eLearning and Higher Education

This article is part of a guest blog post I wrote for Articulate eLearning Heroes.
Click here to read the full post.

e-learning in higher education

Instructional designers working in higher education have a ton of tools at their disposal. Learning management systems, educational apps, clickers, and other technologies allow for lots of creativity both inside and outside of the classroom.

At the University of Maryland, I partner with faculty to create engaging activities that help learners apply new skills and practice outside of the classroom. In addition to helping faculty with the tools listed above, we create custom videos and e-learning products for their courses. Both students and faculty have been wowed by the e-learning projects we have created for their classes. Faculty love how we can create a customized piece that requires students to demonstrate their skills; and students like that these assignments are engaging, useful, and fun.

Let’s look at a few ways you can use e-learning to enrich any higher ed course…(Read more)

Storyline vs. Captivate Part 7


Today is a continuation of this ongoing comparison. For a full comparison, check out this post.

Feature Captivate 8 Storyline 2 Notes
508 Compliance This could be an entire post on its own. Suffice it to say that Captivate used to win this category hands down. But the most recent update of SL2 added some really great 508 options that I think have now pushed SL to the forefront on this category. These include being able to heavily customize keyboard tabbing in addition to some of the more standard options.
Closed Captioning Captivate offers built in closed captioning. You can customize the look and timing and, while a bit time consuming, it is pretty easy to do (And important!). SL offers no way to do built in closed captioning. You can custom create this but it takes a LOT of time (I have done it before!). Your best option in SL, though it isn’t as useful for the learner, is to use the notes feature as a transcript. This is the one area of 508 compliance where Captivate wins hands down. Either way, captioning videos is tough to do. You can always use You Tube, Aegisub or other online programs to caption videos or other portions of your project.
Adding Video & Animations SL has a lot less options for the types of videos you can import and for embedding from a website. However, it does allow you to split one video across multiple slides. This can come in handy if you want to have users interact with the video in order to advance it. You do also have more control over the look of the video player skin. You can add in any Flash element, video from a file (FLV, MP4, SWF – other types will convert to MP4 when imported), video from a website (you will need the embed code), or record video from your webcam into SL. You can also embed web objects (that is, web pages) into the project. You don’t have any control over how a video player looks but you can turn it off if you want.
Object Animations & Effects Captivate has a text animation option that is quick and easy to use. It just simply does PPT style text animations. It also has a somewhat hidden effects panel that is not very user friendly but is actually quite powerful. This can be used to add animations and effects to almost any element of your project. Captivate also allows you to “time” some of your effects, such as an object glow. Storyline’s animation options aren’t as powerful, but they are very easy to use. There are tabs for transitions (entry animation effects for entire slides) and for animations (entry, exit, and motion path effects for individual objects). It also allows you to also trigger a motion path. All SL effects (shadow, reflection, glow) are static and applied to an object for the entire time it is on the screen.

Cartoons Compete: PowToon vs. GoAnimate


Sometimes in eLearning you need to create a quick animated short, either to insert into a longer course or to stand on its own. Storyline 2 actually makes this pretty simple, but there are some platforms that exist that make it even easier by providing built-in graphics; we all know that creating or finding images can take forever!

Two of the leaders in this area are PowToon and GoAnimate. As I mentioned last week, our team recently switched from PowToon to GoAnimate. In the process of switching, I was looking for a comparison of the two but not much was out there. So, if you are thinking about purchasing or switching to one of these platforms, you’re in luck!



PowToon is simple to use.  Creating and timing objects is easy. I like the way that PowToon uses a timeline even though you can only view and adjust one object a time on it. It has the basics and the free plan has some good features and options.


AUDIO. You can only import 1 audio file into the entire project so both creating the audio and timing it to your slides can be really tricky.

You also don’t have much control over the props and characters. They are set in stone. So, if the prop you need doesn’t really fit into your color scheme, too bad.


The free plan offers a decent selection of styles and can be a good way to get started with PowToon. It will only let you share your video through YouTube or with a direct link, so if you want to download videos this isn’t a workable option. However, you can pay per export. The thing that I really don’t like about the free version is that it has both a watermark and an annoying outro slide at the end that has a little “created using PowToon” jingle.

For $228 a year you can get a pretty good business plan that allows you to download videos, get rid of the watermark and outro, and has a lot more included styles though not all of the styles. The only downside to this plan is that you are only allowed to use the videos for your own business; they can not be sold.

If you want the whole shebang, it’ll cost you $684 a year, though they sometimes run specials that will allow you to get the best plan for the price of $228 a year.

Why we switched

GoAnimate offers superb control over both audio and visual elements. You can even create your own custom characters in several of the styles and sync their talking to your audio narration.  It’s impressive! In addition, you can make characters actually hold objects (and they move with the objects in hand) and there are several more options for exits and entrances in addition to motion paths.

Also, you can search for a particular prop among all styles which is super handy and something I was often wished for with PowToon.

GoAnimate also has lots of features I didn’t know I was missing like a Ken Burns effect, great built-in “scenes” that can be modified as needed, and cool infographic animations.

What’s missing

I think my only let down with GoAnimate is that timing objects is a definitely trickier. There is a timeline but it only shows the scenes and audio, not the individual elements in each scene. You have to time objects relative to each other which can be tricky and makes time the full scene difficult. I think the best workaround for this is to create several short scenes with a couple of things happening as opposed to one longer scene with several actions.

GoAnimate does make this a little smoother than PowToon, including the fact that handwritten text matches up exactly with non-handwritten text, an issue I battled in PowToon more than once. I also just realized the other day that you can fit the scene duration to the content so that helps as well.


The free plan for GoAnimate doesn’t allow exporting either, however you can copy embed code for the video or share a link. Also, the branding is a little less intrusive than that of PowToons in that there is only a small logo and not a jarring outro. However, you can only create videos that are less than 30 seconds long.

The mid level plan is $299 a year, about the same a PowToon and with basically the same additional features.You do get access to ALL the styles with this plan which is nice but you still have a watermark and can only use the videos internally.

The high level plan is $599 a year, considerably less than PowToon and, in my opinion, with a great deal more to offer.

In addition, GoAnimate offers a team subscription. It’s pricey, starting at $2000 a year for 3 subscribers, but allows separate accounts to collaborate on videos which is pretty handy.

So which one is better for me?

Glad you asked! Overall, I think GoAnimate is a better tool with more bang for your buck.  If they would add slide elements to the timeline, I would even call it close to perfect! However, if you are looking for a great tool to create some (longer than 30 second) free videos, PowToon definitely has the upper hand. Either way, these tools are easy to use and can really up your animation game!

Do you use either of these? Or another tool that you like?  Please share your experience in the comments!

A Challenging Challenge

If you stopped by my home page today you might have noticed something new – a video!  I created it as part of this week’s eLearning Heroes Challenge. I have to say, I was really nervous about this one. I like creating eLearning precisely because I am not front and center!  Plus I don’t have a great webcam or a nice looking space in which to record.

But I told David I would participate in this challenge so I couldn’t very well back out. Plus, I think this challenge was really about embracing low-end solutions to create a quality product. And you know what?  I think I did just that.

Just in case you also want to incorporate some webcam video into your website or trainings, here’s a quick recap of my tools and process. Be sure to click over to the home page or read till the end to check out the finished product.


The webcam I have on my desktop computer is a Logitech HD webcam. I have previously only used it for Skype but found that it had a pretty good video and audio quality for this project.

Recording studio

My super professional set up was, well, not so super professional.

photo 1     photo 4

I think part of what made this challenge interesting was the point that webcam video can be of decent quality and is a lot easier to incorporate than using more professional video tools. So, I moved a few things from the back of my office (I keep my bike there and didn’t want that in the shot) and amped up the lighting by adjusting my monitor brightness and turning on a lamp I don’t normally use.  I also had to close my window blinds as the glare from the window was extremely bright. And voila!  Instant recording studio.


I decided to give Articulate Replay a shot for this challenge.  It came free with my Storyline license but I had yet to open it up and try it out. While the editing capabilities are pretty limited, it was an easy way to add lower thirds and switch between different variations of webcam, screen share, and picture in picture formats.


First, I wrote a script.  Ok, actually first I tried a shot without a script. Then I realized that was a horrible mistake and immediately wrote a script.  So if you’re trying this out – write a script first. While I was writing the script, I also created a short PowerPoint presentation that I could use as some B roll footage.

I did a couple of short takes of the first few sentences, adjusting my lighting and webcam settings in between, until I found a set up that worked.

Then I did two or three takes with everything in place, just of me talking straight to the camera. (Along with my surprise guest!)

Then I recorded a screen share of my PowerPoint.  I decided to record these separately because I had a hard time remembering what I wanted to say while also operating the PowerPoint. I must be getting old. Luckily Replay makes this easy and it didn’t really matter when it came time for editing!2014-09-12_10-20-34


This was the easiest part!  Replay was a cinch. I just chose where I wanted to start and end each take, where to start my screen share, and where to put my transitions.  In addition I added a lower thirds caption to the beginning and the end which took about 30 seconds. The reason editing is so easy is that I just listed all of the editing possibilities in Replay.  It can’t do a lot but it makes simple video editing so easy my Grandma could do it.

And that’s it!

Creating Training On the Go

This week’s Articulate challenge was to create a training video using a mobile device.

I decided to make things a little harder for myself than they needed to be and did two very silly, but fun things:

  1. Make a video on origami
  2. Film, edit, post (and write this blog post! Don’t worry I’ll fix weird formatting tomorrow.) all from my tiny little iPhone

Set up

I used my floor, an ottoman, some Harry Potter books, and a cool little gadget meant to hold your phone upright. Oh and a pen.

A couple of different iterations of these items made for various camera angles. Since this was all done with my phone, I couldn’t take a picture of my phone in the set up. But, it was placed on the blue and white stand each time. (Edit: the 4th picture below I took with my iPad and added now that I am back at my desk.  The phone just sticks to the blue mat!)

20140717-222651-80811791.jpg   20140717-222652-80812145.jpg


20140717-222652-80812503.jpg    camera set up


I filmed this in my office which has a great window with natural light. That was it! It did create a few weird shadows but I hate fooling with lighting so didn’t care enough to fix that.

My helper

My cat, Roux, decided she wanted to help. Rather than shutting her out of the room or doing a bunch of takes, I just incorporated her into the video. Besides, cats are necessary for any video on the internet, right?

Speaking of takes, I only had a little video I wasn’t able to use on the first try due to me making folds in the wrong place.

Here are some cute pictures of Roux:

20140717-225626-82586501.jpg   20140717-225626-82586838.jpg

Editing & posting

I used iMovie to edit my clips and add titles since it’s what I had already installed on my phone. It wasn’t too tough to pick up since I had used the desktop version before. In fact, I managed to do most of the editing while sitting on the metro on my way to meet some friends for happy hour. iMovie even includes some free background music, which is much more pleasant to listen to than paper being folded.

Once everything was ready, I just uploaded it to YouTube straight from the iMovie app. Easier than folding an origami box!

So, check it out! My totally mobile-made how-to video.



A few editorial notes on this post, now that I am back at my desktop computer and tweaking the formatting.

I think this challenge really shows how easily and inexpensively smartphones and tablets can be used to create video for training.  In fact, several years ago when I was at the Girl Scouts, we created a short training video using a smartphone and posted it to YouTube.  It was quick, easy, and effective.  This won’t be the most high quality video, but sometimes that just doesn’t matter as long as there is ample lighting and a good script.

If I weren’t doing the editing on the go, I would have used voice over instead of captions for the directions.  I think that watching the folds is important and having to read the captions takes away from this.  It would also allow for slightly more detailed directions.