Bringing a Forensic Training System Online


For the last two years of my life, the vast majority of my waking hours – nay, the vast majority of my hours – have been devoted to this project. I remove “waking” from hours for reasons that will be obvious by the time you finish reading this. A great quantity of my sleep has been sacrificed for it.


I had just transitioned from working as a Harkcon contractor to working directly for Harkcon. The awesomeness of the first few weeks working for Harkcon cannot be understated. I was able to work from home. During that first summer, I played with my kids just about every time I took a break from work. I was able to work on amazing e-Learning projects – I really enjoyed working with and developing e-Learning with my coworkers. I made a few logos and began working on my first app, spending time learning how to use an Apple computer and playing around with GameSalad. Like I said: Awesome.

Harkcon tasked me with doing a lot of editing work in Word documents for a company that specializes in digital forensic extractions. In fact, this company is the world leader in producing digital extraction tools. If you’ve ever gone to your wireless carrier provider’s store (Sprint, Verizon, etc.), and you asked for your old  phone contacts to be brought over to a new phone, you have probably used their products in one way or another. However, they’re also very good at producing equipment and software that enables law enforcement personnel around the globe to extract evidence from cell phones – hence their digital/mobile forensics arm, and the requisite training accompanying these products.

Harkcon had been hired to help this company develop their Forensic Training System. One of my colleagues spent a great deal of effort developing the training manuals and other printed materials that this company used to deliver its world-renowned digital forensic training.

After tasking, I reported to the colleague who had developed the material, who showed me what needed to be done for the Word document editing. Therein I entered the world of forensic training.

Shortly after delivering the revised Word documents to the client, I was asked to be the lead designer and developer for the following deliverables:

  • Deliverable 1: 17 hours of Web-Based Training (WBT) developed with Articulate Storyline.
  • Deliverable 2: Create a Learning Management System (LMS) that would store and sell this WBT.
  • Deliverable 3: An Electronic Performance Support System (EPSS) that would serve as a job aid for practitioners in the field who may need an immediate reference for extracting evidence.

I worked closely with the client, the prime, and a few others to develop the design guides. I was guided carefully through the initial processes by Harkcon’s project manager. While going through the design meeting with the client and what we thought were the key stakeholders, the project manager did an amazing job of leading the meeting, building trust and rapport with the client, and giving me tons of advice. To this day, this project manager is my trusted mentor, advocate, and friend.

One of the many things I had done to prepare for the meeting was develop a framework within Moodle that could be used as the starting point for the LMS. I chose Moodle as the intervention because I was familiar with Moodle (I had used it on several occasions before), I knew it could meet the needs I had read about in the Statement of Work, and I thought it would be the easiest, most efficient way meeting the client’s needs. I spent 184 hours customizing graphics and making a highly customized solution that could be tweaked if the client didn’t like certain aspects of it. The client loved what I presented, and we left the meeting thinking that the LMS portion of the project was largely completed, with some tweaks and plugins needed to meet some additional needs identified during the meeting. The meeting was a success in that we were able to determine the program of instruction, and all of the key objectives for the instruction were determined/validated.

Deliverable 1: The Web-Based Training

During one night of the design meeting, we all had dinner together at the project manager’s house near Washington, D.C. We had a great time. Knowing the tight schedule, however, I went ahead and went up to a home office and spent about two hours creating the basic Graphic User Interface (GUI) for the WBT on my laptop. I created some basic graphics, I customized the Storyline player, and I made some basic interactions regarding the special hardware that served as the focal point of the instruction. Some of these interactions made it into the actual WBT. My design decisions were based on what the client had let me know during the meeting that day when I had shown him several examples of WBT.

The next morning, at the last day of the design meeting, I showed the client what I had made, and he approved it.

In addition to making the majority of the graphics, animations, movies, and the like for this training, I created the first two storyboards (under my guidance, others used these as templates to create the rest), I read and recorded (and edited) all the narration for this training, and I made some advanced activities in Articulate Storyline.

Deliverable 2: The Learning Management System

When it came time to make the LMS, I was asked to do the research and initial legwork to get the it up and running. It turned into a lot more than that. To make a long story short, I did the research, worked with Amazon Web Services to get the initial implementation of the LMS up and running (this meant a lot of work within the Linux Command Line Interface [CLI]), and I was on the phone with AWS any time something wasn’t working right.

One of the most stressful times during this phase of the project was when the client upgraded its primary website. We were asked to totally change the work we had already done on the LMS and have it live in a week’s time. I was already waist-deep in the development of the WBT, and I didn’t know how we were going to pull this off.

The project manager called a super-hero in to help. I’ve let that person know how grateful I am for his support.

Deliverable 3: The Electronic Performance Support System

A colleague at Harkcon led the effort to develop the EPSS. He, and the man that supported him, did a fantastic job getting this deliverable done.

An Opportunity for a Quick Win: Making the Certification Shields

I did some custom graphics work and made the certification shields for this client. They are now seen everywhere this training is mentioned.

Advanced Customization with the LMS

Earlier, when providing the background for this project, there was a phrase that should have given experienced training professionals pause: “what we thought were the key stakeholders”. Not all key stakeholders were at the initial design meeting.

This was the first time anyone involved with the project had done anything of this scope and scale. Because of this, and the fact that the client is a huge and rapidly growing company with stakeholders all over the world, not all of the key stakeholders that had key design requirements for the LMS were at the initial meeting. I don’t think this is anyone’s fault, and even if we had known, other requirements or events may have still worked against us.

The bottom line is that as the LMS came into being, parties within the client’s company let the team know that, under no uncertain terms, key customization needed to happen to the LMS if its implementation were to be successful within the company. One such customization was getting the LMS, powered by Moodle, to interact directly with the client’s Customer Resource Management (CRM) system.

This need for advanced customization rapidly went beyond my skill set. I did my best, but there was no way I – an aspiring but definitely newbie programmer – was going to make this happen.

Enter Sebale ( One of their best developers worked tirelessly to not only integrate this system successfully with the client’s CRM, he also added many, many custom features to the LMS. The result of this work is that the LMS is a tool used daily by forensic professionals to run a growing training business.

Where the Project is Today

At the time I write this, over six hundred people have enrolled in the following courses or online exams that I helped make (or am in the process of making) in the last two years. These course and exam offerings include:

  • Two online certification exams
  • Three online courses that end in certification

The LMS is visited daily by staff, instructors, training providers, and customers from a broad array of backgrounds. Every day I get emails saying that professionals from all over the world are enrolling into classes (instructor led and online) who are getting the training they need.

Update: You can see my latest work on this project (with visuals!) here.

What I Loved Most About Working on this Project

Recently I was able to attend portions of an ILT class while I was working with the client to make Camtasia movies. I cannot understate how awesome it was to hear people with varying levels of experience and from a wide range of backgrounds say how they were using this training to stop “bad guys” – drug dealers, pedophiles, human traffickers, and more. While on one level their stories are deeply disturbing, on another you wonder what life would be like without people like this on the front lines of modern society, keeping the rest of us safe from these troubling, evil threats. These threats are so perniciously rooted in our society it takes tools and training of the kind that this client provides to prosecute these people successfully.