The Rapid Elearning Blog

Archive for May, 2011


The Rapid E-Learning Blog - free PowerPoint template

I’ve been traveling a lot lately, which means lots of extra time sitting in airports.  I like to take that time to doodle and play around with ideas.  Here’s one I got while messing around with my iPad.

In case you’re not familiar with the iPad, it works like most smart phones.  The bulk of the screen contains icons that when clicked open various applications.  At the bottom of the screen is a row of favorite applications.  These are present regardless of what page you’re on as you swipe through the applications.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - ipad overview

As I was playing with the iPad, two ideas came to me.  The first is this would make a good elearning template.  Instead of your normal click next navigation, you use icons to link to the slides in the course.

The second idea is less about elearning and more about mobile learning.  Since many people are used to clicking applications on their mobile device screens, create a template that looks like a mobile device screen.  What I’d do is treat each screen the same as a slide and then use clickable icons to reveal the course’s information.

For example, instead of a screen with eight bullet points, I’d have a screen with eight icons.  Each icon would have a label and when clicked would display additional information.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - iPad inspiration

Screen Design Ideas

Here are a few ideas to think about if implementing this type of template:

  • Each slide is a distinct screen.  It might work to have a different background per screen to create some distinction between the screens.
  • Replace bullet points with icons.  The trick here is to pick icons that visually represent the essential idea of the information.  You also get a title for the faux app.  The title needs to be short and convey the essential point.
  • Bottom row icons could be your sections.  Use the bottom row icons to navigate to specific sections.  It’s also a good place to include links to a help screen.

Free PowerPoint Template

Following is a quick mockup of an iPad-inspired PowerPoint template.  You can download the template here

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - iPad inspired PowerPoint template

Click here to view the demo.

If you’re looking for icons, there are plenty to be found at the Microsoft Office site.  For the demo, I used Style 1307.  But you can find all sorts of usable icons by doing a search for “icons.”

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - style 1307 for icons

You can also find some at sites like Iconfinder.  Be sure to check the license agreement.  Free isn’t always free.  When in doubt, contact the person who created the icon.  It’s also easy enough to create your own icons in PowerPoint by filling shapes with images of your choice.

Upcoming E-Learning Events

  • October 6: Amsterdam. 10 Production Tips from the E-Learning Challenges by David Anderson. Register here.
  • October 21: Sydney. 3-Hour Articulate Virtual Event: 10 Production Tips from the E-Learning Challenges, Creating Engaging Software Training in Rise 360, and more. Register here.
  • October 29: ATD Nashville. Here's Why You Need an E-Learning Portfolio.

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 - simple steps to get started with elearning

To a novice even simple things seem complex.  And when things appear complex, we can become frustrated or feel like we don’t have the skills to accomplish what it is we want to do.

I recall years ago when I was learning video production.  I felt like my skills were inadequate (which they were).  So my instructor told me to record some television commercials and then break them down into pieces to see how they were built.  He said that this would help me focus less on the glossiness of the commercials and more on their construction.  So I recorded commercials and then built a storyboard around the different scenes in them.  I made notes of the scenes, where the edits were, and what might have motivated the edits. 

This exercise was one of the best learning experiences for me.  It slowed things down and helped me shift my focus away from the slickness of the commercials (which made my lack of skill more apparent) and move it towards the production process.

For new elearning developers, I recommend a similar process.  Find elearning courses you like and then break them down into chunks so it’s easier to understand how the courses were created.  This will help you understand some of the techniques used to transition the content and move a learner through the course.  But more importantly, it will give you a sense of what’s common about elearning courses and help you think through and plan for those things in your own course development.

Take a book, for example.  While every book is different, the structure of every book is similar.  There’s a cover, table of contents, chapters, an index, and perhaps an author bio.  The same can be said for elearning.  Different content, similar structure.

The Basics

In a very simple sense an elearning course is about creating an environment where a person goes from a point of not knowing to knowing.  They’re at point A today and tomorrow they need to be at point B.  The course is about helping them get from A to B.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog -  basic course structure

Common Course Chunks

While each course has different content, they all generally have a similar structure.  Once you begin to recognize that, the development process won’t seem as complex.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - course content areas

Here are what I see as common “chunks” that make up an elearning course.

  • Welcome: some sort of title screen that welcomes the learner
  • Instructions: review of the interface and how to navigate the course
  • Introduction: information about the course and its purpose
  • Objectives: learning objectives and reason for taking the course
  • Section screens: this is the area that holds the core content.  Each section can have its own welcome, instructions, content, assessment, and summary
  • Assessment: process to review overall understanding
  • Summary: summary of course objectives
  • Resources: additional content and resources that augment the course and support ongoing learning
  • Exit: next steps and see you later alligator

Obviously theses chunks are generic with the option to reorder or not use all (or any) of them.  But in a simple sense they make up the basic structure of an elearning course. 

If you want, you can flesh out the chunks a bit more.  Perhaps there’s room to add an interactive or performance-based chunk so that each content area is linked to a tangible performance measure.

Course Chunk Templates

Identifying these core chunks helps you develop a production plan that can keep you on track, especially when you’re new to all of this.  One thing you can do is build some “starter kits” so that when you start a project you have a way to focus on each major area. 

If you’re just getting started, create a PowerPoint template with a slide for each area.  You can add some production notes on each slide to help guide the process.  This is especially helpful if you’re trying to get your subject matter experts to help organize the course content.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - course template ideas

If you want to be more structured, build some core content slides as well.  It’s not too complicated.  There are really only so many things you can do with a screen.  Why not pre-build as much of that as possible?  You may not need everything for every project, but the more you can pre-determine, the more time you’ll save.

Another way to use these chunks is when you’re developing your project plan.  This helps you create a line item for each core area.  Then you know you won’t overlook some of this in your planning and course development.

In summary, the key to getting started and not feeling overwhelmed in the process is to break things down to smaller pieces so that you have to digest less and can get a better sense of how it all works together.

Are there other chunks you’d add to the list?  Are there things you’d take out?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments link.

Upcoming E-Learning Events

  • October 6: Amsterdam. 10 Production Tips from the E-Learning Challenges by David Anderson. Register here.
  • October 21: Sydney. 3-Hour Articulate Virtual Event: 10 Production Tips from the E-Learning Challenges, Creating Engaging Software Training in Rise 360, and more. Register here.
  • October 29: ATD Nashville. Here's Why You Need an E-Learning Portfolio.

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 - where's the next button

A question I’m asked quite often is whether or not to offer instructions on course navigation.  It’s a good question because while many courses do have instructions, sometimes they just don’t seem necessary.

I addressed this in a previous post where I asked if you need instructions on how to use an elearning course.  In today’s post we’ll take a look at some real examples of how people have dealt with the course instructions.

Examples of E-Learning Course Instructions

When I was reviewing the recent Articulate guru submissions I was struck at the many different ways that people introduced their courses and how they offered navigation tips.  Sometimes the best way to know what’s right for your course is to look at how others approach this. Perhaps these examples will prompt some ideas for your next course.

The Interface Tour

This is probably one of the more common approaches to course navigation. In this case, they used a screen capture of the course and annotations to highlight the main components of the player. This type of approach works well for those who aren’t familiar with elearning courses.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - a demo of elearning navigation using a standard approach

Click here to view the demo.

One potential issue with this approach is that a detailed overview of the navigation bogs the course down from the start.  This is a shame because the course has some engaging elements.  Of course this is easily remedied if the screen can be advanced by the user and not locked until it’s complete.  If a new user needs the information, they get it.  However if they don’t need it, they can just click to advance.

Some client demand this type of introduction to the course.  My advice is to defer to the person with the checkbook.

No Instructions Please 

This is my preferred approach for a course that uses a conventional interface like those that come with the rapid elearning players.  The players are simple and follow normal conventions.

In this first example the page doesn’t advance until the user clicks the blinking play button. During pilot testing, if you notice that the person hasn’t figured out how to advance the course by clicking on the button, make a note for that person’s personal record and then forward to HR for appropriate disciplinary action.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - a demo of elearning navigation

Click here to view the demo.

In this second example, they use a custom player rather than the one that comes with the software.  The buttons are easy enough to understand so no need to explain what they do.  Besides, if you’re not sure, just click to see what happens.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - a demo of elearning navigation

Click here to view the demo.

Just Tell Them to “Get Started” 

In the following two examples, there are no real instructions on navigation because the courses mostly auto advance.  What they do that’s a little different than the examples above is that they offer a “get started” instruction.

In addition, the second example below introduces some icons that they use as links to specific sections throughout the course.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - a demo of elearning navigation

Click to view the demo.

 

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - a demo of elearning navigation

Click to view the demo.

Keeping with the getting started theme, the course below offers a choice of two sections and from there you just jump into the course content.  What’s a bit different than the previous examples is that they offer a player navigation link at the top of the player.  This is a good way to offer additional help but not include it in the course flow.  Because the label is clear, it’s easy to find help on player navigation if needed.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - a demo of elearning navigation

Click here to view the demo.

Keep the Instructions Simple 

It’s not always a good idea to offer no instructions at all.  You never know who’s viewing the courses and it’s hard to assume how comfortable they are navigating them.  An easy workaround is to offer some simple instructions so they know what to do without being burdened by a five minute pre-course elearning course.

Outside of doing nothing, the example below is about as simple as you can get.  There’s just some text that says to click next.  After the first time, you kind of get what that button with the little arrow does.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - a demo of elearning navigation

Click here to view the demo.

Another way to keep it simple is with arrows as in the example below.  If you want to advance you make one choice.  And if you want to learn more, you make a different one.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - a demo of elearning navigation

Click here to view the demo.

The following example starts with a screen that has audio and instructs you to adjust it.  Notice that there are no instructions on where to find the volume control?  As long as it’s easy to find the volume control, that works fine.  If it was buried on the player and hard to locate, you need to tell them where to find it.

Another interesting example in this demo is that the course progressively reveals instructions as they are needed.  You can see this on the third screen with the reference to the “common terms” link.  That’s a great way to provide course instructions but not have to do so at the forefront.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - a demo of elearning navigation

Click here to view the demo.

Novelty Helps

Here they use a video to introduce the navigation.  What I like about this is that the video is a bit different than what we normally see and it makes the course seem much more personal, which is a good touch.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - a demo of elearning navigation

Click here to view the demo.

Unconventional Interfaces 

Most of the examples above use the default elearning player.  Because of that they probably need fewer instructions.  The two examples below follow less conventional players.

In the following demo there are no navigation instructions other than some text telling you to select a client for the interview.  This works because the areas that are clickable are clearly defined.  And while they didn’t use the default player, they did follow some convention with the top menu bar, which makes it easier to locate information and choices.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - a demo of elearning navigation

Click here to view the demo.

One of my favorite guru submissions is the example below.  I like it because it used a game-like approach to show a less conventional use of rapid elearning tools.  However, because it is an unconventional interface, it’s important to offer navigation instructions, which he did.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - a demo of elearning navigation

Click here to view the demo.

How you decide to instruct the user on the course’s navigation can vary.  As you can see from the examples above, there are many ways to approach it.  The main concern is that the navigation process is intuitive and doesn’t interfere with the learning process.  You want people to remember the course and not how frustrating it was to navigate it.

Two final points:

  • If you have to spend a lot of time training people how to use your course, you may want to rethink the interface design.  There really is no reason why a course that uses a simple interface needs a five minute training module.
  • If you do offer navigation instructions, do so upfront.  I see plenty of courses that don’t teach me how to navigate the course until slide 7.  Odds are that if I made it to slide 7 the navigation instructions are kind of pointless.

What are ways that you’ve built navigation instructions in your courses?  Feel free to share your thoughts by clicking on the comments link.

Upcoming E-Learning Events

  • October 6: Amsterdam. 10 Production Tips from the E-Learning Challenges by David Anderson. Register here.
  • October 21: Sydney. 3-Hour Articulate Virtual Event: 10 Production Tips from the E-Learning Challenges, Creating Engaging Software Training in Rise 360, and more. Register here.
  • October 29: ATD Nashville. Here's Why You Need an E-Learning Portfolio.

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 - scrounge like crows to find assets

Rapid elearning design is made up of three core functions: rapid authoring, rapid assets, and rapid instructional design.  One thing common to many rapid elearning developers is that while their organizations will fund the purchase of rapid authoring tools, they do little else to fund the development of the assets required to make the elearning course look good and be effective.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - three parts to rapid elearning

For example, a large part of the course’s construction involves the visual design of the course.  It represents building the right look and feel, something we touched on in this previous post where we reviewed a good visual design activity.  It also means have the right screen elements to place in the course.

In the visual design activity, you learn how to determine what screen elements to use; but you don’t learn how to create those elements.  And this is a big challenge for many elearning developers.  Having the authoring tools is one thing.  having visual design skills is another.  Many people don’t have the skills to develop the screen elements, and they also don’t have the budget to acquire the assets they need.  In those cases, they’re left to fend for themselves.

So in today’s post, we’ll look at a few ways to scrounge for some free resources using the tools you do have.

Take Advantage of the Free Stuff

The most obvious place to start is where you already have access to free assets.  Now that the elearning community is complete, I’ve been moving old demos and templates over to the site. 

Whatever I create for the blog and conference demos, I try to make available for free.  So you’re more than welcome to use those things for you own courses.   Pick through the downloads and feel free to use what you want. 

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - free interactive animation template

On a side note, check out the interactive scenario slides that David just uploaded this week.

These slides are easy to re-use because all you really need to do is swap out the images and text content.  All of the animations should remain intact if you’re using PowerPoint 2007+.

Visit the E-Learning Junk Yard

Years ago, I owned a Triumph Spitfire.  One day someone backed into the car and left me with a smashed up door.  I didn’t have the money to repair it, so I drove to a junk yard and found a working door on an older Spitfire.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - free elearning example downloads

In the same sense, you have access to some elearning examples like in the image above, but you may not need to use everything in them.  But there may be parts of the course you can use, like the menu slides or one of the animation.   Instead of discounting the entire course, download the file and look for a “replacement door” you can use.

Deconstruct Your Free Assets

Let’s be honest, many of the free PowerPoint templates that come with PowerPoint  don’t really work for our courses.  So we tend to ignore them.  But we may be throwing the baby out with the bath water, and possibly missing out on some assets we can use for our courses.

The secret is in breaking apart what you get and pulling out pieces you may be able to use.  So here are a few tutorials that show how to scrounge for usable assets in the available PowerPoint resources.

1. Pull usable pieces out of the grouped clip art

I’ve touched on this a number of times.  Break apart the clip art images and pull out individual components.  Perhaps all you need is the clip art’s background?  Just remove it and save as an image.  Develop an eye for looking past the immediate image.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - pull assets out of your PowerPoint clip art

2. Break apart the free PowerPoint templates & examples.

Not every PowerPoint template works, that’s for sure.  But there may be some things in the free templates that do work.  Why not use them?  Here are a couple of quick tutorials where I walk through how to look for usable pieces in PowerPoint templates.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - look for free assets in free templates

3. Scrounge Through Other Templates & Software 

The images below show two examples of how you can scrounge through your authoring software to look for some design ideas and free elearning assets.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - look for free assets and ideas in your authoring tools

The starburst background in the first image came from an image I found inside a Quizmaker template.  And the scenario slide background is a modified Engage process interaction screen shot. 

Here’s a quick tutorial where I show some ideas on what to look for when pulling out assets from your software application.

Most of us are in the same boat.  We have authoring software that’s easy enough to use.  But an elearning course is more than authoring software.  So when it comes time to design the course with a budget of $1.17, we need to find easy and cost-effective ways to build stuff that looks good.

If you’re working with limited resources, it’s important to be scrappy.  You never know what you’ll find that you can use for your elearning courses. 

What tips do you have for scrounging through resources you may already have?  Share them by clicking on the comments link.

Upcoming E-Learning Events

  • October 6: Amsterdam. 10 Production Tips from the E-Learning Challenges by David Anderson. Register here.
  • October 21: Sydney. 3-Hour Articulate Virtual Event: 10 Production Tips from the E-Learning Challenges, Creating Engaging Software Training in Rise 360, and more. Register here.
  • October 29: ATD Nashville. Here's Why You Need an E-Learning Portfolio.

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 - images from the vault

Years ago when I did video production, it seemed that every one of my customers wanted the final video to be like an MTV music video—fast moving with quick cuts.  They didn’t seem to care much about whether or not that was the right approach; they just knew they wanted it to be like MTV. By the way, this was back when MTV actually showed music videos.

That was challenging enough because not every subject required an MTV-type video.  However, a bigger challenge was when they had those expectations for the product but never shared them with me.  I’d only find out later down the road that the project didn’t turn out the way they had envisioned it.

What’s in Your Client’s Head?

In today’s media-rich world, we’re exposed to all sorts of multimedia which helps inspire ideas for elearning course, but it also can create customer expectations.  This can be a challenge when working with customers because many of them have preconceived ideas of what they want, whether or not it’s appropriate to the course or you have the resources to deliver it.

Also because they’re exposed to so much multimedia, they may have a mental model of what they want, but they’re not quite sure how to explain it.  In those cases, they get more clarity by seeing things they DON’T want versus being able to identify what it is they DO want. Of course this can waste a lot of time if they’re waiting for you to design something before they tell you they don’t like it.

Get Them to Empty Their Cup

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - what's in the client's head

Before you invest too much time in prototyping some mock ups, get them to empty their cups, so to speak.  Have them share as much as possible.  Ask them to show you examples of what courses they like or have seen.  Odds are that if they have a strong idea about what they want to do, then most likely they’ll have examples to pull from.

It’s also important to get a sense of their expectations.  For example, if you’re working with a rapid elearning tool and they’re showing you something that has to be custom programmed in Flash, it’s good to know this before you invest too much time on the project.

Give Them Some Examples

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - show some good examples

Come prepared.  Have some prototypes and treatments ready to share.  After they share what they envision, pull out your demos.

I usually have three basic treatments that range from a nice-looking but simple course to something very interactive.  This lets them see the options and it gives me a way to discuss the time required to build the different types of courses.

Provide a list of diverse elearning examples where they can see different approaches to elearning.  Have them pick out the ones they like and the ones they don’t like and identify how they distinguished them.

It’s also a great way to identify different types of interactivity and approaches you can take with the course.

Brainstorm with Them

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - normal looking people

Build a real-time prototype while your client shares what they like. This is easy enough to do in a tool like PowerPoint.  With it you’re able to create virtually any look and it’s easy to quickly build simple interactions.  As they start to see their ideas come to life, they can offer more clarity about their expectations.

In the E-Learning Heroes community, David put together a simple visual design mind map activity.  It’s a great tool to help come up with the right look and feel for your courses.  It’s also a great tool to collaborate and brainstorm with your clients so that you can clarify their expectations and how they envision things to look.

e-learning visual design map

Click here to view the tutorial.

For example, I’ve had plenty of projects where the client says, “This doesn’t look right,” or “We need more normal looking people.”  These all subjective statements and you can waste a lot of time trying to clarify what “normal” means.

Use the visual design activity above to quickly brainstorm with your client.  In the case of “normal looking” you can make a list of the types of people in the course and then copy and paste images from Google image searches and sites like istockphotos.  It won’t take long to fill a page with the types of people the client considers “normal looking.”

This type of activity doesn’t take up much time.  You’ll have the right images and you’ll also have a better understanding of what the client wants.  A side benefit is that your client will probably be more engaged in the development process.

I know someone who built a prototype course which took some time to do.  When the client saw it, he said that everything was “too American.”  So the developer had to go back and redo much of the prototype.  If she had done a brainstorm activity like the mind map above, she would have saved some time and started the project setting a different tone.

By helping your client clarify the mental model they have for the elearning course, you’ll build the course they desire and you’ll save lots of time during development.

What types of things do you do to get them to share their expectations on the look and feel of the course?

Upcoming E-Learning Events

  • October 6: Amsterdam. 10 Production Tips from the E-Learning Challenges by David Anderson. Register here.
  • October 21: Sydney. 3-Hour Articulate Virtual Event: 10 Production Tips from the E-Learning Challenges, Creating Engaging Software Training in Rise 360, and more. Register here.
  • October 29: ATD Nashville. Here's Why You Need an E-Learning Portfolio.

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.