The Rapid Elearning Blog

Archive for November, 2008

PowerPoint’s notes section can be used as a way to capture knowledge, hold a transcript, or even as a glossary.  In today’s post, I’m going to throw out some ideas to help you get the most out of your notes.

Capture your subject matter expert’s expertise

Here’s a common scenario.  A subject matter expert gives you a PowerPoint that he’s used for classroom training and expects you to use that for your elearning course.  While the content may be good, it’s usually not complete.  Typically, there’s a lot of missing information trapped inside the expert’s brain.

To collect some of that information, I’ll ask the person to review the slides and then add whatever he can to the notes section.  It doesn’t need to be perfect or require a bunch of formatting.  Just review the slide and do a brain dump.  We can sort it out later.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog: subject matter expert

I find this approach works well because the slides serve as a great mental trigger and outline of what they need to share.  The informality of the notes section makes it stress free and doesn’t require that the expert hand in a polished report.  Later I’m able to use that information to pull the course content together.

Create a course transcript

Some learners will not be able to hear the audio in your course.  They might have hearing disabilities or be in a work environment where listening to audio isn’t practical.  Others just prefer to read a transcript and not listen to the audio.  In those cases, you can use the slide notes section to add a transcript to your course (which a lot of people already do).

One of my favorite parts of our new software is the text formatting in slide notes.  In the past, the formatting was limited which made the transcript not as practical.  However, now you can add a lot more formatting.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog: notes formatting

If I do create a transcript, I’ll change the title of the notes tab section from “notes” to “transcript.” Depending on the type of course, I’ll also set the transcript tab to open by default.  This way the learner can see it right off the bat.

Create a glossary to define new terms on the page.

Sometimes you want to define a word or two on the slide, but you don’t want to build an entire glossary.  In those cases, use the notes section as a glossary.

In the demo below I changed the defined word color to teal and then added the definitions to the notes section, which I changed to read “Glossary.”  If you have a transcript in the notes, just put the definitions at the end of the transcript.  It’s a quick way to define words without a lot of extra work.  The user can quickly look up a word or term and you don’t have to spend any extra time to build a glossary.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog: notes as a glossary

Working with Slide Notes

  • Use the slide notes master.   The slide notes master in PowerPoint lets you set the formatting for your slide notes that are applied across all of the slides.  This helps keep the notes consistent.  Here’s some information on how to format your slide notes in PowerPoint:
  • Format notes from notes view.  Most people seem to work in the default PowerPoint layout and access the notes that way.  One of the problems with this is that a lot of the formatting you do in the notes section isn’t evident in PowerPoint. 

    Look at the image below.  If you change the font color and style, you can’t see the changes in the default “normal” view.  However looking at the same text in “notes” view, you can see the formatting.  This is the same as what you’ll see in the published course. 

The Rapid E-Learning Blog: switch to notes view to make edits

  • Turn off the text’s auto fit feature which will scale your text to auto fit into the text box.  Doing this will save you some time and frustration.  You can learn to do so here.  There’s nothing worse than publishing a 45-slide course only to find out that the font size in the notes section is different because it was scaled to auto fit.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog: autofit text in notes view 


The secret to rapid elearning is getting the most out of the tools you use.  Today’s tips should help you make more use of the slide notes.  If you have any tips feel free to share them with us by clicking on 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.

I once worked on a project for new machine operators who were not able to meet their quotas within 90 days of being hired. I assumed that I would build a standard course that took them through the tasks.  Before starting, I wanted to get to know more about the learner’s environment, so I spent a few days with the machine operators.  Do you know what I discovered?

The new hires didn’t have a problem with the job.  Instead they were all intimidated by the machine.  Every day, they were told, “This is a million dollar machine, don’t break it.”  This created so much pressure to not mess up that it slowed down their work.

It caused me to change my approach to the course.  Most of the course focused on the machine and less on the details of the job.  They learned a lot more about the parts of the machine and how it worked.  We spend the entire first week doing preventive maintenance.  By the time they actually started doing real work, they were very comfortable working on the machine.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog: courses need to be matched with real world experiences

Initially, the client scoffed when we pitched our ideas.  They wanted us to focus more on the job tasks.  However, the results were that within the first two weeks, almost all of the new hires were performing at the desired level.  

I would never have known to focus less on the job and more on the machine’s intimidation had I not spent time with the learners and better understood their world and the pressures they face.

That event was one of my best learning experiences.  It reinforced the need to meet with learners and understand their world.  It also opened my eyes to think beyond the obvious.  A big pitfall is that we tend to rest in the familiar. Without the time on the floor, I would have built a functional course, but missed the opportunity to make real improvements on their performance.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog: Avoid these pitfalls

Here are some other pitfalls we can avoid if we spend some time with our learners.  

  • Screen after screen of information irrelevant to the learner’s needs.  This is the biggest problem with elearning.  We have a tendency to present information rather than have the learner process it.  A more engaging approach is to drop them into real-world situations where they have to make decisions that require the use of the course’s information.  You won’t know what the best use cases are if you don’t spend time with your learners.  They’ll give you insight in how they use the information.
  • Rely too much on your own intuition or experiences and end up building courses that don’t fit the learner’s needs.  This is especially common if you’re the subject matter expert.  Sometimes we lose sight of how much we know and the experience required to get there.  Hook up with new or recent learners to get a better feel for the course design. 
  • Create a big course and all they need is a cheat sheet.  I’ve worked on a project that took months to complete.  By the time we rolled it out, the employees had already created simple cheat sheets and they were off to the races.  They didn’t need what we built.  Keep it simple and give them what they need when they need it. 
  • Elearning doesn’t replace the need for legitimate performance support.  One of the biggest disconnects with elearning is that we tend to use it to replace the time a person needs to learn from others in a social context.  Sometime people don’t need training.  Instead they just need to be connected to others.  
  • Our learners have needs we’re not aware of.  This could mean that the learners have technological limitations, physical disabilities, or a work environment that’s not conducive to taking elearning courses.  Trust me on this one.  There’s nothing worse than rolling out a big elearning project and finding out that none of the computers have sound cards.
  • Miscalculate the motivations of the learner.  While we enjoy the elearning courses we produce, odds are that the learners are not quite as enthused.  Find ways to tap into the learner’s motivation.  A good starting point is to focus on performance and helping them to do something better.

To know your learners doesn’t mean that you have to canvas the floor with people in clipboards and lab coats.  At the very least, spend a few minutes talking to the people who will take the course.  If you can, talk to recent learners to get a sense of what worked for them and what insights they have to improve the process.

By getting you know your learners, you’ll avoid many pitfalls and build better courses.  Poorly designed training wastes time and potentially disrupts the work environment because it’s not really addressing the performance issues that typically instigate the training in the first place.

What pitfalls do you recommend that we avoid?  Share your ideas by clicking adding them to 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.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog: record audio

Your rapid elearning software makes it easy to record your narration.  Most of the time that works for you.  However, there are times when recording your own narration doesn’t make sense.  Today we’re going to look at when it makes sense to consider professional narration for some of your elearning courses.

A Good Voice Doesn’t Equal Good Results

“Why pay for professional narration?  Joe and Samantha have good voices.  Let’s get them to do it.”  On the surface, this sounds like a good plan.  But that might not be the case.

  • Joe and Samantha have good voices but they aren’t professional narrators.  It takes more than just a good speaking voice to get the inflections and tone right.  Because of this, using Joe and Samantha requires a lot more time and retakes to get it right. 
  • Your recording equipment consists of a headset microphone and a less-than-state-of-the-art laptop.  And your “recording studio” is a spare conference room.  There’s a lot of ambient office noise and a really loud air conditioner. 
  • Since you’re probably not an audio expert, you are less efficient when you record.  You can’t monitor the audio while you’re recording, so you only record a portion at a time.  Stop.  Listen to it.  Re-record.  Stop.  Listen to it.  Re-record.  And so forth.
  • You publish your course and send it out for review.  Despite mentioning the limitations of using in-house talent, you find that your client is not pleased with the quality of the audio.  It turns out that Joe suffers from the “popping P’s” and Samantha the snake hisses with her S’s.  On top of that, the air conditioner added a distracting hum throughout the entire audio track.  Your choice is to re-record or spend a lot of time trying to “edit it out.”

These are typical issues when recording your own narration.  Using in-house talent will usually cost you more time and produce lower quality.  For some projects, that’s OK and you can live with the results.  However, it’s not always the best course of action.

Here’s How Much Your Narration Costs

Sometimes your hands are tied and you have to work with what you have.  While your client or manager might think they’re saving money, the fact is that they probably don’t know for sure.  Many places don’t do a good job tracking the real costs of projects.  If you don’t know what you’re spending, how do you know if you’re saving money?

Rapid elearning development has a 33:1 ratio in development time.  For every finished hour, you’re probably spending about 33 hours of work in labor.  I’m just going to keep it simple and say that it takes you a week to do a project.  That’s 40 hours.  At $100* per hour, the company is spending about $4000 per project.  That’s just for your labor.

Now let’s look at the recording session.  Let’s say you get all of the recording done in two hours (a very low estimate).  It’s just you and your voiceover talent.  While you have two hours of recording time, you also have to factor in the time to prepare and some incidental time.  It’s not like you just stop your work and teleport to the conference room and then teleport right back.

We’ll say that the two hours of recording also includes an extra hour of prep time.  So, two people at three hours equals six hours of labor.  At $100 per hour, you’re looking at $600 just to do the recording.  This doesn’t include the lost productivity of using in-house talent.

Because you’re doing the recording yourself, you’ll have increased edit and review time.  If you run some quick estimates, I’m sure that you’ll find that you’re easily spending over $1000 for your free narration.   And you’re still making compromises on the quality.

How Do These Numbers Compare to Hiring a Pro?

It used to cost a lot more to get professional narration.  That’s no longer the case.  Today you can use a number of online services to post projects, screen the talent, and hire just the person you need.  And you can do so at a great cost.

In fact, most of the projects I’ve done recently have come in well under $500.  I found that not only am I getting good narration, I’ve eliminated a lot of labor because I don’t have to edit a bunch of audio files.

Most of the sites have a very simple and straightforward process.  You submit a project, set a budget, and request an audition.  I’ve had a lot of luck finding good vocal talent at very reasonable costs.  And the turnaround is very quick.

You can set a budget limit to make sure you don’t spend more than you can afford.  You’d be surprised.  I’ve submitted some projects that had a very low budget, but it seems there’s always someone willing to do the work.  Not only do I control my costs, most of the time I get the audio back within a day or two.

Of course the cost of your narration depends on how long it is and what you want.  I have submitted large projects and small projects.  Most of the smaller ones have been well below $500.  However, some of them have been much more.  Submit a script, give them your budget, and then see what happens.

When Do You Go with a Pro?

The main consideration is your project scope.  If it’s a short course with a limited audience (and the narration quality is not an issue), then it makes sense to keep it in-house.  Why spend money you don’t need to?  However, if it’s a course intended for a larger audience, then it makes sense to consider using professional narration.

If it’s a course that is going to reach your customers or go outside of the organization, I recommend getting the best narration you can afford.  An exception is if the narrator is a personality or authority that the audience expects to be part of the course.

Another benefit to working with a professional service is that it forces you to be more disciplined with your script.  You won’t have the luxury of doing multiple retakes because it will cost more.  And speaking of retakes, if you find you want to do audio edits down the road, having the pro audio makes it easier to seamlessly blend different recording sessions because the audio levels and quality is controlled.

Once you do a few projects, you’ll develop relationships with some regulars.  Because we know each other (and they know I will pay), I find that I get the projects faster and a little less expensive.  I can shoot off a quick email and get a bid in no time at all.  I trust them and know that I’ll get a quality product.  That saves me a lot of time.

It’s true that professional narration isn’t an option for everyone. Plus, some of you are quite capable and able to handle the audio recording yourselves.  However, I think you’d be surprised when you look at your real costs and compare it to what you can get with some of today’s services.  You might find that professional narration isn’t as expensive as you originally thought.  On top of that, you end up with a much higher quality product which probably lends itself to a better learning experience.

What do you think?  Do you agree?  Disagree?  Feel free to share your thoughts by clicking on the comments link.


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.