The Rapid Elearning Blog

Archive for June, 2016

PowerPoint template PowerPoint tips

One of my favorite ways to learn is by deconstructing what others do. It allows me to find new ways to do things. And even though I’ve been doing this stuff for a while, there’s always something to learn.

A couple of weeks ago, Creative Markets, gave away this PowerPoint template. Looks like it’s no longer free. It’s a nice template with a lot of useful layouts.

powerpoint template PowerPoint tips

But there were two things that I really liked about the template and how they approached their production. So in today’s post we’ll look at what they did and learn to apply it to your own templates.

I created a PowerPoint tutorial that goes through both tips in more detail.

PowerPoint Tip: Use Pattern Fills for Image Placeholders

In PowerPoint, we can create all sorts of master slide layouts and add a whole host of placeholders. One type is the image placeholder.

Since the placeholder is designed to hold an image, when you don’t insert an image on the slide, it may end up looking like a big empty spot. And this could be confusing because people may anticipate that an object is going to be there and when it doesn’t show, they may think something is broken.

PowerPoint tip pattern fill PowerPoint tips

What I like about this template by Dublin Design is that they filled the image placeholders with a pattern fill. If you add an image, the pattern is replaced with the image. However, if you choose to not add an image, the pattern becomes a subtle part of the slide design. Very clever.

PowerPoint Tip: Use Merge Shapes Feature to Create Custom Image Fills

This is the tip that really caught my eye. They created a fill shape that was very unique and adds a lot more pizzazz to the design. It also helps you see the image placeholders in a new way.

Created editable shapes

When you insert an image placeholder it’s rectangular. However, if you right-click you’ll notice that you cannot edit its points. To change this, go to Edit Shape and select the rectangle shape. Now when you right click, the placeholder acts more like a regular shape and you have the option to modify the edit points and make the shape anything you want it to be.

Merge shapes to create unique placeholders

Starting with PowerPoint 2010, there are some merge shapes features. In PowerPoint 2010, you’ll need to add them to your ribbon toolbar. In PowerPoint 2013, they’re under the Drawing Tools’ Format ribbon.

PowerPoint tip: custom fill shape PowerPoint tips

Create an image placeholder on the master slide layout. Then insert a different shape. Use the Merge Shapes feature to create unique image placeholders.

Again, here’s a PowerPoint tutorial that walks through the steps in more detail.

There you have it, two cool PowerPoint tips to help you the next time you build an elearning template in 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.

select e-learning software

I get a lot of questions about buying elearning software. And with that I get to see some of the ridiculous checklists that some IT groups create to compare software. Usually they place more value on number of features (regardless of their real value) than on how those features are used to create the online courses.

When it comes to selecting software, it can be hard to know what to look for and what questions to ask. Here are some tips to help you find the right tools as you wade through reams of the vendor’s marketing information.

Select E-Learning Software by Understanding the Type of Tools

The first thing to know is what types of authoring tools exist and how they work. Generally speaking there are three types of authoring tools for online learning: form-based, freeform, and video.

Form-based authoring

Form-based applications don’t require any programming because they use pre-built forms where you add your content. The software is designed to give you a very specific output. All you have to do is add your content. The software does the rest.

This is great because you don’t have to be a programmer or designer to use the tools. All you do is collect your content, choose your form, and hit publish. The programming and design is all done by the software.

Most quizzing applications are form-based. There are places where you add questions, choices, and answers. But you don’t have to make any design decisions.  Another good example of a form-based tool is Articulate Engage. You select an interaction type, add you content, and hit publish. Simple as that.

Form-based authoring is great because it’s easy and fast. The downside is that the form is a form and works as designed with limited customization. You’re kind of stuck with what you get. You usually have options in the number of forms, and some choices of colors and such, but for the most part the design is static.

Freeform authoring

Freeform applications give you a lot more flexibility. Generally they start with a blank screen. You determine the layout, content placement, interactions, and visual design. While it’s not overly complicated to do this, it does require more expertise than just adding content to a form. You need to understand how to get something to look and work a certain way.

freeform authoring select e-learning software

Of course, the more you want to do with your course, the better you need to know the application. That means a greater time commitment and learning curve than just dropping content into a form and hitting publish.

A hybrid freeform solution is PowerPoint-based authoring. Essentially you use your PowerPoint skills to build your content and whatever you create in PowerPoint is converted to an elearning course. This is an easy entry point for the first time author, but because you’re starting with PowerPoint eventually you’ll hit a ceiling.

Personally, I love PowerPoint-based authoring, but if I had a choice, I’d just go with something like Storyline because it’s easy to learn and over the long haul it provides a lot more value. For example, you may not use variables when you first start creating courses, but it won’t be long before you’ll find the need. If you work with a PowerPoint-based solution, you can’t use variables. However, you can with Storyline.

Some authoring tools require additional programming skills like ActionScript, JavaScript, or HTML. Or they amend their offerings with widgets and add-ons. I have mixed feelings about this approach. It’s good for those who have the programming chops to extend what they can do with the software.

However, what I don’t like is that the widgets and extra programming required go outside of how the rest of the course is authored in the software and often you’re not able to effectively edit the widgets and add-ons. This creates a lot of extra work and can be frustrating. This is just something to keep in mind when you’re looking at tools.

In fact, this is one of the things I like best about Storyline. All of Storyline’s authoring centers around triggers which require no special programming. And they don’t require special add-ons for interactions. You can build what you need; and if you build an interaction, it’s going to be built like everything else in the software. And whatever you build can be saved as a template and shared (with all of the interactivity intact) which removes the need to have a bunch of add-on interactions in the first place.

When you’re reviewing tools, determine what type of tool it is and how the authoring process works. Form is easy and saves time. Freeform provides more flexibility but requires a little more to learn it. Don’t get enamored with features that look good on the surface, but frustrate the authoring process.

Video-based authoring

Video is the other type of authoring solution and it’s pretty straightforward. The videos can be simple lectures, but often are software tutorials or those new “explainer” style videos. Their production is relatively straightforward. You capture the video and process it.

When looking at video tools, you’ll want to understand what editing capabilities exist within the capturing tool. Probably the most important feature is splicing and being able to cut items out.

Select E-Learning Software by Avoiding the Feature Trap

Many organizations make the mistake of crafting feature lists and then comparing the different software based on the features. The ones with more features tend to get rated higher. This is a faulty approach because features aren’t equal and the lists are usually derived from marketing material anyway.

Here’s how I see it.

It’s less important to look at a list of features and more important to look at production workflow because it puts the features in perspective and in context. Each tool can probably build the course you want to build. It may just use different features to do so (which is why a list of features is less relevant). However, the difference in workflow may be substantial. And that’s what you want to discover.

To avoid the feature trap, I recommend that you test each application by building the same demo module. You’ll learn if the tool is easy to use and how long it takes to build what you need. The last thing you want to discover is that your feature-rich product has an inefficient workflow that actually costs you a lot more time.

Tabs interactions are a good test module. They’re usually quick to build and you get to test the general workflow of the software. You learn about layout, how to create the interactive tabs, and expose content.

Here’s a good starting checklist:

  • Create five tabs that when clicked exposed new content.
  • Make tabs interactive with hover and down states.
  • Add a visited state to indicate that the tab was clicked.
  • Make the tabs interdependent where one is on (selected) and the others are off (deselected).
  • Create conditional navigation where the screen can’t advance until all tabs are visited.
  • Change the type of interaction on the tabs from click to hover to see how easy it is to edit.

This simple tabs module lets you dig through the different software a bit and understand the general workflow. This is a better comparison than features that may or may not be important to your course authoring.

Select E-Learning Software by Testing What Happens After You Make the Purchase?

Buying software is easy. And sales people tend to be very accommodating. However, that all changes after the sale.

Keep in mind, once you install the software you’re probably mostly on your own, thus after-sales support is super important and may be worth more than the price of the software. You want to get a good feel for the software vendor and how they treat their customers because you’ll be leaning on them for help down the road.

During the trial phase connect with the vendors. Tell them what you want to build and ask how to go about it. You’ll learn how responsive the vendor is to your needs and what resources are available to help you succeed.

Here are the three things I recommend you research prior to choosing your course authoring software:

  • Support: what type of technical support exists? Does the vendor provide free resources to help you learn? What happens when you have an issue? How long does it take to get help?
  • Community: many online communities provide customer support and technical assistance. You typically find answers to questions, resources, and an assortment of tutorials. What does the vendor do to support your ongoing development? Many course authors are relatively new to online learning. Thus having an active and engaged community is important, especially one full of resources.
  • Connections: community resources are great. However, being connected to other users is key. Vendors build software with features. But users develop best practices and the types of tips and tricks you’ll need to be successful. Experienced community members also share a lot of what they do which is a source of inspiration for those just getting started.

The market is full of options for your online course authoring. So when you’re looking at them be sure to learn what types of tools they offer, what workflow is required, and how they’ll support your development after you’ve purchased the software. If you do those things, you’ll find the tools that provide the best solution to meet your needs.

And if you want to save time, just choose Articulate. We are committed to your success and will do everything we can do to help you build great elearning.


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.

350-community e-learning community

I’m a big fan of community and how it helps us learn from each other. This is especially important for those of us in the elearning industry.

If you are a financial analyst, odds are that there are a number of seasoned financial analysts in your organization who could draw from their experience and offer you all sorts of tips. Often that’s not true for elearning. Many of us work on small teams and don’t have access to seasoned pros. And that’s why community is so important for us.

The Value of the E-Learning Community

Community isn’t content. Instead its about learning from each other while we exchange tips, best practices, and share resources. It’s a means to help you grow. You’ll expand your support network and build your expertise (and eventually your reputation among your peers).

Here’s one example of how this happens in the community.

I think one of the best ways to learn to build better courses is by reviewing and deconstructing what others do. When I facilitate elearning workshops I routinely show the examples created for the community’s weekly elearning challenges. They’re authentic and created by real community members.

What I like about the modules is that I often learn something new. There are a number of occasions where I spend time deconstructing the demo trying to figure out how it was created. Sometimes I can’t, which bugs me. But most of the times I learn some new production techniques or a new way to think about the software.

Today I’d like to feature one of the community members who does a great job representing what’s good about community and how to participate in a way that’s meaningful and useful to others.

The E-Learning Community Shares Out-of-the-Box Ideas

I met Joanna Kurpiewska a few years ago at a workshop in London. She shared a little about her trajectory in the industry, some of her ideas, and what she hoped to accomplish. It’s really exciting to see how well she’s done over that time and to know that we played a small role in that.

There were two recent challenges where the demos she submitted were pretty cool.

e-learning community example 1

Click here to view the slider demo.

The first challenge above was on using the slider feature in Storyline. The one Joanna did really stood out to me. First, it wasn’t a typical looking slider and second, it introduced a novel way to navigate the course, essentially removing the need for a previous and next button.

e-learning community example 2

Click here to view the player demo.

The second challenge above was on creating a customized player. Again, the submissions were pretty creative and introduced some neat ideas. Check them out.

There were a few things that I like about Joanna’s submission. I like the informality of it with the cluttered desktop, the informal font, the lottery ticket link, and the structure of the next button. I also like the way she colored the player and filled the presenter image area with the Polaroid graphics to push the player out a bit.

Joanna’s not the only one who submitted creative ideas, so be sure to look at some of the other demos.

The key point is that your peers who share their work in the elearning community will help you see things in a new light and expand your understanding of what you can do (and possibly do it in new ways).

The E-Learning Community Shares What They Learn

As you know, I’m a big fan of PowerPoint and using it to create your own custom illustrations. I’ve featured that capability in a number of posts, such as this one.

In the past Joanna’s done something similar where she’s shared how she creates some of her own illustrations:

Recently she shared a great demo on how to create custom callouts and speech bubbles. You can read the article here and watch the tutorial video on YouTube. And of course, there’s a free download for those who want the files.

e-learning community free speech bubbles

The E-Learning Community Establishes Your Authority

If you look at Joanna’s community profile you can see she regularly participates in the challenges and shows her work. She also freely shares her expertise by answering questions, doing tutorials, and making her source files and assets available for free. And she also maintains her own blog where she does even more of the same.

e-learning community example 3

All of this activity allows her to build her own brand and expertise outside of the community. This is important because it allows your community activity to bleed over into your elearning portfolio which may lead to a stronger network of peers, more professional contacts, and potential business opportunities.

I know many people in the community who do the same thing and it’s paid dividends as they get all sorts of inquiries for freelance work.

What’s in it for me?

Community is all about practitioners getting together and learning from each other. The ultimate goal is to build expertise in the given domain, which in this case is using the Articulate elearning software and becoming a better elearning course designer.

This sharing and learning from each other is authentic and not manipulative. It’s not a marketing vehicle to sell your services and templates (which unfortunately some of the community members don’t quite get yet).

That’s why I chose to focus on Joanna, because I met her and know her story. What she shares and how she engages in the community is based on acquiring and sharing expertise. The modules that show off her skills and the free assets that she shares are merely artifacts, a by-product of what’s happening as she’s engaged with the community.

Are you stuck in a cubicle building the same course over and over thinking that the elearning world is passing you by? Do you want do something different and be connected to people who can help you grow? Then think about participating in the community. Even if you can’t answer questions or participate in the elearning challenges, at least make it a point to see what’s going on. And it’s easy to stay on top of that by following the weekly recaps.

Come join us and let’s learn together.


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.

course design

Course design is a challenge as you try to balance the needs of the client, subject matter experts, learners, and your own course design sensibility. One of the biggest issues with many online courses is that the course is a single solution designed to accommodate multiple learners. And most of them are designed the same way: start, click, click, click, knowledge check, click, click, click, and final quiz.

course design simple

I suspect many courses are designed this way because they’re easy to build and, as we’ve noted before, many course designers are stretched thin with limited time and resources. I also know that many customers demand all of their information to be presented in the course, which makes it hard to move past a click-and-read model.

So what can you do to remedy this and not create too much extra work? Here’s a strategy I’ve used in the past.

Course Design: Separate Content from Activity

Create a two-pronged approach to the course design.

  • Content: this is similar to the way the course is designed now.
  • Activity: what should they do with the content? Create scenario-based activities so that they use the content.

course design strategy

This creates splits the process. Many clients want all of the content and won’t budge. That’s OK. You can present all of the content in the content track. In addition, there are many people who want or need the content. The content track gives them free access.

On the other side, build activities that require use of the content. And then let learners access the activities. A well-designed activity will present the appropriate level of content and provide the right types of decision-making to ensure the person learns and meets the course objectives. You can also provide access points to the content track and even create mechanisms that force people to pull certain types of content during the activities.

Or you scrap any focus on content, throw them in the pool and let them know where they can find life-saving information (the content track).  Some people will jump right into the activity and try to figure things out and some will refer to the content track when needed. An activities focused approach provides a lot of flexibility, especially when your learners range from beginner to experienced.

Course Design: Simple Example

course design

Click here to view elearning example.

Here’s an example that David and I built for a LINGOs course a few years ago. The client gave us a number of Word docs full of content. All of the content needed to be in the course. However, we wanted to create interactions built around some real world decision-making.

So we created a two track course. One track featured all of the Word doc content. And the other track worked around the use of the content to make appropriate decisions. We also included ways for the person to go between the two tracks.

course design

Building the course didn’t take much more time than if we had just made it linear because we used a simple question structure for the activities and broke up the flow with some good-to-know information about the organization.

What I like about this approach is that it’s a single course yet meets the needs at a more individual level. One person can learn through the content, and another through the activities. Or they can learn through both. And it meets the client’s demand to have all of the content present. You can also make the course more complex and accommodate different skill and experience levels with an adaptive learning path.


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.