The Rapid Elearning Blog

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - too busy to help you with your small elearning course

A manager I know works for a multibillion dollar company that has its own elearning group.  However, when she needs to train her staff of about 200, she has no access to the elearning group’s resources.  Without rapid elearning tools, she’d be hard pressed to offer her team the benefits of online learning.  However, with rapid elearning tools she’s gone from no elearning to dozens of quick hit elearning courses.

While rapid elearning presents opportunities like this, the challenge is that many who build rapid elearning courses are not experienced at doing so.  Most of them are one or two person teams who have to do everything from creating their own graphics to all of the course authoring.  And there aren’t a lot of places for them to get help inside the organization.  

I find that the biggest hurdle is that people approach PowerPoint from a presentation mindset.  However, when you build elearning courses, you need to approach PowerPoint in a different way.  In today’s post, I want to address some production techniques that can improve your rapid elearning development. 

Following are five essential rapid elearning tips for working with PowerPoint.

Use a Blank Slide as Your Starting Point

One of the biggest hindrances to getting away from the dreaded PowerPoint look is the PowerPoint template structure.  There’s nothing wrong with templates because they can save you time.  But the default PowerPoint templates encourage bullet point lists and boring slides.  So I suggest that you get away from using the templates.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - start with a blank slide

Start with a blank slide.  Then you’ll get used to building and adding your own screen elements.  Personally, I like to start with the title only slide.  Then, I go into the master slide and move the title off screen (like you see in the image above).  This way I can use the title for information, but the learner doesn’t see it in the published course.  This really helps when I need to add hyperlinks, which you can see in the tutorial below.

Step Away from Linear Slides, Think in Layers

By design PowerPoint is going to publish your slides like you’d publish a book.  You start at page one and keep turning until you get to the end.  This works in many cases.  However, when you design your courses in PowerPoint, it’s important to see your slides from a slightly different perspective.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - the default information flow is linear

Think of your slide like a bucket of information.  Your job is to connect the information.  Sometimes the default linear settings work and sometimes you have to create your own branching and navigation.

When I was a kid, I had an anatomy book where some of the pages were transparent.  I could lift up the skin and various organs to get down to the bones.  Think of your slides in the same way.  Instead of linear pages, they can be like layered transparencies.  To the learner it looks like a single slide, but in reality, it’s just a series of slides.

 The Rapid E-Learning Blog - get away from linear by thinking layers

The learners don’t see PowerPoint slides.  They see a single screen.  All you’re doing is layering information on the screen so that when they click it just looks like the same screen with some new content.

Here are a few examples that demonstrate a non-linear approach where slides are seen as layers rather than linear information typical of a lot of PowerPoint-based courses.  They were created in PowerPoint and published with Articulate Presenter.

  • CA Student Teacher Ratio: David Anderson created this based on a multimedia file he saw online.  From the learner’s perspective, it just looks like a single screen, but it’s really made up of about 50 slides.
  • Exploration: Here’s a demo I created a while back.  It’s similar to David’s.  The learner clicks a link that jumps to another slide.  However, the learner doesn’t see it as a transition from one slide to the next.
  • Moving box: By using layers, you can create triggers that activate an animation.  While the demo is simple, the approach opens the doors to all sorts of interactions.

Make Full Use of the Master Slides

Most of the rapid elearning courses I see neglect the master slides.  That means the developer is copying and pasting the same content over and over again instead of using the master slides.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - leverage the master slide

In PowerPoint, you can have as many master slides as you want.  If a course has the same content on 3 or more slides, it makes sense to put it on the master slide.  First, it’s easier to manage and edit.  Second, it improves your publishing time because you only have to publish the master file once rather than the same content multiple times over a series of slides.  It’ll also load faster for the learner since they’ll load the master slide movie once and the individual slides will be much smaller.

Add Hyperlinks to the Master Slide

Adding hyperlinks in PowerPoint can be tedious if you need the same links over a series of slides.  Why not try using the master slides?  The links get spread across all of the slides that use that master.  So if you have the same links (like a home button) just add it to the master rather than copying and pasting it on every slide.  Where you don’t need it on a slide, just cover it up.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - put hyperlinks on the master

Bonus tip:

  • I usually create my own shapes for the hyperlinks rather than linking the object.  This helps if I decide to switch objects or if I want to quickly move the link around.
  • Don’t group objects that have hyperlinks.  They’ll work in PowerPoint, but probably not when converted to Flash.  That’s why I like to keep my links separate from my objects.

Use One File for Graphics & One for Course Authoring

PowerPoint makes it easy to build a lot of your own graphics.  This is especially true of PowerPoint 2007 with the new features.  PowerPoint 2010 will have even better graphic features.

Because of this, the tendency is to build your graphics and your course in the same PowerPoint file.  In many cases, this is probably fine.  However, as the projects become larger and more complex, it’s a good idea to have two PowerPoint files for your course.  One file is for creating graphics and the other is for creating your course.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - separate graphics production from course production

I like to create my graphics in PowerPoint.  When I have what I need, I right-click and save as an image.  Then I bring that image into my course file.  One of the benefits of this approach is that your publishing time is faster and you’re less apt to run into those odd issues and glitches that can occur trying to convert PowerPoint to Flash.

Below is a series of tutorials to support the information above and fill in some gaps.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Essential rapid elearning tips

Click here to view tutorials.

The challenge for a lot of people is getting past PowerPoint as a presentation tool and seeing it as a tool to author elearning courses.  If you’re going to be successful using PowerPoint for elearning, you have to learn to use it in a new way.  Hopefully these tips helped.

What are some of your favorite tips and tricks?  Share them by clicking on the comments link.

If you liked this post, you might like these:


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.

35 responses to “5 Essential Rapid E-Learning Tips”

December 8th, 2009

At 2:00 am this morning, while waiting for a course with a number of pages with duplicated smart-art on them to publish I thought “there must be a way to speed this up”.

Thanks for providing the answer a just a few hours later – transfer those elements to master slides.

December 8th, 2009

Tom – what a gem you are! Just yesterday I was fervently wishing I could name my slides in PPT the way you can in Captivate. Such a simple – but powerful – idea to put the title off the slide!

Makes it simpler in Articulate so I can name my slides in the PPT and not have to go into the Slide Properties.

December 8th, 2009

When I saw your box on the conveyor belt, I noticed that from one slide to another, the box jumps a little. I was having the same problem until I found a great PPT addin. Use it to find the exact location of the end point of an animation.

Check it out. Maybe you could spread the news through your blog.



EXCELLENT tips as usual, Tom. Master Slides is a real time-saver for me. And I think I had the same anatomy book.


Great post. A lot of this information might be considered “old hat” for instructional designers and e-learning developers, but I never tire of having these fundamentals refreshed.

I’m never intimidated (as an instructional designer) of more people inside our company becoming rapid e-learning developers. There’s so much to do and so few people to do it. PowerPoint/Articulate tools are great for SMEs and I’ve been able to get them up-to-speed with an hour tutorial – they could produce their own professional looking courses that same day.

I have customarily used Flash for development, but have found that I can do just about anything I need for an effective course in PowerPoint/Articulate… in a lot less time.

Thanks for this site/blog.


December 8th, 2009

Good stuff Tom…

Even with experienced instructional designers, this post hits home to those who engage with SMEs who may have a hard time understanding the evolution from presentation to eLearning.

Interesting and useful post Tom – I have picked up both the design principles plus some practical ideas for how to package an elearning course made with Articulate in such a way that it isn’t a linear presentation

I really like the “notebook” template showcased in the 6th phase of the demo. Is that available for download?

I’ll be giving the notebook away in a future post.

@Eric: yeah, I noticed that the image was a bit off. I normally use the guides for placement but created the box demo in just a few minutes as a proof of concept.

Tom, great post!

I just wonder, how do you manage to play video in presenter in “no sidebar” without blank (white) parts on the left and right side?

@Yan: I used Screenr to capture the videos at the 980×560 resolution. You can insert those into the slide and set the slide to display with no sidebar in the slide properties manager.

Hi Tom,

I spend most of my time designing face-to-face modules (unfortunately) but with the help of blog tips like these, I’ve managed to transform the use of PPT in these F2F sessions as well – bullets are no longer the norm.

I’ve even managed to insert elearning modules into some F2F programs and my facilitators love me – they get a break, the participants get something new and I’m slowly proving that elearning can accelerate learning.

Much appreciated!

@Beck and others: thanks for the kind feedback. I’m glad to help.

You are generous with your information and with willingness to share. It must take a good amount deal of time for you to do this. You’re a good friend to us…please accept our appreciation! I eagerly await your emails and dive right in, knowing your tips and instruction keep me from getting rusty or complacent.

Another fabulous post – I use this technique in my face-to-face… How obvious to use it eLearning. Thanks again!

Ur posts always make my day… i do graphic and instructional design, and every time you post something new, i try and use it– thanks!

Is there a way for me to show u at least some screenshots??

Loved this information. Can you share with me how you inserted the “Please wait while the video loads” message. We have large video content and our modules have no indication that something is loading. Can you share how you accomplish that? Thanks so much.

@Julie: I added some text that is covered by the video. If the video hasn’t loaded, you’ll see the text.

@Antonio: send me a message via the contact form. There’s a link in you click on my name on the right side of the blog.

Dear friend,
you are just a genious!
I agree with Jane, your generosity and willingness are so valuable! I really appreciate a lot be able to learn every week something new from your posts.

Thank you for your advice i think i’ll consider next time i’ll prepare a lesson and also I will propose to my colleagues!

Great as usual. A question. For the spiral notebook, if you saved it as a picture, how did you get the various tabs on the subsequent slides? Also, is there a way to look like the page is turning as you select each tab?

@abby: I saved each tabbed version as an image and have multiple masters for each tabbed look. You can probably create a flipping page in PowerPoint. PowerPoint Alchemy has a way to do it. I haven’t tried to convert to Flash so not sure how that works with a PPT to Flash tool.

Thank you so much for sharing this tip. This is very useful. Not just for rapid e-learning. It is just simply a better way to do presentation. Thank a lot.

This is a wealth of information. Thank you for the great content. It shall aid my skills and enrich them. i shall keep following !!!

Thank you for these tutorials–they are full of great techniques!

I seem to be missing something however, with hyperlinked shapes. When I initially create a shape and then add a hyperlink to move to other slides, they work fine. But as soon as I reformat the shapes to no fill, no outline, they no longer hyperlink correctly. Has this ever happene to you? I am using PowerPoint 2007.

@jlacross: if the object is transparent in PowerPoint, it won’t click through and only links on the border. When you publish it works fine, though. If you are just using PowerPont, you can fill with 99% transparent and it will work in PowerPoint. However, if you do publish with a PPT to Flash tool, it’s possible that you’ll get a slight image and not have 100% transparency.

Such a fantastic post with accompanying tutorials, this is such key information – thank you once again for sharing with us.

Thank you !

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