The Rapid Elearning Blog

Archive for October, 2011

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - experiments at the local elearning lab

PowerPoint’s designed as a presentation tool.  While the application is versatile and great for elearning, many people still struggle to get past the PowerPoint look because the features are designed to encourage the use of the templates.

The key is to learn to see the features from a different perspective.  When you can do this, you get more value out of the application.

They’re Just Tools That Build Multimedia

Vendors design tools with features.  But if you can step away from what the vendor calls the product and how they present the features, you’ll learn to get more value out of the tools.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - tools are good for more than what they're designed

Essentially the tools create multimedia content regardless of how they’re designed.  The key is to understand what the tools can produce and then figure out different ways to use them.  This helps you get more value out of your applications.

For example, with an application like Quizmaker you’re inclined to focus on the quizzing because that’s what it’s designed to do.  So when you want to build a quiz, you use Quizmaker. But when you want to build “regular” elearning, then you use something else.

However, if you step away from the quizzing structure, you’ll find that you can do a lot more than quizzes like interactive branched-scenarios.  PowerPoint has similar versatility which I’ve shown repeatedly on the blog.  I use PowerPoint to edit my graphics, create illustrations, videos, and Flash movies.

The key is to understand the tools and what you get.  And this is where the elearning community comes in handy.  The day-to-day users are the ones who will come up with the different ways to use the tools.  Here are some examples of things I’ve done in the past using the tools in slightly different ways.

Use Your Quiz Application to Build Interactive Scenarios

Quizzing products typically use forms to create the quiz questions.  This is why most quizzes have that boxy quiz look.  However, if you go outside the box and edit the questions in slide view, you can make the quiz look like anything.  Then combine the ability to create a custom look with the quizzing logic and now you have a powerful application that lets you quickly build interactive branched scenarios.

Here are a couple of example scenarios:

This first one I created at a conference where I showed how easy it is to use your quizzing application to build scenarios.  I took some images I had on hand and wrote the script on the fly.  I also did all of the voices (even the woman’s).  So don’t pay attention to the content, just look at how I used the tool to build a mini elearning scenario.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - use Articulate Quizmaker to built interactive, rapid elearning scenarios

Click here to view the new manager scenario.

Jeanette built the demo below.  In this case she walks through the process of coaching an employee.  Same thing as above, she used the quiz’s multimedia and branching features to build an interactive scenario.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - use Articulate Quizmaker to built interactive, rapid elearning scenarios

Click here to view the employee coaching scenario.

Going back to the main point, the quizzing application is designed for quizzes.  But when you change your perspective and think less about the quizzing and more about the features and output as a multimedia tool, then you can produce more than quizzes.  In some ways, you’ll feel like you have a brand new tool.

In both examples above, we used the blank slide feature for most of the content and then added a multiple choice question to do the branching.  To get away from the “boxy quiz look” just open your product’s quiz form and switch to slide view and then you can make it look any way you want.

Use PowerPoint to Build Flash Movies & Illustrations

In a previous post I mentioned that the PowerPoint-to-Flash tools convert your slides to Flash movies.  So any animations, text, and narration you have on the slide becomes part of a Flash movie which you can pull out of the published data folder and use elsewhere.  Let’s look at how this could work.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - create Flash movies when you publish PowerPoint with Articulate Presenter

Engage is really easy to use.  All you have to do is copy and paste your content into a form and hit publish.  The output looks great and people who don’t know how easy it is to use will think you’re a rock star!

A challenge with form-based authoring is that the form creates constraints such as how things are laid out on the screen.  What I desire is the freedom of PowerPoint so that I can create any look I want.  But at the same time I want the easy authoring of a form-based tool like Engage.

The cool thing is that I can get the best of both worlds.  Most form-based tools can import Flash files.  And the PowerPoint-to-Flash tools can create them.  It’s like adding peanut butter to chocolate.  By themselves they’re good, but together they’re fantastic.

So instead of limiting your use of the PowerPoint to just building courses, use them to create Flash files that can be used in other applications.

In the following example, I created two tabs.  The first tab uses the form that comes with the tools and the second consists of a Flash movie created in PowerPoint.  As you can see, using PowerPoint to create content opens the door to animations and custom layouts that you may not get in the form.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - combine Flash movies from PowerPoint with Articulate Engage to create a media-rich experience

Click here to view the PowerPoint for Flash demo.

In the next example I extended my rapid elearning tools in two ways.  In the demo below, I used PowerPoint to create an image template for quick knowledge checks.  Then I output the slide as a .PNG and inserted it into the labeled graphic interaction.

Now instead of using the labels as a me
ans to show off product features (as the tool was intended) I’m able to use the labels as clickable choices to create quick knowledge checks.  And because I built the images in PowerPoint, I can modify them in minutes.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - use PowerPoint to create graphics that you cna use for quick knowledge checks in Articulate Engage

Click here to view the demo.

Connect with Users to Learn These Types of Tricks

Remember, vendors design the applications but it’s the users who come up with ways to use them.  To get the most value out of your tools you’ll need to connect with others who use the same applications.

There are many more tips and tricks like the ones above. The key is learning to think of your tools from a different perspective. Don’t limit yourself to how they’re designed or marketed. Instead, see them as tools that create multimedia output.


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 - how to get an elearning job

I’ve been on the road quite a bit this year.  One of the most frequent questions I get is how to find an e-learning job.  While the rest of the economy seems to be stuck in mud, this seems to be a good time to consider a career in e-learning.  It’s still a relatively new industry and technology is making it easier than ever to get a foothold.

In a previous post I talked a bit on how to prepare for opportunities by getting experience and maintaining a portfolio.

In this post, I’d like to expand that a bit.  I’d also like to mention that these tips work if you’re looking for a new job or if you’re trying to position yourself in your current organization.

You’re competing against others for the same position.

This is true if your opportunities exist inside or outside your organization.  Some people don’t like the notion of competition, but it’s real.  Usually, the person with the most experience and best qualifications gets the job.  While you can’t control the qualifications of others, you can control yours.

You’re not entitled to opportunity; you make it happen.  That means that it’s up to you to get the experience and qualifications you need.  Find out what you need to know and then proactively go out and get the experience so that you can compete for the job you want.

Get experience to build diverse skills.

Years ago, when I realized I wanted to be in the training industry, I did an assessment of my skills and figured out where I was lacking.  Then I looked for ways to build the skills I didn’t have.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - compare your skills to those wanted in job descriptions

Look over job postings that interest you.  Or talk to people in your organization about what you want to do and find out how you can get there.  Make a three-column document.  In one column list the job description and requirements.  In the other, write a sentence that describes your experience.  In the third, document proof of this.

If you don’t have the experience or proof to back it up, go out and get it.  I’d also add that you want diverse experience to show different skills.  There’s a difference between software training using screencasts and soft skills training that may be built around interactive scenarios.

Maintain a portfolio of your skills.

You don’t need a formal portfolio that’s always visible, but you should have a portfolio that documents the work you’ve done and the skills you have.  For some of you, the work you do is confidential.  In those cases, pull out key parts of the course that show off different skills and then remove all content that is proprietary.  Replace it with generic content.

If you can’t show the actual product, do a simple screen grab, and then document what you did.  I like a simple three-pronged approach:

  • Project goals: what was the project about and what did it hope to accomplish
  • What I did: explain what YOU did and why you did it
  • The results: compare goals to results

No one wants to sit through a two-hour demo course and they don’t want to read a ten-page dissertation.  Keep it short, simple, and focused.

Practice, practice, practice.

Unfortunately, many organizations might have you build one hundred courses, but they’ll all be the same course built a hundred times.  In those cases, you don’t get to expand your skills.  You’d be better off building ten courses that are different than a hundred that are all the same.

In those cases, it’s up to you to practice.  Review other e-learning courses or multimedia.  Then try to implement some ideas in little practice modules.  You don’t need to build big courses, just mini modules.  Clean them up a bit and they’ll make a great addition to your portfolio.  Plus, they’ll give you skills to help make those hundred courses a bit different each time.

Connect with people in the industry.

There’s lots of power in the e-learning community of practice.  Most people loiter and lurk.  They collect information but they don’t really connect with others.  That’s fine.  No one expects you to sit on the couch, eating bonbons and surfing the community.

Only a handful in the community is actively engaged.  Engaging in the community is a great way to meet people who can help you build skills.  You can ask questions of experts and share what you’re doing.  Odds are that as positions open, you’ll have an inside advantage (especially if you’ve shared things from your portfolio).

I became an MVP in the Articulate community because I was there helping people.  As an MVP I got all sorts of opportunities for freelance work.  Eventually my role as an MVP created the opportunity to join Articulate full time to do what I’m doing now.

You don’t want to game the system and just pester people about opportunities.  But if you’re inclined to be involved and connected with others then odds are that you’ll develop your skills and find some opportunities.

Become an expert.

You don’t need to be a grizzled veteran of e-learning to be an expert.  In this world of social media expertise is transient.  I’d rather have someone with 5 years of experience share ten practical tips that I can use, than have to read some e-learning expert’s book who shares information I’m not sure how to apply.

Today it’s easier than ever to build your expertise.  Here are a few ways to do so:

  • Help others.  Go to the e-learning community and make it your goal to answer three questions every day.  It’s not a major time commitment.  By the end of the year, you’ll have close to eight hundred posts.  In no time at all, you’ll be seen as an authority and expert.  You may even become an MVP.
  • Document what you’re learning.  Start a blog and use it to show what you’re learning.  Combine that with your portfolio.  Build a simple module and then explain what you did and some of the decisions you made.
  • Create some simple tutorials.  Do some screencast tutorials and show some production techniques.  You may not have years of experience, but your five-minute tutorial is helping somebody with less experience and that makes you an expert to them.

Anything you can do to help others is going to help you improve your skills and build a network of peers.  In addition, all that goodwill will come in handy when you start looking for opportunities.

Be a volunteer or intern.

A wonderful way to gain experience is by volunteering to build some e-learning courses.  There are usually opportunities in your community with NGOs, churches, or other groups where you can practice your skills and help them with their training needs.

Here’s a bonus tip.  A while back I tried to recruit some multimedia interns from a local technical college to help with the community.  None of them saw the value of working with the community and helping build demos.  The funny thing is that eventually I ended up hiring two full time community managers.  That could have been them if they weren’t so short-sighted.

The point is that you never know what opportunities exist.  Don’t be short-sighted.

Get educated and keep learning.

There’s some debate about the value of advanced degrees for e-learning.  Without considering a specific degree, there’s value in an ongoing education.  If you’re not in a formal program, at least continue your learning by following bloggers in the industry and reading books.

With that said when you do look for work, educational background is still one of those filters used by employers.  The person with a degree is usually in a better position than the one without.  So, make that investment if you can.  If not, build a portfolio of really solid skills.

There’s a lot of opportunity in the e-learning industry.  Hopefully, these tips will help you out if you’re trying to break in.  They also work without leaving your current organization.  I know plenty of people who took upon themselves to build some simple training at their business and ended up becoming the training team.

If you’ve been building courses for a while, what tips would you offer to the person who wants to get into the e-learning industry?


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 - 25 more free display graphics

In a previous post, I share 15 free display graphics that are commonly seen in elearning courses.  In today’s post, I’m adding a few more.

The cool thing is that all of these are created in PowerPoint; so you can learn to build your own.  The steps are simple.  They’re generally just rectangles with some sort of fill.  Then right-click on the graphic and save as an image.

Free Chalkboard and Whiteboards

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - free chalkboard and whiteboard graphics

I offered these in a post about a year ago where I showed how to create the display boards and included links to some free fonts that would work well with these displays.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - free chalkboard assets

If you’re going to use the chalkboards, be sure to download the free chalkboard assets to go with them.

Flipchart Display

Here are two versions of the flipchart display.  One has legs the other doesn’t.  The legs take up extra room, so I prefer the version with no legs because it gives you more screen space.  But if you use a full body character, then the legs version makes sense.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - free flip chart graphics

Clipboard Display

The clipboard’s great for checklists or going over a linear flow of information.  Make sure to download the hand-drawn boxes and check marks to go with the clipboard display.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - free clipboard graphic

Personnel Folder

Take the folder that I shared in this post and combine it with the paper from the clipboard above to create a personnel folder for your compliance training.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - free personnel folder graphic

Bonus Displays

One of the things I love about the elearning community is the willingness to share.  Recently, community member Efrat Maor shared a bunch of displays and free PowerPoint templates that she created.  They’re pretty cool.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - free community PowerPoint file

If you want the PowerPoint templates to make modifications to the graphics above, you’ll find them in the PowerPoint templates section here.

Hope you enjoy the free graphics and PowerPoint templates.  Feel free to use them as you wish.  And thanks to Efrat for sharing hers.


  • October 16-19: Las Vegas, NV (CUNA)—Experience Learning Live!  I’ll be presenting on building communities and how to build elearning courses with limited resources.
  • October 25: Houston – Elearning SymposiumDavid Anderson will share a ton of practical rapid elearning tips.
  • November 1: Las Vegas, NV (Elearning Guild)—Devlearn. Doing a pre-conference workshop and presentation at the conference.  Swing by the Articulate booth to say hi and check out some elearning goodness.
  • November 4: San Diego, CA (ASTD)—Your Turn to LearnDavid Anderson will be leading a couple of hands-on Articulate Workshops.  You can also swing by the Articulate booth to check out what’s new.
  • November 12: Los Angeles, CA (ISPI)—Articulate Workshop. Click here for the details.  I believe they have a discount that runs through the end of the month.  On November 11, I’ll be in town for a free Articulate jam session, still working on the details.  I’ll post them to the blog as soon as I get them.
  • November 14: Minneapolis, MN (ASTD)—Articulate Workshop: Build Interactive E-Learning…Rapidly. Click here for updates.
  • December 8: Charlotte, NC (ASTD)—Rapid E-Learning Design.  I’ll also be doing a free Articulate jam session while in town.  Click here for details.


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 - 9 ways to encourage adult elearners

Recently I spent the day at the beach watching people learning to surf.  One of the people learning to surf was a blind girl.  It was very inspiring as she learned to balance on the board.  She probably fell off of the surfboard a few dozen times before she successfully stood and balanced on it.  And when she finally succeeded she let out a cry of joy.

Learning is a funny thing.  It’s not something that can always be neatly packaged.  Real learning isn’t a one-time event (like many elearning courses) where it’s just a matter of getting new information.  Instead it’s an iterative process where you do something, get feedback to evaluate, make adjustments, and do it again.

E-learning courses are an intrusion to the natural learning process.  With good planning, it’s a welcome intrusion because we can compress time and create cost-effective and repeatable learning events.  For example, if I was training operating room techs on setting up an operating room in the real world there’s the cost of pulling a room offline for training, coordinating staff, and maintaining a sterile environment and tools.

But in an elearning course, I have a room and equipment that is always available.  If someone fails or needs more time, they have it.  That’s one of the good things about elearning.  The challenge though is to craft a great learning experience.

Adult Learners Don’t Like to Fail

Going back to the blind surfer, it takes a lot to fall down and continue getting up.  I saw plenty of other surfers give up after a few tries.  Few people like to fail and then do so publicly.  This is especially true of adult learners.

Elearning presents a great opportunity to let people fail (or practice becoming successful) in private and in a safe environment.  Unfortunately a lot of elearning fails to exploit this opportunity with our need to score and track everything.

As learners, our culture conditions us to avoid failure.  Typically our grading systems reward successful test taking more than successful learning.  Because of this, we’re motivated to pass tests and getting good scores and not always focused on the learning process.

Embrace the Learning Process

Here are some things to consider when building elearning courses:

  • Set clear expectations and objectives.  Let them know why they’re taking the course and what they should be learning.  People like to get oriented and know what’s expected of them.
  • Adult learners don’t like to fail, and they don’t like to fail publicly.  Make it clear when they are being tested and when they aren’t.
  • Create an environment where they have as much freedom as possible.  Let them click around and explore.  I know that many customers want to lock navigation so that they “get all of the information.”  This is faulty thinking.  If they need to confirm their grasp of the information, then give them exercises to practice applying it so they can demonstrate their understanding in a real way.
  • Give them ways to collect information.  This is a great way to counter the locked navigation issue.  Create situations where they need to make decisions and then free up the navigation to collect the information needed to make decisions.  This is a much better way to assess understanding than viewing a screen full of text.
  • Focus on relevance.  I’ve worked on plenty of projects where the learners are never considered.  I recall one company I worked for that wouldn’t let me talk to any potential learners, even though we were rolling the training out to 3500 people across the country.  If your content isn’t relevant to the learners, they’ll just tune out and you’re wasting time and money.  You can guarantee that little learning will happen.
  • Create a visual design that is friendly and inviting.  This helps with the initial engagement and sets the tone of the course.  I’ve had customers tell me that they can’t do that because the subject matter was real important and serious.  So they needed to have a very serious tone (read boring).  If it’s important, than it makes sense to create a course that’s as visually inviting as possible.
  • Elearning is a multimedia experience so it makes sense to leverage as much of the multimedia as you can (in context though).  You don’t want to add multimedia for the sake of it, but you do want to use all of your resources to create the best course possible.
  • Free Willy!  People are like orcas with floppy dorsal fins.  They yearn to be free.  One of the worst experiences in elearning is when the course navigation is locked.  There are better ways to help people learn.  Focus on relevant, decision-making scenarios.  And if you’re building a compliance, click-and-read course with no performance expectations, then make the course as simple as possible so that the learners can get in and out.  Don’t frustrate them or waste their time with a bunch of extra branched scenarios.  Tell them what they need to know and let them go.
  • Do you need to test everything?  Every day we take in all sorts of information that is critical to meeting our goals.  When my boss sends an email detailing new plans, he doesn’t follow it up with a quiz.  Assessing a person’s understanding is an important part of learning, but do we need to always have a test?  In many ways it retards the learning process. As soon as people find out they’re being tested, they quit learning and focus on how to pass the test.  If you don’t need a test, don’t include one.  If you do need to assess their understanding, perhaps there’s a better way to do so.

The blind surfer was motivated to learn and willing to risk failure as she kept falling of the surf board.  She might not have been as inclined to do so if she was only allowed two attempts and then notified that she failed.

The main point in all of this is that elearning presents a unique opportunity to compress time and offer repeatable events where people can practice and get feedback.  But we need to craft an environment that encourages learning (which is not the same as exposure to information).

Focus on that part of it and you’ll build good elearning courses.  Focus on controlling the learner and creating points of friction and you’ll squander the opportunities.

What are some things you do in your courses that help the learners feel comfortable and want to learn?  How do you handle the client that asks you to lock navigation so that they can be assured that the person learned by “seeing all of the information?”

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.