What makes great e-Learning?

E-Learning is increasingly being used to guide and train geographically dispersed and diverse workforces, to support organisational induction processes, procedures and requirements, identify employee literacy and numeracy issues that need addressing and even improve inter-organisational collaboration.

There are numerous benefits to moving from face-to-face learning to online learning (or e-Learning) – with one of the main benefits being that it allows for quality and consistency within a training program that is not achievable through traditional delivery.

However, good e-Learning doesn’t just happen. Behind any successful e-Learning program is careful design and engaging content. But with so many factors to consider, where do you start?

what makes great e-Learning

In an ideal world you would have a generous timeframe to get together your content and work on a great looking design that will totally engage your learners from the first to last screen – but we all know that this is rarely the case.

In this first of a series of posts, I’m going to talk a little bit about how you can save time and meet those tight e-Learning program deadlines, plus come in under budget and end up with a great result.

Sound too good to be true?

Have you ever considered using e-Learning templates?

Templates are basically a shell or framework for your content. They serve to provide a standard look and feel that ensures visual and cognitive continuity. There are many reasons why using templates is a good idea. Apart from the obvious advantage, which is that using templates will help you produce amazing looking courses in a fraction of the time it would normally take, here are just a few of the other reasons you should be considering using templates for your e-Learning course development:

  • they allow you the time to focus on the learning content
  • they’re flexible and easy to use and can be easily customised to meet specific course requirements
  • they can be easily updated and re-used for an unlimited number of courses
  • they lend consistency of design to the course when there are multiple developers
  • they provide uniformity, with consistent colours, fonts and layout
  • they are technically competent, so minimise time spent working out why something isn’t working
  • they ensure a high-quality output
  • they reduce the amount of time you need to spend reviewing and approving the final product

Using a template as the basis for your e-Learning course doesn’t have to mean your course will end up looking bland, boring and predictable. You can still provide lots of variety on the screen – and starting with a course template that has a range of screen designs is a must.

Originally posted in Storyline Templates

Using button sets and audio files in Storyline

Button sets are a good option to use in an interactive design as the logic of the button set permits only one button to be selected at any one time – so when the learner selects one object from the button set, the others automatically become deselected.

In this example I used button sets, layers and triggers to allow the learner to listen to individual sound tracks one at a time from the one slide.

Here’s how I did this:

1. Create the base layer

Firstly, I added a background image and seven images/objects to the base layer.  You could use the standard Storyline buttons here – or any image/object you like.

2. Create slide layers button/object and associated audio file

Then I created a slide layer for each object on the base layer and inserted the relevant audio file (to be associated with each of the objects on the base layer) onto each slide layer.  I also added a descriptive callout to each of the slide layers so you are able to tell that you’re on a different layer when you select an object.


2. Add the objects to a button set

Storyline generates a default button set automatically for every slide.  You can use this set, or you can create your own button set.  This is explained in detail in this article by David Fair.

I created my own new button set and named this “sounds”.


When you add objects/buttons to a button set, a “selected” state is automatically created for that object or button.  You can edit this selected state the same as you can edit any other states of an object or button.  The default format for this selected state when you use button sets is a “glow” based on one of your theme colours.


3. Add the triggers

There are two types of triggers I needed to include in this design.  The first trigger was the “show layer” trigger, assigned to each object on the base layer to show the relevant slide layer “When the user clicks” the object.


The second trigger was a “Play media when the timeline starts” trigger added to each of the slide layers.

4.  Check the slide layer properties

The last thing I did was to tick the “Hide slide layer when timeline finishes” visibility option in the slide layer properties .  This probably wasn’t really necessary for this design, but it pays to check these options, depending on what content and media you have on your slide and slide layers.

If you have audio (eg narration) on your base layer, you will need to select the base layer option “Pause timeline of base layer” to pause the audio narration in the event that the learner clicks on any of the objects/buttons that will take them away from the base layer and on to one of the slide layers before the narration finishes.


Some Tips

You don’t need to use the standard “buttons” in Storyline to use the button sets feature – you can create button sets from any object.

You can add objects/buttons to a button set at any stage – just follow this same process of selecting the object/button, right-clicking and choosing the relevant button set.

Depending on the type and/or length of the audio you’re including in your layers, you may want to consider adding a “close” option so that the learner can leave the layer if they don’t want to listen to the audio to the end.

The Result

Here is the final demo I created whilst writing these instructions – click on the image below to view the demo.


How Long Does it Take to Develop 1 Hour of e-Learning?

One of the most common questions I am asked by my clients as an e-Learning developer is – “how long will it take”?

Research conducted in 2010 by Bryan Chapman, Chief Learning Strategist at Chapman Alliance is commonly referenced in the context of development time for learning across several learning formats.

I have pulled out the information relevant to e-Learning from this research and compiled a guide to assist with estimating how long it may take to develop 1 hour of e-Learning.

Of course, each e-Learning project is unique – in this compilation of information the estimates are based on the complexity of interactivity, from passive through to limited interaction and then moderate participation.

View this SlideShare for more information.

10 Things You Should Know About Articulate Storyline

Articulate Storyline 2 is “the most powerful, most intuitive software for creating interactive courses”.

As well as “putting practical tips, inspirational examples, free downloads and expert advice right at your fingertips”, the Articulate E-Learning Heroes community (“the world’s #1 e-Learning community”) posts weekly challenges which are ongoing opportunities for creatives to learn, share and build e-Learning portfolios.

Challenge #28 – Top 10 Things Learners Need to Know About Storyline was an opportunity for community members to put together a “Top 10 list of getting started tutorials” for any area of Storyline development.

My interactive entry for this challenge was a curated list of links to resources in the Articulate e-Learning Heroes knowledgebase, using a desktop theme, complete with tab navigation and light-boxed instructions. You can read about my design process here.

Reflecting on 2015


This time last year I wrote a blog post reviewing how my 2014 went and setting some goals for 2015. Looking back on this post, my prediction that 2015 would bring “many opportunities and challenges” has certainly come true and  I have definitely done some “learning, sharing and achieved success” on a number of levels. Most importantly, I have learnt a lot about myself and have a much clearer view of what it looks like for me to be happy in my work.

There were some dominating themes in my 2015 – some amazingly rewarding and some less so. I’ll start by reflecting on the “less so” ones so I can end on a positive note.

Managers, managers, managers

Early in 2015 I took on my third client as a freelancer and decided it was time to commit to working for myself and focus on providing a great service to my own clients as a freelance instructional designer and e-Learning specialist in a full-time capacity.

I could write a whole book on my previous experience with managers – needless to say, it has not all been positive. As a committed worker, focused on achieving goals and objectives, my expectations of a manager are what I would call fairly standard:

  • I need to know what is expected of me and be provided with everything I need to achieve objectives as both an autonomous worker and as a valued team member
  • I need to feel empowered to use my creative abilities
  • I need a manager to keep in touch – pick up the telephone, communicate their expectations and provide feedback when necessary

In my experience, some managers have no issues with any of this, but some do. Those who do, in my opinion, should probably not be managers.

I am someone who does not like conflict and will do everything I can to avoid this – and I most definitely have enormous respect for a manager who has the ability to manage team conflict efficiently and effectively.

“Creative leaders should develop a specific behaviour and character of a supportive, facilitative kind that provides employees with goal clarity, autonomy, freedom, intellectual stimulation and fair evaluation as these are found to be conducive to creativity and productivity.”

I work most effectively when I am working towards a goal – whether I set this goal myself, or whether it has been set for me. Setting realistic goals when you are working in a field that requires creativity is often challenging and in my experience requires a sound understanding of how to balance creativity with productivity.


I chose to become a freelancer for many reasons. I have experienced my share of office politics and I believe this just gets in the way of creativity and the ability to produce good work.

I work with commitment and integrity and my focus has been and always will be on excelling in my role. I thrive on variety and diversity in my work and as a freelancer I have much more control over the work I take on which in the end means more job satisfaction for me.

“Becoming an expert in the business of freelancing is a full-time job in itself”.

~ Ant Pugh

As someone who is relatively new to freelancing, I have come to realise that you need to devote quite a lot of time during your week to running your business. A fellow freelancer wrote a great blog post last year – 6 Surprising things I have learnt as a Freelance Elearning Designer which covers this beautifully in his first point.

I have also experienced first-hand the instability in freelancing. I don’t have an issue dealing with this as I have always been realistic with myself about this situation. From the perspective of having a better work/life balance I am very happy with the situation where I work long hours for a client when required and then have time between projects to refocus, spend time on professional development and connect with my network.


The most challenging aspect of my experience with communication since I have been working predominantly in a remote capacity has been achieving effective communication with both managers and clients.  In this age of technology when an increasing number of roles are being undertaken in a remote capacity, responsive and timely communication is essential.


Everything I achieved in 2015 was influenced by a truly supportive network of like-minded professional.  Networking takes time and effort, but the rewards are undeniable.

One of my goals for 2015 was to contribute more to discussion forums in my network.  This has brought mixed results for me – some groups I belong to or follow don’t have a strong membership and discussion threads are sparse, with responses often not forthcoming.

As a freelancer, most of my work comes through my social media presence and working out what works for me is an ongoing challenge. So, what does work?  Giving, not just taking. Recognising and acknowledging the contributions and achievements of others can be rewarding in many ways. I appreciate it when others take the time to connect with me and respond to things I’ve written or posted, so by doing this myself I feel like I’m contributing to my personal learning network in a positive way.

As an active member of the E-Learning Heroes community, my contributions to the weekly challenges have seen me reach the status of 11th position for submissions to these design challenges, with 41 submissions so far and a wealth of learning and sharing coming out of this.  I would like to congratulate each and every participant in these challenges – well done for being prepared to share your expertise and build this amazing community!

I have also found this community to be super-responsive whenever I have asked for help with technical issues and with a following of over 200,000 members, a definite positive in my 2015 year and as a community of like-minded professionals, I don’t believe you can do any better than this network.


I am still working on what my ideal scenario will be as far as the services I offer as a freelance instructional designer and e-Learning specialist.  My background in corporate training and knowledge management is still a major influence as far as what I am passionate about, so I am hoping that 2016 will bring a clearer picture as far as how I can incorporate these into my work.

Using Amazon S3 to share files

Amazon S3 is an online storage facility.  It’s cheap and easy to set up, has unlimited storage and bandwidth and no initial charges or setup costs.  Here are some Amazon S3 FAQs if you want to know more.  Using Amazon S3 you can easily store and share files for others to download or view using authenticated URL links.

1.  Create an AWS account

To use Amazon S3 you will need to create an AWS account.  Go to http://aws.amazon.com/s3 and follow the instructions.

You will receive an email with all the information you need to get started, including a link to the AWS Management Console.


Once you’re logged in you’ll need to open the S3 service under the Storage & Content Delivery section.

(You can add this to the menu bar for easy access by clicking on the Edit menu, then dragging the service to the menu bar).


2.  Use the S3 Management Console to manage your files

Objects are organised into “buckets” and within these buckets, files can be organised into folders.  You navigate this S3 interface using the breadcrumbs.

To display the properties of a file, select the file in the left-hand pane, then click on the Properties button on the right.  Each object has a unique, user-assigned key, or authenticated URL which makes it easy and secure to share files.


Create a Bucket

To create a new bucket, click on the Create Bucket button, enter a name for the bucket, choose a Region from the list, then click on Create.


Create a Folder

To create a folder, click on the Create Folder button and give the folder a name.


Upload a File

To upload a file, open the bucket or folder to which you want to upload your file/s, then click on the Upload button.  You can add files for uploading by dragging and dropping the files or folders to this upload screen, or by clicking on Add Files.  You can upload multiple files at one time using the Add Files option, but if you want to add folders you will need to use the drag and drop option.

Note:  You will need to have an up-to-date version of Java installed to be able to use the drag and drop option.

Click on Start Upload to start the process.


Set Access Permissions

By default, all new buckets and folders are secured to the owner/creator.  To change these permissions, select the file or folder you want to give access to, then click on the Make Public option under the Actions menu.


Share a file

Locate and select the file you want to share, then copy the authenticated URL link from the Properties pane on the right.


3.  Install and use a cloud storage tool

Alternatively, you can install a cloud storage tool which provides a much more user-friendly interface for managing the files in your Amazon S3 account.  There are a number of cloud storage tools available.  I’m going to cover CloudBerry Explorer which is a Windows product.  You can download this freeware here.

Connect your Amazon S3 account to CloudBerry

Once you’ve installed CloudBerry, open the application, go to the File menu and select “Amazon S3 Account”.  Double-click on the New Account icon, enter any display name you like, then enter your Amazon S3 Access key and Secret key details.  (This information is available under “Security Credentials” in the user menu at the top right of the screen in your AWS Management Console).



Manage files and folders

Instead of computer “drives”, Amazon S3 has “buckets”.  Before you can start storing files, you’ll need to create a bucket to store your files in.

Create a Bucket

To create a new bucket, click on the New Bucket icon on the toolbar in the cloud pane.  Give your bucket a name (between 3 and 255 characters in length).  Of note, you cannot rename a bucket, but you can create as many buckets as you like.  As Amazon S3 has one name-space for all bucket names, you will need to choose a unique name for your bucket that no-one else has chosen.  You can also choose a location where your bucket will be stored – more information about this is available here.


Set Access Permissions

All new buckets have “private access” only permissions.  To change these permissions, click on the ACL Settings icon on the toolbar.  This dialogue box has a number of options, including adding individual user email information and the option to apply access permissions to all subfolders and files.


Upload Files

Once you’ve created a bucket, you can upload files directly into the bucket, or you can add folders and sub-folders to store your files in.  To create a new folder, click on the New Folder icon on the toolbar.


By default, the pane on the left in CloudBerry Explorer displays your S3 buckets and stored files, and the pane on the right shows your local computer files, although you can adjust these locations to suit, or open up multiple tabs and work on more than one operation at a time.

You can drag and drop files from your computer to the S3 account, or you can choose to transfer files between Amazon S3 accounts by changing the Root directly.  You can also select files and use the toolbar options (or right-click options) to Copy or Move the files.

You can monitor the progress of your upload by showing the Queue at the bottom or the screen, and use the refresh button to refresh the display.


Share files

Once you’ve uploaded files to S3, you can share the files with anyone who has access permissions by generating a Web URL.  Select the file you want to share, then click on Web URL on the toolbar.


Select the option Generate short url using chilp.it (set an expiration date and time if necessary), then click on Generate.


Using Question Banks in Articulate Storyline for Random Branching Scenarios

A client recently presented me with a challenge to create a course with a number of scenarios, but wanted the learner to view only one of these scenarios randomly.

In Articulate Storyline, Question Banks can be used for storing slides other than question slides.  This is how you can go about setting this up.

1.  Build your Scenarios

In this example, I set up each scenario in a separate scene.


The first slide in each scenario is the slide that ends up being the one you import into your Question Bank.  In this example, I’ve already imported the first slides from three of the scenarios.  Scenario 4 has the first slide waiting to be imported into the Question Bank.


2.  Create your Question Bank

From the Home tab, click on Question Banks in the Scenes group, then select “Create Question Bank” from the list of options.


Give your Question Bank a meaningful name, click OK and your Question Bank will be created.

3.  Import Slides into your Question Bank

You can access your Question Bank from the drop down list under Question Bank in the Scenes group.


Open your Question Bank and click on ‘Import Questions’ from the Insert group of the Home tab.


Locate the slide you want to import and click to select it.  Note the ‘Import’ options at the top of the Import Questions dialogue box – you have the option to ‘Copy’ or ‘Move’ your chosen slide.  The way I built my Scenes I intended to move the slide, so this is the option I chose.


4.  Create your “Draw from New Question Bank” Slide

I then built an initial Scene that contained an opening and closing slide, plus a ‘Draw from New Question Bank Slide’ – this is the key slide to get your random branching scenario draw set up.  To add this slide, choose ‘New Draw from Question Bank’ from the drop down Question Banks list in the Scenes group of the Home tab.

(Tip:  You need to be in ‘Story View’ to access this Scenes group)



 5.  Modify the Triggers

Once you have imported your slides into your Question Bank, you will need to modify the triggers.  The trigger for the Next button needs to be modified to jump to the next slide in the scenario, which will be the first slide in the scene you have set up after you imported the initial slide from the scene into your Question Bank (I labelled this slide ‘Scenario 1/2/3/4 – Continued’).  You should also delete the ‘Jump to previous slide’ trigger assigned to the Previous button.


6.  View the Final Production

This is the final production in a video format.  You can see from the Menu that the course progresses from the ‘Opening Slide’, to a randomly selected Scenario drawn from the Question Bank, then ends with the ‘Closing Slide’.  I’ve played and recorded this twice so you can see the random selection of a different Scenario.

Click on the image to view the video

If you want the learner to view more than one of the scenarios, there is a slightly different process you need to follow – thank you to my good friend Matt Guyan for troubleshooting how to set this up for me.

You will need to set your scenario content slides up in layers, then add number variables and conditions on the Next button to show the layers.

source files

Here are the Storyline source files if you are interested in taking a look behind the scenes at how this all works.  Enjoy!

Random branching scenario – view one scenario
Random branching scenario – view more than one scenario

7 Ways to Create Engaging eLearning with Articulate Storyline

1.  Personalise the Learning Experience

A really simple but effective way to personalise the learning experience and engage learners is to capture a learner’s name, then reference their name as they progress through the course.  In Articulate Storyline this is achieved using text variables and is a simple 3-step process explained in this article by Nicole Legault: Add and Display a User’s Name in Storyline.  Here’s an example of how this works: Creating Effective Meetings

1. Personalise

Another way you can personalise your course design is by offering separate learning paths based on the learner’s job role.  Whilst not built in Articulate Storyline, this example by David Anderson explains how you could use this concept in your course design by building branching scenarios: Hands-On: Creating Branching Scenarios


2.  Make the Course Visually Appealing

Learners find it difficult to be engaged if the course doesn’t appeal to their visual senses and may actually judge the value of a course’s content by the visual design.  The key ingredients to good visual design include colour, contrast, repetition, alignment and balance.

Before you start building your course, it’s a good idea to define your key design elements.  Articulate Storyline comes with a range of built-in colour themes to choose from, or you can easily create and save your own.

2. Visually appealing

There are some other useful resources freely available that can assist you with choosing colour for your course design.  You can read more about this in this post “Choosing Colours for eLearning”.

One way to achieve contrast in your course design is to choose contrasting fonts.  You can select from a range of built in theme fonts in Articulate Storyline, or create your own custom theme.

Deciding on a style for graphics, images, icons and other design elements and using this style throughout the course slides will help to ensure consistency and repetition.  You can easily format these design elements and maintain consistency in line with your chosen colour theme by using the format options in the context sensitive ribbons.

2. Visually appealing 2

Alignment is a critical design principle.  All elements on a slide should line up with “something” – they shouldn’t be just randomly spaced.  There are a number of alignment options available in Articulate Storyline to help with this, including the ability to distribute elements horizontally or vertically with the same amount of space between them all, or you can choose to view the Gridlines and manually align your elements to these.

2. Visually appealing 3

If you need some help with balancing the design elements on a slide, you could start with one of the slide templates.  When you go to insert a new slide, choose the Templates tab, then select your template – the “Character Display Panels” template slides show here comes built-in with Articulate Storyline, are fully customisable and are a great starting point for designing well-balanced slides.  Once you start to build your own collection of slide designs, you can add these to this templates area and reuse them in future designs.

2. Visually appealing 4

3.  Give Learners a Choice

Creating a learning experience that allows learners to make choices throughout the course is a good way to actively involve them in their own learning and keep them engaged.  This can be as simple as allowing them to choose a character to guide them through the course, or choose what they would like to do next.


This New Hire Orientation Drag Navigation demo by David Anderson presents learners with a choice by prompting them to drag the course character through a door to immediately branch to a new scene.

3. Give learners a choice 3

By incorporating choices throughout a course you cater to different learning styles and the course navigation becomes less linear.  Giving the learner control over their learning will keep them more engaged and help with retention of information.

4.  Encourage Exploration and Discovery by Including Interactivity

Interactivity is about letting learners decide what they’ll see on the screen by inviting them to interact, rather than “pushing” the information to them.

Almost all interactivity is built on three elements – click, hover or drag and engages the learner by requiring them to make decisions, either by applying what they’ve learned or giving them control over the content they want to see.

This Flat Design Office Workspace example created in Storyline by Andrew Sellon is proposed as an alternative way to present a new manager training program.  The learner accesses the course content by clicking on the various elements on the virtual desktop.

4. Interactivity

In this example by Andrew Sellon, he uses Articulate Storyline to create an interactive photo of his desktop.  Using the markers in Storyline, he adds 16 points of interest.  The learner is prompted to hover over each of these points to explore the audio setup and a description displays, then by clicking on each marker a window opens with more details.  This is a really effective way to invite exploration and present the course content from the one screen.

4. Interactivity 2

This Customer Service drag and drop example by Tom Kuhlmann uses a character and dialogue to present the learner with a challenge, requires them to make a choice and interact with the course by dragging and dropping their response, then uses the character to provide the feedback on the consequence of that choice.  This type of interactivity is based on the 3C model (challenge, choice, consequence) and is a very powerful way to present course content for maximum retention of knowledge.

4. Interactivity 3

There are a lot of considerations when building interactive eLearning – this article by Tom Kuhlmann provides more information on this concept, including examples of each element and recommended resources: Here Are the 3 Building Blocks for Interactive eLearning

5.  Use Case Studies or Scenarios

The power of surprise is an important element in the learning process.  When learning is predictable and the element of surprise is eliminated, learners tend to be passive and take less active roles in their learning.  By incorporating scenarios into your design, learners will be compelled to take different views and by bringing the unexpected into the learning, it becomes more authentic.

In this branching scenario by Melissa Milloway, learners are presented with four cases and can choose the order in which they view these.  Each case portrays a character and depicts real life situations relevant to workplace violence.  The learner is asked to choose a course of action and consequences are fed back based on their choice.

5. Scenarios

In this Storyline example by Richard Watson learners explore emergency response options.  The addition of a countdown timer makes this scenario more realistic and the comprehensive feedback slides reinforce the consequences of the learner’s decisions – even being indecisive has a cost in this training!


To build a great scenario, the content should relate back to the real-life situation your learners will face when they go to apply the information from your course. This article by Nicole Legault explains how you can Build 3-Step Scenarios Like a Pro With Storyline.

6.  Use Characters

In an online environment, learners can find courses impersonal, unnatural and boring if someone or something does not fill the role of an instructor or trainer.  Effective use of characters in an eLearning experience not only enhances the course design, but engages learners helps to increase knowledge retention.

Articulate Storyline comes with a range of illustrated and photographic characters each with a variety of poses and expressions that you can easily insert into your course design, or you can use your own characters.  Here’s a chart of the illustrated characters that come with Storyline: Quick Chart: Articulate Storyline Characters

6. Use characters

You could use characters as presenters to present the course information to the learner, or as avatars to guide the learner through the course and assess their knowledge through questioning.

6. Use characters 2

You could also embed the learning in conversational dialogue of two or more characters, or use storytelling or scenarios where the characters play a central role that the learner can learn a lesson from.  This post on 3 key Elements of eLearning Storytelling provides more information on the elements of a good story and how these can be applied to eLearning design.

In this Maths Skills example by Linda Lorenzitti, progressive dialogue between two characters leads to a maths lesson, then an interactive quiz to test the learner.  The comic book style design and the choice of characters add another dimension to what could otherwise be a difficult topic to present in an engaging way in an eLearning course.

6. Use characters 3

7. Use Audio and Video

Effective use of audio makes an online course appealing.  Good quality audio narration enhances the learner’s interest and concentration and helps reduce cognitive load.  You can insert audio into Storyline from a file, or record straight into your project using your microphone.  If you need some tips on working with audio, there’s more information in this post:  Tips for working with audio in Articulate Storyline

7. Use Audio

Videos are a great way to engage your learners emotionally and there’s no doubt that it’s often easier to learn by watching how to do something than by reading about it.  Storyline makes the addition of video to your course very easy – you can add video from a file or a website, or you can record directly into your project using a webcam.  If you need some tips on working with video, there’s more information in this post:  Tips for working with video in Articulate Storyline.

7. Use Video