Archive for the ‘Tech/Development’ Category

5 Apps & Tech Tools to Try for Online Training

Friday, August 29th, 2014

Dozens of new services and promise to bring strength to your online training program. Here are five that are honestly useful.

Unless you’re considering setting up and hosting your own online learning program in-house (most organizations go with a managed hosting company like Talance unless they have a dedicated technical department with specialists), the list of technical tools you actually need to run your program is pretty short:

  • A computer
  • A mobile device for testing
  • Headphones, speakers or some way of listening to audio
  • A connection to the Internet

Meanwhile, the list of software, apps and online services that promise a more productive and engaging online learning program continues to grow. Look at this enormous list of lists from Education World magazine, for starters.

You can spend years sifting through the options, but here are a few that we honestly think are helpful for administrators and instructors.

  1. ASTD Trainer’s Toolkit (app) – This unique app from ASTD is best for course building and instruction. It has ideas for activities and reminders for interacting with students, plus ways to keep notes and make bookmarks.
  2. Chief Learning Officer magazine (app) – Required reading if you’re considering setting up an online learning program. “Chief Learning Officer magazine is the foremost business resource for senior executives in the workforce learning and development industry, providing access to reliable information and insight into trends and developments in organizational development, strategy, employee training, leadership development, succession planning and instructional technology.”
  3. Diigo (web service) – Diigo is an old education standby for tracking bookmarks online (see the education edition). It keeps progressing, however, and the latest version is easy to use and features powerful sharing and note-taking features.
  4. Flashcard Apps (app) – “Flashcards are no longer tied to paper. Now with the help of your iPhone or iPad, you can have digital flashcards. We compare the best ones in this AppGuide.”
  5. TeacherKit (app) – This app lets instructors keep track of how their learners perform, including attendance, gradebook, assignment lists and more.

Free Download: Website Pre-Launch Checklist

Friday, October 26th, 2012
Pre-Launch Checklist

Pre-Launch Checklist

Our Website Pre-Launch Checklist will guide you as you gear up for your website’s big launch day, whether you’re debuting a new site or some exciting updates. The55-point list allows you to plan your big day in advance, so you can implement your launch strategy step-by-step without forgetting anything.

Print out a copy and keep it next to your computer so you can track your progress.

This Website Pre-Launch Checklist covers:

  • Polishing your copy so everything is consistent and clean
  • Tips for fixing the formatting so the site looks attractive
  • The most important technical quality assurance points
  • Accessibility musts for an inclusive website
  • A marketing planner so you can brag about your hard work
  • Support preparation so you’re prepared for any circumstance

Get ready for launch, and request your copy now!

[Photo credit: Launch of Discovery by DLR_de]

4 Essential Tests Before Beginning a New Website

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Thinking of embarking on a website redesign? The smartest place to start is by asking the people who use the site what they want. Now is a perfect time to embark on a new project, while you’ve got spring cleaning on the brain. Check out our series on how to spring clean your website for a fresh start.

Here are four tests and surveys you should conduct before you launch new project.

User Needs Survey

Set up a questionnaire survey to find out what your audience thinks is most important about your website. Take their comments into consideration for your needs assessment process. What those survey questions will be largely depend on your own organization’s directives. But a question like this might help you get started.

Please rate the value of each of these features, with 1 being extremely important and 4 being extremely unimportant.

  • Ability to log on to access premium material
  • A blog
  • Video clips that demonstrate how we work

You can request a free quick and easy survey template if you don’t feel like writing your own. Make sure to leave a comments space so people can add features they think might be valuable. This is also a good time to evaluate some of your current processes, like asking people how long it took them to receive feedback or how easy it is to make a donation or pay for an item.

Web Content Test

Having an appealing design is one thing, but having readable copy is another. (Be honest: how much jargon are you using?). The web design industry magazine A List Apart puts it this way:

Whether the purpose of your site is to convince people to do something, to buy something, or simply to inform, testing only whether they can find information or complete transactions is a missed opportunity: Is the content appropriate for the audience? Can they read and understand what you’ve written?

ALA gives helpful instructions on how to test the effectiveness of your content. Examples: try some readability software like Added Bytes, Juicy Studio, and Edit Central (or even Microsoft Word’s built-in Flesch Reading Ease check), or host a moderated reading test.

Accessibility Review

A website is only useful if everyone can use it. Paying attention to accessibility is good practice for all organizations–especially since good accessibility equals good SEO–and it’s a must if you’re a government agency. You can start with these Essential Tips for Making Websites Accessible, and then you might begin a “preliminary review.”

The W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative provides instructions for conducting a preliminary review of your website’s accessibility. In short, they recommend selecting a representative sampling of high profile pages (e.g., the welcome page) and those with different layouts and functionality, and testing just a few of those to see how well you’re measuring up.

SEO Audit

Making your website more friendly to search engines is a large but critical undertaking. The good news is any improvement you make is a good one. Schedule a search engine optimization (SEO) audit of your website with a few key goals in mind:

  • Are you using heading tags correctly?
  • Do you have a sitemap?
  • Is your content skimpy?

Check out the 9-Point SEO Checklist for more tips.

When Browsers Make Websites Look Bad

Friday, March 2nd, 2012

Thank you, Internet Explorer, for another gray hair. As if I needed that. But there you go, rolling out another version of your web browsing software and forcing all of our clients to upgrade from IE7 or IE8 to your new IE9. IE9 is the primary browser on 36.2% of Windows 7 machines, and it’ll keep growing.


When Browsers Make Websites Look Bad

Now all of our clients’ websites will look funky, and they’ll wonder why.

Then the phone will start ringing. I’ll have to explain that their websites were built before your new browser appeared. I’ll have to tell them that a website doesn’t automatically update to match new browsers. I’ll have to find a way to explain why IE9 is a web designer’s nightmare.

In other words, I’ll have to explain what cross-browser compatibility is, and why the same sites look different depending on which browser someone is using.

What is cross-browser compatibility?

For this, I rely on NetMechanic, who describes the way browsers interpret information with this analogy:

Your Web browser is a translation device. It takes a document written in the HTML language and translates it into a formatted Web page. The result of this translation is a little like giving two human translators a sentence written in French and asking them to translate it into English. Both will get the meaning across, but may not use the same words to do so.

When we roll out a new website, we’ve got it covered. We test all of our new sites in the most used browsers to make sure they display pretty much the same in each. We also build our sites to “degrade gracefully.” In other words, if some new and unidentified browser or device comes out that doesn’t support the way we’ve built the site, it still looks reasonably OK. We do all of this before we even launch.

Sometimes, though, a new Internet browser pops up, and all sites need to be tested against it. It’s always a good idea for anyone with a website to make sure their site is usable across all the most popular browsers (old and new), mobile devices (like iPads or iPhones), or any other web browsing devices.

The web browsers that matter

How does one find out what browsers are most important for testing a site? Start with looking at an analytics account, something like Google Analytics or Clicky. Another handy technique is to check usage share for most browsers. According to StatCounter, here’s how they’re breaking down for February 2012:

  • Internet Explorer – 35.75%
  • Chrome – 29.84%
  • Firefox – 24.89%
  • Safari – 6.76%
  • Opera – 2.03%
  • Other – 0.73%
  • Cross-browser testing tools

    Then it’s a matter of downloading all of those browsers and seeing how it looks. There are also a number of useful tools that make this job a little bit easier, especially because it’s time-consuming to install all of the major browsers.

    Here’s a brief run-down of cross-browser testing services from Noupe:

    Adobe Browser Lab
    Adobe Browserlab offers an awesome solution for viewing on demand screenshots of your site.

    Makes screenshots of your web design in a lot of different browsers. After you submit your URL, it gives you a url where your screenshots will be loaded up.

    Browser Sandbox
    Runs an application to view your site in a variety of browsers.

    (More tips on what to check on the healthy website checklist.)

    My guess, IE, is that this nonsense isn’t going to end any time soon, especially since your share of the market is on such a sharp decline. So I’ll just keep an eye on the grays and do my best to keep on the treadmill.

    (While I’m at it, thanks to you too Firefox, for all of your upgrades, and a tip-o-the hat to Chrome and Safari for keeping up the guesswork.)

    [Image: Flickr user bottled_void]

Top 5 Predictions About Nonprofit Websites in 2012

Friday, January 13th, 2012

If there’s one takeaway from 2011, it’s that the economy is haywire and technology is evolving faster than an oiled bullet. In that kind of nutty atmosphere, it can be a challenge to predict what will happen to web-based technology in the coming months.

The Crystal Ball

What does 2012 hold for nonprofit websites?

We do see a few trends emerging for the next year, however. Here are our predictions for 2012 web trends. Take note for when you next talk to your web design firm about and also pay attention to so you can to succeed in your NGO or company.

1. More design for mobile devices.

Look around you. What’s in the hands of the people surrounding you, including your own? An iPad or iPhone? Nook? Kindle? Tablet? Blackberry? Everybody’s using some kind of handheld device. While corporate websites have been mobile-compliant for years, nonprofits will finally start to catch up. Want to peer into the future of mobile design? Read Mobile Web Design Trends and Best Practices.

2. App-lification of websites.

All those people with mobile devices are getting used to responsive design that they can manipulate with their fingers. Move over “point and click,” and make way for “touch and swipe.” People are beginning to expect interactive design with websites, so expect to see websites look and behave more like they came from the app store.

3. Websites focused on user experience.

Since people are spending so much time with their heads bowed over their handheld devices, they also expect to understand what to do with an app without having to guess. This means websites will be built with careful attention to user experience design (UX), in other words, built with humans in mind. Nonprofit leaders might finally understand that the less people have to think about a website, the more likely they’ll donate, sign petitions, volunteer or otherwise participate. Finally!

4. Less Flash.

We’ve long believed Flash to be big and clunky plug-in, with way too many distracting splash screens and blank spaces on the iPad. There are other technologies out there that make web movies and play on a host of devices, so expect to see more of these letters in the alphabet soup: AJAX, CSS3 and HTML 5.

5. Move to online donations.

Smart charities are already asking for money online with little more than a click. Many smaller nonprofits have been slow to relinquish check-cashing for ecommerce web design. We see some of that fear waning, and expect more nonprofits that don’t allow online donations to begin earning some electronic cash.

What do you think will be trending in 2012? Give your vote for one of these five in the comments below or tell us what you think we’ll see in the future.

[Image: Flickr user rjrgmc28]

Last-Minute 9-Point SEO Checklist for 2011

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

The last couple weeks of the year is usually down time in most offices, distracted by holiday parties and run on skeleton crews. We have a productive idea for making the most out of these last nine days of 2011: do a little something to improve your search engine results. We wouldn’t dream of taking you from those festive glasses of bubbly, so we’ve come up with a task-a-day SEO checklist that won’t overwhelm you but that will leave your website performing better in the new year.

SEO Tweaks

1. Know and use heading tags.

These are widely misused but can help visitors as well as search engines navigate your site. The W3C says, "A heading element briefly describes the topic of the section it introduces." This Improve the Web article has a great break-down of how you might use the H1 tag, suitable for people who are less than acquainted with HTML mumbo jumbo.

2. Swap out your outdated bold tags.

Search engines like Google scan through the text on your page for keywords – the words that best represent what the page is about. One of the things they look for is words in bold, assuming that you bold things that are important.  Bolds should use <strong> tags, not outdated bold <b> tags. The Spunky Jones SEO Blog has a nice description of why strong is better than bold for SEO.

3. Submit your site to some directories.

Don’t assume everybody knows your site is there already. Submit it to directories that address what you do. Library Spot has links to some of the most popular nonprofit directories. Don’t forget to look for directories in other countries.

4. Bookmark it.

You might already Tweet the heck out of your site’s articles or pages, but don’t forget other social bookmarking sites. Search Engine Journal has a wicked long list of 125 social bookmarking sites.

5. Add a sitemap.

Search engines use sitemaps to quickly find each page on your site. Add one. If you have a big site, make sure it’s automatically updated.

6. Beef up your content.

Search engines like meaty text. Make sure your site has an adequate amount of text instead of a few floating headlines. If your pages should be longer, go ahead and beef them up. Just make sure to optimize for easy reading.

7. Plan your blog.

The best way to keep the search engines (and people) coming back is to blog. If you don’t have one yet, take a couple hours and plan out some ideas for a new blog you can launch in 2012. If you do have one, still sit down and plan out some ideas for 2012. You’ll appreciate being organized.

8. Update your content.

Everybody – humans and search engines alike – hate old content. Conduct a search-and-destroy mission on old dates and duplicate junk on your site. Our Definitive Website Pre-Launch Checklist is a handy tool for systematically updating.

9. Don’t lose yourself in your quest to be Number One.

Listen, everyone wants to be number one. While it helps to be the first listing in Google, but it’s not worth obsessing over. No matter what certain SEO charlatans promise, it’s impossible to guarantee being listed number one. Just concentrate on building a useful site that works well, and more people will use it.

Free SEO Analysis Contest

Contest time

Contest time

Improve your search engine readiness with a free SEO analysis – a $600 value. If you win our drawing for a free analysis, we’ll comb through your site to tell you where you can improve your site for better performance on search engines.

How can you be entered to win? Just use the comments below to tell us about the next step you’re going to take to improve your search engine rankings (it’s OK to use one of the tips above – that’s why we wrote them!), and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win.

Deadline for entries is Jan. 23, 2012. We’ll pick one winner at random from all entries on Jan. 24, 2012 and will notify the winner via e-mail. You must leave your name and a correct e-mail address to qualify.

Choose Your E-learning Tools: Essential Dos and Don’ts

Friday, December 16th, 2011

Guest post by: Robin Neidorf

Win Teach Beyond Your Reach!

Win Teach Beyond Your Reach!

If you’re asking yourself, “Is running a distance learning program for me?” then read on. Use the following as a checklist while you’re evaluating online education tools. It’s an excerpt from the book Teach Beyond Your Reach by Robin Neidorf. The e-learning guide takes a practical, curriculum-focused approach to setting up and running successful online classes. The guide for new and experienced distance educators allows them to develop and deliver quality e-learning courses and training sessions.


Ask informed questions.

Demo a tool before you commit to using it.

Try freeware or open-source tools.

Go for low tech whenever possible.

Ask potential students for their input.

Network with other instructors; ask them what they use; compare notes, success stories, and battle scars.

Keep up with changing technology; treat yourself to an occasional seminar or conference.

Stay open, creative, and flexible about your teaching.

Assume that you will find the right solution (although it may not be the one you thought you’d find).


Use technology for its own sake; it must enhance the learning and instructing experience or it will be merely distracting (at best) or a barrier (at worst).

Change your requirements, objectives, or audiences without keeping your partners (especially your technology partners) informed.

Assume everything will work as promised; test and retest (preferably with members of the learner population) before the course begins.

Ignore the unwillingness of your students to use a tool; sometimes they’re not just ready and you may need to take smaller incremental steps than you’d like.

Let failure or challenges discourage you from believing in the possibilities of distance education.

“Get married” to a particular tool or solution; it might not be all things to all situations.

Use the tool as a substitute for good course design and delivery.

Migrate content from one tool to another in a cut-and-paste approach.


Robin Neidorf is the author of Teach Beyond Your Reach: An Instructor’s Guide to Developing and Running Successful Distance Learning Classes, Workshops, Training Sessions and More (Information Today, Inc., 2006), soon to be published in an updated second edition. She has taught communications and writing through the University of Phoenix Online and has co-taught creative writing online through the University of Gävle in Sweden.  As a consultant, she has helped organizations develop and implement successful distance learning and self-paced tutorial programs. Robin holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from the Bennington Writing Seminars.

Teach Beyond Your Reach Free Book Contest

Contest time

Contest time

[Update! Congratulations to David, who won the drawing for Teach Beyond Your Reach by Robin Neidorf. This contest may be over, but you're still welcome to keep sending ideas for picking a learning management system or exercise ideas.]

You could win a free copy of Teach Beyond Your Reach as part of Talance’s Customer Appreciation Month, courtesy of e-learning pro and author Robin Neidorf. How can you be entered to win? Just add your favorite training exercise, lesson idea or experience to the comments below, and you’ll be entered into a drawing to win.

Deadline for entries is Jan. 16, 2012. We’ll pick one winner at random from all entries on Jan. 17, 2012 and will notify the winner via e-mail. You must leave your name and a correct e-mail address to qualify.

Cheat Your Way to a Professional-Looking Web Project

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Here’s a little secret many people don’t know about building projects for the web. You don’t have to do everything from scratch. There are so many tools out there that do the tricky stuff for you, that you really don’t have to be an HTML wiz to have a polished looking website.

Here are some excellent tools to help you fake web excellence:

Table Builders

Tables are the nemesis of many well-meaning web worker. They can be tricky to build from scratch, but no need with these.

Quackit HTML Table Generator

TableGen HTML Table Generator

Color Palettes

Color theory is a practice that people spend years perfecting. But you can fake it pretty well with these tools that help you choose complimentary colors.

Color Scheme Designer

Color Schemer Online

Elvan Online

Image Generators

A few well-placed images can help bring your site to life. These three tools help you manage and create pictures to illustrate your pages.

PicMarkr lets you to add custom watermark to your images.

Digital Post It Note Generator

Create A Graph

Drupal 7: Ready for the Plunge?

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Ready to jump into Drupal 7

Ready to jump into Drupal 7

One of the least exciting things to hear when you start on a new web project is, “Not yet.”

That’s just what we’ve been saying since Drupal 7 debuted in January 2011. True, it’s a robust and powerful system with excellent accessibility, and we’re using it for a few of our clients now, but not everybody.

Why not jump in? First of all, it’s not quite ready for everyone. Contributors to Drupal 7 are still busy finding and patching bugs and upgrading the features from earlier versions so they work on this new version.

Secondly, it can be a heavy expense. Upgrading from an earlier version of Drupal isn’t simply downloading a patch and refreshing your screen. It’s a whole new website. Any new website takes time to build, not even including moving over all the content (words and images) and testing. Time and complexity equal money, and an organization needs to have a strong case for upgrading before making that decision.

One exception is if you’re using a very old version of Drupal, such as version 5 or earlier. The Drupal community stopped supporting and patching version 5 last year, so they’re vulnerable to security breaches and should be updated as soon as possible.

Our advice? Absolutely pull on your swimsuit, but check with your developer (or just contact us) before plunging into an upgrade.

John Rochford Talks About Accessibility

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Some people think having accessible websites is like having a swimming pool. Nice to have, but too expensive and too much upkeep. Unlike a swimming pool, however, an accessible website means that anyone can view it whatever their limitation, ranging from a physical limitation like limited or no eyesight, to having a handheld device with small display.

John Rochford, Director of Technology at New England INDEX a project of UMass Medical School, is one of those people who takes accessibility seriously and makes websites better for everyone. Talance has been working with Rochford and his team on the online training component for an initiative called Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH). It’s a major undertaking that aims to streamline and coordinate how healthcare providers work with each other and patients.

Monique Cuvelier, Talance’s CEO, asked Rochford about his work in accessibility, his biggest headaches and his proudest moment.

Monique Cuvelier: I think a lot of people who care about accessibility have a compelling reason to do so. What’s the driving force behind your involvement in accessibility?

John Rochford: The driving force for me is the result of the combination and the evolution of two of my passions. One is for computer technology. The other is for helping people with intellectual disabilities. My professional career started in the mid-1980s with a succession of jobs serving people with intellectual disabilities. During that time, people shunned computer geeks like me. Yet the people I served embraced me. That they are such an open, friendly, and accepting people has always been heartwarming to me.

In the early 1990s, I sought a graduate degree at The Shriver Center for research, training and service related to intellectual disabilities. It has a project, New England INDEX, which provides free information about programs and services for people with disabilities residing in Massachusetts. All of the software INDEX designed at the time for that purpose was as accessible to people with disabilities as we could make it.

I started to extend our software to the web in the mid-1990s. Since then, I have designing websites as accessible as technology and funding have allowed, and as best as my developing expertise could make them.

MC: What does a typical accessibility test or process look like for you?

JR: We start by building accessible web applications. This makes it much less costly to fix accessibility issues, and much easier to test for related deficiencies. We use automated testing software to check for problems across a website. We have also used assistive technology products in our testing. A good example is that we make sure all our web sites are compatible with screen reader software for people who are blind. Most importantly, we have people with disabilities test our web sites.

MC: What kind of digital media are ignored the most with accessibility?

JR: All digital media (e.g., videos, music, etc.) are natively inaccessible. Only a tiny percentage of websites are helpful to people with disabilities by incorporating accessible media players and/or by providing alternative, accessible content. An accessible media player, for example, provides controls (e.g., play, pause) that work with screen readers so people who are blind can use them. Such controls are also good for people with physical disabilities who may not be able to use a mouse.

The National Center for Accessible Media is a good resource about accessible digital media. For many years, we have used on our websites its ccPlayer, an accessible media player, and its captioning services for our video content.

MC: What’s the single biggest rule people should follow to make pages accessible?

JR: Make sure people with disabilities test a website and every version of it.

MC: What’s your biggest accessibility headache?

JR: My most significant challenge is convincing people to make their websites accessible. I find it appalling that I have to work to convince the staff of organizations, which serve people with disabilities, to make their sites accessible. What people do not realize is that an accessible website is easier to use for everyone, which is always good for business.

MC: What was your proudest moment in accessibility?

JR: It occurred early in my career after I installed speech recognition software for a young woman. I was showing her how to use it instead of a keyboard and a mouse, which she could not use. She cried as she told me it was the first time she would be able to write a letter to her mother. I consider that achievement of hers to be the special one.