The Rapid Elearning Blog

I get a lot of questions about how to get started with building e-learning courses.  I’ve covered that a bit in previous posts on why you need to create a portfolio and simple ways to get started.  I’m also a big advocate of participating in your learning community to build relationships and improve your skills.

However, in today’s post I want to introduce a simple framework to help develop your elearning skills.  It’s based on what I see as a common evolution in the skills of the people I meet at conferences.

Let’s start with what I like to call the “Rapid E-Learning Story.”

Put This Course Online

You get a PowerPoint file that was used in the classroom and are asked to convert it to an elearning course.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - original course from the subject matter expert

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - simple but viable elearning course

So you clean up the slides a bit because it’s wordy and full of odd clip art.  Then you publish it to quickly convert it from PowerPoint to Flash.  Once published, it’s uploaded and released the world.  Everyone’s happy and you’re the hero.  In fact, your hands hurt from all of the high-fiving.

Make This Course Look Better

After a while people tell you that the courses all kind of look like PowerPoint slides.  They want something that looks different and “less PowerPointy.”

You put on your graphic designer hat and start to make courses that look really good.  No one would know that the courses were ever built in PowerPoint.  Once again, you’re the hero.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - a visual design that fits the elearning course

We Need More Interactivity

While they love your elearning courses, you start getting requests for more than presentation of information.  They want courses that focus on action and help people do something better.  They ask for more interactivity with a focus on performance.

This means that you shift your focus away from presentation and more towards learner-centric interactivity.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - interactive elearning course

Steps to Getting Started

When I talk to people, they usually have a similar evolution of skills.  They start by pulling content together in a clean and logical structure.  Then they improve their graphic and visual design skills.  And eventually they start to focus on more interactivity.

If you want to learn how to build elearning courses, I think it’s a solid framework from which to start.

  • Do the basic things as you learn to use the software.
  • Focus on creating the right aesthetic and immersive visual design.
  • Build interactive and learner-centric courses.

1. Do the Basics

Start with a simple framework.  The goal here is to learn how to pull content together and organize it.  What are the learning objectives and what do you need to do to meet them?

I recommend starting with a simple training structure like the ones you find in those generic training-specific PowerPoint files at the Microsoft Office site.  It’s not going to be the world’s most sophisticated training, but it’s a start and a place from which to build.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - start with a basic course template

Don’t stop there, though.  Interact with others and read some books.  Here’s a good forum thread about instructional design with lots of good ideas and meet other instructional designers.  While there are a lot of good elearning books, if I could only recommend one, it’s William Horton’s E-Learning By Design.  I like it because he covers a lot of the core areas and it’s practical.  It’s definitely a good book for those just getting started.

At this point you want to focus on organizing content and learning to use your authoring software.  When you feel comfortable, focus on the visual design.

2. Visual Design

The look and feel of your course plays a critical role to its success.  It contributes to communicating the message and it pulls the learner into the content.  This isn’t about eye candy and only making the content look good.  Instead, you want a course where the visual look and feel are immersive and match the course’s context.

This isn’t always easy because it’s part technical skill and part artistic ability.

Start with the basics of graphic design and visual communication.  Practice using them in your slide design.  To learn the art of design, find designs you like and try to replicate them.  This helps you learn your software and build some of the artistic skills.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - create the right look and feel for your elearning course

Here are a few good resources to get started:

  • David offers great ideas on mindmapping the visual design for you elearning courses.
  • A must-have book on basic graphic design is Robin Williams’ Non-Designer’s Design Book.
  • If you want to learn more about visual communication, you can start with Dan Roam’s Back of the Napkin where he talks about selling ideas.  There are a lot of parallels between his ideas and elearning design.

3. Create Interactivity

Good elearning courses are meaningful to the learner.  They’re relevant and interesting.  A great way to accomplish this is to frame the course from the learner’s perspective.  What will they do with the course’s information?

When I start working on a course, I visit the learners and ask them how they’d use the information.  Then I take
their comments and use that to build decision-making scenarios that frame the course around their day-to-day lives.

This type of interactivity can be simple, branched decision-making scenarios to complex, real-world simulations.  It all depends on your time and resources.  At the most basic level, take the learner right into an environment that mirrors how they’d use the course info.  Instead of telling them what the information does, give them an opportunity to practice using it.

Here are a few posts where I share a bit more on building simple scenario-based interactions:

Cathy Moore’s action mapping is a good way to focus on this.  She also shares a nice scenario-based course on which she recently worked.  While I believe her example was built in Flash, there’s no reason why that couldn’t be built in a rapid elearning tool.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - example of an interactive scenario from Cathy Moore's blog

Some Final Thoughts

Some people might ask, “Why not just jump into the interactivity part of the design?”  That’s a good question.  You can do that.  But what I’ve found is that many elearning course authors are one or two-person teams.  They have limited resources and usually no formal training.  They have to wear multiple hats that include instructional design, graphic design, and course authoring.

Jumping right into building interactive content is a challenge because it requires both good instructional design and more advanced familiarity with the authoring software.  Considering this, I recommend starting with the basics and building from there.  But you can start from the place where you’re most comfortable.

I like to think of it like learning a sport.  You’re not going to be a pro the first time you pick up a basketball.  You have to learn how to dribble and some of the other basics first.  Eventually, it all comes together and you develop into a good player.  The same goes for elearning.  Learn the basics and build from there.

How did you develop your elearning skills?  What would you recommend for the one-person team who has limited resources?  Share your thoughts via 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.

36 responses to “A Simple Roadmap to Better Rapid E-Learning”

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ryan 2.0's blogroll, Tyson Priddle, Tyson Priddle, CiberAjuda, Snare The Job and others. Snare The Job said: A Simple Roadmap to Better Rapid E-Learning #ELearning […]

Thanks for another great post Tom. I love your just in time learning – you always seem to say exactly what I need to hear at the right time. I have learnt alot from trial and error, reading from places like your blog and pulling other peoples stuff apart to see what makes it so good. Finding the time to play can be hard though. Please keep it coming!

As usual, you manage to come up with a topic which is so relevant and in demand! Sometimes, its so difficult to start developing. You have the content and the requirements and then everybody looks at you as if the next masterpiece is about to be release while you are still struggling with the thought…where to start!!

Thanks for the tips, your blog makes Tuesdays really worth looking forward to….

September 21st, 2010

Nice post Tom! As I was reading it, it occurred to me… what if you ran a “re-design this material” mini contest for your reading audience? I think the results would be an interesting outcome…

Thank you for your tips! I’m just getting started w/ e-course design and have that “don’t know where to start” feeling. This helps a great deal, as did your Guide to becoming a rapid ELearning Pro. Please keep sharing!

As usual Tom, great stuff. The tough part sometimes is having an actual understanding of the content so you can meaningfully translate it to an interactive piece. But I guess that is also where the SME’s come in :-).

Thank you. This is great information to get started.

September 21st, 2010

I am SO impressed with Cathy Moore’s inter-active course example. I’ve often wanted to do something similar but had no idea of where to start or how to make it happen. Thank you so much for sharing this!!

September 21st, 2010

I would agree this has been the evolution of my skills. I’ve also been challenged with having to make short screen recordings without any interactivity (due to delivery constraints). With those, I try to keep them short and “interactive” by framing the information within a real-world scenario and posing questions that the learner needs to answer to themselves. Any other tips on making screencasts “interactive” when the person watching can’t click on anyting?

We just asked some followers of our blog an informal poll on how do you learn best:

One responder asked — “How do you teach information that cannot be taught kinesthetically?”

Our answer: depends on what you’re training, but most things can be taught kinesthetically… even if it’s simulated. all kinesthetically really means is learning through activity and practice… can just be through solving a problem.

Do you think making activities interactive is the same thing as incorporating “kinesthetic” objectives into the training? What do y’all think? (yes, I’m from Texas) 🙂


Thanks for your thought-provoking post. I am an ever-struggling elarning student trying to work from a background with limited resources in Kenya. Am a member of ministry ICT integration team and and very keen om rapid elearning development because I am convinced it is the only breakthrough in introducing ICT-aided learning within established education systems of the world. making it simple for teachers and facilitators is the only way to entice them to adopt use of ICT in their daily work. This is why your post comes at the right time…TOM kudos

[…] More here: A Simple Roadmap to Better Rapid E-Learning » The Rapid eLearning Blog […]

Thanks for all of your very informative posts Tom. I often refer to them to sharpen my skills. I’m currently working as an instructional designer and came to it via graphic design. I ‘m also a writer (technical & fiction). My migration into the field of ID just seemed to be a natural progression as I enjoy teaching others. Your posts and referenced articles and links have been extremely helpful and wonderfully creative.

The best advice I could give anyone just starting with e-Learning is: take some basic courses in graphic art and design and update your written composition skills. Then keep reading this blog! Tom, please know you are a treasure!

September 21st, 2010

Another great blog post Tom. I think this development process relates to another trend that is beginning to emerge. Rapid eLearning tools are easy enough to use that academics (teachers, lecturers etc) are beginning to enrich the materials that they provide to students. This trend mirrors what happened when the MacIntosh made desktop publishing available to ‘everyone’. Suddenly anyone could create their own document and print it. As we know, just because you can doesn’t mean that you should, and there were some very unpretty (and unreadable) documents produced.
Many learning institutions are now equipped with the framework (an LMS) for providing online learning to students yet the majority of what has been put into these online environments is just printed material (such as lecture notes). Rapid eLearning tools provide academics (I don’t think we should limit their role to just subject matter expert) with the opportunity to do more. Their initial experiments with the tools will probably be just the simple conversion of their PowerPoint slides. They’ll probably skip the visual design step, and jump right into including interactivity via simple quizzes embedded into the learning package. So they’ll eventually learn to do it themselves! Where they’ll need help (from IDs etc) is in the understanding of the difference between ‘push’ and ‘pull’ design approaches. To help them with this, and to encourage them not to ignore the visual design step, I point these eager academics to your blog. So keep up the great work 😀

@ Rob Anderson

I really like your idea of a “re-design this material” mini contest & it would give people something to add to a portfolio too. I am always sturggling to find meaningful content to play with. Sign me up!

Hi Tom,

Thanks much for your insightful blog entries! Your tips are apparently helpful. I’m currently leading a project about E-Learning, and I find this awesome learning tool so exciting. I may say I’m wearing multiple-hats which is challenging but definitely rewarding.

Though I have limited resources, I’ve able to maximize open source E-Learning providers like moodle and docebo. I also love researching case studies, articles, blogs, and the like which really helped me a lot to further develop my knowledge.

Succinctly, E-Learning is a helpful tool for our learners to achieve instructional goals and objectives for their professional growth. This is an innovative learning means that offers limitless possibilities of learning.


I like the way you’ve captured the progression: PPT –> PPT + visual design –> Interactivity.
Thanks for sharing the links to other resources. I found them quite useful.

I’m in a situation where the client/sponsor wants a ‘modular’ online training course for employee orientation, but does not want the ‘e-learning’ tag attached to it.
Any ideas on how to chunk content into independent modules and yet retain the flow?

September 22nd, 2010

Great stuff Tom, especially for those readers out there that are trying to put a “process” behind creating a great online course from PPT (which is what happens all too often).

I’ll have to definitely check out the “Non-Designer’s Design Book”, but would also recommend Slide:ology and Presentation Zen, great resources that we’ve used to create the foundation of not only courses, but whole visual style guides as well.

Thanks again.

Thanks for the comments and kind feedback.

@Rob: I’ve been toying with a similar idea. Give everyone the same core content and then see what is produced. We used to do that years ago when I produced video. It’s interesting to see the different perspectives.

Thanks for this useful post Tom.I am basically a content writer and I am now studying Instructional Design. I have no background in Graphic design, so I am yet to improve my Visual design skills. In your opinion what graphic design -software tools should an e-learning developer know to develop good e-learning courses? There so many graphic design tools out there, I am confused as to what tools I should learn. I want to learn atleast one or two so that I have minimal knowledge about graphic design.Thanks again for all your insightful posts.

@Dee – That’s such a great question. We’re seeing a lot more IDs broaden their toolkits to include graphics and visual design. As you’ve seen on Tom’s blog, PowerPoint will cover 80% of what any commercial graphics application does. But most users working in graphic design will use more dedicated applications like:
Fireworks (free app from Microsoft)

Illustrator is a bit different from the others because it’s more of a vector editing program but overall the same types of tools are shared across each application.

Your question is a common one and we even started a forum thread to hear from others in the community the apps they’d recommend:

Hey Tom! I second Rob’s idea of reader challenge to “re-design” a course. Not so much a contest but it would allow your readers to see the vast array of different design approaches to the same content. Sound challenging and fun! I’m in!

Great book resources, too. Highly recommend Dan Roam’s and Robin Williams’ books. I like Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. Although he’s coming from a comic’s point of view, he explains how to manipulate the reader’s eyes and force them across the page (screen in this case) the way you want using visual techniques.

[…] Tom Werner on September 24, 2010 Tom Kuhlmann observes that rapid e-learning developers tend to develop their skills in three […]

Great material for development. I am working with an extremely powerful PC based software, EON Professional,that allows developers to create, from previously designed models, a level of interactivity that can be worked with in 2D, 3D stereo on PCs at home within an e-learning course, in a lab, embedded in Powerpoints for instruction, in immersive environments (CAVES), in web based, collaborative meeting rooms, etc.

Many interesting points (as always), thank you Tom!

Dear Tom,

Many thanks for your tips. They are very helpful. I describe the advantages and disadvantages of e-learning, but it’s still in German but here is a translated page.

Many greetings from Germany

October 13th, 2010


Your advice is excellent, as are your links to other experts. Really appreciate it.

Thanks mate,


Great post. I’m frequently asked “Where do we start?”, and I do find your progression to be great. The only problem I often come across is that I’ll get referred to as “Brian…you know, the graphics guy.”. Over the past few years, I’ve really steered clear of jumping right into redesigning “slides”, and began by asking questions. Basic ID questions, to help set the objectives, such as “Clarify for me what you want your audience to DO as a result of taking this training?”. Questions that really help influence the course content/words. This in turn helps me spend my graphic design time on pages that I know will be helpful to the learner.

I am amazed (dismayed) at the level of attention given by the product and your participants to ‘presentation stuff’, and the total lack of consideration to the educational pedagogy that the product supports. Is education just about transmitting stuff, online or f2f (i.e., ppt??)? Elearning came into being in the early 1980s to enable learning collaborations, not to emphasize getting stuff online, presentation over pedagogy (what some have called shovelware).

Educators! trainers! pls. give some thought to ‘learning’ not just teaching, and to process not just product.

Students do not become learned or innovators through memorization or knowledge aquisition strategies. There are barnyards of research showing how knowledge acquistion doesn’t work and dumbs people down. Consider and seek strtegies and software environments that support and encourage knowledge building (innovativeness).

Sorry, Articulate! But your stuff is moving us backwards.

@elinda9: I suspect you didn’t read the post or many on this blog.

@elinda9: I think you’re focusing on one particular flavor of interaction without giving due to other types of conveyence, illustration, and communication of concepts.

I think that most would agree that there’s a distinct difference between education (deep) and training (shallow / task focused) regardless of learning process being centric. Most of the things you see here are squarely training focused, NOT academic in nature. I see a clear distinction in goals and execution between these two.

I think most would also agree that some concepts are learned as effectively with the assistance of an autonomous packaged illustration as they would be with a more organic / constructivist approach. While other concepts are not. Applying one formula to everything is a recipe for failure.

Your comment seems to point a finger at a tool / community that effectively use a process and toolset to meet their needs and goals. I agree, if taken too far this can result in backwards movement. I also agree that many, perhaps most, of the designs that materialize from these easy button output tools are vapid and empty. But they would be just as vapid or empty using any other platform or tool, the fault is human – not technology or tool.

You mention that memorization and information acquisition doesn’t work. I agree. But if you dig a little deeper you’ll see that this community is attempting to bend that habit into something that is more results / performance change oriented and less information centric. Read the reference to Cathy Moore’s action mapping and the associated articles. The goal is pushing towards the change (what’s the accomplishment of the training) and not simple distribution of information in a package that is ill formed for such a purpose.

Multimeida is NOT a vessel to conveniently, and expensively, transport information when other methods, like print-based references, are as effective for the purpose. The same can be said about facilitated and group learning experiences.

I’m hesitant to cry foul at one particular method of conveyance when online interactions involving human contact are often imperfect. There’s a right and wrong solution selection for most problems. Frankly, our media selection and technology integration models suck. So do many of our online facilitation staffs. There are real success stories involving the application of human arrangements to technology (not as many the other way around).

Technology has also failed to advance at the rate most would anticipate it might have since the 60’s. We really haven’t gotten that far. My question is – if needs drive technology requirements, maybe a whole population of educators and innovators simply isn’t ready for adaptive learning environments and accelerated skill acquisition using intelligent machines.

– Good day and good cheer.

Steve’s comment is quite apt. I’m new to eLearning, both as a student and as a developer, however, I have taught in many contexts for several years. Linda’s point is true, but within the scope of what I’ve seen of this blog, which does offer insights as well as tools, for all kinds of learning, she’s off-base.

What I like about this blog is that it offers so much for all the different kinds of eLearning developers.

The strength of this particular post is that it offers a developmental guide for those like me, who’re just starting out. Many thanks, Tom.

[…] I call this the rapid elearning story because it’s a story many people relate to.  It’s also a great framework for learning to build courses.  I shared more detail in the post on building a roadmap to better rapid elearning.  […]

[…] E-Learning Resources It’s hard to believe that we’re approaching the last quarter of 2010. A Simple Roadmap to Better Rapid E-Learning I get a lot of questions about how to get started with building e-learning courses. I’ve covered […]