In our previous installment of this series we suggested 6 of the most essential tools for online employee training and development, focusing mainly on the kind of tools that you’ll need for content creation-related tasks.
In this post we’ll suggest tools that can help you with designing and managing your courses.
Excel as a tool for online training you might ask? Well, while Excel excels (pun intended) in accounting and business finance tasks, it’s also a great all around solution for all kinds of list-keeping, statistical calculation, numeric analysis and all kinds of information organization.
It might not be as good as a database (such as MS Access or SQL Server) or a statistics package (such as SPSS) for some of these tasks, but it’s good enough, way more intuitive to use, and very easy to begin with. What’s not to like?
So, what would Excel be useful for in your case?
Well, reporting for one.
While TalentLMS comes with great reporting facilities out of the box, and you can built your own specialized ones, Excel allows you to really go to town with analyzing your data. Using its powerful built-in functions and plethora of available plot types, you can easily create different reports and visualizations and highlight different trends.
In a larger enterprise setting, having your training data in Excel format will come handy when you need to share them with your management, marketing or accounting teams, who in most probability, are heavy spreadsheet users.
But how do you do get your LMS data into Excel in the first place? Thankfully, TalentLMS designers have already thought of that, and have made almost any kind of listing in your LMS –whether it is user information, grades, course attendances, or any other training related information– available for export in an Excel compatible format.
In smaller organizations, where fewer people are responsible for all aspects of the training program, including budgeting, Excel can help you track down training-related expenses, course effectiveness (e.g. by tracking grades vs other job performance metrics), and even organize time schedules (for instructor shifts, ILT courses, etc.).
It’s also an invaluable finance tool for businesses that sell eLearning courses, but of course you already knew that.
Excel comes as part of the MS Office suite, which, depending on where you live, can be quite expensive, going for around $229.99 as an one time purchase or $6.99 per month as part of a subscription to Microsoft’s Office 365 program. There are however several alternatives that are (almost) just as capable, including Apple’s Numbers for OS X ($9.99), Google’s web-based Sheets (free), and the Calc spreadsheet that’s part of the open source Apache OpenOffice suite.
8. Mind Mapping
In the previous installment we’ve covered several programs to help you write your course and embellish it with multimedia. But what about designing it in the first place?
The brainstorming and organizing part — coming up with ideas for a course, determining the correct order to present your material, thinking of what to include and what not to include, can be just as hard as actually getting down to write it.
Thankfully, there are several classes of applications available that can help you with these tasks.
Some of the most effective programs for that are the so-called “mind mapping” applications, which are tools to help you dump your raw brain contents, to organize them in the way that makes most sense, and to facilitate mental associations that will help you expand your ideas.
Mind mapping applications are based on a form of conceptual diagrams (“mind maps”) that begin with a single core concept and expand to associated ideas and concepts, which themselves can branch out to secondary ideas and so on.
Mind maps are especially effective in generating, visualizing and structuring ideas, and have been used since the seventies to aid in information organization, problem solving and creative writing. Today you can find tons of mind mapping applications for all major computing platforms (including iOS and Android).
For Windows, there’s the excellent Xmind (which is also available for OS X and Linux versions) and SimpleMind. For OS X, we suggest MindNode Pro and iThoughtsX. There are also several web-based mind mapping solutions, including bubbl.us and the quite more polished Coggle.
9. Project management
Designing, creating, deploying and running an eLearning course is not that different than any other IT project.
If you’re assigned with such a task, project management software can help you keep track of the whole process, especially if it involves multiple courses and many people (content creators, instructors, department heads, vendors, etc.) in a large organization.
If you haven’t used such programs before, project management software are tools to help you plan, organize and schedule complicated (or simple, for that matter) projects, covering everything from cost estimation and resource allocation, to task scheduling, quality assurance and progress tracking to meet your training goals.
Essentially the sky (and your time) is the limit, as there are Project Management programs that range from basic to extremely deep and all-covering. Depending on the scale of your training program you can go with a lighter or a heavier approach with regards to project management.
If you’re just starting out, we suggest you take it easy and manage your eLearning deployment in broad strokes, unless you have actual proof that you need to micro-manage and schedule every last part of your training program.
This time we won’t suggest separate programs for Windows and Mac users, as nowadays the most popular project management options are all web-based. Our best picks would be:
Asana, a very capable project management and collaboration tool, which handles actionable tasks, scheduling, bug tracking, file sharing, notifications, team chat, etc with aplomb.
Zoho Projects is another capable project planing and coordination tool, that has all the features you’d expect, and also offers some unique features, like wiki pages and built-in integration with Google Apps.
Basecamp is and old and proven solution, now in its third re-incarnation, that’s considered one of the leading project management tools. It’s very easy and intuitive to use, and comes with discussions, To Do lists, file management, document sharing and scheduling.
You can’t really go bad with either of these options, and they all come in the form of subscription services with plans starting at around around $20/month.
10. Stock service
When it comes of putting together content for your courses, a good stock service will save you tons of time, and make your lessons look far more professional.
In case you’re not familiar with the term, “stock” is media industry speak for all kinds of ready-made multimedia assets such as photos, videos, clip-art and music, that you can just buy and incorporate to your courses. The stock industry has grown considerably along with the internet, so unless your course covers a very niche technical topic, you’ll be able to find high quality graphics, music and animations that match your needs.
While you might be tempted to use random images off of the internet for your illustration needs, it can get you into legal trouble as most of the images you find online will be copyrighted. That said, if you don’t have a budget for stock assets, there are several places you can find quality material that is either copyright free or offered with a permissive free license. Flickr’s Creative Commons image search is a good place to look for such pictures, as is Wikimedia Commons and archive.org.
And with this, we conclude our listing of the 10 most used and useful online employee training tools. Is there anything you think we’ve missed? Some essential tool you can’t live without that we left out?
Let us, and your fellow TalentLMS users, know in the comments.
Until next week, stay warm and keep on eLearning!