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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Using Text-to-Speech in an eLearning Course

This is third post in a series on Text-to-Speech for eLearning written by Dr. Joel Harband and edited by me (which turns out to be a great way to learn).  In the first two posts, Text-to-Speech Overview and NLP Quality and Digital Signal Processor and Text-to-Speech, we introduced the text to speech voice and discussed issues of quality related to its components: the natural language processor (NLP) and the digital signal processor (DSP). In this post we will begin to address the practical side of the subject: How can e-learning developers use Text-to-Speech (TTS) voices to narrate their courses? What tools are immediately available?

Text-to-Speech (TTS) Tools for eLearning Applications

There are a number of possibilities available today for using TTS for eLearning; they fall into two categories or approaches:

  1. TTS Stand-Alone. A general approach in which developers use any standard authoring tool such as Articulate or Lectora and use stand-alone TTS on-demand services/products to create audio files that are then linked or embedded in the presentation.
  2. TTS Integrated. Products/services that have TTS voices bundled and integrated with an authoring solution, including Adobe Captivate and Tuval Software Industries’ Speech-Over Professional.

In this article, we are going to concentrate only on using TTS Stand-Alone tools to create audio files that are embedded into a course.

TTS Stand-Alone Web Services

TTS stand-alone products can be used by eLearning developers irrespective of the authoring tool they are used. Several of the voice vendors offer on-demand TTS voice web services which accept text and produce sound files.  Here are a few of the top web services for TTS:


Web Service




On Demand



These web services have the advantages:

  • Choose any voice among a set of vendors voices
  • Set pitch, speed volume of voice for the entire file
  • Select type of sound file output (wav, mp3, etc)
  • Preview function
  • Pronunciation dictionary
  • Pay as you go


  • Because they are web services, there’s no automatic connection with the desktop file system.  Most of the time you are creating audio files locally and thus having access to the file system means it will keep files up-to-date.  In some cases, this also applies to things like storing scripts and default settings.

This can be a major disadvantage and cause significant extra steps.  Because of this, we are going to concentrate on a particular desktop stand-alone product to illustrate the eLearning production workflow.

Acapela Virtual Speaker – a Desktop Stand-Alone TTS Product

Acapela-Group offers a desktop stand-alone product, Acapela Virtual Speaker, that is better suited to eLearning production than most of the web services solutions listed above. 

As an example, let’s see how to work with Acapela Virtual Speaker. Virtual Speaker works with input text files (the narration scripts) and output sound files organized into directories.  Narration scripts (text files) are stored for easy updates and the system makes it easy to generate the associated sound files based on updates.  The sound files are generally easy to find and access from any authoring tool.

To create a sound file from narration text for an authoring tool using Virtual Speaker, you perform the following:


  1. Define a file naming system to identify the text and sound files for the authoring tool
  2. Set working folders for input text files and output sound files
  3. Enter new narration scripts or open a stored narration script file from the text files working folder
  4. Select the language and voice for this sound file
  5. Select the volume, pitch, speed of the voice
  6. Press the Play button to preview the voice reading the text
  7. Make changes in text and voice settings as required
  8. Name the text file according to the naming system (for new text) and save it in the working folder
  9. Select the output format: wav, mp3, etc
  10. Press the Record button, a sound file is created with the same name as the text file and stored in the working folder

To import the sounds files into the authoring tool use the File Import function of the tool to import the file from the working folder as required.

It sounds really easy and it is.  Stand-alone TTS tools are used to create sound files just as you would if you had a human recording audio for the course. These sound files then need to be associated with the content using the authoring tool.  In later posts, we’ll get into more specific comparisons of TTS vs. human narration.  In terms of taking the resulting audio files and using them via an authoring tool, the level of effort is similar.

Of course, both human narration and TTS tools that produce audio files means that it takes some work to get the audio files embedded in the authored course, including importing the files and in some cases synchronizing them with a time-line editor.  Tools that have embedded TTS, like Adobe Captivate, make this significantly easier. And if you make changes to the script, you will need to create new audio files and import them again. This is much easier than having to go through another round of narration. But it still takes work.

Personal TTS Readers Not Licensed for eLearning

Some readers may be wondering why we haven’t mentioned the TTS “personal reader” products such as: Natural Reader , TextAloud, Read the Words,  and Spoken Text as possibilities for eLearning tools. The reason is that sound files produced by personal readers are for personal use only and are not allowed, by license, to be distributed. This restriction means that these products cannot be used for eLearning, where sound files are distributed to learners. We’ll talk more about this important subject in a future post.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Augmented Reality for Learning

A colleague just asked me if I knew anyone who was using Augmented Reality for learning.  I’m not and I gave him the standard advice about looking through LinkedIn Guide for Knowledge Workers, LinkedIn for Finding Expertise, and Searching for Expertise - LinkedIn Answers.  He did that, but didn’t find particular people.  Probably I need to update my posts because there have to be lots of people who would be involved in training and augmented reality found via LinkedIn.  I just tried a search for “augmented reality” as a keyword along with either title contains “training” or “learning” and found some interesting folks.

My next suggestion was to use eLearning Learning to search.  This gave rise to the additional of a new keyword Augmented Reality on eLearning Learning.  You may have wondered where the keywords come from. :)

Actually, this leads to quite a treasure trove of great posts:

  1. Tools for Developing Augmented Reality Applications- Upside Learning Blog, April 30, 2010
  2. Fighting Phobia's with Augmented Reality- Kapp Notes, July 6, 2010
  3. Augmented Reality, Future for eLearning?- Designing Impact, June 8, 2010
  4. Augmented Reality: does it have a place/future in education?- Dont Waste Your Time, February 23, 2010
  5. More Augmented Reality Videos- Dont Waste Your Time, March 26, 2010
  6. Mobile Augmented Reality Training, April 30, 2010
  7. Augmented Reality To Help Military Mechanics Fix Vehicles, January 25, 2010
  8. Augmented Reality and the Future of Learning & Work, September 22, 2009
  9. Google Goggles will rock m-learning., December 7, 2009
  10. Augmented Reality and The Coming Tsunami of Location Learning Apps- Electronic Papyrus, October 26, 2009
  11. Layar the first mobile augmented reality application- Ignatia Webs, June 23, 2009
  12. The two types of augmented reality- E-learning in the Corporate Sector, July 20, 2010
  13. Advantages and Drawbacks of using Augmented Reality #AugmentedReality- Dont Waste Your Time, March 30, 2010
  14. In 2015 augmented learning in a ubiquitous learning environment will be fact- Ignatia Webs, May 11, 2010
  15. Augmented Reality in Learning- Upside Learning Blog, April 15, 2009
  16. Learning - augmented- Lars is Learning, September 9, 2009
  17. Augmented Reality – Now A Reality at Upside- Upside Learning Blog, March 2, 2010
  18. Augmented Reality on campus- Dont Waste Your Time, July 7, 2010

And this naturally leads to both the people/companies in the various case studies as well as suggests some folks to contact such as Judy Brown, Karl Kapp, Lars Hyland, David Hopkins and more.  At least they’ll likely have a bit more clue as to who to talk to.

If you have suggestions for my colleague, we are all ears.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Success Formula for Discussion Forums in Financial Services

I received a question this week related to Discussion Forums for Knowledge Sharing at Capital City Bank:

I successfully launched a discussion forum for a small group of lending assistants within my bank. That forum is still up and running. Since that time, I have attempted to introduce the discussion forum tool to two other work groups within the bank but I have not been very successful. I’ve used examples from the lending assistants as well as other benefits of the tool to demonstrate how its use would benefit the bank and these work groups. They see the benefit of the tool in a strict learning environment, but have difficulty seeing its use in an expanded role.

One of the things that this group has identified as one of their “problems” is that they receive too many emails. I presented the discussion forum as a solution to this problem, in that it would reduce the number of emails they receive because the information would not be in their in-box, and more importantly would allow discussion between the all the members (one to many) rather than one to one or one to a few. They pushed back because they felt that this was just one more place to go and one more thing to do. They were also concerned about the accuracy of the information that was published on the forum. I pointed out the benefit of correction of inaccurate information on a discussion forum is that it is visible and correctable - unlike information that is sent through email or other back channels of communication.  I could go on… but I’m sure you get the picture. 

I’m just having trouble getting traction and wondering what I can/should do better/different.

The one thing they were interested in finding out, is whether other financial institutions are using discussion forums and if so how. I was wondering you could help me find out if there are others, who they are and if they’d be willing to talk with me.

Great question.  Of course, there’s no easy answers here, but lots we can discuss and learn around this.

In terms of finding people with experience on this, my first suggestion was using LinkedIn and particularly looking through LinkedIn Guide for Knowledge Workers, LinkedIn for Finding Expertise, and Searching for Expertise - LinkedIn Answers.  This is in process.  I’ll also reach out via twitter.  If you have other ideas or if you are at a financial institution and are willing to have a discussion with this person, please drop me a comment/email.

Of course, there’s a lot of great information out there on this via eLearning Learning under terms like Discussion Forum, Collaboration in Discussion Forums, Discussion Forum Adoption, Benefits of Discussion Forums, Discussion Forum Case Studies.  I also checked out Nancy White’s Communities and Networks site under Discussion Forums, Case Studies of Discussion Forums, and Community Building and Discussion Forums.

I found a lot of great stuff.  Let me start with some of the ones that are probably more relevant to this particular inquiry:

  1. Examples of online communities in the financial services industry- FreshNetworks, March 17, 2009
  2. 7 Creative Ways to Introduce Social Media to Your Team- Learning Putty, October 22, 2009
  3. Using Online Forums in Social Learning- Learning Putty, October 19, 2009
  4. Change agents, group forums and the one percent rule.- Business Casual, October 29, 2008
  5. Making Intranet Discussion Groups Effective- eLearning Technology, June 15, 2006
  6. Requirement to Social Learning Adoption #2 - Compatibility- Engaged Learning, February 24, 2009
  7. The Holy Trinity: Leadership Framework, Learning 2.0 & Enterprise 2.0- trainingwreck, May 8, 2010
  8. Ten tips for choosing & using social software- Learning Conversations, February 23, 2009
  9. Promoting Social Learning- eLearning Blender, May 23, 2009
  10. Get involved and make the most of your online community- FreshNetworks, June 3, 2009
  11. Examples of online communities in healthcare- FreshNetworks, April 8, 2009
  12. Blogger in Middle-earth: Working With Online Learning Communities- Blogger in Middle-earth, April 14, 2009
  13. How To Kill A Community, February 12, 2009
  14. Online Success - a recipe for learners and facilitators- Designed for Learning, February 14, 2010
  15. eLearn: Best Practices - Discussion Management Tips for Online Educators, September 30, 2009
  16. Franchisees Benefit from Learning 2.0 at Zaxby's - 1/15/2009 8:54:00 AM - Chain Leader, January 17, 2009
  17. Facilitating online communities - WikiEducator, June 11, 2009
  18. HOW TO Sell Social Media to Cynics, Skeptics & Luddites - Tips, Resources & Advice - UPDATED, June 2, 2009
  19. Intel Communities: IT@Intel Blog: Why Intel is investing in Social Computing, February 15, 2009
  20. Community of Practice for Facilitators : pilot, adoption and participation- Library Clips, September 13, 2009
  21. Team-based communities : Transparency and Crowdsourcing for a more cohesive workplace- Library Clips, March 9, 2009
  22. BT Web 2.0 adoption case study " Inside out, February 20, 2009 
  23. How to kick start a Community | Connie Bensen, May 20, 2008
  24. Cisco on Collaboration: Know Your Enthusiasts & Laggards | Future Changes, October 2, 2009
  25. Essential reading for online community managers- FreshNetworks, January 5, 2010
  26. Insight from online communities: 2. Focused discussions- FreshNetworks, January 19, 2009
  27. Is this the Future of Forums?- eModeration, May 4, 2009
  28. The top-down and bottom-up creation of enterprise communities, and wikis- Library Clips, December 18, 2008
  29. More thoughts on community structure and creation- Library Clips, January 11, 2009
  30. Forums Are Everywhere and Here to Stay, So Skip the Tools Discussion and Focus on Your Objectives, March 25, 2010
  31. Discussions Are Not Warfare; Forums Are Not a Battlefield, December 9, 2009
  32. 5 Easy Ways to Find Stories, Topics and Discussions to Post on Your Online Community, February 24, 2009
  33. Understanding the difference between Forums, Blogs, and Social Networks, February 10, 2008
  34. How to Develop Robust Moderation Methodology- Community Guy, March 23, 2010
  35. Back to Basics: Want to Know What Your Community Members Need? Just Ask., January 19, 2010
  36. Creating Passionate Users: How to Build a User Community, Part 1, June 17, 2007
  37. Why so many community initiatives fail to take flight…, January 17, 2009
  38. Social Media and the insurance industry- FreshNetworks, February 18, 2010
  39. Implementing Enterprise 2.0 at Booz Allen: The Series- Portals and KM, January 20, 2010

More Resources on Discussion Forums, Communities:

  1. Forums vs. Social Networks?- eLearning Technology, September 15, 2008
  2. 5 Easy Tips for Teaching Online Courses- Learning Putty, January 18, 2010
  3. Forums – Day 1 – What is it?- Engaged Learning, November 23, 2009
  4. Discussion Forums for Knowledge Sharing at Capital City Bank- eLearning Technology, September 15, 2009
  5. The new look Captivate forum- Adobe Captivate Blog, April 8, 2009
  6. I want to facilitate online discussions but how do I choose the right platform?- Joitske Hulsebosch eLearning, November 14, 2009
  7. Top 10 Ways Social Media Will Impact Employee Development and Training in 2010- Learning Putty, October 29, 2009
  8. 22 Social Learning Strategy Questions to Answer Before Your Next Lesson- Learning Putty, July 1, 2010
  9. From formal courses to social learning- Learning Conversations, November 26, 2009
  10. Tips for facilitators in Ning- Joitske Hulsebosch eLearning, March 13, 2009
  11. Making the case for social media- Good Practice, November 2, 2009
  12. Social learning: all talk and no action?- Spicy Learning, February 5, 2010
  13. Communities of practice- Learnforever, May 31, 2010
  14. Make way for virtual learning communities- Electronic Papyrus, March 25, 2009
  15. An Introduction to blogs, wikis, and RSS - New Technologies for e-Learning, September 20, 2007
  16. ONLINE FORUM: Lights, Camera, Action - Using Media to Engage the Learner, June 2, 2009
  17. Online social networks, learning and viral expansion loops- Sticky Learning, December 14, 2009
  18. Community of Practice for Facilitators : pilot, adoption and participation, September 13, 2009
  19. Distributed Network Learning FAQ - WikiEducator, December 20, 2008
  20. Seed, feed, & weed- Learnlets, September 17, 2009
  21. Online communication is not second best- Clive on Learning, October 11, 2007
  22. The Power of Community |, May 28, 2009
  23. conversation matters: What Do We Get From Conversation That We Can't Get Any Other Way?, April 14, 2009
  24. Case Study: Comics in Community Communication- Community Guy, August 10, 2009
  25. Designing an online and face-to-face learning trajectory- Joitske Hulsebosch, July 15, 2009
  26. Employee social networking case study : Sabre's cubeless product, September 1, 2008
  27. Understanding the difference between Forums, Blogs, and Social Networks, February 10, 2008
  28. I want to facilitate online discussions but how do I choose the right platform?- Joitske Hulsebosch, November 14, 2009
  29. Should anonymous comments be allowed in an online community?- FreshNetworks, March 7, 2010
  30. Oldie but goodie: "CompuServe's Intranet Forum"- Endless Knots, February 23, 2009
  31. What’s the biggest mistake a community manager can make?- FreshNetworks, December 24, 2009
  32. Are your community's lurkers healthy lurkers?- Joitske Hulsebosch, June 15, 2009
  33. Preparing for community release- Library Clips, April 11, 2009
  34. Community Netiquette: How to Avoid Stepping on Virtual Toes- Community Guy, August 4, 2009
  35. Facilitating an online discussion to foster cooperation between two development organisations, December 27, 2006
  36. Full Circle Online Interaction Blog: Updating my basic article on online facilitation, April 29, 2007

What other resources or case studies would you point to around this topic?

Any thoughts or advice?

Help would be sincerely appreciated!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Wikis and Learning – 60 Resources

I’m involved in several discussions around how to use Wikis as part of learning solutions.  I wanted to collect a few resources around this topic for use in these discussions.  So, of course, I went to eLearning Learning and I looked at Wiki, Collaborative Learning with Wikis, Wikis and eLearning 2.0, Wikis Corporate eLearning, Social Learning with Wikis, Wiki Security and a few others.  Here’s some of what I found:

  1. Why a Wiki?- Experiencing eLearning, July 27, 2009
  2. Wikis at Work- eLearning Technology, February 25, 2007
  3. Control and Community: A Case Study of Enterprise Wiki Usage, May 4, 2009
  4. Blog or Wiki?- Kapp Notes, January 20, 2009
  5. Wiki activities 5 stage model, April 7, 2008
  6. Control and Community: A Case Study of Enterprise Wiki Usage, May 4, 2009
  7. Really Cool "3-Minute e-Learning" on Social Networking - Wiki, Social Networking, Social Bookmarking, RSS, October 10, 2007
  8. Wiki working, June 19, 2009
  9. Wiki: Intro to Emerging Tech, July 18, 2009
  10. Could A Wiki Be Your Next Talent Management System?, October 23, 2008
  11. Using Toolkits to Aggregate Learning Resources, February 6, 2009
  12. Enterprise Wiki as Intranet - a success story, September 20, 2007
  13. Lurking and loafing, March 9, 2010
  14. Activities, Workflows and Structured Wikis (Augmented Social Cognition), February 9, 2009
  15. Wikis for Improving Productivity- Experiencing eLearning, June 10, 2008
  16. Wiki's For Professional Development- Learnadoodledastic, September 26, 2007
  17. One more time: what's the difference between a blog and a wiki?- Clive on Learning, April 13, 2007
  18. Wikis: Ways to use them for a more Collaboration and Interaction- Dont Waste Your Time, August 28, 2009
  19. Do wikis work for any topic? How about math?- eLearning Acupuncture, March 25, 2009
  20. eLearning Tools - Wikis, Blogs and More- eLearning Technology, April 2, 2007
  21. Wiki – Day 2 – How Wikis are Used- Engaged Learning, December 1, 2009
  22. Wikis – Day 3 – Privacy & Adoption- Engaged Learning, December 2, 2009
  23. Wikis – Day 4 – Overcoming Bad Stigmas- Engaged Learning, December 3, 2009
  24. Top 10 Ways Social Media Will Impact Employee Development and Training in 2010- Learning Putty, October 29, 2009
  25. Conference Wiki Examples- eLearning Technology, November 25, 2008
  26. Use of Wikis as Compared to Other Tools- eLearning Technology, February 23, 2007
  27. 22 Social Learning Strategy Questions to Answer Before Your Next Lesson- Learning Putty, July 1, 2010
  28. TCC09: Wikis that Work: Effective Wiki Practices for Virtual Learning Communities- Experiencing eLearning, April 15, 2009
  29. Wiki as repository for a virtual community- Joitske Hulsebosch eLearning, January 21, 2009
  30. How Wikipedia Works and Wikis in the Enterprise - HBS- eLearning Technology, July 23, 2007
  31. Wikis - Public vs. Controlled - Why There's No eLearning Wiki- eLearning Technology, September 14, 2006
  32. 10 Social Media Tools For Learning- The eLearning Coach, November 16, 2009
  33. Collaborative Learning Using Web 2.0 Tools - A Summary- eLearning Technology, May 16, 2006
  34. Benefits of Collaborative Learning- Dont Waste Your Time, July 8, 2010
  35. Enterprise 2.0 - Community Spaces can lead to Walled Gardens- Free as in Freedom, March 27, 2010
  36. Examples of eLearning 2.0- eLearning Technology, September 22, 2008
  37. Collaborative Learning « Social Enterprise Blog, June 3, 2009
  38. A Learning Paradigm Shift: Cybergogy, April 9, 2010
  39. Learning space mashups, July 13, 2009
  40. Case studies of corporate (social) learning, March 12, 2010
  41. Using SharePoint- eLearning Technology, December 16, 2008
  42. SharePoint 2010: The New Employee Gateway?- trainingwreck, January 23, 2010
  43. Social Learning Strategies Checklist- Social Enterprise Blog, January 11, 2010
  44. Extending elearning?- Learnlets, November 30, 2008
  45. SharePoint Social Learning Experience- eLearning Technology, February 1, 2010
  46. Time for “new” training approaches- Daretoshare, February 28, 2009
  47. Checklist of Social Learning Strategies- Engaged Learning, January 12, 2010
  48. The Future Of Learning Design- The eLearning Coach, November 23, 2009
  49. Wiki Owner- eLearning Technology, March 19, 2009
  50. Social Learning Tools Should Not be Separate from Enterprise 2.0- eLearning Technology, April 7, 2010
  51. SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools :: Personal InfoCloud, March 16, 2009
  52. Driving the Informal with the Formal, February 10, 2010
  53. groundswell - confirming my e-Learning 2.0 ideas, August 27, 2008
  54. TELUS Case Study - Using Sharepoint to embrace social computing and streamline formal learning , May 15, 2010
  55. Driving Change: Selling SharePoint and Social Media Inside the Enterprise, January 30, 2009
  56. How to Find the Right Wiki for Your Project or Organization, February 15, 2009
  57. From formal courses to social learning- Learning Conversations, November 26, 2009
  58. Requirement to Social Learning Adoption #1 - Relative Advantage- Engaged Learning, February 23, 2009
  59. Characteristics of Emergent Communities- Social Enterprise Blog, April 14, 2009
  60. Promoting Social Learning- eLearning Blender, May 23, 2009