this conference.


You’ve probably traveled enough with your mobile devices already to know what you like in travel and entertainment apps, so I’m going to skip to a few categories that I’ve found very useful for conferences.

The official TK12 conference app. It’s not on the app stores yet, but there will be a conference app and you’ll definitely want it to help you plan your conference experience.

Business card scanner/importer. These can be a huge timesaver as well as a safety net to keep you from losing valuable contacts in your travels. There are lots of these out there. I tried three free/trial ones for the iPhone: CamCard Lite, ScanBizCards Lite, and WorldCard Mobile Lite.

For this trial, I took a not-so-great picture of a business card from one of my favorite places to visit in Portland -- complete with non-English words -- and used it for all three apps.

(Tip: If you don’t want to go through the whole process of importing and checking contact info, snap quick pictures of your collected cards so that you don’t lose the information even if you lose the cards. You can process them on your flight home.)

CamCard came out on top with the most accurate reading and the best user interface, and it was the only one of the three with no limits on how many cards could be read and stored. The $7 paid version removes advertisements and adds some more advanced features.

Notetaking apps. There are several apps that have a specific functionality that’s very cool to me: the ability to record audio while you’re taking notes and play back your notetaking with the audio -- even skip to the part of the audio that you were recording when you tap a certain note that you’ve taken. The two I’ve been tinkering around with are CaptureNotes 2 and AudioNote, both of which work well. CaptureNotes is much more full-featured in general, which is good, but if I don’t take the time to become really fluid in it soon, I’ll probably stick to AudioNote for its simplicity.

Sketching apps. I tend to like Adobe Ideas and Penultimate, but like many categories of app, the best one is the one you like and know how to use. Load up your device with a few free ones, figure out what you like and don’t, and you’ll be able to turn a more educated eye toward the reviews and screenshots on your device’s app store.

QR scanner. I see plenty of QR codes on business cards and vendor booths these days so I would recommend having one, but I’ve never looked hard to find differentiating factors between them. I use QR Reader for iPhone and it works fine.

Anything else for networking. There are lots of programs that let you easily share your contact information with others... Bump and CardFlick, to name two. Most of them rely on both parties having the same app, so it’s smart to have a variety of apps and get them set up ahead of time. And there will be parts of the conference that rely on Twitter, so try it if you haven’t yet and get an app that you like for your phone or tablet. Again, there are tons of them; just find one that works well for you.

The more effort I’ve put into this, the more I’ve been curious what other gear and equipment people recommend. If you have favorites, feel free to comment, disagree, and discuss... I’m looking forward to learning from you!

Judy Unrein designs learning solutions at Artisan E-Learning, blogs at E-Learning Uncovered and onehundredfortywords, and tweets at @jkunrein.

Wednesday, December 14

HTML5—What’s the Urgency?

I’m starting to get some questions along the lines of, “We’ve been hearing we need to switch to HTML5 delivery, and we’d like to be forward-thinking, but why and when should we do it?”

Those are really good questions; thanks for asking!

Some companies need to deliver content on iPads now. In that case, there is urgency to consider something other than a Flash-based solution. One option may be to deliver that content through (VPN) access, like Tom Kuhlmann wrote about on the Rapid E-Learning Blog a few months ago. The same post covers some publish-to-video and -PDF options. If those don’t suit your needs for interactivity, you’ll probably want to check out some of the existing HTML5 authoring tools.

For companies that aren’t planning to deliver content to mobile devices any time soon, there may not be that much urgency, and it might be difficult to understand why you would want to switch to HTML5 delivery at all. If you don’t have issues with your current technology, it’s even more difficult to explain without getting into ideological discussions (including the ever-popular Why HTML5 Will Kill Flash/Why HTML5 Will Never Kill Flash debate). You can find plenty of that elsewhere on the Internet and we’ve promised not to re-tread that topic here, so just a few words in the service of answering the question…

For me, it mainly comes down to recognizing that browser plug-ins came along largely to fill a very real gap in web technology; HTML wasn’t initially built to deliver rich multimedia. But that gap is closing fast with the capabilities of the HTML5 stack of technologies, and I have more faith in the community of companies, organizations, and individuals that keep pushing web standards forward than I have in the individual companies that develop proprietary plugins. I don’t think that plugins are evil; I simply don’t think they are the way of the future. Your company may choose to produce content in Flash or Silverlight or Quicktime and your desktop/laptop users will be able to access it as long as the company supports that technology, but when introducing new devices into the mix, your need for more widely-accepted technology will likely grow.

So, if you are considering a change to HTML5 delivery for future-proofing, my advice is to take a hard look at your needs and the existing software options and be willing to wait a bit if necessary. The authoring applications that are available now either aren’t as powerful or aren’t as compliant as some of the tools to watch that I mentioned in last week’s post. So if you buy something now, I think there’s a good possibility you’ll end up with:

  • software that’s not powerful and flexible enough to meet future needs,
  • software for which you’ll have to spend a lot of time testing the output (which you’ll have to do to some degree anyway), or
  • software that doesn’t take advantage of as many modern HTML5 features as you might expect.

That’s not to say that existing software isn’t good, but more competition would accelerate and further development. I think we have a little way to go before the market is mature enough to have lots of solid contenders for your software-buying dollar. And you may find yourself using combinations of tools more than you have in the past, as well.

In some ways, this whole situation feels a little like the tail wagging the dog, doesn’t it?

It’s seemed like, for years now, that the learning industry has had delivery figured out. Now limitations on that have us scrambling for new tools—some of which might not even meet our needs. There’s a good chance you’re going to be in the market for a new authoring tool or two soon, so I think it’s a good time to take another look at what strategies your tools support.

This is a huge conversation, but the issues I do want to mention that are on my radar more and more these days are reusability and revision of content. One of the cool things about HTML—5 or otherwise—is that the published output is viewable, changeable code (rather than an object inside of a plug-in), that’s easier to manipulate, even without native files. That’s the kind of openness that can promote greater reusability and easier revision, at least in a manual workflow…though if revisions are a huge factor in your company’s workflow, you might consider tools that handle that programmatically.

I hope this has cleared up a few things and, yes, opened a few cans of worms, as well. One of the things I’ve been privileged to experience over the last couple of years is that this conversation over delivery technology—seemingly a small part of what we do and already debated to a pulp in the Flash vs. HTML5 Ring of Death—has opened up for me much larger conversations about design strategy, semantics (in a good way), accessibility…the list goes on. And we need to have these conversations. I’m as game for a good Articulate Studio vs. Adobe Captivate conversation as the next person, but we also need to remember that our jobs are bigger than that. Much bigger.

Let’s discuss.

Judy Unrein designs learning solutions at Artisan E-Learning, blogs at E-Learning Uncovered and onehundredfortywords, and tweets at @jkunrein.

Wednesday, December 7

What Do We Mean When We Say HTML5?

No doubt you’ve heard at least a whisper about HTML5 over the last year. It’s a Flash-killer. It’s the only way to get multimedia on mobile devices. It’s not going to be ready for use until 2022. It’s going to save the world.

There’s a lot of hype and a lot of confusion.

One thing that complicates the situation is that the spec is still technically undergoing revision, even as it’s currently being used in web development projects around the world. As of January 2011, it’s considered a “living standard,” and browsers are continuing to change as the spec is revised.

Another complication is that “HTML5” is often used to refer to a range of modern web technologies. Simply speaking, HTML is the language that the Web is written in, and HTML5 is the most recent version of it. But because there are a lot of other technologies commonly used to create rich experiences on the web these days (such as CSS3 and JavaScript), those get wrapped up into the the abbreviation “HTML5” in colloquial speech. There are those who think that’s a bad thing—one suggestion I’ve seen is replacing “HTML5” with “NEWT” when it’s being used to encompass more than the markup language—and while I like the idea (and the acronym), I don’t really consider it desirable to throw more jargon into the mix. I often use the phrase “the HTML5 stack” to communicate more clearly, but to me, the main thing is that people have good resources to keep them up to date on the capabilities of the technology, the delivery platforms, and the authoring tools.

And that brings us to one final complication: The makers of authoring tools—the people we often count on to help us deliver on our designs—aren’t always very invested in helping us cut through the hype to find what we need.

So what’s an elearning designer—or developer—to do? Sit this one out? Change jobs? Take that early retirement? I say none of the above! Here’s a quick primer on just what you need to know for e-learning (except the code).

Why is HTML5 important?
When I asked this question to a group I was speaking to about HTML5 authoring tools last month, about half of them held up their iPads. Good answer!

Apple has never allowed Flash on iOS devices (iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads), but these devices are way too popular for us to ignore their users. And just recently, Adobe announced that it is stopping development on the version of Flash Player that is used on all other mobile devices, as well. Even on desktop and laptop browsers, the Flash plug-in can be problematic…despite its great service over the last ten years providing the ability to rich multimedia experiences over the web.

But HTML output that you can create with tools like Lectora and ToolBook is usually so…static. How are we supposed to deliver those rich learning experiences that our learners are used to if we can’t output to Flash?

Well, HTML5 has the vast majority of the capabilities that Flash has, as well as much more widespread ability to play on mobile devices.

What can you do with HTML5?
You can build rich, app-like experiences. Blah, blah, blah.

Let me try that again.

You can make pretty stuff. You can make stuff that that responds to the learner’s input and understands gestures that used to require plugins. You can make cool multimedia experiences. You can make apps for sketching, image editing, and sound editing. You can make a drum kit. You can make a musical instrument out of the NYC subway route. You can rebuild Quake (warning: violence) and Angry Birds. (Caveat: Angry Birds still has a tiny amount of Flash built-in, for sound only as I understand). You can build lots of other games, as well.

Now, can you do all of these things? Probably not. I certainly can’t. But people who are skilled with the technology can. It wasn’t too long ago that it took a lot of skill with Flash to build the things we can create easily with rapid development tools today. We are going to have some growing pains while our tools catch up.

What can’t HTML5 do?
There are limitations (and there is an ongoing discussion about this on my individual blog), but the main point we should be concerned with is whether it can support the things we want to do in developing e-learning, not how all of HTML5’s capabilities stack up to those of other technologies. From what I’ve seen—and just based on the samples I linked above—the differences are at the margins. Most elearning designs aren’t going to cause the HTML5 stack to break a sweat.

Speaking of other technologies… is it going to kill Flash?
As Justin promised, I’m not going to waste your time on this debate. The material point for us is that if we need to produce non-Flash content so that that it can play on some devices, why bother producing a separate Flash version, as well?

If I want to deliver HTML5 output, which tools should I use?
A couple of months ago, I contributed an article to T+D on some of the more capable tools available, and I hope to report on more of them in coming months. Ones to watch in particular: Adobe Captivate is testing HTML5 output, Articulate has announced that the upcoming Storyline will output to HTML5, and Allen Technologies has announced that they are working on HTML5 output for ZebraZapps, as well.
But in addition, I would encourage you to check out tools that are not specifically built for elearning, such as Adobe Dreamweaver for full-fledged authoring and Tumult Hype and Sencha Animator for animation. Not only will it broaden your development skill set, it could encourage you to start broadening your design ideas…especially if you’ve been using rapid authoring tools for a while.

Will my learners be able to see it?
It depends. One of the great things about HTML5 is the ability to gracefully degrade content, or offer different versions of content depending on which browsers (and which versions) your audience has. For a quick graphical view of which browsers support which features and how support has been added over time, see HTML5 & CSS Readiness; for more nitty-gritty and frequently-update details, see When can I use…. In general, mobile browsers present less of a concern than desktop/laptop browsers, because they’re more frequently updated and almost all of them are built upon the same HTML5-friendly technology.

What else?
I hope this post answered some of your existing questions and I look forward to hearing any others you have!

Update: ZebraZapps added to the "tools to watch for" list.

Judy Unrein designs learning solutions at Artisan E-Learning, blogs at E-Learning Uncovered and onehundredfortywords, and tweets at @jkunrein.

Monday, December 5

December Blogger: Judy Unrein

Judy Unrein designs learning solutions for Artisan E-Learning, an e-learning design and consulting firm. I first saw Judy speak at last year’s TechKnowledge conference on HTML5, a topic of increasing importance in the learning and development field. Judy is also on the advisory committee for the upcoming TechKnowledge conference (and responsible for helping put together one of the conference’s best lineup of sessions). So, with that in mind, Judy will be blogging here this month about HTML5 and providing a peek at the upcoming conference.
We’ll try to avoid the ever-popular HTML5 vs. Flash debate and really stick with the current state of HTML5 and some tools for its development, a conversation she already started in a T+D article this past October.
To catch up with Judy, you can check in on her regular blog at or connect with her on Twitter @jkunrein. She also co-hosts “The ToolBar” a podcast about learning, technology, and beer (!).

Friday, December 2

Getting Started Creating the Mobile Learning Strategy

Well, alright. We have the rationale behind creating a strategy, we know what to avoid, and we understand what can happen when you fall of the tracks. What’s next you ask? It seems that it’s time to get started on the creation of the strategy!

Creating the team
As with any project, you’re going to need to assemble a team of experts that can assist you in the creation of the end product. In this case, the team needs to be dedicated, focused, and ready truly contribute. You don’t need experts in mobile, but you will need people with domain expertise in a wide variety of disciplines. Depending on your organization size and overall goals a typical team like this will be headed up by people from the following areas of your company:
  • you (project management)
  • senior management representative (aka project sponsor)
  • learning and development (this may be you, but I recommend getting a backup)
  • branding/marketing (ideally someone with a bit of UI/UX experience)
  • legal/compliance (find someone looking to make a name for themselves)
  • technology (pick a progressive, solution-oriented person with buying authority)
Each one of these individuals may have a number of people working under them to assist with surveying, research, and resource or information gathering. That said, I would recommend not having any more than this core group of individuals at any single group status meeting. Plan for a recurring status meeting during the course of this project, with you leading the meeting and providing the agenda to the core team.
If follow-up or “off-line” discussion needs to be done with sub groups later in the week, that’s great, but always keep those meetings focused and make sure that the agendas are always hashed out in advance. You don’t want drive-by meetings or sightseers popping in to these meetings. Everyone there needs to have a purpose.
If there are “to-dos” from any of these meetings, you will also be ultimately responsible for sending the recap of the meeting along with the results or findings from any previously resolved content.

Setting goals
With your team in place, the first conversations should be centered around framing what a successful effort looks like when completed. How will you, your team, and their managers know when you have hit the target? Each group is going to have distinct priorities and your major responsibility will be weighing these and prioritizing them in overall big picture. Make sure these goals are largely quantifiable and can be distilled into talking points when you are called on to report on your progress.

You can’t create a strategy in a vacuum. You and your team will likely need to survey and *gasp* talk to people in order to learn more about where you need to go to achieve your goals. When framing up these discussions keep a few things in mind:
1. People are usually terrible at articulating the best solution, but are great at identifying their problems. Get people to talk about how certain aspects of their job are painful and you’re destined to find some great nuggets you can build on.
2. Keep implementation details off the table. People will inevitably start to say things like “We need an app for this,” or “How will IT get that information to us?”, but your job must be one of constant redirection.
3. Keep things positive. If you can’t keep people from referencing a botched attempt that everyone remembers the last time your company tried something like this, you may need to preface the conversation or survey with a bit of a change management effort first. Remember, here, you are the dreamer of dreams and the makers of music… Not the harbingers of doom and gloom.
4. Always use your bigger picture goals as a foundation for the survey. People’s time is valuable, don’t waste their time or your time on a lot of “What-ifs” that are never going to happen. Remember from our prevous post that this strategy MUST BE IMPLEMENTABLE. If it’s not realistic that your IT department procure 1,500 iPhones for your entire company, don’t hinge your strategy on that. If you have no competency internally in Android development and have no intentions to train or hire your developers to build apps, then don’t propose that.

Off to the races
Here we are! Ready to get started? You have a solid team, have outlined your goals, and created a lot of great research, now it’s time to distill that information and make your pitch. You’ll need to find a way to weigh the pros and cons of what you’ve found and then turn it into something you can use. Don’t get hung up analyzing which “measuring stick” is the best, just line up some options, talk it over with your team, and then choose one and stick with it as you firm up for your results. Approach this step with confidence in knowing you’ve done your best work and always keep an eye towards establishing ROI and you’re bound to make a mark for yourself.
It’s a big step, but you can do it! If you are looking for more information on how to build a mobile learning strategy, continue to read our posts at We’re posting regularly on topics like this.
In closing, a note of thanks to the fine folks at Learning Circuits. It’s been great working with you over last few weeks.