Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sneak preview….

One thing about software development - you can always think of ‘one more thing’ to make it better. It is a constant struggle between time, money, competing priorities, scope creep and just getting something out there that the customer can test.  As someone more eloquent might say, “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good”.  Not that I’m excusing Windows 1.0 or the Ford Pinto.  Some things just can’t be justified.

Which brings us to today’s topic. The LearningZen course viewer. It works. It delivers courses to our learners daily, by the thousands. It is not particularly sexy but is easy to navigate. It isn’t a Pinto, but maybe an Explorer? Thus, I am pleased to announce (leak) that we are moving into Tesla territory (please ask me about the Tesla, I am obsessed!).  Yes, we are updating the course viewer.

I’m not supposed to show you this because it isn’t done yet but this is a preview:

We’re moving the navigation info to the top bar, opening up more screen real estate for the course content. We are updating the look and feel with new buttons and icons and removed unnecessary repetition of navigation options.

It is really fun for us to do something that is such a noticeable change.  A lot of software updates are invisible, either fixing something, or providing a feature that might be used by a particular user but which may go mostly unnoticed.  

Doing something that people will notice and appreciate is very motivating for software developers. We think this new viewer will be pleasing to the eye and fun to use. We might just have a party when it goes to production!

We hope you like it - The new LearningZen viewer will be available in early 2015. Let us know what you think…. of course, it can be turned on or off by your portal administrator, so you can keep using that old ‘Explorer’ if you want to! Now who wants to talk Tesla?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Improving Death Certificate Data Quality through Training

The process of properly entering and filing a death certificate is surprisingly complex. For example, when a person passes away, a physician must ‘certify’ the cause of death in a particular way and describe the circumstances in a medically precise, legally allowable (and statistically useful) manner. 

This type of information has become increasingly essential for understanding population trends and surveillance, including tracking of epidemic outbreaks. Many organizations, including the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC), rely heavily on this data for the compilation of regional and national statistics.

Gold Systems has built vital record registration systems for several government agencies, including the States of Montana, Arizona, and the District of Columbia. DC and Arizona both use LearningZen to implement a process in which a user of the registration software must first take a training course pertinent to their area of work. 

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For example, DC has several courses on-line and is in the process of adding a new course on how to properly fill out the 'cause of death' on a death certificate. 

The LearningZen API (application programming interface) is used to create a link between the Birth/Death registration system and LearningZen.  This API allows the registration system to determine whether a user has completed the course.  

If not, a notification is presented to the user reminding them to take the course and provides a link to allow them to go directly to the course.  

This approach allows the administrators of the system to more closely monitor who receives the training that they feel is necessary to use the system. Implementation of the linkage between LearningZen and the DC Birth/Death registration system is relatively recent, so it is currently not ‘mandatory’ that a person completes a particular course before they can use the system. These users are often working in a hospital environment and it is important that they are able to complete their work in a timely fashion. 

Using the API, it is possible to track how many times a user ignores the message to ‘complete the course’ and this will be used by the system administrators to take follow up action. They are also considering locking the user out of the registration system automatically after a certain period of time - at least technically speaking this is easily accomplished.  Whether or not it is a good idea remains to be seen - stay tuned for a report on how it plays out in a future posting!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Guiding student pilots through their training with LearningZen

One of my tasks as a flight instructor is to prepare new pilots for their first solo cross country flight. When the big day arrives, the excited student arrives at the airport armed with snacks, water, map and flight plan to be reviewed before they are signed off, ready to depart. As a new instructor, it was a major disappointment to both myself and my students how many times the outcome was ‘sorry, we need to go over your planning again before I can let you do this trip’.

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Besides making sure that they know how to control the airplane and how to navigate to their destination, I have to be sure my student has learned how to properly plan their flight. Running out of fuel is the single biggest cause of private aviation accidents, so this is more than just an academic exercise! In order to receive their pilot’s license, a student must demonstrate the preparation of a ‘navigation log’ for a cross country trip. This included a detailed accounting of distance flown and fuel and time required, dependant on many factors such as aircraft type, winds, altitude and power settings used.

Ideally, the student learns this while attending classroom training or performing guided self-study (ground school). Practically speaking, I found that most of my students did not retain this important skill by the time it was needed, and I often found myself spending hours reviewing the material to help them prepare for the solo cross country. This is costly for the student and definitely not good for anyone’s morale or enthusiasm!

To remedy this situation, I created an on-line course using LearningZen, which went step-by-step through the process of creating a student flight plan. By requesting that my students review the course before attempting to create their own cross-country plan, I found the rate of cancelled trips due to poor planning went down significantly. Students enjoyed being able to go through the material on their own time, and seemed to learn the material more thoroughly than they did by simply reading about it in a book or by sitting in a classroom. Of course they appreciated the cost savings of taking a free on-line course instead of paying me to sit with them to go over an incorrect plan. It was great for me too, as I could be sure that each student had reviewed the material they needed to learn, and it was presented in a consistent and methodical way.  

Best of all, I knew they could safely plan their trip and now I rarely have to frustrate a student by sending them back to the drawing board on their big day!

Over 1400 students have taken this highly rated LearningZen course, which is also eligible for FAA WINGS credit.  Check it out yourself at http://learningzen.com/Sgold

Steve Gold CFII

Friday, January 24, 2014

New LearningZen Update

We want to take this opportunity to tell you about an update to LearningZen which will be available in the next few days.  This update contains a number of smaller, but significant enhancements, which are designed to improve your LearningZen experience and to provide additional information to you and your students.  A number of these modifications are direct responses to suggestions given to our support team by our customers.  

Automatically Assign Mandatory Courses to All New Users

We created the ability to automatically assign one or more courses to all new users.  This will help you push out mandatory courses that all new users need to take, regardless of their specific job roles.  The selection of these courses is made by portal administrators and is done via the new “Auto-Assigned Courses” link in the Additional Tasks section of the portal administration dashboard.  That new page displays a list of portal courses and simply requires a checkbox to be selected for each automatically assigned course.  Please keep in mind that the course assignment occurs when the user logs in for the first time, so progress reporting will start after that happens.  

Group Name Filtering on Course Assignment Page

For those of you that manage large numbers of groups or groups with similar names, we’ve added the ability to filter group names on the “Assign Students to a Course/Track” page.  For instance, if you need to push out training to all groups that contain the word “Front” in their name, you could filter that word, and then very quickly drag those matching groups over to the selected list.  Then, all the users in those groups would be assigned your selected course or track.  

Transferring of Tracks from One Author to Another

When you transfer course ownership from one author to another, the process will now automatically transfer track ownership as well.  

New Portal Course List for Administrators

We’ve added another new link to the portal administrator dashboard also in the additional task area which displays the portal courses list.  This is a link previously made available to managers, and based on customer support feedback, we think this will be useful for portal administrators as well.   

Default User Import Selection

For those of you that use the Import/Add users feature, we made a small change there.  The default import via CSV or Data Entry option is now the Data Entry option.   You can still click on the CSV option to perform that import option.  

Forcing the Default Bookshelf View

Finally, we’ve developed a type of experimental optional feature and we’d like your feedback on it.  As you know, the My Course Bookshelf page contains has a dropdown where students can control which course view they see—Last Access, Course Name, or Track.  We automatically select the Track option if the student has any current track enrollments.  That functionality isn’t changing, but if you’d like to force this page to always start with a one of the three views, we can easily set a configuration item for your portal to make this happen.  Simply contact support for this.

Thank You! 

We hope you find these changes useful and valuable.  As always, please contact our support team if you have any questions or comments.  Have a great day!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Announcing the new LearningZen Universal Video Manager

We are extremely excited to announce the new LearningZen Universal Video Manager.  This feature will enable you to more efficiently upload your video content, and most importantly, it will allow your videos to be played on any device or operating system.

Here are the major benefits of the new LearningZen Universal Video Manager:
  • You can upload videos in a number of common formats, including AVI, FLV, M4V, MP4, WMV, and MP3.
  • The uploading process is streamlined as compared to using services such as YouTube or Vimeo.  There is no need to first upload your videos to those external sites, and then copy the embed codes to LearningZen.  The new Universal Video Manager handles everything right in our course builder.
  • All of the backend video encoding processing is handled automatically for you.
  • The new video smart player features device detection, allowing your videos to be played anywhere, including on mobile devices, tablets, and computers.
  • The new player quickly streams your videos, rather than downloading, which has in the past caused a delay before some videos start playing.
  • Your videos remain private to your organization and cannot be played outside of LearningZen.
Using the New LearningZen Universal Video Manager

Using the new Universal Video Manager is very similar to using the existing Media Manager.  Click the new  icon on the course builder toolbar to display the new manager.  From there you may upload a new video or you can quickly insert a video.  Other features available here include the ability to set inserted properties such as height, width, alignment, and auto start.  You may also preview any previously uploaded video before inserting it into your content.

After uploading, the encoding process necessary to make your videos playable on any device takes just a few minutes to complete.  This is a notable difference from how videos are handled with the existing Media Manager, as videos uploaded with it are immediately available to place into your content.  You will need to wait for the encoding process to complete in order to preview and insert your videos.  The encoding process is complete when the video preview appears and when the encoding status message disappears.  

What's Going to Happen to the Media Manager?

The Media Manager will continue to be available to support previously uploaded videos.  We recommend that all new videos be uploaded through the new Universal Video Manager, in order to realize the many benefits it offers.   We may decide to obsolete the Media Manager in the future, but only if our user community no longer uses it.  And, if we do obsolete it, we will ensure that videos uploaded with it will remain playable in your course content.

Thank You

Thank you for your support of LearningZen, and please let us know what you think of the new Universal Video Manager.   Watch your email for further announcements about this feature, as we will be offering training webinars and further rollout details soon.