The Medium vs. The Message, in eLearning

April 5, 2012 by

A recent e-learning post on Linked-In shows people fixated on what software to use to create training programs. Only one person weighed in with — what I consider — the most important point: Think less about the tool and more about the project.

Almost any project can be built with almost any e-learning software tool. Sure, if you need to integrate video and a lot of interactivity, some tools handle those things better than others. But it’s not impossible to incorporate them in most training software applications. And since most are PowerPoint-based, a whole lot depends on your skills with that software.

The hardest thing to do in any e-learning project is build in excitement. So how to decide on software? Stay focused on what you want to teach. Get the content right. Ask yourself how best to engage learners, and how to measure effectiveness. The answers to these questions will bring your e-learning content, software, delivery system and measurement tools into proper alignment.


What We Learned About PowerPoint Add-Ons and OS

January 24, 2011 by

PowerPoint add-ons like Articulate and Adobe Presenter enable you to vastly improve training programs and presentations with enhanced motion graphics and sound. But be careful when upgrading equipment and software you’ll run those apps on.

If you also plan to use RAM-hungry programs for things like video editing, you might want to make your next PC a 64-bit system. It will accommodate 8MB of RAM (vs. 4 with a 32-bit computer) and should process faster. Windows 7 and many other operating systems can be ordered either way.

If you do, be aware that software and OS suppliers don’t always know which apps run correctly in the 64-bit environment. We ran into that when upgrading to PowerPoint 2010 and adding a 64-bit Dell Studio XPS system. Dell supplied the 64-bit version of PPT and the add-on (32-bit version) gave us trouble.

Sixty-four-bit operating systems are supposedly backwards-compatible with 32-bit programs (but not vice-versa). So we figured the problem had to be using the 32-bit add-on with the 64-bit PPT. This turned out to be true, even though the more popular PPT add-ons run with 32- and 64-bit versions of PPT (thank you, user forum contributors). PPT 2010 is the exception.

Since switching to the 32-bit PPT, things have been fine. We look forward to pushing the envelope with images and action for training and presentations created with 64-bit video and graphics programs. Can anyone recommend some good ones?

‘Worst Writing Awards’: Read and chuckle? Or shout in shared frustration?

April 27, 2010 by

The Center for Plain Language’s worst writing awards debuted this week. And made instant headlines, with “official” statements from government and businesses that confound readers, kill credibility and worse.

You know the type. The in-flight immigration form that says “Type or print legibly.” The guidelines for students that note, “These guidelines may not actually be in effect.”  How about the bank statement that warns: “We may charge no less than the minimum interest charge if any periodic interest charge is due for a billing cycle”? (All award winners this year.)

The Center’s founder, Anetta Cheek, was a quarter-century Federal employee. “I just got so tired of all that bureaucratic and legalistic writing,” she told NPR yesterday, noting that poor communication causes needless expense and can prevent people from getting information, services and benefits they need..

“I think writing is one of those things that needs an expert,” she said. “Particularly when you have a team of technical people and legal people, a critical third member of that team is someone who knows how to write clearly. And very often that team member is not there at all.”

I say, “Here, Here!” to the Center for its effort to — as NPR put it — shame governments and companies into communicating better.”

A Tax Break Worth Broadcasting to Hiring Managers?

April 23, 2010 by

Attention HR communicators:  A new Social Security tax break appears to be a sweet incentive to hire the unemployed. “[Companies] don’t have to pay the tax on the wages of workers hired after Feb. 3, 2010, if they worked less than 40 hours in the previous 60 days,” The Kiplinger Washington Editors report this week. The change affects wages paid after March 18, 2010 and before Jan. 1, 2011. Details at

Is this a topic you would want to communicate within your organization, or do you think the tax break encourages hiring for the wrong reasons?

Web Redesign for Hand-Helds?

February 5, 2010 by

In a recent report from MediaPost, and commented upon by my friend and marketing guru Marian Wood, the Gartner Group sees Web access via smartphones outpacing Web access via desktop computers by 2013. Gartner suggested that: “To successfully expand into mobile, publishers will have to reformat sites from the small form-factor of handheld devices.”

I don’t agree.

I think this new way to access the web begs for some really capable techy person – which I am certainly not – to create a new app for all smartphones. With this app, WHEN a reader gets to a website with its wonderful bells and whistles (translated Flash stuff), the smartphone automatically recognizes that it can’t do justice to the site, and redirects the reader to its Mobile Equivalent. Maybe I should just patent that phrase right now, and abbreviate it ME (pronounced Em-Eee) to sound cool.

Or if that’s not possible, someone — maybe me — will create an icon that instantly conveys: Click for Mobile Version. This icon would become a staple in the upper right corner of every website. And, of course, every website would then have a Mobile Version of itself, with clean, simple images and short snappier messages. Mobile readers would become used to having a less-is-more site on their mobiles, and get the fatter site versions (if they want more info) when they get to their home computers with bigger screens.

I don’t see why the entire flavor of the Web — with its exciting movement and interactivity and yes, sometimes byte-heavy material — needs to be changed completely for the sake of the small screen.

— Susan Brier/Creative Director

New Inverted Pyramid for a New Decade

January 3, 2010 by

“A lot of us have seen or lived the organizational chart of the last century,” writes U2 lead singer Bono in today’s New York Times. In that model, he explains, power and influence are concentrated in the uppermost point of the pyramid and pressure is exerted downward.

But in this new century, the pyramid is being inverted, he says. “Increasingly, the masses are sitting at the top, and their weight, via cellphones, the Web and the civil society and democracy these technologies can promote, is being felt by those who have traditionally held power.”

What a clear, concise observations about the economic and political power inherent in social media (and written without using the term – so overused in 2009)!

Here’s to embracing the new “cyber democracy,” and as business communicators, to helping it evolve in ways that improve the clarity, accuracy, overall quality and usefulness of what’s being put out there.  As Bono notes elsewhere in his column (read at, “Trust in capitalism — we’ll find a way.”

Happy New Year.