Monday, August 31, 2009

Unleash the Graphics from your Presentations

A few days back, Tom Kulhmann wrote about how you can unleash your graphics from Powerpoint 2007 using 7zip. As a Mac user, I knew that there was bound to be an alternative. I use Stuffit Expander for most of my unarchiving efforts on the Mac. Its quite a handy tool and can deal with most formats. That said, Stuffit Expander can extract not just Powerpoint presentations, but also those from Keynote. So if you end up doing a lot of background removal kind of work with Keynote, using the Alpha blending tool, then Stuffit can help you extract those edited images from the presentation. A bit of a round-about way to do things, but that's what you can do if you lack the skill to do things in Photoshop or GIMP.

Extract the Presentation

Once you have Stuffit Expander installed, all you need to do, is right click and "Open With". You won't necessarily see Stuffit Expander in the menu. If you don't, click Other as in the picture above. You can then find Stuffit Expander in your Applications folder as in the picture below. Click Open and Stuffit should start extracting your presentations for you.

Locate your extracted folders

Once Stuffit finishes expanding, you'll see a folder for your presentation. Usually an extracted Powerpoint folder will have a .pptx suffix and its easy to spot out. A keynote folder usually will be with the same name as the presentation itself and may have a .key suffix. Take a look at the image below and you'll know exactly what I mean.

Find your media assets

Once you've located your folders, getting to your media files is simple. The Keynote media files will be in the extracted folder itself. Keynote chooses the best media format to represent the image, so usually you should see the media in the best possible quality for its size.

For your Powerpoint media files, you'll need to navigate to the ppt/media folder inside the extracted directory. You can then save this folder with whatever name you choose, just like Tom recommends on his blog. And that's that! Simple, huh?

I hope this post was useful for Mac users who'd like to do the same things that Tom proposed on his blog.
If you liked this post, you may be interested in my other post about Elearning Experiences on the Mac

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Using the Dreyfus Model to engage people in your Online Learning program

The success of your Knowledge Management or online learning initiative depends on how well you can engage different people in your organization and really, how apt is your mode of delivery, to the content you're delivering. Very simply, the purpose of any online learning/ knowledge sharing implementation is to make capabilities explicit in an organization. I've been thinking about this recently and I think the Dreyfus Model of Skills Acquisition is a great way to articulate the different levels of expertise in a certain area, in an organization. If we use the Dreyfus model to map out our learning strategy, it quickly illuminates the different mechanisms we need to provide, so that people can participate in your learning program.

Mechanisms to engage various Dreyfus personas


A novice is someone who needs strict rules to follow clearly. They need monitoring to accomplish immediate tasks and unambiguous instructions to succeed. Some of the tools and resources that can help a novice are:
  • Checklists
  • How-to's
  • Focussed elearning for specific job actions
  • Ability to seek out help and mentorship

Advanced Beginner

For an advanced beginner, rules start to often become guidelines and they can start to apply these guidelines in similar contexts. Most new beginners tend to start here. The advanced beginner is keen to start new things, though they struggle with troubleshooting. They are therefore still focussed on their immediate tasks and aren't so fussed about the "big picture". I believe that an Advanced beginner needs a safe environment to try new things. Some of the following tools can be useful:
  • Controlled Simulations
  • Virtual Worlds to try out things in safety
  • Mailing Lists/ Social QnA and Communities to ask questions and find solutions to common problems.
  • Online Assignments to practice their new found skills.


People at this level tend to build conceptual models to organize complex rules. They can often go a step beyond the Advanced beginner and troubleshoot issues. Most importantly, they like to plan their work, make decisions and take responsibility for their outcomes. A competent practitioner probably needs some of the following tools:
  • Case Studies to help them understand various real world scenarios.
  • The ability to participate on Forums and social platforms to "listen into" real problems and solutions
  • Access to blogs documenting peer experiences.
  • Podcasts and media that help them see work patterns and various applications of their skills.
  • And of course, all the experience they can get from their day job, helps!
Most elearning and knowledge sharing gigs tend to ignore the last two levels of the Dreyfus Model. OTOH, its imperative to involve people at these last two levels if a learning initiative has to be successful.


Proficient practitioners tend to look at problems as a whole, than in terms of individual aspects. They need the big picture, and like to gain practical knowledge from unhindered experimentation. Oversimplification, rules, policies and guidelines frustrate them. Given that they already have sufficient mastery over skills, I believe that Proficient practitioners need the opportunity to connect with other practitioners at a similar stage of learning/ skill acquisition. People at this stage are looking to create their own models and frameworks to apply their skills. So, connecting with their peers identifying problems - defining solutions, using their experiences and that of others to adjust their performance is a learning need for these individuals. Social networking is a core tool to involve such individuals. Being able to mentor others only broadens their skills and helps them on their learning journey. I look at proficient individuals a community leaders, virtual facilitators and content contributors. Using their frameworks and models creates standard work for the rest of the organization. They need to have ownership for courses, communities and mailing lists.


Experts are as the name suggests, masters of their trade. They intuitively solve problems without much analysis and planning. They've had enough experience in identifying problem patterns and applying generalities to solve these problems. The trouble is, that experts have trouble articulating many of their conclusions. That said, experts need to expand their knowledge and experience by evaluating boundary cases. Despite the fact that a few of these people can tend to be lurkers on most mailing lists and communities, I feel facilitative leaders should call out their opinions during discussions and debates online. In fact they're a great resource for content creation. Think standard work analysis, interviews, experience reports! Experts may not be such great teachers, but great role models -- so its exciting to hear from them, see them work. Its important to tap into them as great resources!

Finding the right mechanisms to share knowledge

I find it strange that training managers and instructional designers in particular get married to a certain mechanism. In fact, I've seen instructional designers stuck to elearning as if its the only technology available to us in this world. I look at content as a function of two parameters -- criticality of content and the duration of its shelf life. This helps justify the cost of creating content and justify community involvement in its creation. I've drawn out a 2 x 2 matrix to map out various tools depending on the criticality and shelf-life of the content.

The interesting thing to notice is that Elearning (Rapid or not) fits in three separate slots of the matrix. Its important to note that Rapid elearning (not traditional elearning called "rapid") fits in two of these slots. This is the kind of learning where I wouldn't recommend spending any more than 40 hours behind each hour of online engagement. I recommend traditional high cost elearning only in certain situations - rapid elearning fits most content and its important to weigh the cost of production with the actual value of the content.

Thinking through your Dreyfus personas and the right knowledge sharing mechanisms ensures that you create the right mix of elearning/ knowledge sharing mechanisms for your customers. Use these liberally to define an instructional strategy for your customers - hope you find this useful.

If you liked this post, you may like some of my other posts.
Think Small (Iterations, Action Maps, Storyboards and Mini-modules).
The role of social media.
Screencasting - A simple way to create bite-sized learning.
Why Synchronous Learning makes so much sense today.
Do let me know what you thought about this post by liberally commenting on the blog!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Agile 2009 - The Distributed Agile Game (My session!)

Today was a great day! I had heaps of fun running the Distribued Agile session with Jonathan today at Agile 2009. We were competing for attention with many other great sessions running in the same slot, we were a 3 hour session and we were also on the last day and last slot of the conference. That said, we had 18 great attendees and to look back and see that everyone stayed glued to the workshop right till the end, except Jeff who had previous commitments makes me feel we really engaged our audience. That too with an audience that tends to vote with their feet! We've had some great feedback from our audience and I'm truly grateful to Agile 2009 for hosting my session and to everyone that attended.

Jonathan and I did a lot of running around to create the right atmosphere for this game. In the end, what we had was not ideal, but was much better than what we would have had if we hadn't tried. I must especially thank Jeff Norris of the ThoughtWorks Agile iPhone App fame, Pramod Sadalge of Refactoring Databases fame and Ken Kolchier, developer/ tech lead/ facilitator from ThoughtWorks, for pitching in and helping us run the game, by playing customers and backup email server respectively!

Thanks all our attendees - and for those that couldn't attend, drop Jonathan or me a line to know more about what we did. Thanks everyone who I met at the conference for your time and for the privilege of knowing you - I truly enjoyed knowing each new person at this event.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ways to bring videos into your elearning mix

Videos are a great way to learn and a popular means as well - take a look at YouTube and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. I feel that there are at least three effective ways of using standalone video for elearning and I'd like to share them with you today.

Distribute videos with Chapter Markers

In a previous post, I've talked about how important it is to break up your learning into small pieces that tell you "How to...". If you're distributing downloadable videos, then its perhaps a little annoying for people to have to download each "How to..." individually. So one of the tricks I like to use to create movies with chapter markers. This way your learners can skip to the content that's most relevant to them, without having to browse through and download multiple videos.

Use YouTube

I'm really excited about the fact that at ThoughtWorks, we're going to have our own YouTube installation. I believe the Google Apps suite is well worth the investment for your company. That said, I think sharing videos on the regular YouTube is a great idea. You could go ahead and create a playlist on YouTube and share your videos individually too with your learners. Also, YouTube generates embed codes that you can put into your LMS. Given people's familiarity with the tool, it makes a great place to put up your videos.

Generate a podcast

A podcast is nothing but a blog with media files (audio/video) in each post. If you add itpc instead of http on your RSS feed, it adds directly to iTunes and your learners can access all the media files off their iPhone or computer. Its the ultimate flexibility in terms of being able to learn offline; while on the train, in the bus, or while at home or over lunch. There's always time for that short tutorial.

I'm sure there are other ways to share video using Web 2.0 technology. Do let me know what other techniques you've used for this purpose. Hope you enjoyed this short post.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Lean Balloon Game ™

This is an idea I hit upon when in a workshop with Chris Sims of the Agile Learning Labs. Its a simple game that illustrates the concepts of pull, flow, genchi genbutsu, standard work observation, controlled experiments.

I'll write this up soon and post it on the blog for anyone that's interested.

Language Patterns for Trainers and Public Speakers

I've been at a conference for the last two days and I'm truly amazed by the breadth of speaking and presentation styles I've seen on display. I'm a little concerned however, at the lack of appreciation that a lot of us still seem to have about simple things that can make our presentations, workshops and training more effective. I'm not talking mumbo-jumbo here - I just put together a list of patterns that I think make you easy to understand when you're in a crowd and also make you someone the crowd can identify.

CriteriaDescriptionPositive Indicators
Positive Words and PhrasesUse words and phrases that say what is possible, what we can do, how we can overcome problems, as opposed to what we can't do. Emphasise positive, minimise negatives.Use positive words. eg: "Here's what you can do..." instead of "The only thing you can do..."
"Certainly" instead of "Hopefully".
A Clear tone of voiceDemonstrate clarity by using simple language. "Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that's creativity." -- Charles MingusTry to be easy to understand and don't throw jargon. When you do throw jargon, explain it!
A Confident tone of voiceUse a direct tone of voice to reflect your openness and energy.Use active voice eg 'I have decided' rather than 'a decision has been made').
A Different tone of voiceUse a tone of voice that makes you stand out a bit rather than sounding just like those other boring old companies.Your language should sound simple rather than 'solicitor speak'. Be creative enough to come up with new words instead of repeating the same word twice or repeating the same word or joke!
A Human tone of voiceUse a tone of voice that connects with your audience instead of sounding faceless and bureaucratic.Training is conversational and not straight out of an instruction manual. Your audience should feel spoken with rather than barked at.
Show EmpathyUse emphasis to acknowledge student's query. Reflect your audience's concern or query.Say 'I can understand' etc. Mirror your student's style (eg word length and complexity). Rephrase 'What I hear you saying...'
Acknowledge their contributions, 'I like that thought – thanks! So you're saying...'
Identify NeedsWhen asked a question, listen to the student/ audience member carefully to establish what she wants to know.Answer their student's question while repeating the original question. 'So your question was...'
Take OwnershipTake responsibility for the classroom/ conference session.Say 'I...' or 'We...' rather than 'they' or 'company_name'.
Focus on SolutionsWhen faced with choices, explain how to do something instead of the limitations of the process.Say how something can be done. Offer ways of resolving problems rather than reasons for or why they occurred.

Eg, "Here's a couple of other ways to solve that problem" instead of "Your solution wont work because..."

Friday, August 21, 2009

New ThoughtWorks Studios Website goes Live!

Tragedies and blogging don't go together too well for me. Its taking me some time to get over Tequila's absence and put my mind to writing something constructive. Well, as a first try I want to announce the brand new ThoughtWorks Studios website. Its a matter of great pride to be associated with this company with the quality of products that we've put up; but I'll let you figure that out for yourselves.

If you're a training manager, project manager, analyst, instructional designer, I strongly recommend that you download Mingle as your collaboration and project management platform. Mingle is free for the first five users, so its ideal for small instructional design teams when you want to create great visibility with your colleagues and client. If you're a big team, please contact us.

In addition, as a product manager you will find our Application Life Cycle Management Suite as a great support for your team at each stage of your software life cycle. Visit us to know more.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Life is treacherous


Its amazing how life can turn on its head within a few hours. Within a space of 9 hours, my life has gone from that of someone on top of the world to someone completely shattered. My dog Tequila died yesterday. For those who prayed for her when she was seriously ill, this may come as a shock. Tequila recovered from the most serious of illnesses and was growing to be a strong, healthy, happy dog. As I've mentioned earlier, she had as qualities everything I hold so dear - her "never say die" attitude, her persistence, her spirit and her stomach for a fight. Its almost tragic that her death came at the peak of her health. In a freak accident, Tequila strangled herself to death while trying to escape from her crate, when her collar loop got stuck in one of the spots on the enclosure. By the time I was back home, it was all over.

To think that Tequila would have perhaps died because of a sudden series of events pains me deeply and I'm struggling to recover from the shock. At 1430, my neighbours put Tequila into her crate as they usually do. At 1730 when my dog walker came home, he found her stone dead, her neck was twisted and her collar was so tightly stuck in the crate that we had to cut her away to even get her out of the crate (This was when I came back at 1815). Those who know me will know that I love my dogs like my children -- to see Tequila lifeless, cold and to not have her jump up and try to kiss me has been the most heartbreaking experience. I can only imagine how she would have struggled in her last moments and thought of me perhaps to come and save her. A few days back when she got really scared of a little stray pup, I'd promised that I'd never let her come to any harm. In a way I broke my promise to her and am perhaps the reason for her death.

A couple of things that I've learnt the hard way and I hope all dog owners can pay heed to.
  • Dog Collars: Please, please, please if your dog is unattended, then take off his/ her collar. In retrospect, the difference between life and death for Tequila was perhaps her collar.
  • Dog Crates: I never thought this was such a big risk until yesterday. Avoid dog crates with meshes and hooks. They are an accident waiting to happen and are the next level of risk to your dog. At the least, your dog could injure himself/ herself, by brushing against the mesh/ hook. At the worst, they will kill themselves as Tequila did. Please use the reinforced aluminum crates like the one here. They are not only more secure, they mistake proof your pet handling to a huge extent.
While I'm trying to get life back to "normal", though I know life can never be the same without my little girl, I only wish that there is an after life. At a time like this, I want to forget science and believe that Tequila will come back to my family in some way. She went away without a proper goodbye. Nature owes her soul a proper chance at a full and healthy life. I want to go back to my normal life knowing that Tequila is around, in my house, watching me. I want to believe that she wishes to be remembered for her spirit, her attitude, her intelligence and her unconditional love for me and my wife. And when its time, she has to return - it couldn't have been her destiny to leave this way.
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