The Rapid Elearning Blog

Archive for October, 2010

Rapid E-Learning Blog - custom colors for PowerPoint

A favorite feature added to PowerPoint 2007 is the design theme. This lets you quickly modify your slides by changing templates, color schemes, and fonts.  It opens the doors to thousands of quick customizations.

Today, I’d like to share a free PowerPoint add-in that lets you expand your color scheme options.  It’s built by Shyam Pillai, the same guy who gave away the free animation add-in I featured in the blog post, PowerPoint Animations Made Easy with This Free Tool.

Quick Look at Color Schemes

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - PowerPoint's custom color themes

Starting in PowerPoint 2007, you get a bunch of built-in color themes.  These are handy because with one click you can change multiple colors in your slides.  In fact, I usually build my PowerPoint templates with the color themes in mind.  I start with the default color scheme and then when I want, I can quickly apply a custom theme.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - create custom color

How to Get More Power Out of the Custom Color Schemes

One of the challenges with the custom color themes is that you’re limited to twelve colors.  But what if you have a color scheme that requires more than twelve?  Well that’s where this free PowerPoint add-in comes in handy.

PowerPoint MVP Shyam Pillai shares a simple add-in that lets you create your own custom color schemes.  Basically, here’s how it works.  I also included a tutorial below if you want to see it in action.

First, you create a swatch of colors based on the current color scheme.  This produces a slide that contains all of the colors assigned to the current themes.  It even gives you the RGB values.  By itself this is a handy tool because you could print it out and save as a reference document.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - add custom colors to the tiles

The power of this add-in lies in the blank objects.  You’ll notice that there are twelve additional swatches.  This is where you can add your additional colors.  Add your colors to the shapes; give them titles; and then click on the “Apply Swatch to Color Theme” button.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - up to 12 custom colors

The color theme gets updated and the extra twelve colors are assigned to the custom color palette.  This is a great way to add your organization’s brand to the color scheme, as well as any other colors that you may be able to use for accents or miscellaneous shapes.

This color theme add-in makes working with your themes easy.  First, updating all of your colors with a single click is simple.  And then being able to add a host of additional colors is a plus.

Here’s a quick tutorial on how to use the color scheme add-in.

Click here to view the color scheme tutorial.

I can see where this would be useful for custom color schemes around corporate branding.  All you do is create a single color scheme that’s built into the template taking all of the guess work out of the process.  Being able to add additional colors is nice because you can include accents to augment elements of the organization’s branded colors.

How would you use this is add-in?  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.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - free PowerPoint template based on the site

I like syncing services like Dropbox because I can keep my files synced across multiple computers.  And, if you’re an elearning developer or freelancers, Dropbox makes sharing files with your customers super easy.  In fact, the community team here at Articulate uses it for all of our collaboration and file sharing. 

One of the challenges with Dropbox is that it requires the other person to download and install the Dropbox application.  Quite a few organizations don’t allow the installation of outside applications.  Plus, many people are blocked from accessing the Dropbox site because it’s a file sharing site.

Airdropper: A Simple Way to Request Files

This is where Airdropper comes in.  It’s a service that lets you create a way for people to upload and send files to your Dropbox without requiring that they actually sign up or download any Dropbox applications.  Essentially, you share a folder with Airdropper and they send the files to you via that folder. 

Here’s a quick screencast tour of how it works.  If you’re a Dropbox user, you’ll find the service valuable. Personally, I find it to be a great service that complements what I do with Dropbox.

Click here to view the Airdropper tour.

Free PowerPoint Template

Not only do I like the Airdopper service, I really like their website.  It’s got a clean interface that could easily be adapted to an elearning course.  So I used the site to inspire a new free PowerPoint template.

Here’s a demo of the Airdropper-inspired template in action.  And you can read some tips below on doing something similar.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - demo of the free PowerPoint template as an elearning course

Click here to view the demo.

  • Use PowerPoint to build your graphics.  When I create templates like this, I like to separate the graphics development from the PowerPoint file.  In this case, I built all of the objects in PowerPoint and then saved them as images.  Then I imported the images into the slides.  This makes it easier to work with the files and speeds up the publishing time.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - save your PowerPoint objects as .png files

  • Store PowerPoint graphics on the master slide. In a previous post, I shared how you can use the master slide as a repository.  In this template, I placed all of the envelope shapes I created in PowerPoint on a few master slides.  They don’t interfere with the course, but if you want to make edits to the originals, they’re always available to you.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - save images on your PowerPoint slide master

  • Improve your PowerPoint skills.  As always, I encourage you to do these types of templates.  They’ll help you come up with some elearning course templates.  In addition, you’ll become more proficient using PowerPoint and your rapid elearning tools.  You’ll also become more comfortable in your graphic design skills.

Here’s a screencast that gives a quick tour of the template and some ideas on how to create animated pages that move in and out of the envelope.

Click here to view the template tour.

I hope you enjoy the template.  Feel free to use it as you wish for your elearning projects.  You can download the free PowerPoint template here


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 - not enough branding

Are your elearning courses starting to look like they belong to NASCAR?  Are they plastered with all sorts of slogan, logos, and other corporate branding?  If so, you’re not alone.

One of the biggest complaints I hear is that of branded elearning templates.  Your client or organization wants them; but the templates can really make your courses look kind of junky.

E-learning templates and corporate branding is one of those issues where you can go round and round and never really end at a place where everyone’s happy.  I wrote a little bit about this a while back when I discussed how to change your presentation template to an elearning template.

Personally, I think the branded templates are mostly pointless.  But my personal feelings don’t pay the bills.  So when working with clients, I do my best to convince them.  But at the end of the day, I do what they want, branded template or not.

So today, I want to offer a few ideas that I’ve shared with clients in the past.  Perhaps they’ll help you on your next course.

The Case for Branded E-Learning Templates

Let’s take a quick look at why we have branded templates.  This isn’t an exhaustive overview, but it covers the most common issues.

  • There are a lot of bad looking elearning courses out there.  So it only makes sense that the organization demands the uniformity that a branded look can bring.  Unfortunately, many of the bad courses have the branded template as one reason they look bad.
  • PowerPoint authored elearning isn’t separated from PowerPoint presentations.  While you’re using the same tool, authoring an elearning course in PowerPoint is different than using it to build presentations.  Yet, many people don’t see a difference.  For many customers anything created in PowerPoint has to look the same.
  • People mimic what they see.  Many elearning courses are plastered with corporate brands.  So when a client wants to have a course built, they lean on what they know and have seen.  The expectation is that courses have to be branded and to request anything different is heresy.  Besides, who’s going to know where they work if the company logo is missing from the elearning course?

Whatever the reason for the branding requirements, they tend to be entrenched.  Changing the mindset when it comes to branding issues is a challenge.  However, here are some tips that may help.

Make Sure Your Courses Look Great

A lot of the branding issue is about quality and consistency.  If you want to challenge the branding mindset you have to show that your courses stand out as what’s good and not representative of why the issue exists in the first place.  If your courses look like crap, odds are that no one will listen to you.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - crappy is still crappy, brand or not

Create Alternatives to the Branded Course

Because people are stuck in a certain mindset you have to show them alternatives.  Visual models work better than a bunch of talk.  Have a few treatments prepared.  The first is the branded look that is typical of many elearning courses.  Then create a non-branded look so you can show them the difference and explain why it matters.  I’ve found this approach to be quite successful.

Don’t Tell Them You’re Using PowerPoint

I rarely ran into the branding issue when I worked in Flash.  But when I did work in PowerPoint, branding was almost always an issue.  The secret is to not tell them that you are working in PowerPoint.  All they need to know is that you are going to deliver an elearning course.  They don’t always need to know how you’re authoring it.

If you ask for PowerPoint files from them, never use the original to publish.  Create a very different look.  A good tip is to just ignore the branding on the PowerPoint file.  Wait for them to bring it up and then deflect them using one of the tips below.

Don’t Waste Prime Real Estate

The slide area is prime real estate.  Don’t waste it on a logo or a big design element that essentially steals all of your space.  You don’t want the branding elements to compete with the elearning content.  Treat the slide as elearning content only.  All other branding goes outside on the player.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - branded templates take too much real estate

Minimize Branding on the PowerPoint Master

Sometimes you’re stuck using a branded PowerPoint file.  In those cases try to work with the client to create a PowerPoint “elearning” template.  Talk to them about maximizing screen space and making the branding less intrusive.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - use minimal branding if you have to

Instead of Graphics Use Colors for the Brand

Most organizations that talk about branding requirements will typically have an approved color scheme.  Instead of creating a literal brand where you have logos and catch phrases plastered all over the place, use the brand’s color scheme.

That’s what we did with the Christian Aid course which you can learn more about here.  We used their web color schemes and some design elements to create a template that looked like it was part of the brand, but wasn’t littered with brand pollution.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - make the color scheme and desing elements part of the brand

Brand the Player Template

Keep the slide area free of distracting clutter by moving all of the branded elements to the player.  There are many ways to do this.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - brand the player template

  • Colorize the template to match the organization’s color scheme.
  • Add the logos and taglines in the logo area.
  • Add your branding to the html page outside of the course and player.  Look at the way it was done on this course about diabetes.  They also used the tip below for the intro screen.

Create a Single Slide Introduction

Treat the branding like you would a movie introduction.  Start with a single slide that says something like “this training brought to you by XYZ.”  Keep in
mind that if the learners can’t remember where they work and need all of the branded reminders, you may have more than a training problem on your hands.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - single screen branding ideas

Click here to view the branding demo.

In the demo above I offer three ways you can create a single-slide brand.  The key thing is that you can add branded elements to the intro screen and then get rid of them on the rest of the screens.  This keeps the screen space free of all of the clutter that the branding creates, but lets you appease those customers who want some branding.

Create an E-Learning Style Guide

Be proactive.  Don’t let others tell you how to do your job.  Create an elearning style guide and determine how you will brand the courses. When someone wants to include the branding and it looks like crap, tell them you can’t do it because of the style guide.

Think about it this way, when you want to use the company logo, there’s some marketing and PR group that has a style guide on use of the logo.  Did they call and ask for your input?  Probably not.  Instead, they used their professional expertise to determine what is appropriate and what isn’t.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - create an elearning style guide

You should do the same.  Use your professional expertise to create the organization’s elearning style guide.  It’ll save you lots of headaches and any time you don’t want to do something, just write a prohibition into the guide.  [By the way, that’s a joke for those who are about to email me and complain.]

My only warning about the style guide is make sure you don’t become what you hate about the branding police.

There are a lot of ways to deal with the branding issue and the branding fascists in your organization.  You could try the Aldo Raine method, but the tips above are a little less controversial…and probably more practical.  How do you deal with the branding issue in your courses?


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 - questions from blog readers

When I’m on the road, I try to squeeze in some informal Articulate jam sessions to answer quick questions or offer a tip or two.

For example, I’m going to be in Baton Rouge next week.  I’m doing a session for the local ASTD.  And the next day, I’m hanging around for an informal Articulate jam session where I’m available to answer questions.  So if you’re interested, let me know.  Space is limited so it’s first come, first serve.

Many of these jam sessions produce interesting discussions with some tips and tricks that don’t require a full blog post.  So today, I’m going to share a few of them from a recent meeting.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - keep losing my elearning files

This was an interesting question.  In this case the person didn’t lose files.  Instead he was moving things around and broke the connections.  It’s something that happens because some people have this habit of moving and deleting files.

I had a customer once delete all of her files because she was “cleaning up the folders.”  I showed her how to get them back by going to the recycle bin, but she had already emptied it.  She said, “It was getting full.”

If you’re one of those people, here’s a tip: Don’t mess with your files; especially once the course is published.  If the course’s player is looking for a file and it’s missing, your course won’t work.

To keep things organized, create a consistent process by which you manage your folders and elearning assets.  I start with the same default folder and this way all of my projects are structured the same way.  I wrote a post on how to organize and manage your project files.  That may help.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - the big image files make my computer slow

Working with multimedia applications can tax your computer.  This is especially true when you have a bunch of large images on your PowerPoint slides.  You’ll find that things kind of bog down.  This happens to me when I’m working with high resolution stock images.

Here’s a simple solution, you can compress your images in PowerPoint.  So if you have high resolution images that are hard to work with, use PowerPoint’s compression feature to make them smaller.

Another option is to start with placeholder images.  Instead of using the high resolution images during production, use low resolution versions to begin.  When everything is set, swap them out for the higher resolution images.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - how can I resize my images

Batch editing images is not that difficult.  In fact, many of the image editing applications have this type of feature.  If you don’t have one, you can always download Image Tuner.  It’s free and makes resizing and converting your images super easy.  Here’s a quick screencast to show you how it works.

Click here to view the screencast.

Here’s a bonus tip tied to the previous question.  Do a batch edit on the entire image folder.  Use the smaller resolution images for production.  Then when you’re ready to publish, swap the low for high.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - what size stock images should I buy?

That’s a good question and really depends on your project.  I find that when I go to a place like istockphotos, I can select images that run anywhere from $1 to $30 or more.  For the most part, I choose the $1-3 images.  You don’t really need the highest resolution for your elearning courses.

While I’m on the subject, when I am at computer stores or places like Half-Price Books, I’ll look in the discount bins.  Sometimes you can find disks with fonts, clip art or photos for just a few dollars.  It’s a worthwhile purchase if you can find them.  I’ve also found nuggets in old graphics applications.  They usually come with some fonts and images.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - here's a PowerPoint tip

Not sure if I shared this before or not, but it’s something I shared in a recent conversation.

It’s always easy to remember what you’re doing when the elearning project is current.  But revisit the project six months later and it can be a challenge to recall the little tweaks you made here or there.  Because of this, it’s a good idea to keep a few notes with your projects.

Below are a few tips and a quick tutorial.

 Click here to view the tutorial.

  • Slide Notes. The most obvious place to add notes is in the slide notes area of the slide.  But of course many people use this area for their course transcript.  In that case, slide notes doesn’t work.
  • Use comments on the slide.  It’s an easy way to make notes.  And they don’t show up when you publish with the rapid elearning tools.
  • Add off-slide content.  Create a text box with notes or a
    dd extra images to the slide.  What you don’t need move off screen.  They don’t show up when you publish, but they’re always available in the PowerPoint file.
  • Hide the notes and extra stuff.  Starting with PowerPoint 2007, you can hide and unhide screen objects via the selection pane.  What you have hidden won’t be published.  You can also hide slides, too.  But I don’t do that very often because sometimes it can introduce issues when converted to Flash.
  • Move your junk to the trunk.  Create a slide in your slide masters to just hold notes and extra stuff.  This way they’re not part of the course at all, but available to you in the master slides if you ever need them.  It’s a great place to hold all of those extras, even slides not used.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - what's the difference between a ppt and pptx file

Without getting into a bunch of wonky detail, the new .PPTX format in PowerPoint started with 2007.  PowerPoint uses an XML-based file format, thus the X at the end of the extension.

If you want to open PPTX files, you can use the links below:

You can save PowerPoint 2007+ files to .PPT format so people can open them in older versions of PowerPoint.  But it is possible that you can run into problems with your PowerPoint files if you’re going back and forth between versions.  Just something to keep in mind when building rapid elearning courses.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - free PowerPoint template

I created the graphics in PowerPoint using some clipart.  The heads come from Style 109 and the rectangular box is from Style 802.  Below is a link to the PowerPoint file with the images in them.  They’d probably make great call outs or talking point boxes on your slides.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - free PowerPoint call outs

Download the .ppt file here.


The Rapid E-Learning Blog - any bonus tips

Ok, so here’s a bonus tip based on two of the tips above.

It would be great to have an easy way to get the images used in a PowerPoint file without opening it and looking through the slides.  Here’s one way to do that.

  • First, it only works in PowerPoint 2007+ with the .PPTX file extension.
  • The .PPTX file is a zipped file.  So you can unzip it with a free product like 7zip.  I’ve even played around with changing the extension from .PPTX to .ZIP.  Then you can right click and select “extract all” to unzip it.
  • Once the file is unzipped, all of the images are available to you in the ppt/media folder.
  • You’ll notice that the name of each image is generic.  Use Image Tuner (which I described above) to rename the files to match the project name.  Then you have all of the images from your course in a single folder with a common naming structure.

This is an easy way to create a collection of just the images from your PowerPoint files.  This way you don’t need to open the PowerPoint file to find them.  Here’s a quick demo of how to do what I described above.

Click here to view the demo.

If you have any additional questions that you’d like answered in the blog, feel free to contact me.  I also recommend jumping into the user forums.  Some of the best tips and tricks come from people like you who are doing real work and have figured out how to make it all happen.

What tips would you share with your rapid elearning peers?  Add them 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.