The Rapid Elearning Blog

Last week was great.  I was in Atlanta at the Training 2009 and got to meet many blog readers who presented me with some interesting elearning challenges.  I love it.  The problem solving is fun and a great learning opportunity. 

During the conversations, one of the things that really stood out was how tough the economy has made it for many in the learning industry.  The way it seems to work is that organizations restructure and somewhere in the process the training people are usually the first to go.  Even if you don’t get laid off, there’s always the concern that you will.  This creates a lot of stress.  I had a lot of people ask what they can do to avoid this. 

There are few guarantees in life.  However, when organizations do make tough decisions they always lean on those things that provide the most value.  So if I were to offer any advice, it would be to provide the most value that you can.  You don’t want to be seen as an expense to the organization.

The best way to bring value is to align your work to the organization’s core mission.  The further you get from meeting those goals, the less value you bring.  Unfortunately, training groups typically are reactive to the organization’s goals and not proactive.  That means they end up doing a lot of stuff to fix mistakes, rather than promoting ways to move things forward.

If there’s good news in all of this, it’s that rapid elearning brings a lot of opportunity in these tough economic times.  There’s a need to do more with less.  Rapid elearning fits that bill.  Switching from instructor led training to elearning makes sense.  And using rapid elearning tools as the starting point makes more sense than hiring costly multimedia developers.

The challenge in all of this is that rapid elearning has to bring real value and isn’t just a bunch of PowerPoint files converted to Flash and then put online.  In fact, during the conference, I participated in a Rapid Elearning Shootout with other vendors.  The goal was to take a linear PowerPoint file and convert it to engaging and interactive content using our tools.

Articulate won the shootout.  However, what I want to focus on is how I restructured the content, because it speaks to ways that you can offer more value to your organization using rapid elearning software.

Not Everything Needs to Have Bells & Whistles

Following is a link to the original version.  This type of course is typical of what many of you see in your organizations.  While it’s not necessarily the most engaging presentation, it is informative.  And believe it or not, a lot of learners like something like this where there are few animations and they can quickly scan the information. 

The Rapid E-Learning Blog: original PowerPoint course

View the original course here.

If this is all your organization wants, then it works.  It might not be the perfect course or highly interactive, but you can fight “the man” and argue your case for engaging elearning later when the economy is better.

I already know that some of you are rolling your eyes and saying that this is the worst of elearning.  That’s not true.  The worst of elearning is paying a Flash programmer to produce something like this for a lot more money.  Trust me.  I talk to people all the time.  I’m amazed at what they’re being charged for basic courses that they could do themselves for a lot less.

By creating rapid elearning courses, you bring value to your organization because you can drive down the cost of production. However, no software replaces the need for sound instructional design.

Convert a Linear Course to Be More Interactive

Now let’s take a look at my version of the same course.  I took a typical linear PowerPoint course and converted it to something that is more focused on helping the learner meet the organization’s goal, which is to sell the clock.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog: modified PowerPoint course 

View the updated course here.

As you review it, don’t get hung up on the content which is irrelevant.  Instead, focus on how I converted the linear information to something that is a more relevant learning experience.  You’ll notice that the approach is generally simple and easy to create.  And, you’re not really losing any content. 

People aren’t course-deficient.  Here’s the deal.  Your organization isn’t saying that they want people taking more courses.  What they want is that people meet goals.  The course is a means to meet those goals.  Focus on that outcome and not on just creating elearning courses. 

  • The goal of the course is that the learner is able to sell Skyscan clocks.  I restructured the info-centric slides to be more customer-focused.  I felt that the original file was too focused on the clock information and not enough on working with a customer to sell the clock.  So I broke the info into three sections focused on product information, sales opportunities, and customer FAQs.  I also made the assessment based on a customer interaction rather than a pure knowledge check.  You’ll notice that the content isn’t much different, it’s just restructured.

 The Rapid E-Learning Blog: open navigation

  • I freed up the navigation so that the course seemed more exploratory and less like a linear course.  That gives the learner the opportunity to go where they want rather than me forcing them all to go down the same path.  Clicking on slides in a linear order has nothing to do with them selling the clocks.  Ultimately, they pass or fail by selling product. 
  • I gave the learners immediate access to the assessment.  As I stated earlier, my concern is less about the learners “taking the course” and more about them being able to sell the product.  My measure of success is not slides viewed.  It’s that through the assessment they can demonstrate the level of understanding they need to be effective at selling clocks. 

Because you are limited to PowerPoint doesn’t mean you can’t build effective elearning.  I converted some of the slide content to Engage interactions, but for the most part the essence of this course is created in PowerPoint, including most of the graphics.  That’s a big time saver. 

Many of you are limited to PowerPoint and don’t have access to Flash programmers.  That’s OK because the rapid elearning tools fill the gap.  It just requires that you make the most of the tools you have.  You’ll save time and money, build better courses, and be an asset to your organization.

  • A large part of elearning is visual design.  If you want your learners engaged, make sure you start with an inviting design.  If the original was an orientatio
    n course for new members of the Illuminati, I might have kept the color scheme.  However, for my rework I opted for an open and inviting feel.  I used a larger font size, lighter colors, and a lot less text. 
  • The first interaction where you have to click on the Skyscan interface is built entirely in PowerPoint.  If you click on the wrong spot, you are bumped to a reject slide.  You can only advance forward by clicking on the correct part of the interface.  In this interaction, I wanted to show that you can build effective scenarios and interactivity without other tools.  I also didn’t bother explaining the display.  If I am telling the customer that the display is intuitive and easy to read, then I shouldn’t need a big long explanation of how to read it.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog: build interactions in PowerPoint

  • As a bonus, I even used PowerPoint to create Flash animations by publishing the slides in Articulate Presenter.  Then I pulled the slide’s flash file (.swf) from the data files and used them in my Engage interactions.  That’s another big time saver and effective use of the tools you have.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog: use PowerPoint to build Flash animations

Why are we training people to sell clocks to Alex Trebek?  I don’t want to disparage the other shootout entries (or those who use Jeopardy games) but it seems like any time you mention elearning and interactivity, someone pulls out a Jeopardy-style game.  What’s up with that?  What did the training industry do before Jeopardy?  I wish I had been working during the Gong Show era.  That would have made for some good elearning. 🙂

Games can have a place in the learning process.  However, you add more value to your organization if you design your learning interactions to match the desired outcome of the training.  Where do Jeopardy, crosswords, and matching puzzle pieces fit in the process?  Don’t just throw a game into your course because you can.  They can distract from your goals rather than enable them.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog: gong show

Assess your learners on what they need to do.  The original quiz questions are based on the product.  I changed the focus from the product to answering customer questions.  I still cover the same information, but am better off putting it in context to how the learner would use it.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog: assessment

Streamline the objectives.  I replaced the bullet point objective list with a simple and clear statement.  By dividing the content into sections, the learner can figure out what’s covered in the sections. 

The Rapid E-Learning Blog: simplified objectives

Summarize the course by what actions you want them to take.  I added a simple action items slide to help them focus on the essence of that section.  Many people zone out during the course and can lose sight of its purpose.  A simple summary built on what they should do with the information helps.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog: actionable summary

Provide additional resources to the learners.  One of the problems with elearning courses is that they are locked and tracked.  Many times, after the course the learner can’t revisit the content.  The irony is that one of the benefits of online learning is the asynchronous access to information and training.

In this case, I created an attachments section where I provided a link to a web site and owner’s manual for more information.  It’s available to those learners who want them.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog: attached resources

As you can see, there are simple things you can do to convert a linear course that is focused on information and convert it to something that is more focused on the outcome. 

The first rule of engagement is context and relevance.  You can get away with a simple linear course if the information means something to the learner.  However, you can’t mask irrelevance with games and gimmicky tricks.  If anything it is more a waste of the organization’s time and resources.  The course means nothing to the learner as a game if it means nothing to them in the real world. 

Focus on courses that bring value by aligning the objectives with the organization’s goals.  By doing so, you demonstrate your value and stand a better chance of retaining your position in these tough economic times.

What would you recommend to your peers to demonstrate value to the organization?  Click here to share your thoughts.


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37 responses to “Here's How You Can Save Your Training Job in this Economy”

Far too many people forget that people on the job pass or fail by selling product (or by resolving customer problems, or by scheduling installations…)

I couldn’t agree more about Jeopardy games, which you’d think was mandatory in corporate settings. (I wonder how many people under 40 actually watch Jeopardy? It’s my dad’s favorite show, but he’s 95.)

By coincidence, I wrote about rapid instructional design today myself. Actually, I cheated (or took advantage of existing resources) by highlighting a terrific article by Thiagi. It’s ten years old, so doesn’t mention Articulate or Twitter, but it does offer excellent and practical ideas for, as you say, providing the most value you can.

February 17th, 2009

Hello Tom,
Inspiring words and gratulations with the Shoot out. Usually a shootout is just about time, but in your blog you easily convert it to quality. As simple as it looks, I can see clearly that you have a good look at graphic design, didactical skills and a very high knowledge of your product and other tools. So to comment on your lines about what value to add if you are an e-learning professional: Not everyone can create these great, fast developed but slick courses. Even if the product (Articulate) is very easy. It needs the touch of the master ;o)

February 17th, 2009

@Dave and Tom: I (38) even had to lookup the word Jeopardy in Google! It came up with a lot of PowerPoint templates ;o))

• As a bonus, I even used PowerPoint to create Flash animations by publishing the slides in Articulate Presenter. Then I pulled the slide’s flash file (.swf) from the data files and used them in my Engage interactions. That’s another big time saver and effective use of the tools you have.

Can you elaborate on how to do this? Thanks!

Great post as always, Tom.

I think you’re wrong about the Gong Show era though – we’re actually right in the middle of it. Most eLearning I see these days deserves “The Gong.” Fortunately, some of us are trying desperately to change that – and most of us are using Articulate software to do it. 🙂

Sidenote: perhaps a Gong button should be mandatory on eLearning courses? Hmm…

This blog consistently has very substantive and useful posts. Thank you for this one and keep up the great work!

Well done! The change was phenomenal. One thing the courses inadvertently pointed out is how distracting mistakes can be. I was consistently distracted by “Day Light Savings Time” because it’s incorrect. It’s “Daylight Savings Time,” daylight is one word and saving does not have an S on the end (it’s not like a savings account). The point is I was distracted by the persistent error.


Timely article. Our small group had always focused on technical training for dealer technicians. We made the move to a more blended learning approach and with that, sales training for dealer sales staff focused on product features, benefits and handling potential customer objections. It has gone extremely well and certainly helps create more value for the company, and higher exposure for us.

February 17th, 2009

You are a riot!Not only do I learn a lot from you but you crack me up!For those of you that did not watch the demo until the end…you need to. You have a bonus for watching the whole thing. Great incentive!

“The worst of elearning is paying a Flash programmer to produce something like this for a lot more money.”

Notice from the Flash Developer community :

Articulate is Malba Toast.

What if the intended outcome isn’t that all the learners will be able to do the same thing (like sell clocks) but the goal is for folks to really understand very dense subject matter (like Section 616(d) of the Individuals with Diability Education Act.)

Given a very wide range of experience and learning styles, it seems like a presentation with a number of options with different approaches is needed but that may not seem “streamlined” to newbies.


@Geri: Here’s the answer to the question about using Presenter to create some simple Flash animations. Shhh. Don’t tell, Micah. 🙂

When you publish a course in Presenter, you get a data folder that has all of your SWF files. In essence, each slide becomes a Flash movie (slide1.swf). Whatever animations, images, and audio you have on that slide is in the movie. You can pull that swf into Engage or Quizmaker.

Thus you can use PowerPoint and Presenter to create Flash animations that you can use elsewhere.

February 17th, 2009

Very cool.
This is off-topic, but I’m wondering how you did the animations on the three lesson areas (product info, sales, faqs).
I like to use the Emphasis animations in PowerPoint, but they don’t always work in Articulate. Some, like Grow/Shrink, do work but need a fair amount of tweaking.

Alice, to the extent that you can identify performer-relevant goals like “recognize discriminatory behavior” or “avoid violating 616(d)”), I think Tom’s many examples point ways to success.

For a mandatory ethics program at a federal agency (where the goal could have been “don’t do bad stuff”), we used actual difficult cases as a framework for “what would you do?” scenarios. (Most people know to turn down the briefcase filled with $100 bills.) To reflect real life, we included options to “consult” either virtual others (coworkers, boss), check regulations, and even check the merit of a tentative decision.

So participants made choices and good feedback. Alas, I’ve had clients for whom “understanding” including “state the year the ADA was passed,” not my idea of a valuable on-the-job skill.

February 18th, 2009

Hi Tom,

I have suscribed to your blog just a week back or so.I am l e fortunate that I did so.The way you have transformed a
boring,linear course to an interactive one,is amazing.
Congrats for winning the shootout…!

An argument I use in tough times is that we need to retain and motivate our best staff . If we can’t afford to offer staff financial incentives we can show we value them in another way by investing in their skills and development through training.

Tom, I started reading your blog a couple of months ago and am an avid fan now. You always manage to pick great examples to showcase and i was wondering where you get all these wonderful static presentations from that are just begging to be turned into gold? Any treasure trove of resources you can point to?


I was just wondering how you did the animation on the FAQ page? Did each question just link to a new page with the animation starting automatically?

February 19th, 2009

Hi Tom. I was at the Training Conference last week, and wanted to come meet you. Evidently others had the same idea. Every time I walked by the Articulate booth, somone was already talking to you.

Was the “non-linear” example posted in this blog the version you submitted for the shootout? If so, how did you pull off the voice-over?

February 19th, 2009

Hi, Tom

It’s honored to communicate with you. I’m a foreigner with poor English, so pls have more torlerance of my grammer error
I’m very appreciate the selfless experience sharing of you. My work is developping the elearning course for the internal training. I do have passion for my job. But the history of elearning in my country is much shorter than the western world. Sometimes I feel confused to how and where to learn more about it. Luckily, I found your blog. Though only can around 70% be understand, it’s very helpful.
I wish I could say more. I believe I can say more someday!
Regards and thanks!

@Steve: I used the flashbulb animation. I like it. Simple and clean. No tweaking. 🙂

@Alice: Dave makes a good point. Regardless of the content, there’s always an angle that is relevant to the learner. Otherwise, why do they need to take the course. Figure out that angle and then present the info from that perspective.

@Jon: the FAQ was built with Articulate Engage.

@Brian: I hired someone for the voiceover. I liked the demo and wanted to use it on our site after the fact. The shootout was about converting the original slides to something more Engaging using the rapid elearning tools.

@Sophia: Welcome to the blog.

In your assessment you used a bunch of different images of the same person. I’m always having trouble finding this. What stock photo site did you use?

Fantastic article and “real” example. Tom, you make it look so easy and natural! As a designer, I know that it takes much more effort (and a special talent) to simplify information to it’s most effective level. I love how you put yourself in the learner’s shoes and create content that is relevant to him/her. Thanks!


Enjoyed the “Easter Egg” at the very end of the course! Where did you get that video?

Jenise Cook

You make a good point Tom. If one stays true to their role of instructional designer, trainer, what ever you might call yourself, the impact should be pretty clear. Though, it wouldn’t’ help to implement a self-audit once in a while. Since we expect it of others when we design our courses.

Rewind, strike that! It WOULD help to do a self-audit.


Your posts always help me to improve my e-learning courses! Thank you!

I really enjoyed the post test interaction. I have a similiar sales presentation that I’m trying to put together and would like to use your post test technique. I can’t figure out how you made it work though (within Quizmaker?) with the pictured feedback and having the learner go back through parts of the training if they did not do well. My quizmaker knowledge has been limited to making the more standard multiple choice and t/f type questions but I really like how you turned it into an experience with a customer and I want to duplicate that in my training! Please point me in the right direction!


I love your posts, always very helpful. I just thought I would let you know that I received a call from another vendor the other day telling me that their product was better because they won the shoot-out. I had just read this post, so I had to challenge the vendor on this and a couple of other claims that they were using to try to tell me that their product was better than Articulate’s. It was interesting to me how one vendor could be either, devious or very uninformed, regardless – he is now up to date. Needless to say, I won’t be using their product.

Keep up the great work! You guys ROCK!

@Jenise: not sure where I got the pug, it kind of made it’s way around the internet a few years ago. I like to use it for demos. If my presentation’s going bad, I’m always guaranteed a laugh. 🙂

@Shannon: thanks for the support. Winning shootouts is fun, but the real measure of success is that we provide easy to use products and outstanding customer service. In fact, one of the reasons we do this blog is to help you make the most of the investment you’ve made in us.

Hi Dave Ferguson. I liked your posting. It inspired me to write this message. I just wanted to let you know, I’m 32 years old and I watch Jeopardy and love it! I think it’s intellectually stimulating and beneficial. I wish more people my age and younger watched it. Because people are apt to learn by vision and interaction, I think that by watching games like Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune and Lingo, maybe it would actually cure one of the many “diseases” our country has: stupidity. I am a young, educated, “old soul” (more in touch with the older generations) and am embarassed by the amount of stupidity I have encountered, especially when I sometimes pause to watch the crap that is on t.v.! Quick story..and because I have a kind heart, I am going to spare this next person’s name. But, a couple years ago, I attended a concert that had various country artists. One of them was a young, rising male singer who is still popular today. Anyway, he was talking about our country’s history and that the declaration of independence was written 400 years ago! Oh my gosh, are you kidding me?! I can’t help but think to myself “Is this the young generation that is really going to take care of me when I become old and fragile?” Dear Lord, Help us all!
To sum it up, whether you’re in school or in a career for 30 years, it is never too late to learn something new. Technology and processes keep advancing. Besides that, education builds knowledge and skills.

[…] en substance le titre un poil provocateur d’un billet récent sur le blog de Tom Kuhlmann, fondateur d’Articulate. Face à un scénario de crise économique, Tom conseille […]

[…] Here’s How You Can Save Your Training Job in this Economy […]

May 10th, 2011


How did you get the content tab to switch over to the transcript tab during the presentation?


@schulze: you can set which tab you want to be the starting tab in the player settings

I’m having the hardest time replicating the shapes used in the presentation. Any chance you could post those for download?

Which shapes are you trying to replicate? I have a download of the template in the community.