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

Why e-Learning developers should helm your online course project

Let’s presume you have an important function. Two of your friends have volunteered to photograph the function. Friend One owns the latest camera in the town, knows a thing or two about photography, and is an ace with photo editing software. Friend Two, on the other hand, owns a mid-level camera, contributes articles on photography and works as a freelance photographer for a magazine. Whom will you choose?

My hunch is you will opt for Friend Two. For we do know that the camera and the software are just tools, yet give these tools to a person who knows about composition and lighting, has an eye for details, and you will get breath-taking photographs. The bottom line is it’s the person and not the technology that can get you the desired results.

Now let’s presume that you head the sales department of your organisation. Your newly-launched products are performing dismally, and the management is questioning you. Moreover, the sales managers are blaming the sales representatives, but then “we are doing our best” is what the representatives are saying. After much deliberation, you decide to replace your existing sales training course with a new one. Now the million-dollar question: Who will create the course? Will it be your sales managers who know how to create a course using authoring tools? Or – and this is a big or – will you get an e-Learning developer on board?

The first option looks tempting, isn’t it? You won’t incur extra cost, and managers are supposed to train their teams. Nonetheless, hiring an e-Learning developer will be a wiser, albeit a costlier decision.

Let me put forth a few points to build my case for why an e-Learning developer will be your best bet:

1. They will analyse the need for training

A training course may or may not be able to address poor performance. For example,
may be your sales team has not been properly briefed about the newly-launched products thereby rendering their sales pitch ineffective, or maybe the sales team comprises several members who have no experience in selling. In both the cases, a training course will be an apt solution.

At times, performance issues can arise due to lack of proper facilities. For example, if the employees of an e-commerce site are experiencing internet connectivity issues, their speed of processing orders will get hampered. In this case, a training course will prove futile.

Needs Analysis

2. They will analyse the problem in totality

An e-Learning developer will interact with different departments, employees across all levels, and if possible, your customers too. The developer will also go through the
previous training materials, sales feedback forms etc. Often such kind of a 360-degree analysis will allow your e-Learning developer to unearth the actual problems.

For instance, because your organisation makes products used in the car-manufacturing industry, the existing training focuses only that industry. The new products, in contrast, target the ship-building industry. As a result, many of the sales representatives are not fully aware about the features of the new products. In this case, the developer will suggest retaining the existing training materials and creating another course focussing on the ship-building industry.

Needs Analysis_2

3. They will decide the scope and the outcome/s

Scope and outcomes are the building blocks of a training course. Moreover, the two are closely interconnected. Let me explain you by giving an example. You want the course to focus on the features of the newly-launched products. However, what do you expect the representatives to do after taking the course? Do you want them to remember and recall the features of a particular product? Or do you want them to use the newly-acquired knowledge to suggest the most appropriate product to a customer? The two questions that I have listed here are the probable outcomes of the training course, and each outcome influences the scope of the training.

For example, if you want your representatives to just recall the features, then the scope of the training will be modules that outline the features of the newly-launched products.

However, if you want them to use the knowledge to suggest the most appropriate product, you are basically asking them to recall the features of different products, compare the features with the needs of the customer, and then suggest the most suitable product. In this case, the modules will focus on features of the newly-launched products, types of ships, needs of a builder of a particular type of ship, the features of your product and how these features address those needs etc.

Task Analysis.jpg

4. They will determine the best delivery mechanism

Your e-Learning developer will also determine the way in which the training will be delivered. For instance, if the training aims to make your employees aware of the features of a product, the ideal course will be an online module that will use a click-and-reveal strategy. In contrast, if a module aims to hone selling skills of the representatives, then just listing the points on how to suggest the most appropriate product won’t suffice. Rather a scenario in which a character analyses the needs of the customer and then suggests the most appropriate product to close a sales deal will prove far more effective. Moreover, the inclusion of activities such as role-plays will allow your employees to effectively apply the learning to real-life situations.

Task Analysis_1.jpg

5. They will keep the learner in mind

Learners are the core of any training. Therefore, your e-Learning developer will study the employee demographics, motivational level, skillset etc. to design an engaging course. For example, if your sales team love social media, your e-Learning developer might suggest using Pinterest wherein the employees can pin advertisements that use persuasion to sell their products. Thereafter, they can analyse and discuss the pins during the training period. Thus, your employees will become active learners instead of passive listeners.

6. They will take care of the course’s look and feel

The navigation style, layout of different elements, and images/graphics play a critical role in learning. Present a layout that is packed with text and images, and you will overwhelm the learner. Likewise, a confusing navigation style will leave the learner lost and confused, thereby even demotivating him/her.

Images too can aid the learning process vastly. Hence, choosing the correct images will be one of the important tasks your e-Learning developer will be performing.Let me give you an example. Given below are two images of the human digestive system. Now, if the objective of the course is to make the learners recall the parts of the digestive system, which image will you use?

figures1and2An e-Learning developer will choose Figure 1. That’s because the learner’s attention will remain focus on the digestive system. In contrast, in Figure 2, the hair, the face of the person is visible; therefore, sub-consciously, the attention of the learner will split between the essential (the digestive system) and the non-essential (the hair, the face).

7. They will act as a trouble-shooter

The job of an e-Learning developer does not end by developing a training course. Evaluating the course is also important. Your e-Learning developer will take feedback from the sales managers, the sales representatives, and customers to gauge the effectiveness of the course.

Formative Evaluation

Based on the feedback, your e-Learning developer will make further improvements. For example, if some employees having difficulties in remembering the features of different ships, your e-Learning developer will create a printable chart for a quick reference.

Thus, an e-Learning developer is someone who is well-versed with learning principles as well as tools and technology. If you hire one to develop your course, rest assured that you will not regret your decision.

About the author:

Punam Parab has been active in the field of e-learning, instructional designing and content development for close to a decade now. She has experience in designing content and learning materials for both children and adult learners. Likewise, she has developed both offline and online courseware and considers creating scenario/story-based learning modules, designing curriculum and developing academic content as her specialities. You can find more about her on http://punamparab.weebly.com

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.

What Can You Do with PPT?


Using PowerPoint to edit vector images saves having to own an illustration application such as Adobe Illustrator.  A number of the sites where you can download free images have images in vector format – if the images are in .svg format you may be able to edit them in PowerPoint.

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.