Knowledge Meets Digital Media Productions

DSC04527_02XLRQSTUDIOS specializes in the production of online training modules and support documentation for corporate training systems. The purpose of our blog is to explain what we do and how we do it, so your company utilizes our services in the most productive manner possible. Let’s start with what we do and don’t do.

First, here’s what we DON’T want to do in this blog. This is not an attempt to teach you how eLearning works or the best systems available. We don’t have to explain the benefits of online training, the economies of scale it brings to training, that is, the ability to train more people with fewer resources, and how training software applies to testing, qualification, certifications, and advanced learning. We assume you understand the workings of the training industry better than anyone does.

What we DO want to do is provide insight into our products, and especially our production processes. Over the years, we have produced many digital media projects requiring creative and production skills including video, award winning photography, writing, digital graphics, voice-over narration, and website design. One of our charitable contributions over the last 10 years is the creation and production of ThoughtAudio.com, a website dedicated to provide free literature audio books. Our mission is to “Giving the Gift of Knowledge”.

As we began looking at knowledge in business, we discovered that our passion as an organization truly resided in the training sector. We enjoy creating, producing, and broadcasting knowledge content in the form of eLearning and information modules. It is a rather small niche in the scheme of eLearning Systems, but it is a robust area, and the spot where we feel the rubber meets the road.

In this blog, we want to introduce our training services and products, as well as explain the subtleties of our production process. Please join us in our quest to help you build a digital knowledge base for your company.

Michael Scott

The Production Process

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PRE-PRODUCTION

Whichever learning module you choose from our studios, it’s always good to know the production process we use. Our process is not entirely unique in the production world, but it does have a few distinctive nooks and crannies to ensure meeting budgets and schedules, and that the final product is the one you expected to see from the outset.

THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Two types of production occur in the digital media world. The first is a seamless, precision-based production, where everyone knows their role, what to expect next, and that all the pieces are in place when needed. Let’s call this THE BEAUTY.

The other type of digital production is THE BEAST. This is a production scenario where commitments to objectives switch in mid-stream, production elements change or go missing, creative directions flip flop, and team members decide to move in opposing directions. This is an expensive and frustrating experience. The end product rarely arrives with glowing reviews, relationships go sour, and everyone wants to forget the nightmare project as soon as their therapy sessions kick-in.

No one goes into a project saying the objective is to create THE BEAST. Yet, the downside occurs more often than not. The only way to avoid the “project from hell” is to gain control over the production process. Here’s the way XLRQSTUDIOS produces projects. The process is time tested, and when properly executed, makes for a product that everyone loves and enjoys, not to mention, the product does what it was intended to do.

PROJECT DEFINITION: Specifications

The first step in our production process is getting the project specifications right. You may have a very clear idea what you want, or you know what you need but are not quite sure how to get it. In either case, it is very important to get a set of project specifications in writing. Specifications may need to go through a few iterations until completed, and it’s a rare project that goes to completion without some change in specs. Change is necessary, but unnecessary change only ends up in delays, overcharges, and often a sense of frustration. The good news is that if your specifications are not complete, we will fill in the gaps.

STAGING AREA

As specifications are formulated, XLRQSTUDIOS creates a staging area web page for the project or series of projects. The purpose of the staging area is to provide a centralized online location for project media, including raw digital materials, versions of the training modules, and other supporting materials. The essential role of the staging area is to streamline the authorization process. One email with a link to the website goes out, and different members of the team can view or download in-progress or final production, authorize project milestones or final masters, or send the link to other interested company members. The staging area also has a FTP Link, used to upload large digital media  files. If your company uses Dropbox, the staging area may not be necessary.

AUTHORIZATION POINTS

Traditionally, reviewing, changing, and authorizing each project element before production was always the optimum in efficiency. However, it’s not necessarily the most effective way of reviewing an in-progress digital project. It’s very difficult to visualize a complex array of digital media elements in its final form. It is one thing to look at a script, but much different to hear it before it is voiced, or envision it when it comes alive with a moving screen. It may sound counter-intuitive, but there are times we choose to do a portion, and sometimes a complete project before the review and authorization starts. Not every project is the same when it comes to determining the authorization method. Once we get a sense of the team members, XLRQSTUDIOS will recommend the best method for your company.

PRE-PRODUCTION PREPARATION

Pre-production is by far the most important aspect of producing any digital media product, including training modules, executive presentations, software training, or training videos. Pre-production fits very well into the carpenter adage of “Measure twice, cut once!” It’s important that all the production elements are ready before production begins. Production creates enough challenges on its own, and doesn’t need egging on by discovering production elements are not ready to go. We make a check-list, and make sure to check it twice, three times, or as many times as needed, until everything is ready for production.

Pre-production is a standard term in all creative productions throughout many media production industries. We use the term in much the same way for producing eLearning modules. Pre-production covers everything from specifications, contract, budget and terms, schedule and milestones, authorization process, staging area or Dropbox set-up, software licenses in cases where we need to access a proprietary software package, authorization process, graphic components, image bank, video clips, SME assignments, project management assignments, music selections if required, and any additional elements required for production.

The details aspect of pre-production may seem onerous at first, but once the process kicks-in and the product begins to take shape, everyone will find the time they spent in pre-production was indeed time well spent.

PRODUCTION & ITERATION

Finally production begins. If the pieces are all in place, the specifications were properly defined, and the authorization reviews occur on time, iteration begins. Project iteration is basically getting everyone’s feedback, making changes, and getting the project back on the staging area again for review, and possibly more iterations. Iterations theoretically take place until everyone says, “I think we got it!” The project is almost over. The source files are mastered in the proper format, put on the staging area or your company’s Dropbox, and you are ready to put the training module to work.

The Magic of Synchronized Sight & Sound

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VO or Voice-Over Narration with eLearning modules at first seems somewhat arcane. What’s the big deal? Everyone has access to a microphone, everyone can read, and usually the webinar recording is more than adequate. All this is true until it isn’t true.

The highest production quality of an eLearning module occurs when there is syncopation between the voice-over narration and the visuals and words on the screen. When everything is in synch, the viewer automatically becomes more open to the content. There is less reason to shut down, walk away, or not pay attention to the content.

Our premise of knowledge assimilation is that classes of content fit in stacked layers, one upon the other. Each layer is a modality, that is, information encoded in a medium for presentation to the viewer’s visual and auditory cognitive senses. In short, there are two modalities working in a training module: sight and sound. This includes images, bullets, and screen-to-screen transitions are pre-defined, that is, they provide the foundation of the training module. There is no need to synchronize elements because they reside on the same layer of cognitive and modal assimilation. This explains our theory of how we see voice. Now, let’s explain the practical implications of using in-house Studio voices as our first choice.

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STUDIO VOICE OPTION

As you might guess, XLRQSTUDIOS sees the use of voice-over narration a little differently than the mainstream. When someone thinks of voice-over, they usually think of having a lot of choice in voice options. That is an option, but not the one we offer as part of our standard integrated corporate learning package.

XLRQSTUDIOS uses two in-house voices, one male and one female, and we do this for good reasons.

Let’s go over why we don’t have a lot of voice-over variation.

  • Believe it or not, the main reason is that scripts get revised after multiple reviews. What this means is that the VO must be revised multiple times.
  • A traditional VO professional is expensive, and if the budget can withstand it, certainly offers more variation in options.
  • When it comes time to re-do a script, even for a small pick-up, this means studio rental, a minimum VO fee, engineering fees, and so on.
  • You get the picture. Most budgets do not allow a variation in VO.

OTHER VO OPTIONS

Of course, we offer other voice-over options. You always have the option of using your SME’s voice. We don’t do on-site recordings, but we do have the capability of recording your SME over the telephone. We hook the phone connection straight into our studio, and then process and edit the results. Although we equalize it for good sound, it still may have an FM radio feel to it.

Another option is to find a Voice-Over that you like. We don’t mind working with your voice-over. Most professional VO’s know what to do, and have the ability to produce high quality sound files. In this case, your VO contracts with you directly.

CONCLUSION

When it comes to the use of voice-over narration, the production objective is to achieve optimum synchronization between the sight and sound elements within the presentation. This requires editing and multiple iterations. Going in and out of a studio with an outside voice-over is expensive and time consuming. When it comes time to weigh the value of content creation, we feel using our in-house voice-overs achieves the optimum result. Again, you can use other voice-overs or use your SME. We are more than happy to work with them. Once you weigh the cost: benefit of voice-over narration, we’re sure you will make the choice that’s right for your organization’s training needs.