My Future In Data Journalism

Is there a cooler phrase in the English language than “Data Journalism”? I didn’t think so!

The hottest thing on my To Do list this very second is Google‘s Data Journalism course.

Started the Fundamentals course on April 13, 2018. There’s also an Investigative Reporting course among many others as well as tons of Tools training and “Extra Resources” which I haven’t even looked at yet.

Directly Related links:

Indirectly Related links:

Ugh … what was the site from which I first heard of “data journalism”?

Note to self … it’s bookmarked in your browser at work.

Ah-hah! It was ProPublica! Because of their Data Store! Yay!

Seriously, I’ve written about the mind-bogglingly awesome gamified eLearning at … but I can’t find that post (right now) to link to …

And now …

From Poynter

Careers & Job Descriptions

Wasn’t there one other place besides ProPublica?



Everything Wrong (and Right) with eLearning in 2017

The night before last, my wife and I were talking about the radical difference in available opportunities between, say, 1990 (when I got out of the Air Force) and now.

In 1990, laptops and computers were expensive. Even if you had a laptop, there was no WiFi. Even if there were WiFi, what would you connect to? College — even community college (tuition plus books) — was expensive. Classes and majors for “non-traditional” students who worked during the day were non-existent. The only place you could access a computer if you couldn’t afford one of your own was the library (free but crappy hours unless you lived in Ann Arbor, MI) or you could rent one any time 24/7 at Kinko’s. But, again, what were you going to do with that computer to learn?

Everything Right with the State of eLearning in 2017

In the last several years:

  • laptops have plummeted in price
    • Free WiFi is everywhere
      •  YouTube tutorials (free) by experts ranging from grade-schoolers to experienced adults
      • Khan Academy
      • Codecademy
      • FreeCodeCamp
      • StackExchange
      • Reddit
      • Udacity
      • Udemy
      • EdX
      • Countless personal sites (free and paid)
      • Countless org/corp sites (free and paid)
      • Freaking Meetups!
      • and so on …
  • The public library
    • Overdrive

Education now is like porn — why would you ever pay for it when there’s so much quality product out there for free?

I wish these opportunities had existed from 1990-2000. My life would be very different.

Sadly, for many — myself included — another, extremely ironic, difference is we had all the time in the world back then to study … but no way to study*. Now, there’s so little precious time what with full-time job, wife, and children. Some people have multiple jobs.

*And, like I said, nothing really to study. And most of what I’m studying now didn’t even exist (or barely existed) in 2000. I didn’t know what to do with what I did have access to.

But, thanks to everything listed above, we can at least make every precious moment count.

Everything Wrong with eLearning in 2017

The idea for this post started off pretty negative but I changed it to begin with a positive (above). It was actually born as “everything wrong with Instructional Design in 2017” and inspired by …

All the culprits responsible for crimes against humanity (Powerpoint, Articulate, and iSpring) in one place. Well, Captivate isn’t there … like the Joker, it seems to be off somewhere else … watching the world burn. On my list of evil organizations, Articulate is above ISIS and the Nazis.

SCORM Exchange Excitement

I willingly subscribe to a very small handful of things. One of them is Philip Hutchison‘s updates on his forthcoming book because I couldn’t be more excited about it. I think it’s important and exciting enough to share—the thoughts and files he’s been sharing at his site for years have been helpful and refreshing.

Below is his latest update and my response.


Thanks again for signing up for my book updates. The book and related code samples are coming along nicely, I hope to finish up this month, time permitting.

I wanted to take a moment to explain the gist of the book and see what you think.

First, some background:

Without a doubt, SCORM is convoluted, and is full of “nice… in theory” concepts. When SCORM was originally conceived, the authors were taking stabs at what they thought e-learning developers would like or need, but they were basically guessing, trying to predict the future.

As time progressed, they refined and expanded SCORM, adding complex features such as sequencing and navigation. Many of these new features made SCORM much harder to implement. The result was a chicken-or-egg scenario: LMS vendors didn’t fully implement SCORM features because of limited demand from course developers (and high development cost). Conversely, course developers didn’t use a number of SCORM features because the LMS didn’t fully support them.

For years we waited to see how it would play out: would the LMSs eventually start supporting more advanced SCORM features? Would we ever be able to fully utilize sequencing and navigation? Would support for CMI fields like cmi.interactions ever stabilize?

Today we know the answer: No, LMS vendors will not improve their SCORM support. The SCORM spec was last updated in 2009, and the ADL (owners of SCORM) have officially discontinued development in favor of the Experience API. Vendors have no incentive to spend development dollars on improving their SCORM support.

In my opinion, today’s level of SCORM support is the best we will get.

With that in mind, my book is focused on finding the sweet spot: how to hand-code a reliable HTML-based SCORM course, utilizing only the most widely-supported features. I’m attempting to level-set expectations about SCORM and taking a hard look at how we’re using it — the reality of SCORM in today’s world, not the dream of the original SCORM authors. I will not be delving into obscure and/or infrequently used features such as global variables or rollup rules.

If you’ve read this far, THANKS! I hope you’re as excited about this as I am.

I’m looking to make this book and the accompanying code examples as relevant as possible. If you have a minute to spare, I’d love to hear about your relationship with SCORM: how do you use it today, and what are your goals with SCORM? Are you trying to build a new course system, or do you already have one, but are looking to make it more reliable? Are there any particular kinds of examples you’d like to see?

Thanks for your time.
– philip

PS: I mentioned the Experience API (xAPI); it’s growing in popularity and has a bright future, but is still a child. Because of the Learning Record Store requirement, xAPI doesn’t work out-of-the-box with most LMSs, so I anticipate it will be a few more years before it’s widely adopted. In the meantime, SCORM continues to provide the foundation for the vast majority of e-learning courseware, especially in the corporate training realm. SCORM comes standard with most LMSs, and will not be going away anytime soon.

My Reply

I’ve been waiting for something like this for a long time. I’m the instructional designer for a healthcare system with almost 10,000 employees — continual development of new, mandatory training to meet new regulations and requirements. We don’t use an LMS. We use Taleo Learn, an HCM that Oracle bought from some bargain basement estate sale so they could bundle it with their other products for the “convenience” of their customers who don’t know any better.

The lack of many of the most common LMS features aside, it isn’t even able to take advantage of what few things tools like Articulate Storyline and Adobe Captivate can do. I started my ID career during the glory days of eLearning created with Flash which, obviously, isn’t an option for many reasons. All of these limitations led me to your site and others trying to learn how to hand-code truly interactive, engaging, sane eLearning using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript — the only languages available to me even a little bit. Sadly, Taleo Learn isn’t compatible with “HTML5 eLearning.” Like many other products (including Captivate and Storyline), it is sold as “HTML5 compatible” which means little, if anything, more than a different doctype.

I’ve heard dubious rumors we may finally get an LMS in a year or two. Maybe. In my mind, that gives me hope for one thing — I can hand-code my own stuff without using Storyline and, if the stars and gods favor me, it will work in this new LMS.

What I’d like:

  • Animation
  • Control over navigation and interactivity
  • Communicate with the LMS beyond what little Storyline and Captivate can
  • Change code (and read code that is written with some sanity) … I’d like to know and navigate the directory structure with ease … what’s in there and where it is
  • Basically, something that can replace Flash

Rules for Teaching, eLearning, Tutorials

  1. Examples should be real world, relevant, practical.

For example, if you’re teaching someone how to visualize data using JavaScript–and using, say, D3 for example, it’s rather useless to only use data that’s embedded right there in the HTML doc or the js file right next to it because, in the real world, nobody is going to do that. They will, rather, access external resources such as a database or a JSON file.

In searching for resources to meet this need I’ve found four things:

  • Tutorials that show the code referring to, but not showing, the JSON file and its contents
  • Comments, replies, etc. asking if there are any tutorials that show the content of the JSON file as well
  • Tutorials that show the JSON code but not the html/javascript code
  • Comments, replies, etc. asking if there are any tutorials that show both

This is the same sort of nonsense I ran into countless times while trying to learn how to make an html form talk to a MySQL database via some PHP code.

Another frustration is everyone jumps from one library to another so I’m not sure (yet) if I’m looking at jQuery, plain JavaScript, or some arbitrarily named function/variable. That’s what happened with the forms/database nightmare and it’s happening with this D3/JSON business that, all things being equal, should be a freaking leisurely stroll through the forest populated only by single, lonely, horny elf-princesses.

Storyline Simulation Scenario with Variables and Javascript

One of the rare projects at my current employer that allow me to use some thought, theory, education, skill, talent, and creativity. I’ve been increasingly beating Articulate Storyline into submission tricking it into looking like something a grownup would use with smoke & mirrors made of a combination of images from Photoshop and Illustrator. Using triggers in Storyline is an inefficient process to say the least but, eventually, after spending several times the hours it would take in Flash or straight JavaScript, you get something that no longer looks like a child’s toy.

A physician must respond to a patient’s wife who states her husband shouldn’t be discharged. A JavaScript random number generator determines whether the wife’s fears are valid. There are two initial branches, one of which leads to four more. At each stage, the random number generator checks to see if the patient strokes.

  • True = patient strokes
  • False = patient is (still) fine
I’ll let you guess how many crumpled pieces of paper died before this final version.

Start is the initial choice/branch. Does the doctor “ask” and listen to the wife’s concerns or say, “nope” and assure her the husband is just fine and can go home? The moral of the story is healthcare workers should listen to loved ones because they know the patient’s behavior and appearance better than anyone. They will observe or sense subtle, immeasurable indicators others can’t. It is possible the patient is fine and the wife is an anxious-ridden worrier but it is possible she’s picked up on signs the patient suffered a stroke. That all but undetectable stroke is beyond the doctor’s control and the learner/doctor is only severely penalized if the stroke occurs after some relatively stupid choices like:

  1. Learner/doctor initially tells the patient to go home
  2. They return 24 hours later when the wife continues to insist her husband should stay in the hospital.
  3. Learner/doctor still ignores the wife’s concerns.

In that case, even if the patient is fine (“You’re pretty damn lucky”), the learner is penalized for being a crummy doctor. Otherwise, if the patient strokes after being blown off twice, the learner is told, “You pretty much killed him yourself.”

The learner starts with zero points and there are 19 possible outcomes. The pink numbers are possible final scores ranging from -30 to +30. Blue-ish numbers are points added to the cumulative score as the game progresses.

  • n1=false are scores if the learner didn’t initially blow off the wife.
  • n1=true are scores if the learner initially blew off the wife but “asked” and listened when they returned.

Other possible consequences include a formal complaint against the physician.

Why so many triggers? Remember when I mentioned so many triggers? I didn’t want to make nineteen separate “Results” pages so I divided possible outcomes/responses into paragraphs placed on separate layers. Depending on the combination of variables/triggers, the different paragraphs appear. It may even have been easier to create the nineteen layers but I wanted to exercise my algorithm/programming muscles. The end result for the course and user is the same.

If it were written in straight JavaScript instead of using “triggers,” I could have used some relatively elegant “and” and “or” operators which would have made me happy.

I’d also be really happy if I could create my own functions/triggers and put all of them and all of the JavaScript code in one place. Like, you know, in Flash.

The Videographer Who Hates Videos

Another pet peeve of mine (besides poorly designed excuses for “cheat sheets” and people referring to PDFs as “ebooks”) is videos.

I don’t mean advertisements. Videos I did not ask for that autoplay and, even worse, those with no stop or pause buttons could be a whole post by themselves but, honestly, those bother me less than videos with content I actually wanted. When I think I’ve found something informative or useful and it’s a video, I feel ripped off.

I can read so much faster than anyone can talk. Videos–be they news stories or tutorials–bring my life to a screeching halt.

While reading, I can skip uninteresting or worthless text and easily identify when the important, informative part of the content begins. Trying to skip ahead in a video is irritating when the video is local and delivery is fast. Trying to skip ahead and fighting with the forces of bandwidth, buffering, etc. makes me want to punch kittens.

I get so deeply disappointed after clicking a link to what I thought would be an interesting news story and it’s a video. It’s like picking up what you thought was a piece of fruit but it’s decorative plastic that only looks like fruit.

Humble Suggestions for Video Tutorials

  • Don’t tell me your name and the name of your company. I don’t care. If the tutorial is great, I’ll want to know so save that for the end. Really, I’ll just remember it keep an eye out for your name or URL next time I’m googling.
  • Don’t welcome me. Get down to business. I’m probably trying to get something done and I’m in a hurry.
  • Don’t introduce the topic. I know what the topic is–I googled the topic and chose your video (well, I chose the link to this tutorial). Just start at step one and talk fast.
  • Provide some textual instructions. Preferably something print-friendly.

Humble Suggestions for Video News & Features

  • Transcripts
  • Text Article

I might have watched the video below without complaint but was overjoyed when I didn’t have to. Transcripts, yo.

In Boston, tracking data to score government progress

Beautiful Apps Are Beautiful

That’s the kind of app I want to build. I’ll explain what I love about it later.

The eLearning Developer Who Hates Video Tutorials

I’ve made countless video tutorials for fun and profit. I would never, ever sit through one. Let me clarify that I don’t count true software simulations as video tutorials–if it’s interactive and not ugly, I’ll gladly sit back and absorb it.

Everything made in Adobe Captivate sucks. It’s not those who use it–the product itself doesn’t allow for creating anything that unsucky.

  • The GOLD-FREAKING-STANDARD for video tutorials is [insert standing ovation here].
  • is totally awesome. It’s not videos, it’s truly interactive with great software simulation. And Free.
  • is mostly great. They really need to do some testing and editing, but when they get it right, it’s outstanding and they continually improve. Free with extra stuff you can buy.
  • My impression is I haven’t seen enough of to truly review them but they are also excellent. Not only are the instructors talented and engaging, another thing that makes Khan truly great is a very active community that is always available and eager for chat, Q&A, and peer review. Free.

Steve Jobs Killed eLearning

I rant about this frequently both on this blog and in real life. I’m linking to the article below so I have easy access to it when I need to start ranting and want to quote it.

Full disclosure: I’ve actually launched Edge Animate only once or twice myself and examples I’ve seen are pretty impressive. However, those examples aren’t eLearning.

What Tom Arah writes about Edge Animate in The Shift from Flash to HTML Has Set Web Design Back 15 Years applies not just to Edge Animate but to toys like Articulate Storyline and Adobe Captivate.

I used to say those toys were for people who didn’t care about what they did. Unfortunately, they are, increasingly, the only tools clients and employers use. Not only do they hurt eLearning as a medium and as an industry but they’ve hurt Instructional Design as a field and a career.

Over the last few years, “Instructional Designer” has come to mean, merely, “eLearning Developer.” No, it’s worse than that, it really just means “I can use Articulate Storyline” which, itself means nothing more than, “I can make really nice glorified Powerpoint presentations for companies so stupid they don’t realize they just paid $1400 for Storyline when they already owned Powerpoint.”

Don’t waste your breath listing things Storyline does that Powerpoint can’t because the list of what Flash can do that Storyline can’t is far, far longer.