The Rapid Elearning Blog

Archive for June, 2013

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - select the right font pairs

Are the fonts you select for your elearning courses equivalent to your older uncle’s leisure suit? Sure, it’s clothing. But is it what you want to be seen in?

In a previous post, we explored how to create a style guide for your online course design. The style guide helps with consistency, but it doesn’t dictate which font styles to select.

In today’s post we’ll review some simple rules when selecting and pairing fonts.

Rule #1: Select contrasting fonts.

As a simple rule of thumb, I look for fonts that contrast by weight or serif with san serif.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - three rules when pairing fonts for online courses

However there are other ways the fonts can contrast such as style or form. Changing size or color is another way to create contrast. When using informal or script-like fonts, those typically work better as heading fonts rather than body text because they’re not as easy to read.

Rule #2: Use the same font family.

Many fonts are part of a font family. And those families tend to have enough diversity and variety to make appropriate parings.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - examples of fonts in the same family

The benefit of the same font family is that they’re designed to work together. If you look through the fonts on your system, odds are that you’ll find a few families already.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - using fonts in the same family for online training

Rule #3: Avoid fonts that look the same.

The last rule is to avoid pairing fonts that look the same or very similar. Fonts have a lot of subtle differences. By selecting contrasting fonts, you can play off of the differences. However, if you select fonts that look too much alike, then you introduce a discordant look.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - avoid fonts that look too similar

Usually people select similar fonts because they want one that’s specifically a certain size, bold, or italicized. If that’s the case, then stick with a single font and use the bold and italics to make it a little different. It’ll look more elegant that way.

Bonus Rule: If You’re Not Sure, Go with What Looks Right

You may not be a trained fontologist but you probably can tell when something looks right or wrong. So go with your gut. Unless you’re the one building the Frankencourses. In that case, go with rule #2.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - create a simple font pairing template for your online courses

To practice pairing fonts, build a simple PowerPoint slide. And then assign different font types to see what they look like. When you find a font pair you like, make note of it so the next time you’ll spend less time trying to match pairs.

Another option is to practice pairing fonts with this typographic dating game.

Use the right font type and your course is refined. Use the wrong one and things won’t look right. Take some time to learn how to pair fonts and then make a list of font pairs so that you’re ready for the next course.


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.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - it's time to break out elearning's curly fonts

I was reviewing an elearning course recently. About twenty screens into the course, I noticed that the developer changed the title font from a solid bold type to one that was curly and much more informal.

There was so much contrast to the two titles that I asked why she changed fonts from bold to curly. She responded that the course seemed a little dull at that point, so she decided to add the curly font to liven it up.

Imagine the elearner almost asleep but then jolted to consciousness with the appearance of the curly font on slide 20. Apparently curly fonts stimulate the adrenal glands and can transform the most mundane elearning courses into ones that rival Jurassic Park for heart-pounding action. They’re our industry’s equivalent to smelling salts.

Intentional Course Design

There’s a lot that goes into building an effective elearning course. One thing you can do to guarantee success is to be intentional about how the course is designed. There’s nothing on the screen that’s there by accident. That goes for the way the course looks as well as how the learner interacts with it. It also goes for the choice of fonts used in the course.

Many course designers tend to work from existing content like PowerPoint slides used for classroom delivery. What tends to happen is the existing content dictates how the course is designed. And because of that there’s not much thought put into things like the choice of font. That means we go from one slide to the next and make decisions on-the-fly rather than based on a plan.

Limit the Course to Two or Three Fonts

A good rule of thumb (especially for those getting started) is to limit the course to 2-3 font types. Generally courses have similar layouts. The font styles may vary based on the course context, but the fact is they’ll be used in mostly the same ways.

Here are a few common uses of font types:

  • Title: Titles tend to be bolder and stronger. They set the stage for the content and provide a strong visual connection to course content and context.
  • Subtitle: Subtitles or sub-headings are used to segment content and help make the screen more scannable.
  • Body: The body text is less visual design and more about legibility. The more text on the screen, the more we need to be aware of how readable it is; and then choose the appropriate font.
  • Emphasis: Courses tend to have places where we need to emphasize the text such as bolding and italics to draw focus or captions to highlight additional information. If the need for emphasis exists, what will it look like?

Intentional course design means that we determine what the font types are prior to building the course and how we’ll use them. This becomes the simple style guide.

The consequence of not determining this prior to starting the design of the course is that a lot of time is wasted as we search for and change fonts to match what we’re trying to do at the moment. Then we end up with the Frankencourse where things kind of look cobbled together rather than cohesive.

Create a Simple Style Guide

We have identified four common uses above. You can come up with more if needed. From there we create a simple style guide that visually represents the various uses of the fonts. It may look a little like the image below that David shares in some of our workshops.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - style guide for elearning course design and fonts

In this image, we visually represent the various headings and body text. We also identify the fonts used, their colors, and provide an example. This style guide can be saved as a document or added to one of the course screens and then copied.

Depending on the software used, the fonts and their styling can be built into the templates and layouts. This will save a lot of time and mean you won’t have to constantly dig through the font list to find just the “right” font. It definitely keeps you away from the curly font, unless of course it’s appropriate to the course design.

This approach also comes in handy when you’re sharing project files and want to make sure that others are on the same page.

The main point in this is that you are intentional in your course design. This means determining the fonts required and how they’ll be used. You’ll save time and your course will have a more polished look.

Do you use a style guide for your courses? If so, how is it determined? Share your thoughts 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.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - Government creates bad PowerPoint via Edward Tufte

It may come as a surprise to you, but there are many people who think that PowerPoint sucks. I know; I know. I was surprised, as well.

The other day Mashable featured some Edward Tufte tweets where he blasted the slides from a secret government surveillance program. Of course, his criticism of the slides is spot on. In fact, many of the issues he raises in the tweets and in his books are similar to the issues we face when building elearning courses.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - powerpoint sucks is what the critics say

However, as if on cue out came the horde of conformist PowerPoint critics. Above is a sampling of some titles. While I don’t disagree with the criticism of the government’s PowerPoint slides, the fact is that PowerPoint is only an application. And the criticism is really about the way the presenters organized and presented their content. As a side note, there used to be a day when journalists were actually dedicated to exposing government tyranny rather than merely exposing how they presented it in meetings. But that’s a different blog post.

While it’s true that PowerPoint has been used to create horrific presentations, it’s getting a bad rap. Personally I find PowerPoint to be one of the most powerful and diverse applications I use. So with that said, I’d like to offer seven reasons why PowerPoint doesn’t suck and may be one of the best applications you own.

PowerPoint’s a Blank Screen

PowerPoint is a blank screen. So what you have on it is determined by you. That’s why I always advocate being intentional with your design. There’s nothing on the screen that’s there by accident.

One simple tip is to refrain from using the default templates. If you need a template, create one yourself that meets the needs of your project and don’t rely on a template that has no context.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - a blank PowerPoint slide

Use PowerPoint to Create & Edit Your Graphics

PowerPoint has a lot of features that when combined allows you to create your own graphics. And since it starts with a blank slide, you’re not constrained by any templates or pre-determined schemes.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - how to create your own graphics in PowerPoint

Once you create your own graphics, right-click on the object and save as an image. I prefer to use .png because this maintains the image quality and any background transparency. Once you’ve save the object as an image, you can use it anywhere.

Related posts:

Use PowerPoint to Create Illustrations

PowerPoint has many of the types of features you’d find in advanced illustration tools like Illustrator or the open source Inkscape. To be successful you have to think of PowerPoint not as a presentation tool, but instead a blank canvas. And then learn to use the features that allow you to manipulate and create your own shapes.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - use PowerPoint to create simple illustrations

I look for illustration tutorials and see what it takes to recreate them in PowerPoint. In fact, for a recent workshop file, I needed an illustration that looked like a stacked sandwich. So I created this in PowerPoint. It only took a few minutes.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - use PowerPoint to create custom illustrations

Related posts:

Use PowerPoint to Create Videos

Starting with PowerPoint 2010, whatever you create in PowerPoint can be saved as video. PowerPoint 2010 saves as .wmv and needs to be converted to .mp4 for playback on most devices. I usually use Handbrake for the conversion because it’s free. But the newer versions of PowerPoint can save to .wmv or .mp4. Now you don’t need to do the conversion in a separate application.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - how to use PowerPoint to create videos

Click to view the PowerPoint converted to video demo.

To show you how good it can look, above is the Duarte sample presentation template that comes with PowerPoint 2010. I saved it as a .wmv and then inserted the video into Articulate Storyline so I had a custom player. As you can see, it looks really nice and all of the transitions and timed animations work. In fact, if I saw this without knowing it was done in PowerPoint, I’d assume it was created in something like Flash or a more sophisticated video application. By the way, by converting the video in Storyline from .wmv to .mp4, the file size went from 165 MB to about 11 MB.

Here’s an example of how we created some videos in PowerPoint and then inserted them into our rapid elearning courses.

  • Video sidebar to introduce course: In this video, we used the sidebar to introduce the course topics. The video was created in PowerPoint and then inserted into the presenter panel.
  • Video inserted on slide and in the sidebar: This is a demo we used to show that once you’ve created the videos in PowerPoint, you can insert them into your rapid elearning cour
    ses. Both videos (sidebar and main slide) were created in PowerPoint.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - example of a PowerPoint video in rapid elearning course

Click here to view the PowerPoint video demo.

Considering how easy it is to use the features in PowerPoint and with it’s advanced animations, I find it to be a pretty powerful application for creating video content. It’s definitely a lot more powerful than most of the simple video editors.

Use PowerPoint to Create Online Training

A few years back, building interactive elearning was a challenge because it required some advanced programming skill and expertise. However, that changed with the advent of rapid elearning. Essentially those applications like Articulate Presenter converted the PowerPoint slides into Flash files. Thus, you were able to create your own Flash content without requiring Flash programming skills.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - elearning examples created in PowerPoint

Examples of PowerPoint-based Online Training

Now that we’re entering the second phase of rapid development we see tools like Storyline that import the PowerPoint content. They retain many of its features and allow for much more sophisticated interactivity—something that PowerPoint-based elearning always lacked. However, in either case PowerPoint plays a key role in the development of online training.

I will add that using PowerPoint to create elearning doesn’t mean that the course created with PowerPoint is good. Good course design still requires sound instructional design. However, if you do need to create online content then PowerPoint is a viable solution. And that’s the main point.

Use PowerPoint to Create Print Books and eBooks

Whatever you create in PowerPoint can be exported to a .PDF and subsequently converted to an ebook format if needed. That’s easy enough to do. However, you can also use PowerPoint in a way similar to what you’d do in an application designed to create real books. Because of the blank canvas and freeform environment, content can be placed anywhere you like. That means you can use PowerPoint to create your book’s layouts and pages.

In fact, the book E-Learning Uncovered: Articulate Studio was initially created in PowerPoint. As you can see in the image below, they created some layouts and a template to produce the book; from there they sent it to the printer. It’s probably not ideal to print a book using PowerPoint, but if you don’t have the skills to use InDesign or some other book publishing application, then it is a viable solution. And it goes back to my main point about PowerPoint’s diversity.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - books created in PowerPoint


Use PowerPoint to Create Mobile Learning

I was at a mobile learning conference recently and almost all of the content-providers who were selling mobile training had some sort of video-based solution.  This makes sense because video is a lot easier than HTML5, especially since HTML5 is still somewhat of a moving target. And in a lot of ways video for mobile learning is probably a better solution than more traditional, interactive elearning.

  • Video-based mobile learning: As I noted above, you can create videos with PowerPoint. In fact, here’s a direct link of the Duarte video. Access the link from your tablet or smart phone and see how it looks.
  • Print-based mobile learning: Because PowerPoint exports to PDF and PDF can be somewhat interactive, you can create interactive PDFs that work for your mobile devices. Here’s an example of a PDF for the iPhone and one for the iPad. All you need to do is modify the slide size to get the right aspect ratio. Paul Clothier shows how to do it for the iPhone demo.

Learn More About PowerPoint

Check out these tutorials if you want to learn more about PowerPoint and how get the most out of it:

Going back to the original argument, PowerPoint is a powerful application. The trick is learning to use it effectively. The tutorials and free resources above should help. But’s definitely worth learning to build better presentations. Below are some books and recommended resources to help you get started.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - recommended PowerPoint books

  • Non-Designer’s Design Book: If there is only one book to buy, it’s this one.  You’ll learn all of the basics about typography and visual design.
  • Beyond Bullet Points: Great tips to help organize your content whether presentation or rapid elearning.
  • Better the Bullet Points. Practical tips on using PowerPoint.
  • Slide:ology: Great book on visual design concepts and how to craft better presentations.  They have some good examples of branded templates that do work.
  • Presentation Zen: This book is very similar to slide:ology and will help you learn to communicate better with your slides.  I haven’t read it yet, but his new book is supposed to be good.
  • Back of the Napkin: Great book on organizing ideas and visual communication.
  • Various PowerPoint books: Tufte is a critic of the poor use of PowerPoint.  He offers a lot of good information on how to present complex data.  There are also all sorts of good how-to PowerPoint books.

The links to Amazon books may produce a slight commission.

So there you have it. For all of the criticism and belly aching about PowerPoint, it is still a very powerful and easy to use application. It just depends on how it’s used. And of course, if you spend all your time monitoring innocent citizens then odds are you won’t have time to build good presentations.

What tips would you offer the government to get better use of PowerPoint?


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.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - how to work with subject matter experts when building online training

A large part of your success hinges on the relationship you have with the course’s subject matter experts. They play a critical role by providing guidance, expertise, and context for much of your course’s content. However, the subject matter experts can also be a source of frustration. Many times they won’t budge when it comes to getting rid of extra information. Or they have their own ideas on how the course should be designed which conflicts with yours.

In today’s post we’ll review some challenges when working subject matter experts and how to overcome them.

Five Challenges Working with a Subject Matter Expert

Here are some common challenges when working with your subject matter expert.

  • They know everything. Their expertise comes from years of experience. Often they lose sight of this when trying to teach new people. Because of this, they tend to over emphasize the value of some content or think everything is equally important.
  • They’ve invested time in existing content. Much of the material you get comes from existing classroom content. And often this content has been created by the subject matter experts. That means they’ve already invested time in building the course just the right way. They’ve also spent time selecting color schemes, fonts, and clip art.
  • Their expectations are based on experience. One reason there are so many linear, click-and-read courses is because that’s what people think elearning should be. It’s what they’ve experienced so it must be right. Plus, a linear course is a systematic way to ensure that all of the important information is presented.
  • They don’t want the fancy schmancy bells and whistles. Interactive content seems like extra work with a bunch of bells and whistles. Why do you need more than a few slides of information and a multiple choice quiz? Seems like a waste of money to build interactive scenarios. Also, who has time to create all of those branches? It’s hard enough to come up with ten good quiz questions.
  • They’re not part of the project team. I’ve worked on plenty of projects where I need to do research and the client directs me to a subject matter expert. Often the experts don’t know anything about the project and they can get a bit territorial when a non-expert steps onto their turf. Because of this, they aren’t always committed to the success of the course. To them, you’re an intrusion on their productivity and possibly even a threat to what they do.

Five Ways to Work with Subject Matter Experts

While it can be challenging working with subject matter experts, they do a place an important role in the construction of your online training program. Because of this, you need to mitigate some of these challenges.

  • Bring in multiple perspectives. Subject matter experts are the experts of the content. But they’re not necessarily the experts when it comes to teaching the content. Their perspective is just one part of the equation. To get a different perspective recruit recent learners of the content. Have them go through your objectives and provide some insight on what worked and what didn’t as they were learning.
  • Step away from your pre-existing content. Don’t allow the existing content to dictate what you need in your course and how it needs to be designed. It’s just a resource as you research the right content for your course. One challenge is when the existing content is in PowerPoint and you use a PowerPoint-based authoring tool like Articulate Presenter to create the elearning. Once the expert knows you’re using PowerPoint, he tends to become less flexible. That’s why I like to start with a blank screen in a starter template. It forces the project to be started from scratch. I also prefer not to tell the experts that I am working with PowerPoint. That diffuses many of those issues.
  • Show examples of good elearning. We’ve all had to take the standard linear elearning, where all we’re required to do is click the next button. If you build elearning courses, you’ve probably seen enough diverse examples to know that there’s more to interactive elearning than the next button. But most subject matter experts only know what they know or have experienced. So if you want them to build a different type of course be prepared to show examples of good courses that are similar to what you’d like to build. Once they see it, they get it. Also, the biggest question will be how to ensure that the learners see all of the content (which drives a lot of linear elearning). Be prepared to answer that question.
  • Pay now or pay later. It’s true that a lot of interactive content is novel and may be classified as bells and whistles. But the reality is that you’re making an investment when you build an elearning course. And the organization wants to make sure that the investment pays off. If not, it’s a waste of time and money and requires making an additional investment down the road. So why not do it right the first time? Going with the tip above, show them good examples of effective interactive elearning. Also, instead of starting with a linear, sequential design (which is standard) use a backwards design where you start from the final assessment and work backwards. This way the course is focused on assessing the desired behaviors rather than the novelty of interactions.
  • Honor the subject matter experts’ contributions. Just like you and everyone else, the subject matter expert is pressed for time. So having to spend time on a project they’re not part of is low on their priority list. The easiest thing is to get them on the project and have the client make your project a priority. But if that’s not possible, then find ways to honor their contributions. Send emails that rave about what they’ve done and CC their managers. This is good to do right before their annual review. Give them an occasional gift card from Starbucks or Amazon. Be committed to do anything to build good will and positive regard. Also, don’t waste their time. Set clear expectations and make sure to follow through.

Subject matter experts play a key role when developing your course content. Because of this you’ll want to develop a good working relationship that is respectful. Often I find that our industry complains a lot about the subject matter experts. They’re not our adversaries. They’re partners in the organization’s success. By following some of the tips above you’ll build a good relationship and shape the perspective to build effective and meaningful online courses.

What challenges do you face when working with subject matter experts and how have you resolved them? Share your tips 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.