The Rapid Elearning Blog

Since 20,000+ people read this weekly blog, odds are you weren’t one of the 100 or so who attended my recent presentation at the Elearning Guild conference called, “Becoming a Rapid E-Learning Pro…Rapidly!”

I’ve recapped the session for everyone in the form of a snazzy blog post.  It’s a combination of how to think about rapid elearning and then how to get the most out of your tools. So, here they are.

    The Rapid E-Learning Blog - 10 sure-fire tips to becoming a rapid e-learning pro...rapidly!

1. Rapid = Smart

Rapid elearning is a misleading concept.  You’re not a rapid traveler because you use the Internet to book travel.  You’re just a person who uses technology to make booking travel easy.

The same goes for me as I write my blog posts.  I’m sure that I could hand code my blog with HTML, but I don’t.  Instead, I use Windows Live Writer, a WYSIWYG editor.  Do you know why?  It saves a lot of time.

 The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Do you handcode HTML or us a tool to do it for you?

I shouldn’t have to be a programmer to write a blog post. Since the software takes care of the HTML code, I’m free to focus on creating the content.  This doesn’t make me a rapid blogger.  It makes me a smart blogger.

The same can be said for rapid elearning.  There’s no reason why you should have to be a programmer to build elearning, especially when there are tools to help you build your courses. Rapid elearning is less about being rapid, and more about being smart.

2. E-Learning is Just One Brick in a Very Big Wall

Learning is a complex process.  And, elearning is just one piece of that process.  Think of it like a brick in a wall.   As you go through life learning, you keep adding more bricks.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Become an elearning mason

Each experience in the real world provides context to what you learn and is like the mortar that holds all the bricks together.

3. Your Learners Don’t Care How You Authored Your Course

Your learners are staring at a blank computer screen and could care less how you authored the content to fill it. If that screen has text on it, they don’t care if the text was hand coded HTML, created in PowerPoint slide, or developed in Flash.  That goes for animation, as well.

The same goes with watching a video.  You think they care if it’s an .FLV, .SWF, .MPG, .AVI, or .MOV?  Heck, no!  All they care is that when they click the play button it plays.

In that sense, think less about how you’re authoring the course and more about how to build great content.  And then choose the tools that will help you build it.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - The learners don't care how you authored your elearning course

4. Let’s Keep It Real

I used to come back from the training conferences and tell my Flash programmers about all of the cool courses I saw and how I wanted us to build ours like that.  Then reality set in.

To build some of those highly interactive courses requires a lot of money and time.  In fact, some of those courses cost well over $100,000.  I’ve worked on a lot of elearning projects and I can’t ever recall getting the budget for a $100,000 course.  I usually have to fight tooth and nail just to get $40 for some stock photos, let alone $100,000.

The only places I’ve seen with the resources to build elearning like that are vendors who build custom elearning.  So it makes sense that they go to conferences and show off what their talent and your bags of money can build.

The reality for a lot of those who build elearning courses is that they have to fend for themselves, and elearning is just one of their many responsibilities.  In fact, the last three places I’ve worked were multibillion dollar organizations and I was lucky if it was more than me doing the bulk of the work.

I’m glad I had access to rapid elearning tools to do my job effectively and save my organization time and money.

5. If You’re Just Getting Started, Don’t Listen to the Experts

Many of you are just getting started.  Your first task is to get used to using the tools.  Don’t worry about what the experts say about engaging elearning.  I’ll let you in on a secret.  Those same experts are the ones who created boring elearning to start with.  Only they charged a lot more money back then.

You just focus on the basics and then build from there.

  • Download one of those simple PowerPoint training templates and use that to get started.  Focus on clear objectives and finding a way to meet them in your course.
  • Create a consistent and clean look. Nice colors.  Same graphic style.
  • Don’t crowd the screen with text and graphics. Maximize the screen’s white space.
  • Use consistent fonts. No more than two styles.
  • Use the same animation effects.  Something subtle like Fade. Make it look professional.

You can create a nice looking and effective course that doesn’t need to be overly complicated with just a little practice.

6. Make the Content Human by Telling a Story

Once you get a handle on using the tools and building basic courses, start to present the content in a different manner.  For example, people always like a good story.  Find a way to relate it to the learner’s world.

Here’s a quick example from a conversation I had with someone at a previous conference.  The first set of images is typical of a lot of elearning.  It’s just information and it looks like a PowerPoint slide.  The second set of images takes the essence of the course and starts to build a story.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Create stories for your elearning to make them more human

Which approach is more engaging?  Making this type of change isn’t difficult.  In this case, I changed the wording a little and used real people to make it seem less clinical.  Ask, “Why is this important to the learner?” and then build a story around it.

7. Make It Relevant

Here’s a common mistake.  When people complain about “boring” courses, by default we tend to think it needs to be more interactive.  However, the problem with a lot of courses isn’t the lack of interactivity.  Instead it’s that the course is meaningless and not very relevant to the learners.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Do people really want to play lame games?

I have yet to hear someone sit at the computer complaining that Google is “boring and there’s nothing on the screen but text.”  There are no complaints about the lack of interactivity because what they’re looking at is relevant to the person at that time.

The more you can put the course content into a context that is relevant, the less you have to create interactive bells and whistles.  People would rather have a simple line of text on a plain white screen that gives them meaningful information, than play yet one more long and drawn out Jeopardy game.

8. Become an E-learning Deconstructionist

I get a lot of emails asking how to do more advanced elearning using the rapid elearning tools.  The secret is practice.  One thing I do is see if I can replicate the courses and interactions I like.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Either way, I get good practice and develop new techniques.

Find courses you like and then try to replicate them.  At a minimum, find out what you like about the course and try to replicate just that part.  Here’s a challenge.  See if you can replicate the Building a Sod House course in nothing but PowerPoint.   I’ll do the same, and do a post on it later.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Link to sodhouse demo

Click to view the demo.

The point is less about getting everything right and more about learning to use the tools in a new way.  You’ll come up with all types of ideas and get really fast at doing them.

9. PowerPoint is a Powerful Free-Form Authoring Tool

PowerPoint gets a bad rap.  You build a text-heavy bullet point elearning course and all the pundits will trash PowerPoint.  However, you do the same thing in Flash and the focus shifts to poor instructional design.  Don’t blame the tool for its misuse.

Repeat this three times: “PowerPoint as a presentation tool has nothing to do with elearning.  PowerPoint as a free-form authoring tool is great.”

Just like Flash, PowerPoint is free-form authoring tool.  You start with a blank screen and build from there. For example, you can bring in all sorts of graphics and objects, animate them, create interactivity, and easily build branched scenarios.

There are two secrets to getting the most out of PowerPoint as an authoring tool.

  • Drop the templates and start with a blank screen.
  • See the slides as layers that stack information rather than a way to keep the content linear.

Here’s a quick example of how you can use slides as layers.  This is a simple demo and only took me about 5 minutes to build and publish.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - PowerPoint slides as layers

Click here to view layers demo.

When you look at PowerPoint from this perspective you can see the power of its free-form authoring.  You get a blank screen that has layers and on each layer you can add layered animations.  That’s pretty powerful!  On top of that, once you learn some tricks, you can build some of your content in a fraction of the time it takes to build the same thing in Flash.  That will save you time and money.

10. Get the Most out of Your Tools

Rapid elearning tools empower you to build courses that just a few years ago would have required a lot of time, money, and specialized skill.  You can combine all sorts of multimedia, learning interactions, and even some of the new collaborative web technologies like a wiki or forum.  That’s something even Flash won’t give you easily.

In fact, even if you didn’t want to use PowerPoint to create content, the tools will still give you a SCORM-compliant player with built-in navigation and controls.  At that point you can drop in custom Flash pieces, interactions, or web objects and just use the player.

To get the most out of your rapid elearning tools, you’ve got to step outside of the PowerPoint slide box and think of the tools in a new way.  Here are some tips and tricks that I’ve covered in previous posts.

As you can see, the tools empower you to do build effective and engaging courses.  It provides the right blend between meeting your elearning goals and still working with your time and money resources.

I look forward to your thoughts on this.  Feel free to post them in the comments section.


Free E-Learning Resources

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

Here’s a great job board for e-learning, instructional design, and training jobs

Participate in the weekly e-learning challenges to sharpen your skills

Get your free PowerPoint templates and free graphics & stock images.

Lots of cool e-learning examples to check out and find inspiration.

Getting Started? This e-learning 101 series and the free e-books will help.

45 responses to “10 Sure-Fire Tips to Becoming a Rapid E-learning Pro…Rapidly!”


just to let you know how much your blog has helped in my way becoming a great elearning developer.

You are for real my Yoda here!!

keep on and thanks!!


Thanks for the blog posts. You always provide useful information. Thinking of PowerPoint slides as layers is unique and I can see how it changes the use of PowerPoint as an elearning tool.

Thanks Tom,

I’m a newbie at this so – not only is this great information, but it is also very encouraging!


I work for a software company and create e-learning courses teaching people how to use our software. I love your ideas, but a lot of the tips are more creative than the things I can incorporate in software training. I am wondering if you have any ideas/suggestions for incorporating some of your techniques in software training

Good question. It depends on how you do your software training. here are a few ideas. I’m sure some of the other readers have some good ones, as well.

Some approaches to software training: 1) highlight the features, 2)show how to do something and 3) focus on use cases

Sometimes software training needs to be very simple and straightforward. However, the best way to get the info to stick is to not focus on the software and instead focus on how the user would use the software.

I’ve done training where they get a very brief overview of the software. Then I give them challenges to complete. They get progressively more challenging and involved, but build off of each other.

For example: Boss said you need to complete this spreadsheet and get in done in 15 minutes. Then they get the info and have to build it. You can give them triggers and resources to guide them if they get stuck.

Another idea is to use a wiki and have them build a user’s guide.

Those some quick ideas. It really depends on what you’re doing and how much time you have.

One mistake I think a lot of software training makes is by focusing on the software and its features rather than on how the learner would use the software.

That was your best post ever – particularly I laughed out loud at this:

“So it makes sense that they go to conferences and show off what their talent and your bags of money can build.”

So very true.

Keep up the good work!


I particularly like:

3. Your Learners Don’t Care How You Authored Your Course
6. Make the Content Human by Telling a Story


Your 10 tips are great! Thanks so much! My courses are beyond dull but you have given me some fuel to help get them fired up.

Great job on the blog. Lots of practical ideas that can actually be implemented.

maaan,…this is why I love your blog. :))
my weak link is that I tend to get all mixt up in details, and step aside a bit from the main road, hugging the tree, instead of saving the forest. if I do a software course, I try to plan a lot of practice, to emphasise functionality and direct learning, but then , while working, I realize it’s way to much, too little time, and I slowly take a more passive – information delivery approach than I would have wanted in the first place. any good thoughts on that ? 🙂
thanks 🙂

April 29th, 2008

Tom, this is the best e-learning blog around. Thanks for your genrosity in sharing information!


I just wanted to drop you a note and let you know that I read your blog every week and I think it’s great. I learn a lot of tips from you.

Hi Tom!
I’ve heard WONDERFUL things about your session at AG|08.
I’m sorry I wasn’t able to listen in, but your blog post here is AWESOME! I love every point!

These are perfect tips to surviving the changing world of elearning.


Excellent thoughts .. well written. You rock, Tom!

I certainly agree with #6, all teaching is a story and the stories that are told the best are the ones that get remembered.

I want to do an annotated translation (to spanish) of this on my blog. Is that ok for you?

Your blog, tips and recommendations are very awesome. And, especially, the freshness of your words.


April 30th, 2008

Thanks Tom for an excellent down to earth post. I have shared this with my students who are studying elearning at undergrad level. It fitted in well with a short section on using free tools and ppt to create simple content for K-12.

[…] 10 Sure-Fire Tips to Becoming a Rapid E-learning Pro…Rapidly! – The Rapid eLearning Blog (tags: elearning rapid-development) […]

Hi Tom,

Great post and Great tips.

Thanks 🙂

April 30th, 2008

Tom, kudos once again for another great blog. I am glad that you have not turned your nose down on PowerPoint. Many people do not realize the great potential it has on it’s own and the way it integrates well with other rapid elearning tools. I love your blogs and have tried some of your suggestions and made my work a bit easier. As for the Sod House, I will attempt to create it in PowerPoint alone.


Thank you all for the feedback and the kind comments. I try to keep the tips practical and focused on what’s real for most of us. I’m glad you find the posts useful. If you have ideas for other posts, you’re always welcome to send them my way.

@Brent: thanks for the feedback on the AG session.

@Eduardo: I’ll send you an email.

@Elizabeth: I look forward to what you do. I’ll work on one in a week or so and then do a post on it. I’ve been working on the frog dissection demo, which I’ll post on, as well.

Excellent post. I am just finishing up a MSIT degree and have noticed that rapid elearning does seem to get a bad rap. After reading this post I realize that there a huge difference in rapid prototyping and rapid elearning design. Obviously the focus of the MSIT program is larger instructional design projects but I can see where companies such as the ones that you mentioned working for would not want to regularly spend big bucks on instructional design projects but have a need to get information out to employees quickly and cost effectively. I really appreciate your focus on meeting the need and focusing on objectives before a fancy package. The fancy package will come with time and experience.
Thank you.

April 30th, 2008

I really enjoyed your post. Like Tim, I am finishing up an MSIT degree. I have never been particularly versed in development, though I try my very hardest. I am so thankful for tools to make designing and developing instruction a little easier.

May 1st, 2008

Great post Tom, I am very new to the e-learning (in fact overall learning) game and you have made me think more about what it is I am actually doing. It is comforting to know that I have utilised some of the tips to create content using powerpoint already so I am on the right track.



Nice job and your 10 tips are excellent. I got a little confused about the SCORM compliance. Were you saying that PPT can create SCORM compliant courses? More importantly, for me, can PPT keep track of responses, i.e. interface with a database to collect right and wrong answers to the questions?

@Tim and Amanda: good luck as you finish up your programs. I think you’ll find the tools are only going to become easier and more sophisticated. The focus will shift away from how to build the course and more on how to build the best learning environment.

@penn: on SCORM what I meant was that even if you use a rapid authoring tool like Articulate Presenter (which leverages PowerPoint’s free-form authoring) you don’t need to use PowerPoint to create the actual learning content.

A lot of people will trash PowerPoint and rapid elearning as just basic presentation delivery or simple click and read, but fail to realize that the software actually creates an xml-player that is SCORM compliant.

So, you can use just the player and instead of using PowerPoint to create content, drop in whatever you want on the slides. One of the challenges when you custom build elearning is to build the infrastructure and SCORM capabilities. For the price of the software it would be difficult to get a custom xml player built that is SCORM compliant.

“People would rather have a simple line of text on a plain white screen that gives them meaningful information, than play yet one more long and drawn out Jeopardy game.”

Bless you, my son.

The infestation of Jeopardy and its ilk stems in part, I think, from people not believing they can be original. If you know what’s important for the learner to do, often you’ll find it’s not “answer in the form of a question.”

Your deconstruction idea is excellent. Look at models like the free stuff that Thiagi has on his web site… and he’s just one example.

Hello, Tom!

I do use Flash and Captivate SWFs inside Articulate. However, your last several posts are really making me think!

From what I’m reading, I am hearing you say that we can consider our PPT slide decks like Layers (Photoshop, Fireworks, etc.) and Frames (Flash, Captivate)?

I understand your Layers concept. How about Frames? (Maybe they’re one and the same?)

For example, I have a course PPT desk with 2 persona photos on each screen. For their conversations, the text bubble above each photo fades in and out.

Is it a best practice in this case to first create the “Fade” Custom Animation on each persona’s text bubbles…then do a Copy | Paste from 3-4 screens onto one screen? (After the “conversation”, then the learner clicks Next to move forward.)

If yes, then I will need to have 2 PPT decks, right?: the “editable”, development one and the to-be-published one that will have fewer slides and several fading text bubble animations on one slide.

Why will I have 2 decks? Because I tried one of your wonderful ideas, and it was hard for me to click on and find an object when I needed to modify it. Especially when two objects are close together, as they need to be in the publish version.

Or, do you have a suggetion/work around for that issue? If yes, I’ve love to read about it and use it!

(The client wants to avoid having just two text bubbles, one for each persona, and the “click Next” situation per screen. So, we’re trying to have more “conversation” on one slide before clicking forward.)

@Jenise: Good questions. I’m actually working on a blog post to show some tricks. There are two ways to look at slides as layers.

The first is when you are building animations/sequences. Build out your animation over a series of slides, then copy and paste those onto one slide. The good thing is that PPT2007 makes working with layers a lot easier for edits.

The second way to use layers is like the example in this post. How many slides do you see on the assembly line? It looks like one image with some animation. Is it one image or is it multiple slides? In this case, it’s a series of slides. Some auto advance and some way for you to click the arrow.

Hope that helps. Like I said, I’ll show some more of this in a future post.

Tom; I really enjoyed you recent vector clip art tutorial. I am a newby to Articulate (not to PPT but I did learn a couple of things from you). I am interested to find out how you did the screen capture recording within Articulate. In the past I embed a captivate file within Articulate. Is that hoe you did it? I just want to make sure I know all my options.

Thanks again and grat job. Fred

[…] a demo from my post, 10 Sure-Fire Tips to Becoming a Rapid E-learning Pro…Rapidly!  It’s a good example of how you see a single screen that’s actually made up of […]

The example from pt 6.Make the Content Human by Telling a Story
used in the “10 Tips ” blog was very good, it really demonstrated how good graphics can change the whole appeal of the presentation and that is an important element of getting “buy-in” from the users of eLearning packages.

February 2nd, 2010

I was sent to the wrong hyperlink when i tried to open the above “Building a Sod House’. Can you help me on this?

Also when I do a hyperlink to an email, is there anyway to add content into the body of the email?

@Jerry: I’ll fix the link. Looks like the moved the site. Here’s a screencast concerning the email question.

March 5th, 2010

Here’s the current URL for the Building a Sod House tutorial.

[…] 10 Sure-Fire Tips to Becoming a Rapid E-learning Pro…Rapidly! […]


I look so forward to each and every email that you send! However, in this issue I was not able to view the ‘Building a Sod House’ demo in Section 8. Become an E-learning Deconstructionist. I am able to open the OurStory page when I Click to view the demo. The graphic of the donkey with the title of ‘Build a Sodhouse’ is there, but when I click on Play the game>>, I receive this message: The page cannot be found…..HTTP Error 404 – File or directory not found.

Where else can I find this demo? I would love to view it.

Can hardly wait,


I did just notice Mary Ellen’s post and I’ve tried that link and I am now able to access the game!

Thanks everyone!

May 3rd, 2011

Hello Tom,

I’m new to e-learning. In fact I’m still taking courses and this semester, for my final project, I need to take my design document and create a rapid prototype. It’s a distance class and the instructor doesn’t communicate concepts/ideas well, in my opinion and I’m struggling with where to start to create this. Can you recommend some steps to get started, software (if other than articulate and powerpoint) to use, or a step process for creating a rapid prototype for e-learning?

Thanks for your help!


@Cheryl: I’d start with the content. What are the objectives? How do they demonstrate that they’ve met them (actionable results)? From there, determine what content they need to meet the objectives. How do they get the content? How can they practice using it?

I see the prototype as a quick working model of the courses (or part of it) with more focus on the interactions. This is a really good question to pose in the community so you can get more detailed feedback and ideas. There are also some course design documents you can download that may help get started.