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variables for e-learning

Consistency is one of the most important parts of the course production process. And one way to maintain consistency is to determine your naming conventions. And this is especially true of variables for e-learning.

In a previous post, we looked at ways to manage and name your course files. And if you’re working inside an authoring tool like Storyline you want to name your objects and layers. You can also name your objects in PowerPoint using the selection pane.

variables for e-learning and consistent design

Following these steps will make your production process less frustrating especially if you put the project away for a period of time and revisit it later. Poor names and sloppy file management will really slow down your work flow and often introduces errors in the production.

And now for naming variables for e-learning….

How to Name Variables for E-Learning

I’ve been working on a series that covers the basics of using variables in elearning. And be sure to check out these examples and tutorials.

One of the most frequent questions for those getting started is why did you name the variable the way you did? I learned to name variables a certain way (without spaces) but there’s some latitude.

variables for e-learning naming e-learning variables

Don’t Use Spaces. 

Here’s the deal, you can name your variables anything you want. However, there are usually a few constraints. One of them is that you can’t use spaces. Which means your variable name can’t be Module 1 Complete. So instead of using spaces, you can use some of these tricks:

  • Use underscores to separate the words (Module1_Complete) or
  • Use capital letters to separate words (Module1Complete).

Be Descriptive. 

Name the variable so it’s specific and make sense. For example, if I am tracking completion of a module, which name is the most descriptive?

  • Variable = Complete1 or
  • Variable = Module1Complete

If you don’t use descriptive names and use lots of variables you’ll find it a challenge to quickly process what you see.

Shorter is Better. 

Be as descriptive as you can with the fewest letters possible.

What and when.

Some people use a What_When process. For example:

  • CountClicks is what do you do (Count) and when do you do it (on click).
  • Another example, Module1Complete_Exit indicates that the variable changes when the module is complete on exit.

The main point in all of this is to come up with a protocol that makes sense and apply it consistently. If you’re working with a team you’ll find this saves a lot of time and confusion, especially as you revisit projects and make updates.

What are some things you do to maintain consistency in the production process? How do you name variables for elearning? Feel free to share in the comments section.

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Free E-Learning Resources

Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.

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10 responses to “Consistency in Production: Naming Variables for E-Learning”

These are great recommendations. Here are the naming conventions I’ve been using for years as a programmer and for all of my programming and web students:

1) Always start with a lower case letter. (This is important for programmers because certain programming objects, Classes, are designated with a capital letter.)

2) Don’t use spaces or underscores. (The Web hates spaces and turns them into %20. If you use underscores and use that name in a hyperlink, the underscore is hidden when the hyperlink is underlined. The popularity of the hyperlink took away the effective use of underscore for programmers.)

3) useCamelCaseForReadabilityCapitalizingEachNewWord. (This is especially helpful when publishing URL but is valuable for naming any file, folder, or variable. Real web examples: or — the rapist Finder or Therapist Finder
and Better: collegeOfArtsAndSciences.

4) Use singular names instead of plural. For example, graphic instead of graphics. This saves time so you don’t have to scratch your head and think, “Did I name that graphic or graphics?” and then have to go look it up. If you keep everything singular you will automatically know. (Believe it or not, this is a real time saver!)

5) Keep all extensions lower case. (Especially with image files. Many graphic editors automatically make extensions all caps.)

6) As the article points out: Be consistent. Name all your folders, files, and variables using the same set of rules, all the time.

Thanks for highlighting this important, time-saving development trick!


To make field names shorter, come up with a standard list of shortcuts. One company I worked for used a dictionary of standard 3 letter abbreviations. ie TEL for telephone BUS for business CUS for customer and 1 letter codes for data type, N for number, T for Text, G for Graphic etc

So CUSTELN is customer telephone number, BUSTELN is business telephone number

I really appreciated this article and the one on organizing and managing, Tom. Thank you. I note that in the organizing article you used Powerpoint files for your examples and wrote about renaming the files as soon as you open them. One challenge I have with that is that if your file has links to external sources those links (at least in Storyline 2) get disconnected.

For the whole idea of organizing and managing, I think it ought to be one of the first teaching sessions when learning the ‘how tos’ of SL2 or any development product. Keeping track of the versions and assets is truly challenging!

Thanks so much for all the insights! Still so much to learn here.

March 30th, 2016

Excellent topic and often overlooked.

Peter J’s comment on underscores is spot on. I have the hardest time convincing Windows users to stop doing that. Those of us who grew up with UNIX were cured long ago.

Another thing I advocate is use metadata. Some authoring environments enable you to attach descriptive metadata to any files and folders included in your deliverable. I use Flare for training development and it is extremely good at enabling me to organize and track content.

Windows Office files such as Powerpoint include a lot of metadata options. Metadata buckets are part of the file format of certain image files.

There are tools for using metadata with other windows files – even free tools such as If you are using a repository such as Sharepoint, you have the option to provide descriptive text and tags for file objects.

Even final-format PDF contains xml metadata that you can mark up and extract when needed.

While this can be a chore, it is extremely useful when projects grow to a size that challenges your memory (even if you are using a good naming strategy)

Awesome article Tom! Really enjoyed this one.

Another tip for variables I use is regarding True/False variables. When I use those I try to always be logical when I set the default value . What I mean by that is , if I use a TF variable to check if a slide is visited, I might name the variable Slide1Visited , and I’ll set it to False.

Why false? Because by default is that slide visited? No. False. But when the user clicks on it, it does become visited so it becomes True. Hope I explained this in a way that makes sense! Just another little tip I like to use 🙂

I have two recommendations that you may want to leverage.
1) One technique I follow at times is to start the variable name with 01, the next 02 and so forth followed by whatever naming convention that makes sense for you or your project. For example, 01TotalEmployees, 02NumberCountries, etc. This would be an example such as in new hire training, allowing for periodic update for the total number of employees of the company, the total number of countries in which the company is located, etc.

These would be examples of fixed values that are periodically inputted or maintained as often as the business unit wishes to refresh those type of stats (provided that is the way they want to make those kinds of things available, embedded within the e-learning). The number prefixes will facilitate listing of the variables in the desired (numeric) order in the variables list to facilitate quick editing. I did this recently to order the variables in the same order in which they are encountered from beginning to end in the course.

2) If there are a lot of variables that require manual updating periodically, I recommend building a cross-reference document such as in Word or Excel. Have a column each for the variable name, a comment on its purpose and how it’s used, and the slide/layer location of the variable. This facilitates editing if necessary in the future. You could also simply compose and embed that indexed information in the title or other slide notes.

April 1st, 2016

I totally agree and am trying to be as concise as possible in my elearning videos. Can’t tutorials be too short, should there be a minimum length?

April 1st, 2016

@Luke: not sure if videos can be too short. I think it’s more about using the shortest amount of time to complete objective.


Since we don’t seem to be hearing from him in a blog post today (YES, he’s missed!), perhaps Dr. Werner Oppelbaumer can offer some tips to Luke p.???

Please? 😉

April 1st, 2016

Unfortunately, Dr Werner is semi-retired and currently not available. However, I’m sure we’ll see him from time to time.