The Rapid Elearning Blog

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - curse of the frankencourse

A while back I got an email from a blog reader who was excited about her first elearning project. She said that she had used every single tip I ever shared on the blog. Sure enough, she did. In fact, her product was less elearning course more Rapid E-Learning Blog museum.

I mention this because something she did in her course was common to many of the courses I see. It’s what I like to call the Frankencourse. And it’s something that’s easy enough to fix.

On the surface Frankenstein looked like a person, albeit partially decomposed. But he really was a bunch of people cobbled together—an arm here, a leg there. And in a similar sense instead of looking like a single course, many elearning courses look like a bunch of courses cobbled together.

Tools within Tools

Most rapid elearning tools are like Articulate Presenter and convert PowerPoint slides to Flash (and soon HTML5). And they can be augmented using a series of form-based tools like Quizmaker and Engage. Or if you’re using other products you’ll add the Flash output to the PowerPoint slide.

 Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - get rid of the cobbled look

On one hand this is really cool and convenient and is what makes rapid elearning so popular, especially the form-based authoring. On the other hand it introduces some design challenges that you’ll need to consider when building your courses.

Each tool you import also exists as a standalone product. That means it has its own player and distinct look. This is especially true of form-based tools where you have less control over the look and layout because the software creates it for you.

Because of this, it’s important to be intentional about the design of the course. If not, you run the risk of having that cobbled look instead of a cohesive product that looks like everything belongs together.

Be Consistent with Intentional Design

In a previous post we looked at how to be intentional in the course design. This is probably the single biggest way to avoid the Frankencourse. Be intentional about what goes on the screen. Nothing’s there by accident.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - what content is on your elearning course screen

There are only so many things you can put on the screen. Which fonts are you going to use? How many? Which colors are in your course? Will all of your shapes be the same? Are you going with vector objects like clip art and shapes or you going to use photographs?

The screen is going to have some content and that content is going to have a look, whether you plan it or not. To avoid the Frankencourse, be intentional about what goes on the screen and why.

Understand the Authoring Tools

The more you know about the tools, the more you’ll be able to do to avoid the discordant look of the course. Many of the rapid elearning applications are form-based so they come with a specific look.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - getting started elearning course

Often people go with the default settings. However the default settings aren’t necessarily aligned to your course’s look. In the example below, you can see that the default quiz that’s inserted in the course doesn’t have a layout or color scheme that matches the course image above.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - using a default rapid elearning application

  • Make your templates match. When adding content from other applications match the color schemes and design elements used in the course. This way they’ll look like they belong together.
  • Blend the different applications. Create a transparent player for the application you insert. This way you get the functionality of the inserted application and it pulls in the background from the course screen.

In the example below, I used the same quiz as above. But instead of going with the default, I made the quiz player transparent and matched the color scheme and design elements so it looks like it’s part of the course design. It’s the same quiz, but I think you’ll agree that it looks much better in the course.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - using Articulate Quizmaker to create a dynamic elearning quiz

Many form-based tools, especially quizzes have that blocky form look. One of my favorite features in Articulate Quizmaker is being able to switch to slide view. This provides a freeform screen to compose your own look.

Compare the two before and after images below. The first image is the default quiz form and the second is the exact same question composed in slide view. As you can see slide view gives you freedom to create the look and feel you need and still offers the easy authoring of rapid elearning.

Articulate Rapid E-Learning Blog - comparing Articulate Quizmaker form and freeform

Of course when you use a tool like Storyline much of this changes because everything’s part of a single application. But if you do combine PowerPoint-to-Flash with other applications, you’ll need to examine the tools. And then see where you can make edits so that the content you pull together all looks like it belongs together.

In either case, whether you use rapid elearning tools or a more custom approach there are things you can do to avoid the Frankencourse. The main point is to be intentional about what you want and then to make sure that the design decisions you make are applied consistently throughout the course.

*Frankenstein icon via yootheme


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27 responses to “Avoid the Curse of the Frankencourse”

Thank you for this, cause I was struggling with Quizmaker and Engage to look similar to my slides.
The thing is that I set the Frame in Quizmaker to a transparency of 100%, but then the feedback pop-ups appear transparent too.
Is there anyway else this can be set transparent?

Thank you very much for your advice about Frankencourses; it’s true that they seem to be human but they aren’t 🙂


@Belen: when you set the player transparent in QM, that also sets the feedback box to transparent. Solution: remove the feedback text from the feedback box and then create a blank slide to add feedback. Here’s a tutorial that explains how.

June 26th, 2012

Ahhh…poor lady, she was just super excited. Hope she doesn’t see this… : )

Thanks for another great article, Tom. I love getting new ideas and learning new techniques for handling issues and improving course design, but I have to try to quell the urge to apply everything to courses (and suites of courses) currently in development.

When I started in this field years ago, I picked up the habit of having an idea file. Back then it was a manilla folder, now it’s a combination of Google docs. 😉 I try to keep design ideas I see, color schemes, “games”, and other visual and instructional design ideas.

Thanks, again!

Do you have a more detailed description of how to set the QM player to transparent? I had been using slide view and importing the same background into QM, but that takes so long, especially when you have many quiz questions and have to update the slide for each.

[…] View original post here: Avoid the Curse of the Frankencourse: A while back I got an email from a blog reader who was excited… […]

@Keith: I actually talked to her about it and she got a chuckle out of the Frankencourse concept.

@Jen: in the forums you can find instructions on changing the template. Basic steps: create a new template and then edit the colors. Turn all colors to 100% transparent. Also, turn off all of the other features (timer, drop down list, quiz title). You should just have a transparent player and the submit button.

@MaryV: I do the same thing, only I switched to OneNote and have that sync’d via dropbox.

Very good points. Another common mistake is taking all cool ideas from different sources like your blog and mixing them together forgetting about the learning goal.

Great post, Tom. I’m sure I’ve developed more than a few ‘Frankencourses’ over the years, but one of the first things I do now is sit down and do a quick sketch of what I want to see on each screen of the course – not really a full-fledged storyboard, more of a design dump. It’s usually crude stick figures and some text, but sometimes just taking the time to mesh the visuals in my head with the ‘story’ the content is telling really gives me the starting point I need for making judgment calls on the fonts, colors, visual character and graphic treatments that make for a cohesive look & feel.

It’s wonderful what you have shared over the years.
However, I am having a hard time thinking of how to get started with my course.
Perhaps, if you would take us through the conception of a course to the actual development of it, would be greatly appreciated.

Greetings – excellent article as always – reminded me of when I started working in Public Broadcasting and the new directors get into editing and want to use every special affect (especially wipes from edit to edit). It takes awhile to learn that less is more.

As the English major and a reader – I just have to say Frankenstein is the Doctor – the monster (made up of many parts) is the Monster. :-] Nancy K.

Another possible cause for the Frankencourse is inheriting a course from a previous maintainer and having to use a whole set of new tools than they used to add to it.

(Side note: Frankenstein himself wasn’t a cobbled-together person, his creation was.)

Thanks Tom, great read! I work with a lot of training providers who truly believe that elearning courses can be cobbled together out of and outs from open training sessions and some dodgy clip art – true Frankencourses!

I think giving your elearning a set theme and a nice gloss over makes it consistent and audience appropriate – not to mention a lot more professional – thanks for the tips!

@Conrad: good point. But your side note is not entirely accurate. If you refer to the book, Frankenstein was the doctor. If you refer to the play and or the way it’s accepted today then Frankenstein can be both the doctor or monster.

@Nancy: it is commonly accepted that Frankenstein can be both the doctor or monster. 🙂

[…] looking at it in the broader context of the overall purpose, I can be consistent and coherent. As Tom Kuhlmann states:  “Many elearning courses look like a bunch of courses cobbled together …The main point is to […]

[…] a previous post we reviewed how to avoid the Frankencourse. These are courses that look like a bunch of modules that are cobbled together rather a single […]

Even when people use a single tool like the VLE Moodle with it’s visual outline organizer, it is still possible to create a Frankenstein course when they use the built-in tools for creating stand alone assignments and resources. So thanks! I now have a name for it.

[…] Who doesn’t want free PowerPoint templates? If you build rapid elearning courses, they can save time. And if you’re challenged for ideas or graphic design skills they also help bring a consistent and clean look to your rapid elearning courses so that you avoid the Frankencourse. […]

August 5th, 2012

A good job in graphic design increases the student’s interest.

[…] looking at it in the broader context of the overall purpose, I can be consistent and coherent. As Tom Kuhlmann states:  “Many elearning courses look like a bunch of courses cobbled together …The main point is to […]

[…] you a PowerPoint file that doesn’t look all that great. It’s the breeding ground for a classic Frankencourse with too many fonts, the wrong colors and hokey images. It’s a complete mess. And your job is to […]

[…] Avoid the Curse of the Frankencourse […]