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We’ve talked about two of the three teams comprising the content design team at ICOM. This week we’re taking a look at the interactive team.
Remember when you were a kid reading a Choose Your Own Adventure book and wondered how anyone could put together all those different choices and endings so they made sense? That’s what our interactive team does. They create the multiple choice questions, drag-and-drop activities, matching questions, games, and other exciting features found in eLearning courses.
Whenever a user is asked to click, drag, or otherwise interact with some content, they’ll be there, behind the scenes, making the magic happen.
To do this, they need to map out every possible path a learner could input and make sure each of those paths leads to the right content and provides the right feedback. It takes a lot of planning, planning, and more planning to build a viable interactive piece.
The interactive team gets involved in a project early to ensure the team has enough time to build all the interactive pieces on schedule. Because many interactive pieces are custom built for ICOM courses, they are planned out carefully by members of both the interactive and instructional design teams before development begins.
Delivering quality interactive content can take time and attention to the fine details. A custom-built course menu could take as little as one day or as many as five days to complete, depending on the complexity and technical requirements. The team has also built many complex course activities like games and simulations which required weeks of development. Sometimes, the interactive team can be engaged for even longer durations developing standalone software to support the learning or business requirements of a client.
Development for the interactive team means hours of coding in addition to planning. If you’re at all familiar with coding, it can be tedious and very complex work, but this is something our interactive team truly enjoys. They’re often perfectionists, so they love the chase and the challenge. They also love that they get to learn or create something new almost every day.
Coders at the core, the interactive team works in many languages, including ActionScript and C# to create most of the interactive content. A unique strength of ICOM’s interactive team is they remain focused on putting education first in everything they do. The team is always focused on creating the best experience for the learner by ensuring the interactive piece has an educational element rather than just being a distraction in the middle of a course.
The interactive team is focused on providing an educational experience to their fellow ICOMers, as well. The team offers support to the other two groups on the development floor by providing guidance on all things interactive and code-based issues. The team is poised to take on a larger role in the development of ICOM’s core technologies and in research and development in 2014, adding even more tasks on the To Do List for the interactive team. But that’s OK. The interactive team likes to call themselves the Swiss army knife of development at ICOM, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
You can sort of think of them as wizards–the good kind. And while they may be behind the scenes, they certainly don’t hide behind any curtains. They’re right on the development floor in the middle of everything with their hands in just about every pot, and they wouldn’t change a thing.
If you remember last week, we talked about content design and how three teams make up the content design group. One of these groups is our 3D team. Sometimes it’s easier and more educational to present information with 3D animation. When that’s the case, we call on our 3D team who weave their magic and produce outstanding 3D work to include in our eLearning courses.
Magic is a good word for what our 3D artists produce. Using reference photographs, client-approved sketches or artwork, and technical diagrams or documents, our team goes about building a three-dimensional world. The 3D scenes the team builds have to be more than just a nice piece of design. The 3D needs to be practical and help illustrate ideas and concepts contained within the eLearning script. To add pressure to the team, these models must be built and finished under tight deadlines.
“When figuring out who will work on specific projects, availability and qualifications must be considered,” says Evan Sisson, 3D team lead.
He says each person on his team has specific strengths. One team member is stronger at creating vehicles and complex machinery while another team member excels at character animation. It’s Evan’s job to try and get the right person on the right project, at the right time.
“We’re usually working on several projects at once while constantly going back to older projects to work on quality assurance,” says Evan. “Generally speaking no single member of the 3D team is able to implement every aspect of 3D development so it’s important to take a person’s capabilities into account when assigning them to a project.”
Creating 3D forms is a complex process involving precise planning, a deep understanding of computers and math as well as the talent of an artist. Everything in a 3D scene has to be built; decisions are made about lighting, the position of the camera, and how characters, vehicles or other objects interact in a scene.
“Camera movements are important because they can focus the viewer’s attention, add excitement, and reduce work,” says Evan. “If the scene is still, an easy way to maintain the audience’s attention with movement is to animate the camera. Changing the camera placement is paramount for focusing the viewer’s attention on the important part of the scene.”
After all of the creative decisions have been made and the hard work of creating the models, backgrounds, lighting, camera movements, and animating the scene, Evan and his team must render the files. Rendering is done by computer programs. It takes all the files and input from the 3D artists and creates a seamless animation in a single file ready to be inserted into an eLearning course.
“Render is a passive form of work for my team but it often requires a great deal of time,” says Evan.
Rendering even a short animation can take days for a computer to finish. Evan says figuring out rendering schedules to fit a project timeline and not tie up computers so his team is unable to use them is one of the trickier parts of his job as the team lead.
“It’s best to set computers to render between work days or over weekends,” he says.
Evan and his team work hard and deal with a complex set of problems on each and every project and yet they always come through with amazing work which adds another dimension to eLearning.
If instructional designers are the brains behind an eLearning course at ICOM, content designers are without a doubt the heart. Content designers give life to words and ideas. They are responsible for visually presenting content to engage the learner.
The content design team at ICOM is made up of a diverse group of creative people with backgrounds in computer graphics, illustration, animation, graphic arts, and fine arts. They put their creative background to work each time they begin a new project. Content design is a big team at ICOM, and it includes Flash designers, an interactive team, and a 3D team.
Our Flash designers assemble all the graphic and audio elements to create the visual course. To do this, they rely on the Adobe Creative Suite. The designers turn to Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects for the majority of the creative process. But a lot of the design work actually begins with a pencil and paper. Our designers use their artistic training to sketch out ideas, such as logos, interface elements, and even the characters used in scenarios.
Steven Harder, ICOM Content Design Manager, says the variety of challenges is one of the most rewarding aspects of working at ICOM for his team members.
“From start to finish on a project, you’ll be working with typography, audio, and various visual mediums, including illustration, 2D and 3D animation, and video,” says Steven. “Project to project, there’s always going to be something different.”
Strong time management and organizational skills are a must for designers as they balance working on many different projects at the same time. Designers need to also balance their creativity with client needs. While every project is different for content designers, one constant is the focus on putting the educational component first in every design they create. They get help from the instructional designers and writers at ICOM. The script acts as a blueprint for the designers to follow as they add their own creative flare to a project. The instructional designers ensure all of the creative elements combine in a way that ensures the education integrity of the product.
“We’re always engaging other team members to get feedback. It’s a real team environment,” says Steven.
Feedback comes from clients as well. Alpha and Beta reviews are a chance for designers to sit down with clients and take a look at how a project is coming together visually and functionally. Tweaks and improvements are then added to the design process as the team continues working on the project.
The end result is an eLearning course that is visually stunning, while packing a mighty educational wallop.
If you’ve been reading the executive prospective series (you have been reading them?) a theme quickly emerges of shared values at ICOM. We all believe education comes first and the technology comes second in eLearning. This means we make the technology fit the learning and not the learning to the technology. We do this through instructional design created by instructional designers.
We’re all wired to learn, and learn all the time. In fact, learning is what we do best, from finding our way to a new location to understanding safety hazards in a new job. Our built-in ability to learn is not dependent on taking formal courses. Learning happens through experiences. It’s what we see, hear, and do. We learn during quiet moments of reflection. We learn in our social interactions and conversations. We learn from participating in activities, playing sports, volunteering, and taking on new challenges.
Formal learning often intrudes on our natural ability to learn. Instead of waiting for learners to find the knowledge on their own through experience, a formal learning environment presents the experience to learners. Formal learning is about manufacturing learning experiences, and it’s in this manufacturing process that an instructional designer becomes important.
An instructional designer looks for ways maximize the learning potential and help the learner make sense of new information. Instructional design is more than collecting the right information. Instructional design is about getting the information organized in the right way to allow the learner to experience the content in a way conducive to learning.
An instructional designer leads the learner with easy-to-understand directions that focus attention on specific information. Here’s an example from a fire safety course:
“There are four steps used in the PASS (Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep) system for using a fire extinguisher. By remembering each of the four steps, you will be able to effectively use a fire extinguisher.”
Notice how learners are instructed to remember the four steps. For this lesson, learners know they should only focus on these steps and not concern themselves with other information, such as classification of fire extinguishers or which fire extinguisher to use in different types of fires. In this way, the learner focuses on the important information: the four steps of PASS. Directing the learner’s attention to the most important details is a critical part of instructional design. You don’t want the learner focusing on a dozen pieces of information at once. You want them to focus on one important piece of information at a time.
An instructional designer takes various sources of information, as well the expertise of subject matter experts (our beloved SMEs), and evaluates it, organizes it, and designs a presentation (this is where the technology comes in). In doing so, the learning process is compressed and focused for maximum impact, which means saving time and money. The goal is for the training to teach us something new in a fast, efficient way rather than waiting for the natural learning process to take effect.
Instructional design is a jumpstart to learning. A good design engages us in the experience, and when we’re engaged, we tend to remember and learn more easily. Engaging the learner is all about presenting the information clearly and in an easy-to-understand format.
An instructional designer also provides perspective on learning goals and on content design. It’s sometimes hard to see the forest for the trees when you work so close to the information you want others to learn. This is true of everyone, including instructional designers. This is why, at ICOM, we share the duties of instructional design between project managers, instructional designers, and writers. Collaboration enables good analysis. It exposes us to multiple perspectives and ensures the critical information is put into the courses we build.
Learning is a complex process, and there’s a lot to say about instructional design (and we’re always talking about it at ICOM.) The key point to remember is instructional design is about clarifying information and finding the simplest, most effective way to present information to learners so courses are focused and meaningful.
I think I got involved in learning because I was so terrible at it. My school experience was not a great one but after repeating a grade and years of going to the resource room for extra help I met some great teachers. I had a few teachers who treated me as I could be rather than who I was and that allowed me to connect with learning in a profound way. I learned that whatever I wanted to achieve was possible – I just needed to learn it differently than others.
ICOM is the grown up, business version of one of those great teachers that helped me. We are that one teacher that cares enough to understand the uniqueness of a company that we can help them learn and get better. Getting better at safety, sales, operations, productivity and frankly, anything… Why do some teachers change our lives forever? They help us get better.
When we meet with a new client we always try to understand their culture and get to know what they are best in the world at. It could be TELUS’ engagement, or WestJet’s culture or Esso’s process perfection but regardless, understanding this and taking a holistic look at our clients with a methodology like Bloom’s Taxonomy pushes us to connect in a measurable way. At the intersection of business and learning stands ICOM – helping drive the business through learning.
I still struggle with my learning deficiencies and I survive by writing my emails in Word and pasting them into Gmail and by drawing pictures on whiteboard instead of words. Despite all my flaws I am here because I want ICOM to be that cooperate teacher that cares more than anyone else – and proves it by helping our clients get better.
Kevin Jones is Vice President & Managing Partner at ICOM Productions and is based in Vancouver, BC..
I have and always will be an entrepreneur. My father was an entrepreneur and at heart I knew I always would be. When I was 6 years old I started my first lemonade stand and I targeted my sales at road construction crews.
The truth is I like building companies and I really like being surrounded by people that are much smarter than me. I was never the best student in school and it took me a while to realize what I was good at. I started University as a Bio Chem major (my weakest subjects) and I quickly realized that it wasn’t what I was good at so I naturally gravitated to business which I kind of felt was easy as I had been surrounded by it for all my life.
When I met Greg I was selling corporate office furniture and while I was doing well, I also felt the level of entrepreneurialism wasn’t what I was looking for in my career. I saw what ICOM was creating with only 6 people and I instantly understood the potential and knew that I could be a part of the growth of this company.
What has kept me at ICOM over the years is a shared set of values. The things that I believe are important in life are the same values we have as an organization. I believe that work should fit into your life in a positive way since you spend so much time there; I believe that coworkers should be invested in each other professionally and personally; I believe honesty and integrity are important and that they are the basis of all relationships personal and professional; and I believe you should be surrounded by people that build you up and support you.
The example that I want to model for my children is that you should love your job and be excited to go to work every day, I want them to understand that humor and humility go a long way, and in order to achieve success you need to work hard. There are many more things I believe and that I value but at the core of those values is the opportunity to work with people that I respect and trust while continuing to grow and build this business. That is why I am at ICOM.
Devin Harrington is the Vice President of Business Development at ICOM Productions.
With almost 20 years of corporate education, I was looking for a change when I came across ICOM. Most companies were using a traditional classroom setting for training and with the right instructor, were getting good results, but the model was not without its’ issues. The model was expensive, not to mention time consuming and often involved the complications of travel. There was a ‘nouveau’ computer based training craze, which was really just a clever disguise for an online data dump with no real learning attached – no thanks.
ICOM had formed in 1996 and was doing some pretty cool things with technology and multi-media, but they were still missing the point…learning. That is when I decided to join ICOM. I thought if we could integrate the power of solid learning principles with video, graphics, animation and audio we might really have something. Using a simple, but effective learning methodology, in Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning, we could guide the process and deliver basic learning objectives, while leaving the tougher high level learning to the classroom experts.
James Arthur Baldwin once said “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” That quote strikes me as the right idea when it comes to online learning. If we had adhered to the corporate ‘political correctness’ of the time, we would likely be producing boring pages of online reading. Instead we have built a culture that is founded on respect, embodies innovation and breeds learning.
We continue to change and evolve at ICOM and so has our recipe for success. Add one part learning systems, some unheard of products, a handful of amazing clients, a few bad moves – but overshadowed with learning and better decisions, some crazy growth, a couple global partnerships, around a hundred or so hugely talented employees, ongoing innovation, continuous improvement – and a dog!
This is the recipe for success, this is the recipe for ICOM.
Greg Surbey is the President and CEO of ICOM Productions.
It’s the year of the horse according to the Chinese calendar (Happy New Year!). And it seems appropriate as ICOM saddles up and gallops forward with the launch of this blog.
At the close of 2013, we sat down and looked at how we could improve the way we share information in 2014. We realized we’re good at engaging clients throughout the process of designing and building eLearning courses. We’re also good at engaging ICOM team members, but we realized we could do better at engaging the public at large. We’ve failed to have a conversation. Sure, we’ve shared some interesting stories on our website, but the site is pretty static overall. It has to be because it’s our calling card. All the important facts are there. We’ve also sent out Tweets, and we’ve even posted some crazy photos of ICOM events on our Facebook page. But sometimes it takes more than 144 characters or a Facebook update to tell a story. So, we’ve decided to take a new route: blogging. A blog gives us the flexibility to share more thoughts, in more ways, and more frequently.
Since we’re a company focused on education, we felt it’s time we begin sharing our expertise and facilitate a little learning about what we do at ICOM. This means we’ll share tips and ideas about what it takes to create a great eLearning course. The curtain will be drawn back, and we’ll show you a bit of the magic that goes on at ICOM.
You’ll also find us celebrating our achievements, both as a company and as individuals at ICOM. We’re a pretty active group, involved in some amazing projects. We’d like to share those exciting events with you…because we’re like that. ICOM is about passion for the work we do. We work hard, and we play hard.
We may have guests appear on the blog from time to time, sharing their knowledge and ideas. We’ll introduce interesting people working at ICOM and find out a bit about what they do. We’ll share inspiring photos and videos. We’ll make you laugh, and we’ll make you think.
This blog is an ongoing conversation, and a good conversation wanders far and wide, never sticking to one topic. So grab your coffee or tea (ICOM runs on both), and settle in because we want to have a stimulating conversation (it’s one of our favourite things to do, not counting a good game of ping pong).
2014 is off to a great start as we celebrate the launch of our new partnership with Husky Energy. After an extensive search by Husky last year, ICOM Productions was named Husky’s exclusive provider for online learning solutions.
“We are really excited to be working so closely with Husky and helping them establish a strong learning culture that sets the standard for others in the industry.” said ICOM’s Vice President of Business Development, Devin Harrington.
We look forward to working with all of the various business units at Husky and to being a part of their push towards excellence in learning.