Building your own

There is only one solution when you can’t find the e-learning programmes you’re looking for off-the-shelf: create your own.

This is exactly what the Customer Information Group (CIG) – Communications & Commerce of audio-visual electronics and information technology giant Sony decided to do.

What existed, it said, was either too costly, or CIG – whose remit includes internal training, support and communications – was put off by the inappropriateness of American voice-overs.

Having taken the decision to build its own bespoke, interactive courses that would enable it to share knowledge across Europe, it needed to find the authoring software that would enable it to do so.

This had to be affordable, easy to use and adaptable to suit Sony’s specific needs.

Debbie Roberts, communications specialist in the CIG at Sony Europe, downloaded a trial version of ViewletBuilder Pro from the Productivity4You (P4You) website, and found she could use the software immediately.

“In comparison to other similar authoring packages I’d tried, I found the software intuitive,” she says. “I quickly put together a short course without even glancing at the manual.

“After demonstrating it to my bosses and explaining how we could use it in Sony Europe, they were sold on the idea. Our Basingstoke offices have since purchased 10 licences.”

The software, developed by Qarbon and distributed in the UK by P4You, costs £280 for a single user copy, or £2,189 for a 10-licence copy (the five-user version is £1,089).

Included in this is a day’s training by P4You. Shortly after the training, CIG was producing its own courses, and now has 20 modules on a range of subjects from web publishing to wireless connections. P4You claims courses can be produced for as little as £300.

Target learner
Everyone within Sony Europe, which has 13,000 employees, is a potential target user since the courses have been created to share knowledge across the organisation. One of the key drivers of using e-learning was to save the expense of flights and hotel bills associated with traditional training methods.

Course content
All are process-driven, bite-size online courses. They include: A Guide to the Publishing Centre, which trains staff in using the in-house content publishing tool for website updating; English Grammar, a general interest course for anyone who wants to improve their English; How to use the Knowledge Sharing Intranet, which focuses on how to use the intranet to publish information; How to Handle Review E-mails, designed to help employees understand the intranet’s document review process; and Leads Plus, a course to train staff in how to use the leads-generating software.

All last a maximum of five to seven minutes, which is an ideal length, says one learner, Sarah Williams, who works in web development and support services .

“Viewlets (the output from the ViewletBuilder) are good for quick immersion and refresher training,” she says. “Learning a new process is made really straightforward as you are shown exactly what to do.

“I liked the interaction and the quizzes at the end, which helped to confirm that I had actually learned something. Viewlets play anywhere so, if I want to, I can train at home.”

Initially, the lack of any paper-based training materials to work on or take away from the online module bothered Williams. “I’m in favour of blended learning,” she comments.  However, this was rectified by converting  Viewlet files into a PDFs, which can then be printed out and used as hard copy.

Putting it together
All the content was generated in-house, and because the software can handle all aspects of course production, there was no need to engage instructional designers, programmers or any other external service suppliers.

Put simply, the software works by recording what you do in a particular piece of software, and turns that into the learning.

CIG could work through the various processes of its Publishing Centre software as if it was using it for real, while ViewletBuilder – which runs in the background – records what is happening each time the hot key is pressed.

In this first stage, ViewletBuilder works in what is called the screen shot environment (because it’s basically collecting screenshots), which are then exported into the editing environment.

At this stage, CIG could add text, captions, interactivity or anything else. Users can then literally click a button to see what they have created.

“It is very rewarding when you hit the compile button and see your finished project working exactly as you expected,” says Roberts.

ViewletBuilder was originally created for application software developers to show off the unique selling points of their programmes, which accounts for its adeptness at creating application training.

However, its developers, Qarbon, and its UK distributor, P4You, recognised its potential as a e-learning authoring tool. New features and functionality have been added (its SCORM and AICC compliant), and modules can now be used to create training for a range of subjects.

In creating the English Grammar module, for instance, CIG was able to start with a blank screen and build the module in stages. It can also be used to create training for soft skills.

Main challenges
The courses aim to pass on knowledge in an interesting way, making the learner feel part of the process, rather than just a passive viewer or reader.

“Their main challenge in this was storyboarding the content to keep it bite-sized for the end user,” says Michelle Medhat, marketing director of P4You. “Any more than seven minutes, and you start to lose the learner’s interest.”

Courses that focus on how to use a particular application are the most straightforward to create, and production of these took only two days. Some of the more complex courses took a month to build from brainstorming through to proof-reading and trials – but even this didn’t represent a solid month’s work.

“The harder and more time-consuming work comes in when you need to do branching, interactive elements and rebranding,” says Roberts. “But a basic course can be created in minutes.

“I always send the Viewlet I’ve created out to a small group of colleagues for comment first,” she says. “Then I make any necessary changes and either e-mail it to a particular group of people who would benefit from it or publish it to a knowledge-sharing intranet, where anyone can take advantage of it.”

The courses range from online tutorials and demonstrations to highly interactive sessions, but the design approach is kept simple.

Across the library of courses, Sony has made use of all aspects of ViewletBuilder’s functionality and elements to make up the design and content, including voiceovers, images, interactive quizzes, click zones and screen shots.

There are currently more than 20 training modules available to employees. “Now the race is on to build up a library of ViewletBuilder courses for all Sony Europe staff,” says Roberts.

Top tips

  • Don’t accept the first package that comes along – you don’t have to accept pre-written formats
  • Ensure the package makes it easy for you to format your learning once you’ve created it
  • Look for a company that gives you good pre and post sales support.


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