Q&A: How did I get started in training and screencasting?

thumbnail - online learning podcastIf you’re a DIY online course creator and haven’t yet tuned in to John Colley’s Online Learning Podcast (free via iTunes), then it might be worth your time to take a look the next chance you get online.  John has built a trending podcast by interviewing online course creators and getting them to reveal their workflow, thought process, development techniques and marketing strategies when developing their own courses.

John and I had a great conversation during his show’s Episode 22 where I shared a little background about my “upbringing” in the training profession, and how it is I came to develop my own online courses.  You can click the link above to hear the full podcast, or browse the highlights I’ll summarize over the next couple of posts.

Online Learning Podcast Interview Highlights (Part 1): “How did you get started in the training profession and with screencasting?”

John:  Mel, a very warm welcome… We’ve already established that we’re both veterans, but perhaps you could tell our listeners a little more about you and what you do.

Mel:  Absolutely…. My background is that I started off with the U.S. Navy.  That’s probably where I first got intimately involved with training, as a profession.

image - p3 orion aircraftI was fortunate enough to have a flying career with the Navy.  For some of you veterans who might be listening in, I flew in an airplane called a P-3 Orion.  It’s an “anti-submarine warfare” (ASW) aircraft.  In the UK the equivalent might be what they call a Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft.  Basically, our mission in the P-3 was to go out and hunt submarines.  But, as interesting as all that may be, the main story is how I got involved with training through my early career in U.S. Naval Air.

Safe Environments In Which To Fail

(courtesy: en.wikipedia.org – labeled for reuse)

As many of you can imagine, there’s a LOT of training that goes into preparedness for military and commercial aviation professionals.  I mean, before you actually step into an airplane they put you in these simulators.  And before that there’s classroom based training called “ground school.”  And the fascinating thing to me in all this is the progression of training that progresses through these simulators.  And the reason these simulator training programs were so fascinating to me is because they represent what I would call “safe environments in which to fail.”

By creating those safe environments, the Navy was able to maximize learning by allowing students to try techniques — even if it would realistically have resulted in catastrophe or death — and still be able to recover from those failures in a way that allowed students the opportunity to live another day, to reflect upon those mistakes, discuss them with instructors and try another way that was more aligned with accepted best practices.  And by facilitating that cycle of failure, recovery, discussion and reflection we were really able to evolve skills much more effectively than if we just stuck with book learning and flew in strict accordance with accepted “standards.”

So it was that whole methodology is what got me interested in simulation- or scenario-based training after the military.  And one of the organizations I joined that was doing this stuff was a company called Andersen Consulting (AC).  They’re now called Accenture.  It’s one of the, I guess, “Big 4” management consulting companies who was doing this kind of stuff at the time.

At AC, I joined the Change Management practice.  A typical project found me bundled with our technology team as we implemented new technologies at Fortune 500 type organizations.  The funny thing about changing technologies:  when it changed in any organization, it would typically mean changes to the organization’s processes and how their employees would subsequently do their job… this ultimately meant training.

digital-know-how target audienceChallenges In Training People In Enterprise Organizations

But because these organizations we worked for were also multi-nationals, where the workforce was otherwise geographically dispersed, training had unique challenges in that the people that needed to be trained were geographically distributed.   If you were going to design a training program that was based on instructor-led classroom training, then you needed to account for a design that would accomodate a nationally (or internationally) distributed learner base.

At that time — the early 90s — we didn’t have the internet.  And words like “intranet” were basically typographical errors in peoples’ minds.  So there was a challenge of distributing all the training content to people across wide geographies.   And that’s why computers (which weren’t yet so ubiquitous back then as they are today) were such a boon when you could get them for both the development phase and for the learners.  With CBT, or computer-based training, we could create and distribute training programs to other computers by burning them on to disks and then mailing those disks to regional trainers or training facilitators in each of the geographies.

But even that had a lot of logistical challenges.  Not the least of which was to coordinate the distribution of new CDs — and to force their use in each of the training regions — whenever new updates were made to the core training.

And so when the world wide web evolved, then WBT, or web-based training became the buzz word.  With WBT (wow!) you could centrally locate the training in much the same way we would publish, say, a video blog today, and let learners access the training through the web.  And whenever that content needed to be updated, the updates could be made centrally and have it immediately propagate to everyone who needed access to the training.  But even that had its technical and formatting challenges.

internet_tester_400_clr_12302Early Bandwidth and Video Production Hurdles

Bandwidth was very much an issue — especially in a world where the majority of learners would still need to use dial-up access.  I mean, if you could virtually access a computer  via a 56k baud modem (remember those?), you were on the bleeding edge.  But, happily, that eventually became less of an issue as time evolved.

And, not to mention, on top of the technical, bandwidth and formatting hurdles, there were also development hurdles. I mean, to produce anything with video back then required an entire team, including actors, camera people, audio people, lighting people, script writers, subject matter experts to review the scripts, and so on.  It was a production!  Then there was editing.  And all the editing used to be done on tape drives and analog devices.

camtasia-studioAnd that’s why, right around… the turn of the century, a company called Techsmith, created software called Camtasia.  And that was an eye opener.

It was an eye opener because all the simulation-based training that we used to produce with moderately sizeable teams could now be done by just one person.

And when Camtasia came out–and the proliferation of other screencasting software like it since–we were all of a sudden exposed to a product that allowed us to install software locally and then use the software to record video of our computer screen, then digitally edit that video directly afterwards in the same software.

And since then, of course, it has just gotten more ubiquitous.  All of that production efficiency, coupled with the explosion of technology and bandwidth capacity really opened up the ability for us to deliver video — and learners to consume video — over the internet; it was probably in just the last 5 to 7 years, because of the explosion of bandwidth capacity and the ability to digitally create your own online video recordings and editing capability, where video training really exploded.  It allowed for individuals and owners of home-based businesses to create their own courses or information content…

Next up:  “How did you move from developing projects for corporations to creating your own courses through your own website?”

What does Camtasia or ScreenFlow Offer That Screencast-O-Matic Doesn’t?

What does Camtasia or ScreenFlow offer that Screencast-o-matic Doesn’t? snapshot - facebook question

I see this question — or variations of it — a lot in discussion groups where folks are creating their first online course.  Usually, it’s in context of someone wanting to spend the least amount of money for screencasting/editing software as they create their first online course.  Understandable.

First some helpful references

  • Camtasia Studio (for Windows – $299), Camtasia For Macintosh ($99) and ScreenFlow (for Macintosh – $99) are powerful, multi-featured downloadable software products that let you — in a nutshell — capture, edit and publish video and audio of anything you can display on your computer screen. 
  • Screencast-o-matic ($15/year for a Pro account), is a low cost alternative that you can use directly online with either a PC or Macintosh.

My Response

For my part, in response to the oft-asked question about the main advantages of software like ScreenFlow or Camtasia over Screencast-o-matic:

I think screencast-o-matic (SOM) is actually a pretty good (I daresay even excellent) software if the course objectives (and of its marketing) call for BASIC screen/voice capture with the occasional bubble, box or text callout as an overlay. In fact, at $15/year (for the Pro version), I think it’s actually quite powerful for the price.

At some point though some online content creators (though not all) find the need to differentiate their presentations a little more from the “basic” look and feel.  (And, let’s face it, to differentiate theirs from the run-of-the-mill “death-by-PowerPoint” type presentations.)  So it’s for those folks that I think one of the other tools like Camtasia or ScreenFlow might actually be more cost effective.  (As an aside: Contrary to what some may believe, the learning curve for comparable functions in Camtasia or ScreenFlow isn’t really more steep than that for SOM.) 

Indeed, there are many features that will teeter the scale one way or the other if you were to compare each feature one-by-one.   But one of the key features that I think gives a lot of power to tools like ScreenFlow or Camtasia over SOM is in their capacity for you to have many more LAYERS (“tracks”) in your screencasting project.  This multi-track capability gives you the ability to layer video objects, images and audio clips over your main presentation and with much more flexibility to change different properties for each of those objects independently of any other object.

For example, in addition to a basic PowerPoint and voiceover narration, some folks may want to overlay a music track, a video clip, and/or a video interview that supports the main presentation — these require 3 or 4 layers (or more). In contrast, SOM only gives you one layer.  (Two layers could be argued, but certainly not more than that.)

(Click here to watch free previews from this ScreenFlow course.)
(Click here to watch free previews from our Camtasia Studio course.)

The video above is an excerpt from Lecture #2 in my course, “Beyond PowerPoint: Teach Online Now With ScreenFlow For Mac.” It shows some of the layering and property manipulations (animations) I mentioned that is much more powerfully done in ScreenFlow or Camtasia than in Screencast-o-matic.

Camtasia or ScreenFlow isn’t for everybody

Again, not everybody will need or want all that extra “flair” in their presentations.  In which case, if you’re in that camp, then screencast-o-matic should work just fine — especially if price is a huge factor.

Tips For Editing and Polishing Your Skype video Interview (Part 3)

Part 3: Editing and Polishing Your Skype Video Interview

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This is part 3 in the 3-part series.  In part 1, I showed you how I arranged the cameras, the microphone and software settings for the interview.  In part 2, I demo’d the recording while showing camera and microphone alignment.  In this video, I’ll show you the end-product of the raw recording; you’ll also see some helpful tips for editing and enhancing your Skype video interview so you can present it to your audience with a little more polish.

Tip:  If you scroll down, you can see a sample of what the final polish might look like.

Note:  It’s worth keeping in mind that although I used Camtasia for Macintosh to demo the recording of this Skype interview, the set up and process for recording is just as easily conducted using Camtasia Studio (for Windows) and ScreenFlow for Macintosh.

P.S.  I used ScreenFlow to record, edit and publish the demo video itself.

A Sample of the Final Interview

The short video above is one quickie example of the polished interview we used as a sample in the tutorial series.

More in this Skype interview screencast series

How to screencast your Skype video interview – Part 2: The Interview

Part 2: Recording the Skype Interview

This is part 2 in the 3-part series.  In part 1, I showed you how I arranged the cameras, the microphone and software settings for the interview.  In this video, we follow up on the settings and proceed with the interview itself via Skype — and we record it with a screencast editor, such as Camtasia or ScreenFlow.

It’s worth keeping in mind that although I used Camtasia for Macintosh to demo the recording of this Skype interview, the set up and process for recording is just as easily conducted using Camtasia Studio (for Windows) and ScreenFlow for Macintosh.

Key highlights

Some of the key points that’ll help you keep things straight in the video above are the following:

  • What did I use the Skype camera angle for?  I used the Skype camera angle to illuminate my profile for the benefit of the interviewee.
  • What did I use the screencast editor’s camera angle for? I used the screencast editor’s camera angle (Camtasia Mac in this case, or also Camtasia Studio or ScreenFlow) to illuminate my profile for the benefit of engaging the audience who later views the interview video online.

image - skype camera angle

image screencast camera angle

More in this Skype interview screencast series

How to Screencast Your Skype Video Interview – Part 1: The Set Up

Part 1: Screencast Settings For Your Skype Interview

Thumbnail - question about screencasting SkypeSome of the subscribers to our screencasting courses on Udemy asked about how I set up to record video interviews on a platform like Skype.  I love the interest in this because I think interviews — whether video or audio-only — are great ways to create interesting content for your blogsite audience, or otherwise supplement your online course with compelling instructional content from other industry experts in your course’s subject matter.

Three Points Of View

I’ll do this in three parts.  This post is Part 1.  In it, I’ll focus on showing you how I set up the hardware, software and software settings to prepare a Skype interview with 3 points of view:  You (the interviewer), your subject (the interviewee), and a third camera angle that your audience will relate to.

Then, in Part 2, I’ll demo the actual screen recording of a Skype video interview using the settings I show in Part 1.  That will then set us up nicely to compare the recording from Part 2 with the end result that we’ll use for editing and polishing in Part 3.

Strange Bedfellows and Supplemental Screenshots

Just in case you were wondering, I used ScreenFlow as the capture and editing software for the video above.  And I used Camtasia for Mac as the demo platform.  Consequently, the settings I show in the demo uses those from Camtasia for Mac and Skype for Mac. But, as I explain at about the 2:00 point in the video, the same settings are available in both ScreenFlow for Mac, Camtasia Studio version 8.1 (for Windows) and Skype for Windows.  Below are screenshots of the recording configuration window in each of the “Big 3” screencast editors.

image-camtasia mac recording configuration

Camtasia Mac recording configuration.

image - screenflow configuration

ScreenFlow recording configuration

image - camtasia studio recording configuration

Camtasia Studio (v8.1) recording configuration

Your Turn

Do you tend to edit your online interviews?  What software do you use for capture and editing?

More in this series

Mel Aclaro – My studio setup for screencasting production

My feature post in Telestream’s The Screening Room blog a couple of days ago generated a few questions about this image of me in one of my studios.

screencasting setup

“I like to say I have two studios: my office and my ‘office annex’ locations.  The latter being whatever regional park or coffee house I tend to find myself in…”  ~Mel Aclaro

The one above is obviously from my office studio.  I pulled it from the ScreenFlow article (ref: Meet the ScreenFlow-er: Screencasting Wizard, Mel Aclaro) and decided to visually index it with cross-linked details to help supplement answers I give about the gear I use.  Click any of the markers in the image to learn more.

Your Studio Setup Doesn’t Have to Be Costly

So here’s the thing, although some of the equipment I use in my office is a bit pricey for the home-based screencaster, you can definitely get by with less budget-heavy gear AND still be able to get professional quality production value for your online course or website video/screencast.  I cover some of those in Sections 3 and 4 of the Digital-Know-How course, but I also provide some alternate links above for some of the more cost-effective gear.

Another resource you might want to take a look at, as well, is my previous post on The Poor Man’s Home Video Studio: 3 Must-Watch Techniques.

Your turn: Your recommendations for studio equipment?

What microphones, video, lighting or other hardware/software have you used that is both cost effective and quality enhancing?

The future of storytelling: Collaboration, quality, engagement

The barriers to entry are much lower… anyone, if they want to, can really be creative and say what they want to say.

A compelling snippet here (at least for me) from the Future of Storytelling’s (FoST) channel.  Some of the points here that resonated with me related to interviewee’s perspective on the importance of collaboration in content creation, quality, intimacy (in public forums), technology’s role in democratization of video content, and engagement.

The interviewee is Lisa Donovan, one of the cofounders of Maker Studios, a collaborative “talent-first media company founded by YouTube artists.”  The network was founded in 2009 to provide the best environment for artists to create, distribute, and monetize their original content on YouTube; the content produced at Maker Studios gets about four billion views each month.

image-reinventing storytellingMy takeaways / Highlights

Collaboration.  Working on one channel… we didn’t know how sustainable that would be and we thought that there’s a bigger opportunity here. If we came together with other like-minded people who were making their living on YouTube and we shared resources and we shared audiences, we could all benefit from that…

Immediacy and Quality.  We can now respond so quickly to something happening in current events…. You have people now getting more viewership and spending less money on the product that they’re making; it’s bringing up the question: What is quality? Just because it costs $100M to make a movie… does that mean it’s quality if I don’t enjoy it? (Nor with) I think is interesting or as engaging as something that’s 15 minutes that costs almost nothing…?

Intimacy.  What we’re seeing a lot more now is people being a lot more open with their life and sharing their life… there is sort of an intimacy that is created between the audience and the person creating the content.  I think structure and format and experience are all incredibly important when it comes to quality…

New Technology.  Technology has changed the landscape drastically. This is a huge moment in entertainment because you can’t have one studio or one person define what quality is. Now you have audiences defining, for themselves, what quality is…

Engagement and democratization of content.  Anybody who is successful in creating quality online content is a master at engaging with their audience…. The barriers to entry are much lower… anyone if they want to can really be creative and say what they want to say.  And that’s exciting…

Your turn: Maybe it’s time to give collaboration a second look?

The points around collaboration really resonated with me here.  In the dialog I have with others in my courses and professional networks, it’s not uncommon for me to find folks with truly great ideas for courses or other content that shouldneed–to get online, but that, all too often, never see the light of day because of perceived barriers to content creation and work effort.   Are there ideas you have that could benefit from collaboration with a like-minded content creator?