General

2018 a Year in Review

Posted December 5, 2018 by Josephine Huschmann
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Firmwater is celebrating its 17th birthday today! Each year we like to sit down, eat some fantastic cake, and look back at our accomplishments.

First and foremost, we want to Thank You for choosing Firmwater LMS. We are grateful for all the fantastic clients we are able to partner with.

2018 has been a great year here at Firmwater. We were able to dish out some amazing new features - in case you missed any of our announcement, we have added them below.


Firmwater LMS - Top New Features 2018

 
February

External LMS Integration

You are now able to share your courses externally with your clients’ LMS while they are hosted in Firmwater. You can download a SCORM 1.2 pointer package that acts as a gateway between the two systems. There is no need to hand over any of your source files — keep your intellectual property safe.

March

Group Manager Role

The Group Manager role is now supported within location hierarchies. This means orders can be added at any level of the hierarchy and Group Managers at higher levels can oversee the orders at the lower levels.

Cache-busting

Each time learning content is updates are applied it is now cache-busted. Your browser will not remember and display the assets from the previous version of the course. It won’t be necessary anymore to clear your cache after updates.

April

Reports

Firmwater reports have been updated to make them more useful. Later in June, the report viewer controls were also updated - they now have a new fresh look that is easier to navigate.

Concurrent Sessions

Concurrent sessions are no longer allowed by the same user. That means when a user is already logged into their account, they can no longer log in again (e.g. in another browser tab).


May

Improved Content Loader

Updating existing e-learning course files is now much easier with the improved content loader. The LMS used to recognize file updates by matching the manifest ID’s. The new loader interface takes manifest ID’s out of the equation. The LMS now matches files by title or allows you to navigate to the exact file in your activity list.


July

Certificate Verification Service

This great new feature is especially interesting for training vendors providing compliance training. This is a brand new way to verify certificates by use of a QR code. Each certificate generated includes a code that can be scanned to view a snapshot of the learners’ name, course title, date, and score at the time of completion.


September

Add Participants Page

This update introduces the new ‘Add participants’ page that allows you to add users in one of three ways. A Group Manager can now send invitations to existing LMS users, invite new users by email, or generate and print a PDF document that includes a unique code for users where the email address is unknown.

Shopify Order Processing

This update improved the overall Shopify experience for both learners and administrators. It includes better handling of payment by invoice or PO, duplicate LMS accounts, and automatic course assignments.


October

Single Sign-On (SSO)

You can now enable Single Sign-On for your user community with SAML. SSO allows end-users (most often company employees) to access multiple services while providing only one set of credentials.


November

Set and Merge Locations

We have added two new actions that make working with locations easier and save you a lot of time.
 

Do you have any feature requests? Respond to this email and let us know.

Thanks for making us your trusted partner.

Visit our Release Notes or follow us on social media to learn more about exciting changes at Firmwater.


3 Reasons To Stop Using Free Sites For Training

Posted September 6, 2018 by Josephine Huschmann

Let’s face it. You spent valuable time and money creating high quality training videos and are excited to share them. Are you loading your videos to a free hosting site like YouTube or Vimeo? Is that a great experience for your audience? Stop! We have a better solution - don’t miss out!


Reason #1 — You want to showcase the quality of your training

Your company sells high quality equipment so why skimp on the product training program? A free hosting site does not portray the intrinsic value of your training to your customers. The platform you use to deliver your training should match your high quality videos.


Reason #2 — You want your online videos to stand out

By placing your training videos on a public streaming site, you have no control over access, promoted site advertising or suggested videos. Your learners may stumble upon your competitor’s video tutorials. You want a training delivery platform to make your videos the focal point and give you full control.


Reason #3 — You want to capture Big Data

Who is watching your videos? Are your online learners able to assimilate the key facts and figures? Using a free hosting site, you have limited access to the data behind your online training. Collecting data can help you analyze and improve your training program over time.


So How Do You Make a Successful Video Training Program?

The best option is to use a cloud-based platform that can be tailored to your company’s branding. An LMS (Learning Management System) is the best software to deliver your training online to your resellers, customers, partners and your own employees.


Some Features to Look For in an LMS:


  • Centralized Video Library - A platform to store and manage all of your training videos and manuals in one place.
  • Personalized Experience- A training platform that can have the look and feel of your organization.
  • Intuitive Interface - A clean, clear interface for your learners to make training easy to find and to complete.
  • Easy To Scale - A solution that provides each of your resellers/ clients their own branded LMS site to take your online product training.

Ready to take your online training videos to the next level?

Contact Firmwater today to see how your training videos look on a professional LMS (You can thank us later when you get that promotion).



New: External LMS integration

Posted June 19, 2018 by Josephine Huschmann

We added a new external LMS integration feature that solves the challenges that come with distributing content as a training vendor. You are now able to host your training courses and share them externally with your clients’ LMS. Handing over any of your source files is out of the question.

Sounds great! Can you give an example? 

Sure. Bruce Wayne is the owner of Wayne Enterprises, a medium size training vendor that specializes in compliance training. He has managed and delivered his Health and Safety courses with Firmwater LMS for a few years. Bruce recently met with a prospective client that already uses an LMS. They are not interested in creating yet another account for each of their employees to take the training. Bruce and his team would really like to work with this new client, however, he is not willing to hand over any of his in-house designed course files.

Solution: External LMS integration allows you to load and manage your training courses in Firmwater LMS and provide a zip package to your client to load to their own LMS. This zip file is a SCORM 1.2 package that simply points to the content that is loaded in Firmwater LMS. A learner can launch and access the course from within the external LMS. Meanwhile, you stay in control and can manage access from your Firmwater LMS account.

What about reporting?

A local administrator is able to see all learner data pushed to Firmwater LMS reports as usual. The external LMS will be able to display:

  • Status
  • Score
  • Duration

What are the benefits for me as a training vendor?

  • Updating made simple: Looking to make an update to your online course? Update your files in Firmwater LMS and your client will automatically launch the updated version. No need to provide them with a new file to load to their system, as the integration has already been established. Your instructional designer will be happy to hear that course updates only needs to be applied to one site.
  • Sales, sales, sales: Expand into new markets by selling licenses to businesses that already use their own LMS. This opens up a wider playing field for your business development or sales team.
  • Share access - keep control: The customer has access to your courses on your terms and under your control.
  • Keep ownership of your content: Your e-learning courses are your intellectual property - keep it safe!

How do I get started?

  1. Enable Content as a Service 
    Configurations > Integrations > Edit: External LMS > Yes, allow content to be launched > SCORM 1.2 > Save Changes
  2. Download a package to provide to your client
    Content > Activities > click Activity > More actions > External LMS package
    You can download several course packages at once (provided as a compressed zip file)
  3. Manage your external LMS integration
    To manage SCORM 1.2 packages: Content > Edit: External LMS
    To manage external host domains: Configuration > Integrations > External LMS
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The external integration feature is available for our Growth, Premium and Tailor Made pricing packages.

Contact our support team if you have any further questions about external LMS integration.

 

New: Improved Content Loader

Posted May 29, 2018 by Josephine Huschmann

The move from Flash to HTML5 and constant browser updates make regular content updates a crucial part of LMS administration. We want to make this process as easy as possible so that you can focus on what you do best - being an expert and selling your great content.

Background

When we built our platform we put a lot of weight on SCORM compliance to allow launching any compliant content. With this in mind, we used the manifest identifier to match updated content files to existing content. But not all industry players were following SCORM specifications as strictly as we were. Lately, we had clients run into issues when updating content that was published with certain authoring tools.

For example, iSpring started creating a new manifest identifier value each time a package was published. Articulate Rise, on the other hand, is publishing each SCORM package with the exact same manifest identifier. Unlike other authoring tools, iSpring and Articulate Rise do not allow to set manifest identifiers in publish settings. A workaround was required which lead to users unzipping published SCORM packages to edit the imsmanifest.xml file. Editing this file takes some technical know-how and is rather tedious when dealing with many course files.

What’s new?

To solve this issue, we decided to concentrate less on the manifest identifier and more on course titles. Now, LMS administers can pick and choose which file gets updated right from the new loader interface.

The loader offers two alternatives: loading a file as new content and loading a file to update existing content. In case of an update, the LMS will match the file with existing content by use of the file’s title. However, the file can be changed by navigating to the correct course folder and learning item. 

Voilà! We have taken manifest identifiers out of the equation. No more workarounds required and the loader interface is more user-friendly. Updating course files is now a simple and easy process.


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We hope this new feature will save you time and effort when administering your LMS. 


Please reach out to us with any questions or suggestions.


Related Post:

6 things to keep in mind when publishing eLearning content



Let’s talk GDPR 🇪🇺

Posted February 21, 2018 by Josephine Huschmann
 

Firmwater is getting ready for the GDPR

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is quite a mouthful and is also a fair bit of work for many businesses that deal with the personal information of EU residents.

You wonder what the buzz is all about? The EU has decided to strengthen and regulate the privacy policy across the European Union. Take a look at this animated infographic by the European Commission which explains the GDPR and all the necessary changes in layman’s terms.

European businesses or any business that deals with the personal information of EU citizens will have to comply with the regulation. May 25th, 2018 has been circled on many calendars as the deadline for the GDPR which is considered the strictest regulation of its kind in the world. Policies need to be adjusted and business processes changed to comply with this new standard.

As a cloud-based LMS provider with clients and users from all around the world, Firmwater has been busy to get ready for the May 25th.


Let’s get serious. How is Firmwater preparing for the GDPR?

Firmwater hired TrustArc to assess and evaluate Firmwater’s fitness level when it comes to data protection. With the results, we have put together an action plan that will put us on the path to GDPR compliance.

Our team has been and is working hard to implement the following measures:

  • Updating our privacy policy
  • Implementing a process that allows clients or users of our application to have access to their data if requested.
  • Reviewing our website and learning platform to ensure we manage and process personal data to GDPR standards.
  • Keeping data protection in mind when developing new functionality in Firmwater LMS (privacy by design framework).
  • Preparing records of processing activities as both a Controller and a Processor of client data (GDPR requirement).
  • Updating contractual terms (data protection addendum) with our service providers.
  • Enhancing our company policies for data portability and data management.
  • Training all Firmwater staff on GDPR privacy legislation and new company policies.

In short, we respect the privacy and security of our clients and users. We will stay privacy aware and will make our clients conscious of any privacy concerns if necessary.

In order to stay current, we encourage you to check for our regular updates in our newsletters and review our new privacy policy.

 

Please contact our team if you have any questions or concerns regarding GDPR compliance.



2017 a Year in Review

Posted December 5, 2017 by Josephine Huschmann
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Today we are celebrating our 16th birthday and on such an occasion, we would like to take a second to show appreciation to our great clients and revisit our accomplishments.

Thank you for using Firmwater LMS for your business. It has been a pleasure and we hope you enjoy our company as much as we enjoy having you on board!

This past year has been amazing and in case you missed some of our new features - we have summarized them for you below.


Firmwater LMS - Top New Features 2017

 
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Course Library

We added the Card View for the course library

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Automatic Redirect

We support automatic redirect to Firmwater LMS from the Shopify check-out process. The user no longer needs to wait for an email to access courses purchased.

Product Bundles

We support purchases of multiple courses as a single product bundle. Seats for courses in a bundle get assigned as a single action.

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Rollup Rules

We added new ‘Attempts and Scoring’ settings. Decide whether an item is included as part of its parent’s score and whether the item is required for completion of the parent item.

Idle Timeout

We now display a prompt if no user activity is detected in the LMS for a specified amount of time. Without any response, the session is terminated. We added the appropriate presentation setting to specify an idle timeout value.

Prerequisites

We added a new ‘Prerequisites’ page for items in a course. Specify the items that must be completed before the current item becomes available. We also added item prerequisites that let you set a certain amount of time that has been spent in the course before you allow access to another item.

Auto-Sequencing

We added an action to auto-sequence a course. It makes each item in the course a prerequisite for the next item - we like to compare this to a daisy chain.


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Video Player

We now show MP4 videos in a consistent player across all browsers. Of course, we also track progress and completion.


Visit our Release Notes or follow us on Social Media to learn more about exciting changes at Firmwater.

 

6 things to keep in mind when publishing eLearning content

Posted November 13, 2017 by Kinda Nehlawi

Our customers often come to us with issues that arise when users engage with their learning content. Maybe a video animation isn’t working as expected or they’re not sure why they can’t see a student’s quiz responses in the LMS report. Whatever the issue, we find that it is usually related to how the content was published and which tool was used to author it.

To help you avoid similar problems in the future, we decided to share some tips about what to keep in mind when you’re publishing your eLearning content. This should be helpful regardless of the authoring tool you’re using.

Publish for SCORM 2004

In order to get the most out of our LMS reporting and tracking capabilities, make sure you select to publish for SCORM 2004, 3rd edition. This option is found in the publish settings of the tool you’re using. There are several differences between SCORM 2004 and SCORM 1.2. The most important one is that SCORM 2004 allows you to track and report on student status and quiz data more efficiently.

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Opt for HTML5-based Content

Make sure you’re selecting an HTML5 output option when you publish. All major browsers have completely phased out the Flash Player plugin by default and are instead opting for mobile-friendly HTML5. In fact, Adobe plans to stop distributing Flash Player by 2020. Using primarily flash-based content will risk your learners having to download additional plugins and make it a less pleasurable learning experience. Switching from Flash to HTML5 will allow your users to access their online learning from any mobile device.

Pay Close Attention to Data Reporting and Tracking

Always aim to identify the reporting and tracking options available for you in the tool and how they will translate into the LMS.

Reporting: Let’s say you want to track the learners quiz result. You would need to include a results slide and make sure that the results are being properly submitted to the LMS. Think about how you want the learner’s status to be reported. Do you want them to see that they’ve passed the course or simply completed it? Keep in mind that SCORM 2004 submits two statuses: success and completion.

Tracking: If you want to allow learners to exit your course and resume where they left off, make sure that’s also indicated within the settings. Always refer to your authoring tool guide to make sure you are publishing properly.

Regularly Check Version Updates

Keep the version of the tool you’re using to publish your content up to date. Version updates usually have bug fixes that will avoid future issues with your content. Check if the authoring tool version is compatible with major browser versions - if not, find out which one it works best with. Regularly check for updates to your authoring tool software and check the system requirements (usually found on the tool’s website). Add information about system requirements to the course description in the LMS to let students know about it prior to launching the content.

Be Mindful of Browsers

Identify the types of browsers your learners are using (Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari, etc…) Is there a specific browser you’ve noticed causing issues more frequently? Is the flash player enabled for flash-based courses? Perhaps the browser needs an update or the published content is simply not compatible with this browser. Again, checking system requirements for your authoring tool is helpful. You can find out the browsers your learners use by running a Login History report in the LMS.

Test Your Content

Test your content again and again until it behaves how it should behave. We make this task easy for you by giving you access to our demo site. This site is great for testing your content before it is made available to your learners on your live site. Load and launch your content there first to make sure it works as intended.

When testing your content, ask the following questions:

  • Is the content behaving as it should be? (e.g. animations, interactions etc.)
  • Is the audio playing? Is it clear enough?
  • Is the video playing seamlessly?
  • Are the buttons and triggers working as expected? (e.g. next, submit, exit)
  • Is the status being properly reported? i.e. is it displaying “completed” or “passed/failed” when it needs to?
  • If applicable, is interaction data being saved? To verify that, run an interaction data report in the LMS.
  • Are there any errors when launching, exiting, or navigating the content?

If you’re in the process of publishing or updating your eLearning, make sure you get in touch with us for more eLearning tips and best practices.

 

eLearning Communities

Posted November 6, 2017 by Josephine Huschmann

 

A great way to network with industry professionals

You might be new to the eLearning world or need help with your existing online courses. Each eLearning community member comes from a different background and has different skills to bring to the table. That is what makes it so special and resourceful. We decided to mention the 2 leading eLearning communities. Read blog posts, take part in discussions or follow them on Social Media. Get help, get inspired and connect with professionals from your industry.

E-Learning Heroes

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The Articulate user community site has been around since 2011 and is a great spot to meet professionals alike. The site offers lots of posts about E-Learning in general and about the Articulate line of products. Running into an issue while building your course? This site has all the answers you are looking for. You can ask questions or share your ideas with the community in the discussion forum. The site also offers lots of free resources to jazz up your content. Whether you need templates or course assets, this site is the right spot to find what you are looking for.

eLearning Industry

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The eLearning Industry has a vast network of eLearning sites. Weekly newsletters, blog posts, video tutorials, infographics and more are available for free. The company was founded in 2012 and has grown to be a great resource for industry professionals. To catch up on the latest eLearning news, technologies and to look for your next freelance project or job opportunity - eLearning Industry is the place to be.

 

 

How to Convert One-Time Customers into Lifetime Learners

Posted August 31, 2017 by Josephine Huschmann

Do you want to encourage your learners to come back for more? Repeat customers can help you build a business that is strong and robust. We want to present you with tips and tricks to encourage your learners to return for more eLearning content.
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1. Completion Certificates

The sense of pride when completing an online course can be elevated by offering a beautifully designed completion certificate. Your learners are able to showcase their newly attained skills to potential employers or highlight them on their LinkedIn page. Completion certificates add value to your course offerings and give learners the opportunities to distinguish themselves in a competitive job market.

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2. Microlearning

You can adapt to your learner’s busy lifestyle by offering a library of effective Microlearning courses. One learning objective can be presented in short videos or interactive learning modules that can be completed on the go. Your learners can access their online learning at their own pace and advance their career without committing to a set timeframe. You can offer access through memberships and use Firmwater’s attractive course library to showcase your courses. Be flexible so that you can accommodate your learners’ busy schedule and they will come back for more!

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3. Connect with your Learners

Build great customer relationships by connecting with your learners on Social Media or by Email. Let your current users know about all you have to offer. You can introduce them to new products and offer them special discounts. Use Social Media and the power of Buy Buttons to reach out and establish a customer base.

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4. System Emails

Firmwater LMS offers system-generated Emails that are fully customizable. Use these Emails to your advantage and tailor them to fit your business. A ‘Welcome Email’ can include a Social Media follow button to encourage your learners to connect with you. A ‘Course Completion’ Email may introduce a new course to your learner or offer a repeat purchase discount. Make the most out of this LMS feature and turn your one-time customers into lifetime learners.

If you have any questions or comments, please contact us.

 

Sell Your Products Anywhere with Shopify Buy Buttons

Posted August 15, 2017 by Josephine Huschmann

Buy Buttons

 Sample Button

The Shopify Buy Button is a great tool that allows you to sell your products anywhere. You are able to target a specific audience and expand your reach by adding this sales channel to your online business. Simply embed a Buy Button on your website, newsletter, blog or your preferred platform so that you can offer your products in any setting. The tremendous benefit that Buy Buttons offer is a seamless shopping experience for your customers. No need to visit another site to purchase a product; just one simple click of a button.

The Buy Button product page consists of an image, title, price and of course a button. You are able to customize the style of the product page, so it adapts to the format of your existing theme. The Buy Button also includes an embedded shopping cart (so that customers can add several products) and a secure checkout page. Naturally, the Buy Button is fully responsive which means your customers are able to purchase your products from any device.

Sell Products on Your Website or Blog

There are several ways you can incorporate Buy Buttons into your site. You can create your own Shop within your website by adding several Buy Buttons on one page. You can also add your products to the sidebar of your website. This is a great way to draw attention to a new product or to highlight your best-seller to your site visitors. Add Buy Buttons directly to your blog or news post, so that your readers have easy access to your product offerings. We are a creature of habit and like to stay within our familiar boundaries. Buy Buttons allow your customers to access all your products without leaving your site, but with all the features of a full Shopify store. You can still reap the benefits of a shopping cart and Shopify’s secure checkout process.

How do I take advantage of Buy Buttons?

If you already have a Shopify store and want to add Buy Buttons as an additional sales channel, you can simply create the button and generate the code from your store’s admin site.

If you are thinking of simply adding a few products to your website or blog, but do not want to open a full Shopify store, you can sign up for a Shopify Lite plan.

Visit Shopify to learn more about Buy Buttons.

 

Managing User Roles with Firmwater LMS

Posted August 8, 2017 by Josephine Huschmann

 

User Roles Cheat Sheet

User Roles Cheat Sheet

 

Easy and simple

At Firmwater we are determined to make our LMS straightforward and easy to use. This does not just mean a simple interface, but also easy administration. You need to be able to manage your clients and users effortlessly so that you can focus on what you do best - being an expert and selling great content.

User Roles are one of the great features that allow you to save time and effort when setting up and maintaining your LMS. You have the ability to be flexible and adjust access to your clients’ needs without fighting a battle with options and settings. We have established six User Roles that make sense and help you manage your clients.

 

For users who should be able to…

Use this role…

…use the LMS only for accessing learning activities, modify their profile, change their password, view their certifications, and generate their own activity reports

Student

…in addition to everything a student can do, invite participants, view invitations sent, view existing participants and generate reports for users managed

Group Manager

…add/edit/delete user accounts, create/edit assignments, and manage users for their location

Local Administrator
…add/edit/delete user accounts, create/edit assignments, and manage users for their location and any child locations
Multiple Location Administrator

…in addition to everything a Local Administrator can do, load content, edit Content Library, and adjust configuration of their LMS

Organization Administrator

…in addition to everything an Organization Administrator can do, add clients, grant content to a client, and edit or revoke content grants

Master Administrator

Note:

  • In addition to special permissions, all user roles include the Student role so that Managers and Administrators can complete learning activities.

  • Each user role (except student) allow for a ‘Reports Only’ setting that gives the user access to view reports for their location(s), organization(s) or client(s).

If you need assistance in setting up new User Roles, contact our support team.

 

Stock photos for your online store or next marketing campaign

Posted July 31, 2017 by Josephine Huschmann

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At Firmwater we continuously strive to enhance customer experience. In the spirit of ‘Kaizen’ the Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement, we have explored new ways to revamp our marketing approach. In our quest to kick it up a notch we came across Burst.

Most of our customers are entrepreneurs that are building a strong business from the ground up. We know how important online presence and branding is to drive sales, especially for e-commerce sites. That is why we want to share how Burst - a Shopify value-add feature can improve your online store, website, blog or Social Media post.

What is Burst?

BURST is a stock photo platform with high-quality images that are available free of charge under the Creative Commons Zero license. You can use them without having to credit the photographer or the platform (but feel free to do so if you wish). The site encourages you to edit any images to your liking. You can crop them to your preferred size and add text or filters with your preferred photo editor.

Together with other Shopify tools such as the drag-and-drop store builder, website editor, image resizer, and even their business card builder you can now make the most of your Shopify experience.

You may think that there are other sites out there that are offering stock photos for free, but we believe Burst was built with the e-commerce entrepreneur in mind. You notice this targeted approach when browsing through the themed collections. Brand consistency is an important part of a premium marketing approach. A uniform look across all your channels characterizes your business as more reliable and improves brand recognition.

Let’s get started!

Now that you know where to find great images for free, it is up to you to take advantage of them. Let your creativity flow and improve the look and feel of your online store.

 

Promote your online courses

Posted July 24, 2017 by Josephine Huschmann

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1. WoM

The most common way for customers to learn about small businesses is by referrals or word of mouth. This is the oldest and most cost-effective way to market and advertise your products. Customers that had a good experience will be loyal and happily refer you to friends and family. You can encourage your customers to refer your business by providing referral discounts or simply asking them to leave testimonials on your website.

 

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2. Customer Reviews

Customer reviews are very important in today’s day of the internet. Consumers do not like to take risks and will research your business to ensure a good experience. Make it easy for those consumers to find your business and your raving reviews. A big part of that is SEO (search engine optimization) which ensures that your website is visible on the top of a search engine.

 

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3. Social Media

Social Media is a great way to connect with your current and future customers. Building your brand on your favourite sites gives you exposure in your industry and a platform to showcase your products and services. In a way, Social Media brings all your marketing efforts together and lets you present your brand to the public. Social Media allows you to stay in touch with your customers 24/7 and tends to be a great way to test the waters on new campaigns.

 

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4. Newsletter

Let your customers know about your exciting product or company news. Whether you launch a new course or update your website. Newsletters can draw traffic to your website or online store and boost your Social Media following. It is a great way to keep your customers in the loop and drive sales. A well-versed newsletter can help you keep your customers up to date and is a little reminder of your brand right into their inbox.

 

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5. Blog

Writing good content that is valuable to your customers is the main goal of a blog. You can inform your readers about industry standards or give them tips and tricks on how to make the most out of your product offerings. Blogging is a great way to share timely and relevant information with your customer base. Our biggest tip to you - keep your posts short, to the point and useful.

 

Built-in Vs. Third Party Course Authoring Tools

Posted June 16, 2016 by Branagh O' Shaughnessy

The average LMS shopper spends approximately 2.5 months searching for the right LMS, with companies spending $1,870 per vendor evaluation. It makes sense to try make your LMS search more efficient, and less costly. However, you should ensure that you are not cutting corners that will end up costing you more in the long run.

One such short cut may be the decision to select a built-in authoring tool rather than buying both an LMS, and third party authoring tool. Built-in authoring tools allow you to create e-learning content directly within an LMS. Third party authoring tools are standalone software, such as Articulate Storyline and Adobe Captivate, with which you can create interactive e-learning content.

Having built-in authoring software may seem less complex than taking the time to choose a suitable authoring software to pair with your LMS. It’s important to know the impact of this decision ahead of time. Using these types of authoring software has both advantages and disadvantages. This article aims to outline these, to help you make an informed decision.

Advantages of a built-in authoring tool Advantages of a third party authoring tool
Built-in authoring tools offer limited course authoring functionality, which means they are easy to learn. Third party authoring tools allow you to create SCORM compliant courseware. SCORM makes your courseware portable, and having copies of your SCORM files means you can load your courseware to another SCORM compliant LMS. Not having a copy of your project files ties your courseware to the vendor.
Using a built-in authoring tool allows you to build and publish directly within your LMS, usually via drag and drop functionality, so you can quickly build a basic course. Third party authoring tools offer a host of features and powerful interaction functionality that allow you to create beautiful and engaging e-learning courses.
A built-in authoring tool allows you to avoid purchasing software licenses that require specialized training and expertise to use. There may also be an extra charge for inclusion of this feature in an LMS. Most major authoring tool providers have online forums to exchange knowledge with other users, as well as local user groups and conventions to help with your course development.
Most third party authoring tools have a development team working on continuously improving the tool, which means they are regularly updated with new releases and patches. Certain tools will even accept feature requests if it is missing a function you need.

Conclusion

  • In some cases, using a packaged LMS/authoring tool solution can work out, e.g. if you want a quick and basic solution.
  • Using a built-in authoring software can result in you missing out on the benefits of using a third party authoring tool.
  • The general consensus of the e-learning community is that courses developed in a built-in authoring tool are unattractive and difficult to use, compared to those created in a third party authoring tool.
  • When using a built-in authoring tool, always make sure you retain your project files so that the continuity of your e-learning course does not rely on that of your LMS vendor.
  • Based on the above points, we would recommend using a third party authoring tool if you need to develop e-learning that is rich in interactivity.

If you have any questions about the topics discussed, or want to find out more, please don’t hesitate to contact us, or tweet us @Firmwater.

For more information on choosing the best third party authoring tool, check out this free resource on how to choose the best authoring tool.Authoring Tools Article

Customer Success Story: Learning Partner

Posted May 12, 2016 by Branagh O' Shaughnessy

Learning Partner

About Learning Partner

Since its inception in 2008, Learning Partner’s goal is to provide on-demand Continuing Education (CE) training to certified financial planner (CFP®) professionals and insurance advisors. Learning Partner’s course offerings make it easy for CFP professionals and insurance advisors to accumulate annual CE credits. Courses range from 2 to 12 hours in length, allowing users to focus on the most relevant topics. Learners complete the course and post-test to gain a certificate of completion confirming their continuing education hours.

Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions about the success of Learning Partner. You recently saw a huge increase in traffic to your ecommerce store, what do you attribute this to?
Last year, the FPSC (Financial Planning Standards Council) implemented a new continuing education requirement for a professional responsibility or ethics CE credit. Prior to that, they informed continuing education providers of the new requirement and encouraged them to develop suitable training programs. We saw that as a good opportunity to increase our exposure, and we were one of the first companies to market. There are about 25,000 people who need this credit annually, and we were able to capture a significant number of new customers as a result. As a result of their positive experience, many of them returned to take additional courses with us.

Can you tell me about the certifying bodies you are accredited with?
There’s lots of free content out there, but most of it isn’t accredited. The accreditation gives our content value that most of the free content can’t deliver. We put all of our courses through FPSC’s CE Approval Program. There are also a number of provincial insurance regulators that either accredit individual courses, or approve us as a CE provider.

Is it an intense evaluation process to become an accredited CE provider?
It’s not necessarily intense, but it can get expensive. Most of our courses would apply to a number of different subgroups within the financial industry. But each subgroup requires its own review and charges an accreditation fee, and some of those fees are substantial. We’ve sought accreditation in those areas that most closely match our history and that we can easily market to. Often our learners will ask “why isn’t it also accredited for this, or for that?” and it’s because we would have to substantially increase the prices of our courses to obtain these additional accreditations.

How do financial planners who need this credit find you?
We see a lot of traffic through FPSC’s online search tool. Their website has a searchable database of all courses they have accredited, and they actively market that search tool to their members. They also highlight new continuing education opportunities in their email blasts to members. So they do a fair amount of marketing for us indirectly. We also have an extensive email database, but we restrict our emails once a month - we don’t flood our customers with a constant stream of emails.

Have you tried any A/B testing to analyze your email marketing?
Yes, we’ve done some A/B testing in terms of the best time of day or best day of the week to get the best conversion rates. We’ve also experimented a bit with language, particularly what the subject line says.

In the financial sector, are most training providers going online, or is it still mostly traditional instructor-lead training?
There is a fair amount of online training for financial planners, but the majority of training providers don’t go through the accreditation process so that gives Learning Partner an edge. Also, many of the online offerings are in the form of bigger certificate courses or programs that can take 100 hours or more to complete, when students only need 25 credits. So learners are less tempted to choose them because it’s more onerous.

Would you recommend that training providers get accredited by a certifying body?
Yes, it gives them legitimacy and, depending on the certifying body, they may be listed on that organization’s website as an accredited provider - which is where a lot of people go to find out where to get these credits.

Do you think there’s a benefit using Shopify as your ecommerce platform?
It is definitely better than our previous system. Before we used Shopify, order processing was much more cumbersome and it wasn’t reliable. Our ecommerce platform relied on PayPal as the payment gateway, and payments were often getting rejected and we found a lot of people abandoning their orders part way through. With Shopify, very few people abandon the order and they have more confidence in the system.

Do you use Shopify reports?
We do review the free reports to see where the bulk of our traffic is coming from (referrals, email campaigns, searches). We’ve used these reports to map our traffic and sales from one year to the next, and the pattern has been fairly consistent. In our business, the bulk of our sales come in the last quarter of the year, because the CE deadlines are December 31st. Even though we saw a significant increase in sales last year, the distribution pattern was the same, percentage wise, as the year before. The percentage of annual sales on a month-to-month basis, and even on a week-to-week basis at the end of the year, were similar to the year before.

Did you carry out any course feedback surveys?
We’ve done a number of surveys, focusing both on courses students have already taken, and on topics they would like to see developed. The latter is perhaps more important for us because it helps us know what new content we should focus on.

We also did an important survey on course format. When Learning Partner first started, we developed fully interactive and narrated e-learning courses, which are costly and time consuming to develop. One year, we had the content for a new course ready, but hadn’t yet found the time to convert it into e-learning. We decided to put it out there as course notes in PDF format, with an online quiz. Then we did a survey of customers who had done at least one of our earlier interactive e-learning courses as well as the new PDF course, and 95% preferred the PDF course! Of the few people who thought the interactive eLearning format was neat, no one put a value on it - in other words, they weren’t willing to pay any extra for it. From then on, we’ve only developed courses that include course notes in PDF format, and an online quiz.

Did you encounter any roadblocks while launching your e-learning initiative?
We’ve always been content developers, but prior to 2008 it was all paper-based and it was always for other education providers. When we decided to develop content to sell ourselves, it seemed like everyone was going to e-learning, so we figured that was where we needed to be. There was a huge learning curve behind that technology, and the first couple of years were pretty rough to be honest, but that’s behind us now.

How did you gather e-learning resources to help with course development?
We had been developing paper based curriculum for over 20 years, so we had a fairly good grasp of instructional design, but when we decided to do online training, we joined the e-learning Guild, went to conferences, asked questions on the community forums associated with our e-learning software (Lectora), and read a lot of books!

Finally, do you have any advice for e-learning professionals who are starting out?
The hardest part for us is creating quality content - make sure your content is solid. You don’t want to put out rubbish, but you also need to know when to stop fine tuning it as well. You have to find that balance of when it’s good enough - it may not be perfect but time-wise perfection is not always feasible.


If you have any questions about the topics discussed, or just want to find out more, please don’t hesitate to contact us. For more information on third party accreditation options, check out this free resource on Accreditation Options for Training Providers.Free Resource

How to Choose the Best Course Authoring Tool

Posted February 2, 2016 by Branagh O' Shaughnessy

Course authoring tools are software programs used for developing e-learning content. These tools usually include the capabilities to build, edit and review e-learning content for deployment on an LMS. Often they have extended functionality that allows you to integrate multimedia, create responsive projects, and record simulations. Authoring tools have the ability to create a packaged output for uploading to an LMS. These tools were built with the specific purpose of content authoring in mind, meaning they are your best option when it comes to e-learning development. Choosing an authoring tool depends on what you want to achieve with your e-learning. Many factors should be considered; think about the functionality you need, the time you have available to implement development, and your budgetary limitations. The following are the most widely used authoring tools on the market today.

Adobe Captivate (Price: US$1,099)

Adobe Captivate Logo

Adobe Captivate is known for its broad functionality, with a reputation for being less user friendly compared to other authoring tools. Being borne out of the Adobe suite means it is easier for veteran Adobe users to pick up and learn. Captivate allows for access to system variables, which gives you access to manipulate almost all features of your content. Captivate is currently leading the way when it comes to responsive mobile design. It allows you to preview tablet and mobile versions of content, and edit accordingly. It is currently the only authoring tool offering geolocation services, allowing you to deliver timely, location-aware content. Its screen recording functionality makes it a winner for creating software simulations. If you are a mac user, this is the only authoring tool listed that works natively on mac - Lectora and Storyline require windows. If you are considering Captivate, take out a free trial first to come to grips with its (extensive) interface.

Articulate Storyline (Price: US$1,398)

Articulate Storyline Logo

If you are comfortable using MS PowerPoint, and you wish to minimize the time spent learning a tool, then Storyline is for you. In addition to its user-friendly reputation, Articulate E-learning Heroes community offers a wealth of knowledge exchange and support. It is super easy to add interactions and control variables - making e-learning look appealing with minimal effort. If you need complex branching of content, then JavaScript can be integrated to achieve this. There is a trade-off between ease of use and ability to manipulate the finer aspects of content. Unlike captivate there is no available access to system variables. This can prove difficult when trying to manipulate the finer aspects of course material. Storyline is somewhat behind when it comes to responsive mobile design. Sure, if you include the HTML output it will shrink to fit smaller screens. Unlike Captivate you won’t be able to preview mobile versions of slides, nor will you be able to edit the appearance of rescaled slides. If you want a rapid authoring tool that is easy to use, and you don’t foresee yourself requiring complex functionality, then this is the tool for you.

Lectora Inspire (Price: US$2,374 full package)

Lectora Logo

Lectora has a reputation for being similar to PowerPoint, while having a host of powerful functions and quiz options. Unlike Storyline, every element of the player is customizable. It surpasses the competition when it comes to quizzing. Quiz questions are automatically added as variables, giving you many options for your answer-types. Its community is in its infancy stages, but growing fast. The latest version now offers responsive design for mobile and tablet devices. Like Storyline, HTML output allows for mobile viewing. Lectora is middle of the road when it comes to usability, and offers a wide range of powerful functionality. This tool is pricier than its competitors; the full package is $2,374 with maintenance and support. Lectora also have a cloud authoring option, Lectora online, which is more competitively priced, offers Mac compatibility and the ability for online collaboration. This may be a more suitable option if you will not miss the offline capabilities of desktop installed software.

Conclusion

When choosing a course authoring software, take out a free trial to assess its usability and functionality. Assess whether the authoring tool is able to meet your needs. Query whether the provider offers output files in a common file format, such as HTML5. You will also need to know if available outputs (e.g. SCORM 2004) are compatible with your LMS. Check out the templates, animation and graphics capabilities. Note how easy or difficult it is to learn. If your learners are using mobile or tablets to take training, check if it allows for scalability and responsive design. Investigate what kind of support is available if you have a question or run into an error. Take a look at the online forums to see what issues are frequently reported, and whether community managers offer sufficient help. You may have other factors that are important for achieving your e-learning objectives. The key is to establish these early in the development process so that selecting an authoring tool is as straightforward as possible.

What experiences have you had with these course authoring tools? Is there a useful tool you think we should review? What advice would you give to a first-timer searching for the right course authoring software? Leave a comment below or tweet us @Firmwater.

 
Sources:

http://jennifervalley.blogspot.ca/2015/10/adobe-captivate-9-v-articulate.html

http://elearningindustry.com/choose-elearning-authoring-tool/

http://elearninguncovered.com/2016/02/updated-e-learning-authoring-tools-comparison-2/

http://www.elearningguild.com/insights/index.cfm?id=170

 

Accreditation Options for Professional Training Providers

Posted June 2, 2015 by Branagh O' Shaughnessy

Have you considered having your training officially accredited? Training providers have a duty to adhere to industry standards of excellence, and becoming accredited is essential for this. If you and your team have put the work in, and developed your online training courses to an exceptional standard, then it makes sense for you to become accredited. It proves the quality and credibility of your courses, in an increasingly competitive market.

The following resource explores how becoming accredited can impact your online courses.
The benefits, expenses and stages of accreditation are reviewed. We have examined the certifying bodies of our clients’ choice, and discussed the lessons they have learned from the accreditation experience. Gaining accreditation is a little bit that goes a long way.

If you have exceptional training courses, and your sector requires annual CEUs or CPDs,
then follow this link to continue reading: Accreditation Options for Professional Training Providers

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Over 7 years of reliable hosting

Posted March 6, 2012 by Richard G. Williams

Just over 7 years ago, we made the decision to host the Firmwater LMS solution at OrcsWeb.com. It turned out to be one of the best business decisions we made, both for us and our customers.

Here’s 7 of the many reasons why we chose and continue to choose OrcsWeb:

  1. Solid Infrastructure
  2. Microsoft Technology Specialization
  3. Dedicated and Stable Support Team
  4. High Availability
  5. Full Service Solution
  6. Scalability and Flexibility
  7. Peace of Mind

Solid Infrastructure

A solid infrastructure starts with good bones. OrcsWeb is co-located within Peak 10’s data center, a world class hosting facility that includes multiple high speed connections to Tier 1 Internet carriers, multiple power sources providing uninterruptable power, top notch environmental control and physical security systems that meet or exceed industry standards.

Microsoft Technology Specialization

ORCS Web only hosts applications built upon Microsoft’s technology stack.

The Firmwater LMS is a Microsoft .NET application built on the Microsoft technology stack (Windows Server, Internet Information Server, SQL Server and Reporting Services).

By hosting with a Microsoft specialist, we benefit from ORCS Web’s broader knowledge of Microsoft technologies. We’ve been able to leverage ORCS Web’s knowledge and expertise to move quicker than if we had to do it all on our own.

Dedicated and Stable Support Team

OrcsWeb provides Firmwater with a dedicated support team which means they have familiarity with our application and are able to help us solve problems efficiently. A stable staff is one of the hallmarks of a great organization, and most members of our OrcsWeb support team have been on the team since day one.

High Availability

The Firmwater LMS is hosted on a combination of OrcsWeb Cloud Servers and dedicated servers. All servers are built using Enterprise-Class hardware with Gigabit speed network connections and built-in redundancy. Managed daily backups, managed anti-virus and firewall protection secure our servers from malicious attempts to access information maintaining the security of our customers’ data.

As a result, in a typical month, we see 99.98% to 100% availability. Unplanned downtime is rare. Planned downtime is limited to that which is needed to apply operating system and application updates.

Full Service Solution

The OrcsWeb team takes complete care of our hosting environment from backups through to applying the latest Microsoft updates. We regularly call upon the team to help us with day to day administration. Requests are handled promptly, usually within minutes. OrcsWeb’s support team allows Firmwater to focus on our efforts on supporting our customers and continuing development of the Firmwater LMS application.

Scalability and Flexibility

When the need for more resources arises, OrcsWeb has been able to deploy additional resources to our servers quickly. When the situation dictates, we’ve been able to add resources within hours.

Peace of Mind

At the end of the day, we have the peace of mind in knowing that OrcsWeb is watching our back. They monitor our servers around the clock every day of the year. Day or night, they will take action on our behalf when needed and keep us apprised of actions taken.

What does this mean to our customers? Simply that the Firmwater LMS is always available and running reliably around the clock.

Read more about our experience with OrcsWeb here

Firmwater turns 10!

Posted December 5, 2011 by Richard G. Williams

Today, Firmwater celebrates its 10th anniversary!

Founded in the tumultuous times, we’ve overcome the hurdles that have stopped many new ventures in their tracks. We started out consulting, providing web application design and development services, including playing a pivotal role in the development of several fundraising systems.

But rather quickly, the consulting work led us back to our roots of knowledge assessment and learning management. In 2003, we started developing a test and survey engine. An inquiry from some former colleagues (and a current client) soon had us designing and developing a learning management system built specifically for e-learning content providers.

Our goals at the time:

  • a clean and easy to use interface for both the learner and the administrator - after all a learning management system that requires user training seems counter intuitive
  • ubiquitous availability - Internet browser based delivery with any standards compliant web browser without the need for any third party plug-ins or extensions
  • support for the then emerging SCORM 2004 (and earlier 1.2) standards so content can be developed using a choice of best of breed authoring tools
  • provide our clients with visibility and the ability to manage all of their customers with a single logon
  • deliver the software as a service, alleviating our clients of the worries of hosting and allowing us to keep the product current as the web evolves

We’ve achieved these goals and they remain central to the ongoing development of the service.

Since the Firmwater LMS went live in January, 2005, our clients have delivered their training products to over 110,000 people in over 480 organizations around the world.

The LMS has:

  • processed over 2.7 million login requests,
  • delivered over 7.5 million interactive learning objects (SCO’s in SCORM speak), and
  • administered over 465,000 tests and surveys in which it has recorded over 10.8 million responses.

Our clients are diverse, offering training on a wide range of topics from Industrial skills and safety training, workplace violence and harassment, presentation skills, to breastfeeding education.

Our largest customer supports over 68,000 users in over 210 organizations with just two full time support staff, a testament to the reliability and maturity of the LMS. However, when they are faced with issues outside of their expertise, they know we are there to stand beside them.

We continue to invest in the ongoing development of the Firmwater LMS. There have been 29 releases since March, 2007 with the latest release out just last week (more to come on that and other releases in future posts to this site). We remain focused on developing the features asked for by our customers.

To this day, we remain focused on helping training companies transform and grow their businesses online. If this story resounds with yours, drop us a line and let’s see if there’s a fit between our capabilities and your needs. Perhaps we can help you take your training business to the next level!

To our customers, we thank you for your patronage, patience and support through the years. To our families, we thank you for believing in us, putting up with some late night or early morning hours on occasion and being understanding.

Jumping on the social networking bandwagon

Posted October 6, 2009 by Julie Maranhao

Already using Twitter? Well, that’s fantastic. It’s good to know that you’re staying on top of technology and social media! Apparently, if you want to be in-the-know, Twitter is the place to be. Well, don’t worry if you haven’t signed up to tweet yet. We’re a tad late jumping on the social networking bandwagon too. But hey, better late than never!

And so, without much further ado, we are quite pleased to announce that we are now on Twitter! Follow us @firmwater to be in-the-know about the most important Firmwater LMS news.

Happy following!

Trust Your Strategic Vendor - Microsoft certified Firmwater as a Gold Partner

Posted February 27, 2009 by Benjamin Schmidt

We are excited to announce that Microsoft has certified Firmwater as a Gold Partner - Microsoft’s highest partner award.

Firmwater offers an online learning management service, designed to help training vendors grow their business, by selling and delivering their training online.

In order to become a Gold Partner, Firmwater’s software application underwent several rigorous tests by Microsoft, to ensure full functionality and compatibility with Microsoft products. Mastering these tests gave Firmwater the Software Solutions Competency for Independent Software Vendors (ISV). Microsoft also requires several client references from satisfied clients to complete the Gold Partner award.

Microsoft recognizes that Firmwater is not only competent in its development of high-end software applications, but also worthy of Microsoft’s trust through solid services provided to its clients. Thus, Microsoft awarded Firmwater a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner.

What does this mean to you as a Firmwater prospect or client?

It gives you Microsoft’s assurance that Firmwater is a strategic vendor, whom you can trust. Not only has its software been certified by the world’s largest and most accomplished software developer, but it also ensures that Firmwater’s clients stand behind Firmwater as a strategic partner in growing their business.

As always, your comments are sincerely welcome.

7 Key Things Guide

Posted December 2, 2008 by Benjamin Schmidt

Many training vendors struggle with what is needed to deploy their online courses. Firmwater has developed a Learning Management System (LMS) strictly for training vendors.

In order to help you understand the best practices for finding the right LMS for your situation, we have authored a guide especially for you. The guide outlines seven factors you need to consider when searching for a LMS.

The guide is called 7 Key Things for Training Vendors to Consider When Selecting a Learning Management System. As always, your comments are sincerely welcomed.

Studying negative decision makes for better training

Posted September 29, 2008 by Benjamin Schmidt

Here is a most interesting experiment that was illustrated in the book Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive. It demonstrates that studying negative decision making makes for better training, and for making better decisions in real life. It is excellent reading for all training developers and publishers.

Strength, courage, determination, commitment, selflessness. Some might say that our firefighters should be role models for how we behave both within and outside our organizations. Even though saving lives, and rescuing kittens from trees might not be in your job description, learning how firefighters train for their job, might just help you become an everyday hero in yours.

Behavioural researcher Wendy Joung and her colleagues were interested in examining whether certain types of training programs would be more effective than others, at minimizing errors in judgment on the job. Specifically they wanted to know whether focusing the trainee on past errors that others have made would provide better training than focusing the trainee on how others had made good decisions in the past.

They thought that training that focused on others’ errors would be more effective for several reasons, including increased attention to the training, and a more memorable training experience. The researchers aimed to test their hypothesis on a group of people whose decision making skills under stress were vital, and whose decisions carried important consequences; it’s not surprising they chose firefighters.

In the study, a training and development session, that included several case studies, were presented to the firefighters. However, the nature of the case studies differed between two groups of participants. One group learned from case studies that described real life situations in which other firefighters made poor decisions that led to negative consequences. The other group learned from case studies in which firefighters avoided negative consequences through good decision making.

Joung and her colleagues found that firefighters who underwent the error-based training showed improved judgment, and were able to think more adaptively than those who underwent error-free training. Training is all about influencing others. So, if you want to maximize your influence on employees’ future behaviour, the implications for your organization’s training programs are clear.

Although many companies typically focus their training exclusively on the positive - in other words on how to make good decisions - the results of this study suggest that a sizable portion of the training should be devoted to how others have made errors in the past, and how those errors could have been (and can be) avoided. Specifically, case studies, videos, illustrations, and personal testimonials of mistakes should be followed by a discussion of what actions would have been appropriate to take in these and in similar situations.

Of course, specific individuals don’t have to be singled out by management for their previous poor decision making. These error based experiences can be completely anonymous. However, you might find that some of the more experienced and respected employees are more than happy to donate their error-laden “war stories” to the company’s training archive.