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What!? Online training can be as good as face to face?

Most people love face to face training, but it’s not always viable. In our busy lives it’s not always easy to get people away from their jobs and into a classroom for an extended period of time. For businesses, it’s not always economically viable.  However, online alternatives can’t always capture the face to face experience. Online courses can be linear with heaps of text, don’t take into account what you already know and can feel a little lonely as you navigate through the ‘click next’ buttons.

Learning professionals are working hard to come up with solutions to make online training more engaging and relevant. It’s not always easy, the transition from classroom to online for trainers can be a big step. Technology is making it easier with affordable and practical solutions becoming more accessible. Only the other day I was amazed to see 3D goggles used in simulated training scenarios and 3D scans replicating your image in the online world as a viable option. There is really no limitation or excuse anymore for not creating online training that is just as good as or even better than the face to face classroom experience.

Face to face training is often considered superior because of the interaction participants have with the trainer and their peers. How many times have you learnt from the stories other participants tell or questions they ask or the network created as a result? This is known as social learning and it can be recreated online. Discussion boards, twitter feeds and chat functionality can give a participant an opportunity to connect, tell stories, ask questions and interact. For those that are new to the online world this can seem a little daunting.

This is where gamification can come in handy. If you haven’t already heard of gamification, put simply, it means using elements from games and incorporating them into the training. To gamify social learning, you could allocate points or other rewards for partipants to answer questions and interact with others. This isn’t a new concept, it’s been used in face to face training forever. I’m sure everyone has attended at least one training course where chocolates were thrown to participants when they answered a question. Creating comparable online situations to face to face is just about being a bit more creative.

People connect with stories, when a trainer is in front of a class they can use scenarios, examples and case stories to get their point across. I have participated in online training that forgets this basic principle in their eagerness to cramp their course with as much information as possible. Online training is mistakenly used as an online text book. The participant is required to read from cover to cover only instead of turning pages they are clicking a next button. At least with a text book, you can skip irrelevant chapters which is not always the case online. Online training is the perfect environment to introduce and get creative with case studies, stories and scenarios.

You can weave narrative themed analogies throughout your training material using technology such as interactive videos and augmented reality. Online courses can also be designed to have bite sized chunks where the participant can pick and choose what they what to learn about instead of being forced to follow a linear progression.

Designing online courses is a specialist skill above and beyond the skills of a face to face trainer.  There is however a growing number of technology and software available that make designing and hosting quality online training accessible for all educators or subject matter experts not just those with specialist online training experience. One such software is Curatr and it does the hard work for you. Curatr organises your material in small bite sized objects organised in levels.

To level up, participants watch or read whatever chunks interest them and are rewarded with points. Extra points are awarded if they join in discussions or interact with other participants. This software gives online training beginners an opportunity to deliver high quality training using best practise learning methodologies. For expert online designers, Curatr is a platform for them to showcase their creative skills.

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Everybody loves a good story

Once upon a time…stories were told to entertain, educate and engage. Storytelling has been around as long as civilisation has existed. Stories in sacred text thousands of years old have withstood the test of time and are still told across the world today. You will remember a parable told to you as a child yet struggle to remember what you did at work on Monday. The way stories are told has changed. Instead of gathering around a campfire we play role play video games, follow celebrities on twitter or watch our moview and TV shows or people on YouTube. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the power of a good story. Stories give meaning to the otherwise unmeaningful. Stories provide an effective way to engage learners with the content. A good story can be used to provide some context around the topic, to provide some characters that people can relate to.

“Stories have the ability to encapsulate, into one compact package, information, knowledge, context and emotion”. (Norman, 1993)

 

Stories provide an immersive learning experience, making learning more memorable and fun. People always remember a good story, therefore will have a higher retention of the content covered in the learning. In an online or digital environment the use of imagery, animation and sound to tell the story create a user experience that is even more memorable.

Stories activate our brains

When we undertake training that uses boring bullet points or text, our language processing part of the brain is activated. This part decodes the words into meaning, but nothing else happens. When told a story it is not only the language parts of the brain that are activated. Other areas of the brain that are used to experience the events of the story are switched on. This could be our sensory cortext, motor cortex or other part. Our whole brain is put to work.

Stories can be used in many ways

There are numerous ways that we can use stories in learning. Tell your own story Telling your own stories when facilitating can help to capture the audience, provide context around what you are saying and help people relate to you. Telling your stories brings your lived experiences into the training room. Use other stories Parables and analogies have been used to convey learning for centuries. Using other stories can allow your presentation to become a conversation, rather than simply bullet points and data. A good analogy can make the learning easier to remember, long after simple facts have been forgotten.

“The motivational benefits of narrative-centered learning, particularly with regard to self-efficacy, presence, interest, and perception of control, are substantial.” (McQuiggan, et al., 2008)

Immersing learners in the story Interactive narratives or scenario based learning allow for the learner to e immersed in the story, challenging learners, allowing them to make decisions and apply their knowledge. Use their own stories Everyone has a story. You can encourage learners to reflect on their own stories, to allow them to relate their previous experiences to the content. Encouraging people to tell their stories, to share their experiences, also allows learners to establish authentic relationships with their peers. Stories have been woven into our lives in the form of novels, fables, ballads and movies. Weaving stories through the learning will create a greater learning experience.

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Are your training evaluations getting the results you want?

If you don’t measure results, you can’t tell success from failure. Evaluation comes in all shapes and sizes and it can be difficult to know what’s important. Too much evaluation can slow down training implementation and frustrate the participant as the questions are too long, irrelevant to them and have no improvement measures. Asking the wrong questions in evaluation can do more damage than good as you can set up false expectations for the participants. “The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong question” (Peter Drucker). Too little evaluation means you won’t know if the training was valuable or not. While must people start with a happy sheet at the end, the most important feedback you need is about if the participant has learnt anything and how they can implement this learning when necessary. So how does evaluation ensure better outcomes and results?

  • Saves money, time and effort on training that isn’t working or delivering what you want
  • Gives you a chance to get it right the next time rather than repeating the same mistakes
  • Makes replicating what’s working easily and specifically in other training programs
  • Allows you to set measurements on achievements and results

Participants also need to self-evaluate to understand if they are improving their skills and knowledge. They require feedback to identify the areas where they need to undertake further learning and development. Giving participants ways to self-evaluate provides them with confidence, motivation and information. How do you get the right balance in evaluation?

  • Make sure you have the right technology to get the data you need easily and quickly
  • Its not just all about the stats, some of the most powerful evaluation methods include the stories that go with them
  • Make sure your participants get a chance to see how they are progressing, learning data shouldn’t be kept in a vault never to be seen again
  • Plan your evaluation strategy before you plan your training including how you are going to follow up with the results
  • Consider the results you want out of the training

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Using Tin Can to help tell the stories

Learning is not simply an event happening inside a learning management system (LMS). It happens in classrooms, in the workplace, as discussions between people or through an individual’s self-study. But how do we track these learning events? Well, with advances in technology, we now have Tin Can (or more accurately xAPI) to capture the learning events and tell the story of what is happening.

What is xAPI?

xApi is a powerful tool that can be used to track learning events and other data. The simplest description of how xApi works is that it captures data, or a statement. The statement consists of an actor (the learner), a verb and object – or simply put “I did this”. In essence it captures a short story of an individual’s learning events.

The feature that makes this different to other analytical tools or programs is the freedom. The simple statement structure gives you the freedom to capture almost any event. xAPI has the freedom to talk to other learning record stores and device freedom means that any enable device can send xAPI statements, even when there is only occasional connectivity.

Capturing learning stories

Learning events or stories go beyond what has happened in a Learning Management System (LMS), rather any learning event an individual has been involved with can be captured. This could be automatically captured by performing an action or manually recording the event.

For example, we have an individual…let’s call him Billy.

  • Billy uses Tappestry, a mobile app that allows him to capture and track what he has learned and what he wants to learn about sales techniques. This data is sent to an organisation’s learning record store to measure and track these informal learning events.
  • Billy had a coaching session with his manager on closing the sale. His manager records the discussion, feedback given and future plans in an app on his phone. This session is recorded and stored in the record store.
  • Billy attended a sales master workshop. The workshop registration system captures an xAPI statement about attendees.

At a course or learning program level we can capture a range of data and tell a variety of stories:

  • For the individual learner we can examine their learning path and identify where they are struggling.
  • We can look at the course components and get a story of what is working and what isn’t.
  • We can identify the content that is providing value or how learners are interacting with different media.
  • At the course level we can see how learners are progressing or identify areas where non-completion occurs.

Putting it all together

All of this data (the xAPI statements) are recorded in a Learning Record Store (LRS), such as Learning Locker (which incidentally has a Moodle plugin). In an operational setting, dashboards can be created to provide a visual display of these xApi / Tin Can stories. Couple this with other metrics – such as sales, retention and customer service levels – and the success (or non-success) of a learning program can be measured. We can use these metrics to tell the story of high performing individuals, who have developed greater capabilities. Once the successes and non-successes have been identified then more stories can be gathered.

Consider the power of these stories. They provide:

  • The opportunity to maximize on what you are doing well, and learn from anything that didn’t quite go to plan.
  • Rich evidence of learning and engagement that could be shown to an auditor.
  • Unlimited marketing opportunities!

So, are you capturing the data you need?

Is your LMS helping you tell your stories of success? If you want to be able to tell better stories we’d love to hear from you.

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Who cares if the training is relevant, the lunch is great!

Admit it, we have all thought it! But how do you make sure training is relevant, ensuring participants are more interested in what you are saying then what’s on the lunch menu? It’s easy to become so caught up in what we want to say that we can forget that communication is a two way street. “Messages that fail to fascinate will become irrelevant” (Sally Hogshed) One of the biggest challenges in making training relevant is understanding participants’ motivation and what will capture their attention. When training is driven by the ‘need’ of the business, finding out the ‘need’ of the participant and aligning the two can be difficult. When your participants connect to the content, the facilitator and most importantly the overall experience, magic happens and real learning occurs. But what if you haven’t even figured out how the training is relevant to the business need? It’s not uncommon for training programs to become training for training sake. Delivering training just to have a certain compliance tick or meet the latest business trend can result in wasted time and money, with no improvement to the business. Ever heard of the expression you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink? Well the same goes for learning. You can teach as much as you want but if the content is not relevant to the business or the participant then chances of real impact are limited. So how do you make your training relevant and get better outcomes and returns?

  • Consider relevancy before you even design your training. Not just the content but your delivery method. Ask yourself if training is even the right answer
  • Ask your participants what they want. Get a sense of what motivates them to learn. The ideas you will get will help you put together a better training strategy
  • Think about the workplace or situation that the training is being implemented in and make sure it is relevant to that context and not just the objectives you want to teach
  • Get feedback on the relevancy from previous and current training programs. It might be time for a change
  • Look at your training from the participant’s point of view. Ask the question if they participant, what is in it for them?

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Designing Technology Enhanced Learning Objects

As an instructional designer, the task of creating quality training resources can be daunting. However, with greater access to technology based tools it is becoming easier to create learning resources; in particular technology enhanced learning objects.

What is a technology enhanced learning object?

To put it in simple words, a technology enhanced learning object is:

  • (a) A chunk of content structured to support learning delivered using available technology.
  • (b) Electronic content designed to be reused within different instructional settings.

Technology enhanced learning objects can be used for content delivery, instructional activities and assessment.

What are the key elements of technology enhanced learning objects?

The basic principles of instructional design and user experience design apply to designing quality technology enhanced learning objects. The principles provide the foundation for the key elements, which include:

Objectivity

Technology enhanced learning objects must be aligned to a learning objective. Consider what skills and/or knowledge the learners will develop from the learning object. Develop the learning object so that these skills and/or knowledge can be developed.
For example, if you want learners to be able to recall information then flash cards could be used to deliver the content or a simple drag and drop could be used to apply the information.

Excitability

Learners should want to use the learning object. There should be an emotional connection with the object that excites the learner, making them want to explore its contents.
For example, providing an engaging introduction that highlights the importance of safety before an object related to health and safety.

Interactivity

To engage learners they need to be able to interact with the object. The advantage of technology enhanced learning objects is that they can be layered, allowing the learner to explore further information, and they can provide immediate feedback to the learner. Interactive learning objects also allow the learner to practice skills they would use in the workplace, not just learn the theory behind them.

For example, A scenario based learning object which allows a learner to apply their knowledge on a challenge, receiving feedback on the choices that were made.

Usability

The technology enhanced learning object should provide a positive user experience. Learners need to be able to easily use the object. This usability should apply across all devices, so learning objects need to be responsive.
For example, navigation should be clear and easy to use on all devices.

Reusability

Technology enhanced learning objects need to be reusable. That is, the object must be able to function in different instructional contexts.
For example, a quiz game could be used in a traditional classroom setting or as part of an online course.

Interoperability

The learning objects need to be interoperable. That is, the object can be freely transferred to different delivery platforms. The learning object should be able to operate independently of the delivery media or learning management system.

For example, the learning object could be embedded into a digital publication, viewed on a tablet device, or placed in an e-learning module, delivered through an LMS.
For more information on interoperability see the e-standards for training website.

Accessibility

Technology enhanced learning objects need to be accessible to all learners. This means the content is accessible to a wide range of people with disabilities, such as vision impaired, hearing impaired, learning disabilities, cognitive or physical limitations, speech disabilities or a combination of these.

For more information on accessibility see the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0

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Superb Learning is Story Based

Once upon a time, stories were used to teach. They were used to deliver powerful meaning and messages. They were fables, bedtime stories and fairy tales. Stories were told around a campfire or more recently, read in a gripping novels or watched in an engaging animation or film. In today’s learning environment, programs can be “massive data dumps” ignoring the value and impact of a good story. Learners are exposed to massive amounts of disengaging content that they can’t connect to. They end up unable to see why and how the content applies to them or their jobs.

“Stories have the ability to encapsulate, into one compact package, information, knowledge, context and emotion.” (Norman, 1993)

That is why you will remember your favourite bedtime story as a child yet struggle to remember what you did at work on Monday. So how do stories improve the outcomes and returns of your training material?

When you use stories as part of your training:

  •  It grabs and retains learner attention
  •  The learning becomes fun as opposed to meeting a list of objectives
  •  It establishes the content flow and engages learners at every point
  •  Learners will remember the concepts covered in the course as they always remember a good story
Because stories communicate best practices and behaviours in a specific context, learners will have a better chance of understanding what you are trying to teach and how they can use that knowledge appropriately. In short, a story contains elements that appeal both to your head and heart — that’s why they work!
 
What can you do to improve the quality of stories in your training?

  •  Provide plenty of opportunities for your learners to tell their story during your training. Telling their story allows them to consider how what you are teaching applies to them.
  •  Use scenarios and allow opportunities for your learners to practise what you are teaching. Give them options to choose from allowing them to see the consequences of their choices
  •  Use examples of other people that have applied your teachings and succeeded
  •  Ensure the technology you are using effectively highlights and priorities storytelling
  •  Practise your stories and make sure they are relevant, entertaining and appealing. Just because you are using stories doesn’t guarantee you are using them to their full potential.
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Six easy design tips for your e-learning project

Yes I admit it, I am one of those people that loves it when a new update comes out on the latest piece of software, or when a new online product is created that will make my online experience a little easier. My personal preference is to research the latest trend then to sit and watch TV. I look around at people who don’t love technology and I want to tell them how much they are missing out on. However, I do understand that just because someone uses the latest and greatest technology, doesn’t necessarily mean that the product at the end is any better. One of my favourite quotations about technology and tools is: 

shiny-substance

Getting the design right

I have been developing e-learning for many years now. I still remember creating some of my first online resources with Macromedia Dreamweaver and screen recording with Captivate CS3, and I remember when PowerPoint became popular. Everyone thought it was fantastic and presentations had objects flying in and out, words zooming in one letter at a time, and many other distractions that had you shaking your head. I learnt very quickly that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. The priority for people new to e-learning is figuring out the programmes not the principles for designing with them. This isn’t just a dilemma for new e-learning developers but the industry as a whole. We can all get caught up in the latest shiny thing and design with a programme in mind rather than what we are trying to achieve. I might get a tad too excited when I learn about a new system, but I consider myself an instructional designer before an e-learning developer.  Get the design right and it doesn’t matter what programme you use.

Top design tips for your e-learning projects

Here are some of the basic design principles I use when putting together an e-learning project:

  1. Don’t forget the reason you are designing your e-learning in the first place. Improving the performance of the learner should be your number one priority. Spend some time with a pen and notepad and consider what you want your learner to be able to do by designing your e-learning without considering the limitations of your programme. You can always think of alternatives later rather than limit your thinking at this point.

  2. Consider ways to evaluate what they have learnt. Try and think beyond multiple choice questions. Multiple choice is an easy option because e-learning development software makes it easy to design. There were plenty of other ways people evaluated in face-to-face sessions before the invention of e-learning, consider how these could apply in the online world. Things like participation, critical thinking, and contributions were all factors that ultimately told the trainers that their learners were engaged. This can be measured in e-learning, you just need to open your mind. Also, consider how you can gather the evaluation. e-learning programmes have a rich and vast collection of data that can be used. What data are you collecting and why?

  3. One of the best things about e-learning compared to face-to-face is consistency. You might have the best material, but if the trainer isn’t that good, the entire course will be affected. E-learning makes the user experience consistent and much more guided. You are in control of what they are going to learn, it’s much more than just the content. Your ability to entertain, excite, engage will influence how and what they learn. Be passionate about giving your learners an experience – not just content that they could probably source on a company page or the internet.

  4. Use stories. Do you remember how, in a face-to-face session after the trainer presented a bunch of theories and text, they would tell you about an example of how that theory was applied in a situation and was successful? After the story you were able to understand the context of what you were learning. We forget this simple principle in e-learning time and time again. Developers get so caught up in the content that they forget how people make connections and learn.

  5. Make sure you are using relevant materials and examples. I remember developing a workplace health and safety module once for personal trainers. I was told to use the generic workplace health and safety material that used hospital examples and context. It was the same general information that would be required regardless of the workplace, but I knew the learners would be completing the module and thinking to themselves, this information does not apply to meI just need to get though it and pass the test. Would you prefer your personal trainer to pass the test or actually think that WHS is relevant to him or her?

  6. If you’re bored as you are designing your e-learning then so will your learners be. People can only look at a computer screen for so long and retain a certain amount of information. We know this in face-to-face sessions, which is why it is always so important to give learners breaks and activities and plan for each session to be no longer than 20 minutes long. Apply the same principles to your e-learning and make sure it is bite sized.

Need a hand?

Superb Learning is very happy to offer some advice if you are struggling to pull it all together.

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eLearning is Missing the Target

The other week I was exposed to a Health & Safety eLearning induction course. It was terrible! 35 slides of only text. I could not progress from one slide to the next until the obligatory 15 second delay (which is surprisingly long when bored). This was followed by a 20 question multiple choice quiz (MCQ) that my 9 year old daughter could have completed. It contained the typical MCQ format of one correct answer and other answers that were clearly wrong, which can be answered with some common sense and no need to read the content.

For example: The toaster in the lunch room has something stuck in it preventing it from operating. Do you
a) Leave it for someone else to notice the problem.
b) Try and remove the item with a knife.
c) Switch off the appliance, place a note on it and report the problem. The quiz also required an 80% pass mark, which made me think “what 20% of the content didn’t matter?”.

Reviewing this course has only reinforced my beliefs that so much eLearning content has missed the target. Too often we are seeing the typical next, next, yawn… style course (text on a screen click next, followed by a MCQ to make sure you read what we told you). There are so many missed opportunities to build engaging resources, the opportunity to provide an eLearning resource that encourages social collaboration, that allows users to pull content they need rather than having it pushed at them. With the range of technologies available we can create rich interactive scenarios, that allow users to try concepts, apply their knowledge and learn from their mistakes.

Technology is available to immerse the learners in visually rich virtual environments. We can engage users with games, stories and great visuals. We have the power to track user engagement, to evaluate effectiveness and ROI. But we aren’t. The target of eLearning excellence is continually missed.

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The target should be on the learning objectives – the educational outcomes.

So why? Why are we continuing to develop dull content? What are people not understanding about how to develop engaging online content?

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Engaging learners with interactive video

Video is a powerful learning tool, yet it is often underutilised. The popularity of YouTube (with more than 1 billion unique users each month and over 6 billion hours of video watched during this time) and other video sites, such as Vimeo and TED Talks, highlights how people are engaged when consuming knowledge through video. Video provides a multi-sensory resource, where people can learn by listening, watching and sometimes reading. And now, the use of video in learning is even more powerful with the use of interactive video to provide another way for users to engage. Interactive video increases the learning experience by providing learners with the opportunity to interact with the video content. Videos can be made interactive where learners can choose the small chunk of content they want to watch, they could choose a path to take based on the scenario provided in the video. Quizzes can even be embedded into the video, allowing for a knowledge check to occur before progressing further. In addition to all of this, the videos play natively in modern browsers and across devices, including tablets and handhelds. So what are the tools required to create the interactive videos? Below is my run down on four of the best applications (in no particular order) that I have tested so far.

1. Klynt

Klynt (http:www.klynt.net) is a very straight forward, easy to use application. Users can upload a selection of their videos and using the mind map like storyboard, can connect the videos together. Hyperlinks can then be applied to the primary screen, which links to the other videos. An example of this can be seen in the Klynt Demo. Klynt has a responsive HTML5 player that can be embedded in a browser or other applications. It also has the ability to add detailed analytics to measure the effectiveness of your video project. Of the three applications, Klynt has the most affordable pricing option, with a free 14 day trial demo version, a lite edition for a one-time fee of $199 and the pro edition for a one-time fee of $599. Klynt also has the least amount of features, compared to the other two programs. If you are interested in checking out Klynt, view their range of tutorials here.

2. Rapt Media

Rapt Media (http://www.raptmedia.com/) also has an easy to use drag-and-drop authoring platform. As with Klynt, Rapt Media allows you to link between videos allowing users to choose their own path. A great example of this is Deloitte’s interactive recruitment video. Rapt Media has a one-click publishing function, allowing you to publish your video to multiple devices easily. Rapt Media is also cloud-based, giving you easy access to your interactive video files from any internet-enabled device. While Rapt Media has a slicker interface and output than Klynt, it does come at a cost with one quote I received for an entry level account starting at $550/month. There is a free account which you can start building and testing your videos. If you are interested in checking out Rapt Media, view their range of how-tos and tips.

3. HapYak

HapYak (http://corp.hapyak.com/) has a large amount of features but it is not as easy to use as Klynt or Rapt Media. It also differs by linking to video files stored elsewhere, rather than uploading the video files to the application. This tool allows you to link to video files hosted on streaming sites (such as YouTube) or hosted on your own website. It has a range of tools including the ability to build video chapters, hyperlinks in videos and the ability to draw on the video – to point out important details to learners. My favourite function of this tool is the quiz function. Multiple choice quizzes can be built into the video o pop-up over the video screen at pre-determined times, to provide an opportunity to assess understanding of the video content. The quiz results can also be integrated with an LMS. A great example of this can be seen in chapter 2 of this video. Hap Yak is also a cheaper option than Rapt Media, with a free plan (up to 5 interactive videos) and a professional plan of $100/month. If you are interested in checking out HapYak, view their Getting Started Guide.

4. ChatMapper

ChatMapper is an easy to use tol for creating branching dialogues and other non-linear training resources. It is built using an intuitive tree graph, with different nodes showing the branches of the dialogue. This tool can be used in the creation of interactive scenario based videos, where the users make decisions and various points. Each node can be set to branch off to another video file, or a specific time in the existing video file. ChatMapper is a freemium product. It has a free version with limited functionality. Paid licensing options ($65 and $495) are also available. A fully functional publisher licence (incorporating 3D avatars) is also available. Use can see full details on the features and pricing on the ChatMapper website. Enjoy playing with the interactive video.

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