Customer Success Story: Learning Partner

May 12, 2016Firmwater, General, Learning eLearning, Tips and Tricks

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 the 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.

How to Choose the Best Course Authoring Tool

February 2, 2016Firmwater, General, Learning eLearning

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

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

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

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. Lectora also has 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.


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.


Content Authoring — 7 Lessons Learned

May 21, 2010Learning eLearning

This post is long overdue, but I’d like to think that its delay will help all training vendors recognize that creating SCORM content for delivery on an LMS takes time – much more time than you think.
So, a number of months ago, I planned to work with some of the more recognized authoring tools to test out their functionality and report back on my learning experiences. I started my learning journey with Camtasia Studio 6 and decided that the best way to truly understand the challenges training vendors face when creating SCORM content is to actually take on a content creation project myself. And after much deliberation, our team here at Firmwater settled on developing a new user orientation video, to instruct students on how to navigate our LMS.
So, instead of getting right into the “goods and bads” of Camtasia, I thought it would be more helpful if I mentioned some of my lessons learned during the course of my first ever content authoring experience. So, here’s my list:

1. Define your learning outcomes

Learning outcomes identify the skills and knowledge your learners will acquire after a particular learning experience. They are essential to the learner because they communicate what you expect from them and equally important for the instructor because they serve as a project guide. Without clearly defining the outcomes, you won’t be able to organize your material in a manner that will facilitate quick and easy learning. It will also be difficult for your students to understand the order and logic to what you are trying to explain.
So, even before you start coming up with different ideas of how to display your content, be sure to clearly define the end result that you want your learners to achieve. I could have saved myself a lot of time had I just come up with a simple statement like: “After the user watches this instructional video, they will be able to use the available menu items and page links to comfortably navigate their training site and start their online training.”

2. Create a storyboard

It’s still not time to record. After you’ve identified your learning outcomes, you need to put on paper what you imagine each part of your online course to look like, and that’s where storyboarding comes in. I like post-it note storyboards because you can remove and redraw frames without making a mess of the entire storyboard page. It’s also easy to mix and match the frames if you decide to reorganize the video flow. Here’s an example:

I actually forgot to create a storyboard while planning the production of my user orientation video. The one you see above I decided to make after a few failed screen recording attempts; I figured it might help me visualize the end project and it made a huge difference. Had I sketched out those video frames from the start, I would have recognized the frame order that ensured the best video flow and saved myself all the added time it took to rerecord the video.

3. Write a script

Writing a script is an extension of storyboarding since both can equally help you envision how your course will unfold. I’d recommend having your storyboard handy as you create your script and from here, simply write the dialogue and actions pertaining to each frame in your storyboard.
If you are creating a script for a voice-over, ensure you are aware of the tone, type of speech and vocabulary used throughout the script. You will want to make sure they remain consistent to avoid unnecessary confusion. This is especially important for courses delivered online because your students will not be able to rely on your facial expressions to understand what you actually mean. Here are some other useful tips:

  • Determine who your target audience is.
  • Keep things simple and interesting.
  • Have someone edit your script.
4. Ask a lot of questions

I think I asked one question about the user orientation video. Unless you’re creating a course solo and you don’t need to report to anyone about its progress or use, ask whoever is overseeing your content creation project a as many questions as possible. The more you find out now, the less time you will waste later.

What kinds of questions should you ask?

  • What will the course be used for?
  • What are the objectives?
  • What is the structure and layout?
  • Is there a minimum/maximum length of time?
  • How will the course be delivered?
5. Master the authoring tool you choose

If you want to create a flawless piece of online learning content, you need to master the authoring tool – but this isn’t done overnight. I spent well over three months working with Camtasia Studio 6 and I’m still learning new things.
Authoring tool proficiency comes in stages and the content you produce will reflect that. As you become more comfortable with your tool of choice, you will begin to experiment with new features and it’s great to know that you are not on the learning journey alone. I discovered quite a few recording and editing tips while watching many of [Camtasia’s online video tutorials]( and most authoring tools offer similar online community resources. You may also find how-to guides useful. I used Daniel Park’s [Camtasia Studio 6: The Definitive Guide]( as I worked through the process of creating the user orientation video. Overall, the materials to help you along your journey are readily available, you just need to set aside the time to take a look at them.

6. See it from the student’s perspective

Evaluate your course based on the 4 R’s:

  • Reassess: the instructional pace of your course; is it too fast or too slow?
  • Review: your learning outcomes; have you achieved them?
  • Remember: your goal isn’t to transmit information; have you transformed your learner?
  • Recall: less is more; are you easily and needlessly confused?
7. Commit to a delivery date

Like many training vendors, I didn’t have the option of creating this course in isolation. Instead, I developed it while working on other projects and was only able to dedicate a few hours per week to its progression. Since I wasn’t spending a lot of time on this project, I adopted the “whenever I can get to it” attitude.
Here’s the problem with that attitude, not setting a deadline for something automatically makes it seem unimportant. Without a deadline, it becomes easy to put off the work, which means you might as well leave it off your “to-do” list because it will be a long time coming before it ever gets done. So, just commit to a delivery date, even if you know you might have to extend it.
I hope you will find these lessons somewhat helpful for the content creation projects ahead of you. And if you are planning to use Camtasia Studio 6 to develop your courses, you will find my next post “The Goods and Bads of Camtasia” useful too!

Don’t just transmit information!

November 17, 2009Learning eLearning

I know my university ship has sailed, but it was not too long ago that I was sitting in a lecture hall absorbing information that I wasn’t always particularly interested in. I had the pleasure of learning from some great professors and, unfortunately, the displeasure of learning from some dreadful ones. And it really all came down to the method of teaching. The material will always be the same no matter who teaches it, but the way in which it is taught makes a huge difference. So, after four years of learning from professors, both good and bad, I was convinced I knew what it takes to keep students awake, interested, engaged and learning. I mean really, it’s not that hard. Don’t read the PowerPoint slides. Don’t talk in a monotone voice. Move around the room as you talk. Ask questions. Prepare some activities. Easy, right?

Well, it sounds like that would do the trick and if it’s really that easy, then why doesn’t everyone do it? So, it’s at this point that I began learning a few things from the CSTD “Telling Ain’t Training” workshop last month.