E-Learning Life in the Cloud

In my last post, I suggested a cost effective “two-computer solution” to insure maximum up time for your e-learning development work. Our computer technology is precious to us as e-learning developers. We take its availability for granted, and given that time really is money for us, any computer down-time can be fatal. The “two-computer solution” is a hardware answer to that problem. This week I’m going to talk about software solutions to avoid down-time and keep your development work humming smoothly. For those of you working in a corporate environment where you have little or no control over your work files or email these suggestions may not apply. However, I would still encourage you to use them for your personal files and the inevitable freelance project.

Until relatively recently, e-learning development was strictly a “local” operation. We built e-learning on our PC or Mac using locally installed software with locally saved files. We communicated with others via local communication tools. We backed up our content to physical media that we stored locally. But c’mon, that’s so ancient history now, right? You should be living your e-learning life in the cloud where you are no longer dependent on any one computer or single point of failure for your work.

1. File synchronization 

The traditional model for managing your e-learning files was to have them stored locally on your hard drive as you worked, then back them up to external media every day/week/month. As a best practice with most e-learning rapid development software, you should still work with your content locally – in fact Christine and her friends at Articulate won’t be very happy if you’re working with your Studio files from an online or network drive. But living your e-learning life in the cloud means your files should never be in only one place at one time at any time.

That means you are using a real-time synchronization service that automatically copies your local files to a cloud storage location (and vice versa) as they are changed across all of your computers. Think of it as instant, automated backup.  There are many services available that provide this kind of functionality at relatively low prices. However, be sure to choose a business-grade service and one that provides true file synchronization and not just one-way backup to the cloud. That way you can access and use your files from multiple computers or other devices and always have your work in sync. At Artisan E-Learning and E-Learning Uncovered we use Egnyte.

What features should you look for? Depending on your needs, important features will include mobile access to your cloud data from tablets and smartphones, data encryption, collaboration tools, file versioning, and security permissions.

With file synchronization in place, I always have an up-to-date version of all my e-learning and personal files on my laptop, my desktop, my wife’s computer, and the cloud. I sleep easier at night knowing that! One final tip – with most services, any file you’re currently working in will not sync while it’s open. So occasionally you should close the file and take a mini-break with your favorite beverage and let the file sync to the cloud.

2. Email in the cloud

Please say it with me, “I will not use Microsoft Outlook…I will not use Microsoft Outlook…” OK, OK – I know that many of you love Outlook or perhaps another desktop email client like Thunderbird. But in this day and age why use a desktop email client at all? There are many robust free online email tools like Gmail, Yahoo, etc. that allow you to check and manage multiple email accounts in one place in the cloud. Your email is not tied to any one computer or application.

If you must use Outlook or its equivalent, use the IMAP protocol (assuming your email service supports it) for managing your email. IMAP “mirrors” your cloud server email storage with your desktop email client so you’re essentially working with your cloud email at all times.

The POP protocol, the other method for managing email on your local computer, downloads your email and deletes it from the server (at some point depending on settings). I configure Outlook with POP for my cloud email accounts to create a local backup of my email in case it ever becomes unavailable.

What tools do you use to keep your work up and running all the time?

 

Rod Jackson

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