The design and development of a successful, pedagogically sound, instructor-led training (ILT) course is difficult enough, and e-Learning development adds a technology element that further complicates the process. Both development sequences start with the initial design and with content collection. But from there anything goes, depending on the development team and the applications it uses.
In a perfect world, the development team comprises instructional designers, graphic designers, and programmers. The programmers in this perfect world are proficient with all the latest techie tools, and they are fluent in HTML, XML, and ActionScript. However, in the real world, the development team usually consists solely of instructional designers. With any luck, someone on the team will be creative and know a little about Photoshop. Someone else may have some limited knowledge of HTML. On a first project, on fast turnaround projects, or in a small organization the usual solution is to outsource graphics, Flash development, any infrastructure connections to an LMS, and any other tasks requiring technical skills.
In this article, I provide a technical look at how an in-house team can develop e-Learning using a familiar tool, Microsoft PowerPoint, with the help of a not so familiar tool — Articulate™ Presenter. This overview is based on our experience at ADP, where we are using this combination to create multimedia presentations used in classroom training, and to produce e-Learning that supports:
- Announcements to market new training programs
- Pre-work for instructor-led training
- Product overviews
- Application training
- Soft skills training
In addition, I’ll outline how we are able to create assessments and to track learner progress with related products.
PowerPoint + Articulate = control
For years PowerPoint has been a mainstay of the presentation technology used in the classroom to assist in the delivery of instructor-led material. It has become a robust tool, providing an outline view, a notes view, drawing tools, animation, sound and video. In my experience, this is everything needed to develop basic e-Learning content, except for the Web capability.
Articulate adds a menu entry to PowerPoint and gives the development team access to a suite of e-Learning publishing tools. (See Figure 1.) These tools convert PowerPoint presentations to Flash movies, for delivery via the Web or on CD-ROM.
Figure 1 Articulate appears within PowerPoint as a new menu item, and offers several publishing options that turn a PowerPoint file into an e-Learning program.
Figure 2 presents the development process as six main phases. There are features specific to both Power-Point and Articulate that streamline the process in each of these phases.
- In Phases 1 and 2, PowerPoint supports creation and organization of the visual content display, while the tools in Articulate help to coordinate the efforts of designer and subject matter expert (SME).
- In Phases 3 and 4, PowerPoint offers strong tools to create animation and interactivity; developers are often unaware of the full capabilities of these tools. At the same time, Articulate supports the all-important audio elements and insertion of elements not addressed by PowerPoint.
- Phases 5 and 6 bring in the elements of assessments and packaging for the Web and the Learning Management System (LMS). Articulate offers the key to these final steps.
Figure 2 Together, PowerPoint and Articulate provide support for six phases of e-Learning development.
Development in six phases
Let’s examine each of the six phases in detail and identify examples of how PowerPoint and Articulate provide designers with a new level of control in e-Learning development.
Phase 1: Content collection and review
In developing ILT, designers often use Microsoft Word to collect, write and organize content. With e-Learning, it is more usual to find designers using PowerPoint for this purpose. PowerPoint provides a great tool for gathering the initial content to begin synthesizing it, sorting it, and ultimately developing the final script. Often the content provided by Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) is already in PowerPoint, so it is easy to cut and paste slides and notes from one presentation to another. Graphic content (diagrams, photos, illustrations) can be pasted into a PowerPoint slide, while the corresponding copy can be stored in the slide notes. This technique isn’t necessarily “new” to designers — many of us have been doing this for years. However, as you probably already know, this is not a totally problem-free method. Writing directly in the notes pages has some serious limitations.
The Normal View in PowerPoint (please refer back to Figure 1) displays the slide list, the current slide and the current slide notes, through a split screen arrangement. Using this view, the designer can create a script of any length. The trouble comes when the document needs to be printed for review. The Notes Page view only provides a certain amount of real estate on the page for the text. Remember, PowerPoint was not intended to be an e-Learning development tool. The notes pages are meant to be “notes” not “script.” In addition, slides for an ILT course are not text intensive because the trainer is expected to provide the “meat.” The slide is just there to illustrate or to summarize the instructor’s comments. As a result, designers find themselves once again using Microsoft Word or other word processing tools to develop the e-Learning script.
Articulate supports and extends PowerPoint’s Outline view and Notes Pages for writing and content collection in a way that overcomes these issues. The developer, using Articulate, can script directly in PowerPoint and “publish” the Notes Pages directly to a Word document. Choosing “Publish” from the Articulate drop-down menu within Power-Point, developers can choose to publish only the content found in the notes, or they can choose to publish both the slides and the notes pages. Either option will produce a new Word document, with no limitations on the amount of content. Figure 3 displays the Publish to Word option offered by Articulate, which offers a further choice of publishing to a Word storyboard or to Word notes. So, with a few simple clicks, the designer can easily convert the script to a formatted Word document.
Figure 3 Articulate provides a complete set of publishing options to support review and delivery.
This is especially convenient during the review process since many designers already provide SMEs with the initial draft in a Word format and use Word’s Track Changes feature. Unfortunately, there is no Articulate option to import the changes back into PowerPoint once the script has been reviewed. The designer can either type or cut and paste the changes directly back into Power-Point from the Word document.
Publishing the script to Word Notes offers an additional benefit to the developer — the ability to move from viewing the script “slide by slide” to seeing the “big picture.” Developing the e-Learning script can be a difficult transition for those designers experienced at writing material for classroom training. The e-Learning script is essentially “a story” that has a beginning and an end — it doesn’t start and stop at each slide. In addition, if the script will be recorded to audio using voice talent, the designer must make sure there are good transitions. And what about run-on sentences? Publishing the script to Word Notes allows the designer to focus specifically on the script, not on the slides or the graphics, and to evaluate the overall flow of the e-Learning “story.”
Articulate also provides two other publishing options that can be used during the content review phase: Publish to email and publish to a ZIP file (refer again to Figure 3). To summarize the complete range of choices, depending upon the level of review, Articulate offers the ability to publish the presentation to Flash and either email it or burn it into a CD-ROM for review, to email the source files (i.e. PowerPoint and audio files), to email the PowerPoint file, or to email a word storyboard or presenter notes. In addition, the Publish to ZIP File feature allows the designer to compress and archive either the Flash version of the presentation, the source files (i.e. PowerPoint and audio files), or just the PowerPoint presentation.
Once the final script has been approved, it is time to move on to storyboarding and graphics.
Phase 2: Storyboard and graphics
Often, the graphics are created simultaneously with the e-Learning script which can result in additional work. Since the script isn’t finalized, the corresponding images will need to constantly be updated to reflect new changes. Notice, in Figure 2, Phase 1 is content collection and review — no graphics have been developed yet. This is done in Phase 2, Storyboard and Graphics. Overall, it is more efficient to focus first on the development of the script and obtain the final approval before moving on to develop the storyboard and graphics. The designer’s other role at this point is to ensure that the content is more than just a “dump” of everything the SME knows. There must still be an effective analysis and design to support learning facts, concepts, processes, procedures, and principles, and to support transfer to the job.
PowerPoint offers strong graphic capabilities in the way of Drawing tools, Auto Shapes, and the various features available from the Insert Menu option. The difficulty is not necessarily in Power-Point’s limitations, but in the graphic design limitations of the ID team. When developing graphics for e-Learning, it is important to understand basic theories of graphic design such as layout, color and typography. This topic alone could become another article. So, for now, we will focus on the tools PowerPoint provides, not on techniques for using these tools.
PowerPoint imports a variety of image formats — .JPG, .GIF, .TIF, .BMP, etc. However, the focus of this article is how PowerPoint and Articulate provide a complete e-Learning development tool. So, while existing graphics and charts can be imported into PowerPoint, new charts can be created using PowerPoint’s Diagram Gallery and unique font techniques can be created with the Word Art feature. The Clip Art feature allows a quick and easy way of accessing images online, downloading and placing them directly into the presentation. So, whether you’re an instructional designer or graphic designer, PowerPoint provides all the tools necessary to create quality images and graphics directly within the PowerPoint application.
Once the graphics have been created, if another review is necessary, simply select one of the publish options offered by Articulate that we’ve previously mentioned. One nice feature of publishing to either Flash or a Word Storyboard — the designer maintains ownership of the PowerPoint file. Upon final sign-off of the script and corresponding storyboard the development process can move along to Phase 3.
Phase 3: Animation and audio
Most developers turn to Macromedia Flash when asked to provide animation in the e-Learning module, and will often need to contract the services of a Flash programmer. This of course adds substantially to the e-Learning budget. Using Articulate, developers can now leverage the animation capabilities already available within PowerPoint.
PowerPoint offers an impressive list of animation options to use when animating an e-Learning presentation. These animation options can be used to make graphics and text enter and exit the slide, become emphasized, or move specifically along a motion path. So, graphics can build in sync with the script, introducing ideas as they are presented. Text and graphics can also be animated so that they appear on the slide and then disappear to make room for additional elements on the slide. It is important to point out that since animation allows text to appear and disappear and flow along with the audio, slides can be more graphic and text intensive. Unlike ILT courses, an e-Learning module does not provide a facilitator to look to for additional “action.” Therefore, slides may be more text intensive to not only allow constant movement on the screen, but to reinforce visually what the learner is hearing in the audio.
In an effort to streamline the development process, the script should be handed off to the voice talent for recording prior to animating the presentation. This allows the animation and audio to be developed simultaneously so that once the animation is complete, the audio files are ready to import into Articulate and be timed to the animation.
Whether you are recording audio in-house, or using a studio and outside talent, here are a few things to consider. First of all, make sure the script you provide to the voice talent is in a format they can easily read and make notes on. To ensure emphasis is placed in the right areas, I recommend scheduling a “read-through” with the voice talent to catch any script changes and identify areas to emphasize. Scheduling time prior to recording audio should minimize the need to re-record. With the wealth of audio recording software available today, it is relatively inexpensive and easy to set up an in-house recording studio. The editing options and filters available will depend on the sophistication of the software. One benefit to having your talent and studio in-house is quick turnaround time for edits or re-recording. When using outside talent and recording studios, you’ll need to factor in additional time for scheduling and availability.
With the recording complete, we’re ready to put Articulate to work and convert our PowerPoint presentation to an e-Learning format.
Audio files created for the e-Learning will be imported using the Import Audio option found in the Articulate drop down menu — not the Insert Movie & Sounds option used by PowerPoint. Articulate handles the audio files a bit differently than PowerPoint in order to package the presentation for the Web. Articulate offers two choices. The complete audio track for the program can be recorded as one file. Or you may record the audio for each slide individually. This way, each slide has a corresponding audio file. I recommend the second choice, that is, when recording audio, the files will be saved on a slide-by-slide basis. The slide-by-slide audio import feature provides several benefits.
First is the ability to treat each slide individually. If an audio file needs to be changed or edited, it will only affect one slide of the presentation. Also, for future updates, specific slides can be identified and changed, requiring only that corresponding audio be re-recorded and synced with the animation.
Second, when syncing the animation with the audio, it is on a slide-by-slide basis. Articulate makes the syncing process extremely easy by using Power-Point’s Animate on Mouse Click feature instead of PowerPoint’s animation timeline feature. I’ll come back to this point.
Finally, Articulate’s compression capabilities convert high-quality WAV files into a size that is manageable for the Web — with minimal sound quality reduction.
In Phase 3, Animation & Audio, the only task associated with PowerPoint is Animation. However, this step, along with the initial creation of the graphics, comprises the majority of your development time. Considerable care should be taken to review the script and to determine innovative ways of presenting the information. PowerPoint offers endless animation possibilities; it all comes down to the creativity of the designers and their PowerPoint skills. Does PowerPoint offer the range of animation options provided by Flash? Of course it doesn’t. However, PowerPoint also doesn’t require the instructional designer to become a programmer to produce Web-based, animated, engaging and effective e-Learning modules.
It is critical in this phase to review and perfect the animation prior to importing and syncing the audio. Making sure all the elements on the slide accurately animate along with the written script will save considerable time later when you are syncing the animations to the audio. Once the animations are competed, audio files corresponding to each slide can be imported and then the syncing process can begin!
Articulate makes timing the animation with the audio an incredibly simple process. From the Edit Animation Timings dialog box, you are able to listen to the audio and simply click a button to activate the animation. Since each animation created in PowerPoint used the “on click” option, you are able to trigger when each animated element on the slide will occur. Prior to moving on to the next slide, you can review the timings and re-sync the slide if necessary. Often in this step you will discover issues with an audio file, incorrect copy, sound levels too low, etc. Since Articulate handles each slide individually, you can easily move on to sync the animation timings on the next slide while your voice talent re-records the needed audio. Then, once you’ve received the updated audio file, simply re-import and you’re ready to reedit the animation timings for that specific slide.
Prior to packaging the presentation, Articulate offers the option to review your audio. This provides one additional opportunity to check audio and animation timings in order to catch any areas that may need to be edited or re-timed to the audio.