Sunday, August 23, 2009

Flash without Flash

Last week I attended a webinar on Simplified E-Learning presented by Ray Jimenez. The title was Using Basic and Advance Reusable Flash Engines to Author Content. The key concept revolved around spicing up e-learning with interactive Flash pieces that are adaptable and reusable. A delightful idea.

I should say first that Ray Jimenez is a very smart man with plenty of good ideas. He teaches ways to design clear, simple e-learning and build it rapidly. He's also a great presenter and remarkably generous in sharing his ideas and his work. I recommend his books and webinars to anyone who needs to create effective e-learning within real-world business constraints.

Reusable Flash Components

The Flash projects Ray showed are "reusable engines," designed to separate coding from content. A Flash programmer creates a basic interactive page or game, with the e-learning subject matter read in from a text file. Instructional designers or authors with no Flash coding skills can edit the text file for different courses, hence reusing the engine.

The examples Ray showed are simple animated games. The learner answers quiz questions entered into the text file. If they answer correctly, a cartoon figures shoots a basket or sinks a putt. Ray's company also has a beta web site where you can customize some of the games through a web interface instead of a text file.

Extending the Concept

While I love the idea of reusing Flash components, I had some reservations about taking the free samples Ray showed and just plopping them into one of my courses.

For one thing, the arcade-game imagery bothered me.

I realize this particular aesthetic is in vogue and probably works great for a demographic raised on manga and anime. But if your e-learning course uses stock photos and has a formal, businesslike look and feel, splashing in a cartoon quiz is going to jar. Unfortunately, the imagery of the Flash games is a lot harder to customize than just the text of the quizzes.

My other qualm is with the apparatus of the quizzes themselves. While I like the way they jazz up the presentation, I have to wonder how much real learning value they bring to the equation.

The best uses of Flash in e-learning have some intrinsic relationship between the interactivity or animation and the learning content. But when a learner answers a multiple choice question and a golf ball drops in the cup or misses, the relationship between these two events is artificial. And I suspect it will seem so to my learners.

So I am on the lookout to extend the idea of reusable Flash pieces. I know there are many sources of free and low cost Flash components out comes to mind. I'm going to look for components that allow me to customize the look and feel (with my intermediate Flash skills) and that I can adapt to have a more intrinsic relationship to my learning content.

If I succeed, well, that's an even more delightful idea!