This guest blog post is by Articulate Community Manager Jeanette Brooks.
If you’ve always thought the phrase “personal finance course” is synonymous with “boring slides full of number-crunching,” think again! We’ve got a great course to share with you, and it won Bronze in this year’s Articulate Guru Awards.
Nancy Woinoski, VP of Operations & Client Services at Pinched Head, submitted this informative, whimsical, award-winning course:
Nancy originally started building the course with the trial version of Articulate Studio ’09 because she was trying to decide whether to buy the software for Pinched Head. “Instead of just playing around with the features in a random way, I wanted to build an actual course and really put Articulate through its paces,” she explained.
It didn’t take long to decide — she went ahead with buying the Articulate license. And even though her sample course had served its purpose, she still felt compelled to finish it, for a few reasons: “We wanted an engaging module to show our prospects and clients. We do a lot of serious e-learning for large corporate clients, so we wanted to build something fun and light, and we wanted to demonstrate some of the neat things you can do with the Articulate tools. We also wanted to offer something that’s useful to people, and after the recent tough economic times, a course on basic financial literacy made sense. When the 2010 Articulate Guru Awards were announced earlier this year, that gave us a good reason for the final push to finish.”
Cool Features of the Money Management Course
The Guru judges were impressed by how the course uses a fun, approachable style to make a potentially challenging topic inviting and easy to understand. Here are some of the features that especially stood out:
Using a Scenario to Tell a Story
You won’t find boring slides full of dry facts and equations in this course! Instead, the course teaches money management through effective storytelling. As soon as you’re invited to “Meet Bob and Jane…” during the course intro, you’ll want to find out all about their money mistakes and how to fix them!
The cartoon-themed characters and images were designed in-house by Pinched Head — with the exception of one purchased image (jump to the comments if you think you know which one). “We like to use original art when possible because it gives our courses a unique and cohesive look,” explained Nancy.
What’s cool is, the characters are vector graphics that can easily be sized and scaled to fit into any e-learning scenes as needed. They’re also modular — the body parts are individual images that can be placed and animated separately. This creates a lot of flexibility for scenario-building.
Resourceful Animations Bring Life to the Course
One of the neat things you’ll notice is how the characters’ facial expressions sometimes change with the narration. (Check out the scene near the beginning of the course, when you first meet Bob and Jane, and you’ll see what I mean.)
To create the illusion of changing expressions, Nancy used multiple images, PowerPoint fade animations, and the sync animations tool in Articulate Presenter. This enabled her to reveal the right expression on each character at just the right moment. It’s a simple, effective way to add life and personality to the course.
Here, she shows a little more about how she did it:
A few of the animations, such as the student at the blackboard in the title slide, were created in Flash and then inserted into Presenter. But because the Flash animation uses the same colors and images as the rest of the course, it all blends seamlessly.
Annotations and Animations Support the Content
Besides using well-synched animations, Nancy also made great use of Presenter’s annotations feature to support the content.
Helpful spotlights, rectangles, or arrows occasionally appear onscreen at key moments to draw the learner’s focus to a specific image or concept.
Judges felt that this combination — well-paced narration, synched animations, and powerful annotations — make learning super-easy and intuitive, without the need for lots of onscreen text.
Integration of Quiz Slides
Another standout was how Nancy integrated content from Articulate Quizmaker into her course. She used a transparent frame in her quiz player to allow the PowerPoint slide master to show through, and she customized her quiz slide’s background to be the same color. She streamlined the look even further by removing the usual scoring details and other info from the quiz player. With this approach, the quiz truly feels like it’s part of the learning experience.
The course also includes some neat bits of interactivity. The click-and-explore exercise on slide 6, built with PowerPoint hyperlinks, allows learners to discover ways of improving cash flow. The hyperlinks take learners to variations of duplicate slides, which Nancy hid from the sidebar by using Presenter’s slide properties manager. The result is that learners feel like they’re interacting with a single, dynamic slide that responds to their choices.
There’s also a cool interactive spending plan on slide 14. Nancy created this tool in Flash and then inserted the SWF into Presenter. By using consistent colors and imagery, she made the interactive SWF look totally consistent with the course’s visual design.
Interview with Nancy Woinoski of Pinched Head
Here’s what Nancy had to say when we asked her some questions about her award-winning course:
Tell us about your course design strategy.
“At Pinched Head we strongly believe that learning shouldn’t be a drag and that even potentially dull subjects (like how to prepare a budget) deserve creative solutions. The aim with this course, as always, was to make the learning experience engaging, fun, and informative.
“Some ways we did that included using compelling characters and adding touches of humor throughout. We also intentionally had the narrator speak in a natural, conversational way. The fact that she talks directly to the animated characters and pokes light-hearted fun at some of their behavior infuses the course with energy and personality.”
Did you use any resources from the Articulate community to design your course?
“I especially like the PowerPoint tips and tricks in The Rapid E-learning Blog. In this course, I created an animated envelope in PowerPoint. The envelope opens and then a hand places some cash in it. I got the idea from one of Tom Kuhlmann’s blog posts. I followed his steps for creating an envelope icon and then modified his design so that I could animate it. I had to experiment a bit to get it to work (and I’ll admit Tom’s envelope looks better than mine!), but the experimentation was half the fun.
What’s your favorite Articulate Studio ’09 feature?
“We love the sync animations feature. It is mind-numbingly easy to synchronize audio to animations using this product! We also like the annotations tool. And we love the way Articulate allows us to insert Flash files that have transparent backgrounds — this gives us a lot of flexibility if we want to add special animations that we’ve built in Flash, but still make them look like they belong in the course.”
What course-building tips can you share with the rest of the Articulate community?
“Spend some time getting to know the ins and outs of PowerPoint. There are some very powerful features that can really enhance your development and design efforts. The selection and visibility pane, for example, makes working with layered images and animations a breeze. And if you’re not using PowerPoint 2007 or later, consider upgrading for the much-improved feature set.”
Part of the prize for each Guru Award winner is a free Articulate Studio ’09 Pro license for the school or charity of your choice. To what organization did you give the license?
“There are a lot of worthwhile organizations out there, so making a decision about this was tough. We selected ABC Life Literacy Canada because of their efforts to improve adult literacy and their focus on lifelong learning.”
Any other words of wisdom from your Guru experience?
“Whenever I create a new course, I give myself at least one design challenge to get the creative juices flowing. In this case, I banned the use of bulleted lists.
“There are all kinds of ways to get to the same goal so don’t be afraid to experiment and don’t worry about getting it perfect.”
Well done, Nancy and Pinched Head! Congratulations on winning Bronze!