Archive for November, 2009

It may sound harsh to say that the best thing about X Factor is the ad breaks, but that’s the conclusion I’ve started to reach recently. To be fair, it hasn’t just been Jedward’s tuneless pogoing or the stress of Deadlock that has me urging on the commercials, but rather the innovative ‘brightdancing’ spots for TalkTalk which bookend the ad breaks.

If somehow you’ve avoided X Factor this year or to your dubious delight were gifted tickets to see X Factor live and haven’t seen these spots, they’re short, (mostly) viewer-made videos in which people make colourful neon shapes in the air by dancing around with their mobiles. You can see them here. All you need to make one of these videos is a PC with a webcam, a darkened room, and a small light source such as the screen of a mobile phone or a torch. When linked to the site, the webcam will record a video of you moving about with the light, and will add glowing neon trails to the path of the movement. This allows you to effectively use the light as a pen, tracing shapes that on the webcam video seem to magically hang in the air around you. When you’ve created a video you can upload it to the site, and wait with baited breath to see if it appears in the adverts next weekend!

This is a great advertising gimmick, and also highlights the power of user generated content. Apart from that, however, this promo also showcases a great new piece of technology that could have interesting implications for interactive design and maybe e-learning in particular. The brightdancing effect can be achieved using the latest versions of Flash and its 3D rendering add-on Papervision. Flash can now take a webcam feed and recognise specific shapes or colours within the image. It can then track those points as they move around. It’s clever stuff, and has at least two big areas of potential that I can see:

  • Gestural control – Using webcams to pick up body movements could well be the next step in gestural control interfaces ( This is the idea behind Microsoft’s ‘Project Natal’ – an extension of the Xbox which dispenses with controllers entirely.
  • Augmented reality – While virtual reality sought to replace the real world with a fully immersive computer generated world, augmented reality seeks to enhance the real world by augmenting it with virtual elements. For example, imagine arriving at an unfamiliar street and holding up your camera phone as if to take a picture of it, with the phone’s screen acting as a viewfinder. Now imagine if that view of the street was overlaid with virtual markers and arrows showing you information about what’s on the street, such as the nearest cash machine or tube station, the bar where you’ve agreed to meet your friends, or shops that currently have sales on. Any virtual information that exists about a place can be melded with the real world space. This could apply to objects too: imagine being in a supermarket, pointing your phone at a box of cereal on the shelf and immediately seeing a warning that you’re allergic to one of its ingredients, that it can be bought 50p cheaper at the shop round the corner, or even that you already bought a box last week so you probably don’t need it.

From a training point of view this type of technology has enormous potential for on-the-spot learning. Let’s say you’re an engineer who services boilers. You get to a house one day to find a very old and unusual type of boiler that you don’t know much about. Instead of having to remember training you did 15 years ago, or calling back to the office for more information, imagine if you could hold up your mobile device to the boiler and instantly bring up its specification, a safety checklist to follow for that model, indicators showing which screws you need to loosen to get access, and which parts most commonly need replacing (along with their order number and stock availability). You could have the thing fixed before you’d even finished your first cup of tea!

At the moment these scenarios are all imagined, but the truth is it won’t be long before you start seeing this kind of thing for real. This technology may be in its infancy, but it does exist and it’s just waiting for developers to start finding uses for it. Those TalkTalk ads are just the glowing neon tip of the iceberg.

I encountered TED last year when my colleague Ali suggested: ‘Hey, check out how the octopus camouflages in this video on TED. Pretty cool!’ It was jaw-droppingly cool. In this video, David Gallo shows footage of sea creatures camouflaging themselves in spectacular ways, shifting colours and radiating neon lights in the blackest depths of the ocean. It was my first encounter with the marvellous source of knowledge and inspiration that goes under the name of TED. So, I thought it was worth sharing this discovery with those of you who are still not in love with it because, as the TED motto says, these are ‘ideas worth spreading.’

To give you a bit of background, TED (technology, entertainment, design) is a non-profit academic organisation that hosts an invitation-only conference once a year for four days, devoted to ‘leveraging the power of ideas to change the world.’ The lectures, originally based in Monterey, California, and known as ‘TED Talks’, focus on technology, entertainment, design, business and science. The speakers, who each have an 18 minute time slot, have included some of the world’s most inspired thinkers and doers such as the physicist Stephen Hawking, former vice president of the U.S. Al Gore, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, musician Peter Gabriel, and Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. The list continues and there are more than 450 lectures available for free viewing on the TED website.

The website itself is pure and intelligent visual beauty to my designer eyes. The information and content are impeccably organised, and accessible through a clean and rational navigation. The video previews on the home page are arranged in a hierarchal way, enabling the user to filter them by category. Everything on TED seems to be put together with the aim of increasing the viewer’s comfort so that they can fully enjoy the fascinating content. I believe that its accessibility and ease of use is most attractive aspect of this website and I’m not the only one who’s impressed: these videos have recently led the TED website to win the Webby Award for Best Use of Video or Moving Image.

I’m convinced you’ll share my view after watching Ken Robinson speaking about how schools kill creativity and explaining why we desperately need an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity. You might also be inspired by listening to Elizabeth Gilbert talk about nurturing creativity. Recently, I found myself captivated by the distinctive and personal way Jill Bolte Taylor talks about the human brain and perception in ‘Stroke of insight’. So, no matter what you’re into or your level of education, TED reaches and connects people, enabling us all to enjoy and share knowledge.

TED people ‘believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world; building a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration.’ I think there’s a good moral here which we can adopt – our society has been too focused on retaining and withholding knowledge in the past for personal and selfish uses. It’s now time to change to a more open and constructive approach. We’ve achieved a lot during the last century but have also compromised much with our selfishness and narrow-mindedness. From my point of view, spreading knowledge and working together is worthwhile, especially in these difficult days of economic recovery and the global challenges we all face. So, if you aren’t one of the 15 million people who have already viewed and enjoyed TED, I recommend that you give it a go and if you have any ideas to share, don’t forget that here at the Spicy Learning Blog we want to hear from you!

With rapid development techniques and easy to use content authoring tools, it’s never been easier to produce e-learning materials. Some of them are even quite good. But how do you make them great?

Stephanie Dedhar, one of our senior instructional designers, will be presenting a Learning and Skills Group webinar this Thursday on the topic of turning good e-learning into great e-learning. She’ll be looking at what makes up great e-learning, how to produce it and why the approach you adopt is all important:

  • Getting under the skin of your organisation’s culture
  • Turning scepticism into support by moving from ‘e-telling’ to ‘e-learning’
  • Achieving engagement, relevance and effectiveness
  • Keeping the learner in mind and some tips for how to do it
  • Rethinking ideas rather than recycling them

The webinar will be held at 12 (GMT) noon on Thursday 19 November. If you’re interested in joining, please contact for the log in details. Hopefully see you there!

  • The fun theory
  • Friday, November 13th, 2009 at 10:03 am
  • Written by Alastair Maclean

Volkswagen recently launched a website,, built around the idea that by adding fun into the equation it’s easier to change people’s behaviour for the better. In their own words…

“This site is dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better. Be it for yourself, for the environment, or for something entirely different, the only thing that matters is that it’s change for the better.”

To back up this idea, VW decided to re-think three everyday tasks and inject their own brand of fun into the situation to see if they could achieve a positive change. The projects they decided to undertake were to change a bottle bank into an arcade machine, a subway staircase into a musical instrument and a public bin into “the world’s deepest bin”. The results of each project have been documented on video and can been seen on the Fun Theory website. Having seen the videos and knowing how the projects turned out for VW it’s clear to see that an element of fun really can help achieve a change in behaviour. (Although I think that the novelty of the musical staircase would probably be outweighed by the rise in complaints about the noise and injuries cased during rush hour!)

For VW, the Fun Theory website acts as a positive influence on their brand name even though it doesn’t have any real relevance to the world of automobiles or their day-to-day business. This is not always the case when you are trying to change behaviours in other lines of business, but that is not to say that it cannot be achieved! The same technique can be seen in many other businesses. For instance lots of energy companies are now trying to push the use of real-time energy monitors to help their customers see how much energy they use. This type of interaction allows the customer to see the impact they can have by making small adjustments, turning the whole process of reducing their consumption into a challenge that the customer can track and monitor.

Another example of introducing fun can be seen in, which claims to take the hard work out of learning. The service aims keep people motivated to hit their goals by creating personalised learning programmes for them. The programmes are designed to harness the powers of a learning technique called graduated interval recall, guiding the learner to revisit their learning at key points to aid the retention of the knowledge. The fun factor in this service is that you are able to monitor your progress in a variety of formats, from tracking personal goals to testing long-term retention or item memory strength, and many other formats. The whole service is also available on the move via the iPhone which again buys into the fun factor of making the service available without the need to be in front of a PC.

There are probably many other engaging examples of fun being used to change behaviours and this seems like an opportunity that’s too good for the e-learning industry to miss.

We’re thrilled to announce that one of our instructional designers, Stephanie Dedhar, has been shortlisted for an IT Training Award in the category of Instructional Designer of the Year 2010!

These awards ‘recognise outstanding examples of high standard, best practice, innovation and excellence within IT training [and] are now firmly established as the benchmark for excellence throught the IT training industry.’

Stephanie has been working at Saffron since July 2007 and has been shortlisted for a recent data protection project developed for BT, representing creativity, innovation, effectiveness and integrity in instructional design. Stephanie says ‘This project is one that I am particularly proud of and I’m delighted that the judges agree it demonstrates excellence in instructional design. It’s an honour to be shortlisted for this prestigious award and to be recognised alongside candidates of such high calibre.’

Saffron’s CEO, Hanif Sazen, says ‘We are very proud of Stephanie’s achievements. She has worked tirelessly to raise the bar and driven her colleagues and her clients to achieve far more from their e-learning projects than they ever thought possible.’

The winners will be announced in February, but you can find out more in the meantime by visiting the IT Training Awards website. Fingers crossed!

We’re delighted to announce that Saffron Interactive has been shortlisted in the Training Company of the Year category for the IT Training Awards 2010! This is a huge achievement and is testament to the great people that make up the Saffron team and the great work that they produce together.

The awards are hosted by the Institute of IT Training to ‘recognise outstanding examples of high standard, best practice, innovation and excellence within IT training. [They] are now firmly established as the benchmark for excellence throughout the IT training industry.’

You can find out more about the awards by visiting the IT Training Awards website. The results will be announced in February – so watch this space!

Saffron Interactive, one of Europe’s leading e-learning, mobile and blended learning companies, is proud to announce the launch of the Brand Through Profit (BTP) bespoke e-learning course at Diageo.


This is the first collaboration between Saffron and Diageo, the world’s leading premium drinks business and represents a great achievement for both organisations.


BTP is one of six work streams within the Diageo’s Making People’s Lives Easier (MAPLE) programme. Saffron worked closely with the Diageo team to develop an expert understanding of the challenging content and to develop bespoke animations to complement Diageo’s brand imagery.


The result is a course that makes the financial subject matter accessible and engaging for learners, raising awareness of BTP and eliminating any misconceptions. More importantly, the training enables Diageo’s finance community to follow the process more accurately, thereby making a very real impact on business performance.


Mark Gorvin, a project manager at Diageo, says that people who had previously struggled with the topic now understand what it is all about, thanks to the course developed by Saffron. He says ‘the initial feedback I have had from people and the Academy team is that it is one of our best’ and cites the high standards in design and accessibility as key achievements. It is intended that the course will now be used to teach external consultants, as well as Diageo employees, about the subject.


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