A Little Help From Your Friends

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You’ve heard that we get by with a little help from our friends.  You know having friends in high places will get you everywhere.  I’d like you to some of my best friends in developing e-learning:
The Preview Button,
The Twins, Copy & Paste,
Their Cousin, Duplicate,
Master View, and
The Align Feature
You see these every day in your toolbar.  You may even use all of them.  But are you calling on these friends as much as you should be?  Perhaps you know they can help, but you feel like it’s too much fuss to get them involved.  You feel like you can handle it on your own.  Perhaps you never realized just how much a good friend can help in a time of need.
The Preview Button
In Rapid E-learning Software, just like in PowerPoint, you have the opportunity to preview your project at any time.  Why, then, do we wait until we’re almost done to click the button?  I’ve been known to build an entire scene before previewing it, only to find out I left out an important trigger or state.  Had I known earlier, I would have been able to fix the error quickly, and it would have carried through to all of my slides.
Use Early, Use Often

Use Early, Use Often





I’ve learned my lesson the hard way, more than once.  Preview too often.  It can’t hurt.  It will definitely help.

Copy, Paste and Duplicate

This one seems so simple.  Right-click, copy.  Right-click, paste.  Everyone who uses a PC does it a thousand times a day.  Why is it on the list?

Copy & Paste

Copy & Paste










You’ve got to do it at the right time.  It’s very tempting to create a shape, add a text box, insert a picture, then copy and paste away until you’ve got them all where you need them.  But resist the urge.  Think through everything that shape will need.  Formatting?  Triggers?  Does it need a hover state, a selected state, any other state at all?  Be patient and build all those things into the first object you have, then copy & paste to your heart’s content.  It’ll save you untold clicks.

Same goes for Duplicate.  If you’re going to maintain some or all objects across multiple slides, just duplicate the slide (after it’s completely built, see above).










It also works wonders for animating objects off of a slide.  One thing Articulate doesn’t do well is end-of-slide animation (unless you don’t let the user decide when to move to the next slide, which doesn’t happen all the often).  To work around this, just duplicate the slide.  Slide number 1 will simply transition to slide 2, with no animation, when the user clicks.  Use the first few seconds of the timeline of slide 2 to animate objects off the slide.  It works like a charm.

Master View

The Slide Master, or Master View, is an often-overlooked time saver in both Articulate and PowerPoint.  If you’re using a template, the Master View has probably been set up for you.  But if you’re creating your own theme, colors, backgrounds, fonts, etc., you’ll probably be using those elements on multiple slides, right?  Rather than making those changes to every slide, make those changes to a slide master.  They’ll carry over to your active slide.

Master View

Master View in Articulate


If you’ve never played with this feature, venture over to your View tab.  Take the blank slide layouts you find there, and jazz them up.  Add any element that will be on every slide, or every slide of the same time (e.g. a title slide).  Add as many layout types as you like.  Don’t miss the feedback master — this lets you use the automated quizzing functions in Articulate without it looking like you did.  Once your master slides are ready, just insert a new slide and choose a layout from your list.


Last, but not least, let’s talk about alignment.  If you’ve read Robin Williams’ (the writer, not the actor) The Non-Designer’s Design Book, you’ll know that alignment is one of the four principles of good design.  I suggest reading the whole book, but I’ll give you a sneak preview: everything should align with something else.  It’s a simple rule, and it’s effective.  It makes your layout look intentional, grounded.  So let’s not leave it to chance.

The Align Function

The Align Function






You might feel like you’ve got a good eye, but remember that things that look perfect on your screen may start to look wonky in the final version if they’re just a little off.  And, yes, you could drag objects around your screen until the little alignment lines appear, but that’s time consuming, starts to get difficult if there’s a lot on the slide, and it makes me tense.  So use the Align feature.  There’s about a dozen ways to align things, too.  In addition to left, right, and center, there are the beautiful ‘distribute’ options under the Align tool.  If you have multiple shapes or buttons in a line, they’d better all be spaced evenly.  That’s nearly impossible to do by eye alone.  Just select all your objects, go to your Align tool, and choose ‘distribute vertically’ or ‘distribute horizontally’.  It’s like magic.

So there you have it.  Some of my best friends in the design biz are at your fingertips.  Will you try to go it alone, with nothing but your will and impending carpal tunnel syndrome to keep you company?  Or will you call on these friends when you need them?

How Flashy is Too Flashy?

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I am not a designer.  But I try to fake it.

It seems to me that the eternal questions is art and design is, “how busy is too busy?”  Now, I haven’t taken an art class since middle school, so maybe there are more eternal questions being bandied about the art world, but I feel like that sums up a lot.  Busy-ness goes in and out of style.  We like to mock some of the busier eras, but I appreciate them.  Without Rococo style, I wouldn’t have my favorite gilt mirror over my mantle.  And without my ’80s childhood, who know who I’d be today.  Flash is fun.  Flash is interesting.  Flash is exciting.

My Grandma's Awesome Mirror

My Grandma’s Awesome Mirror


Yet we can all appreciate sleek Swedish design, or ultra-modern minimalist decor.  Simple can be pleasing, soothing.  It’s easy to find the focal point if there are no distractions.  Seems perfect for instructional design, right?

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Well, I don’t know.

I struggle with this all the time.  I’m confident that we should avoid the extremes. For example, let’s avoid a screen so cluttered with graphics, text and buttons that you can’t figure out where to click.  We should similarly try to aim a little higher than black text, Arial font, on a white background.

A terrible slide from a terrible course.

A terrible slide from a terrible course.

The Argument for Simple

What do characters really add to a scenario?  If I read a well-written scenario, I’ve pictured the characters in my mind.  That tends to happen while reading.  What’s more, as Cathy Moore mentions, characters can often detract from a scenario.  And if a character is kinda creepy, it’s even more difficult to overlook.  In short, good writing does not need pictures to support it.  Never has.  But bad pictures only hurt.

The Argument for Flashy

How do I put this… So, people find e-courses boring, as a rule.  That’s probably because they haven’t taken ours, but they do.  And many of those people appreciate that you took the time to add a fun graphic or a character with a sassy pose to the screen.  Color and motion, while they can be distracting, make corporate e-courses seem so much less… corporate.

So How Do I Decide?!?

The only rule I can come up with is to try your best to use good design principles (more on that later).  If your course design is intentional, uniform, and ultimately pleasing, the correct number of graphics and characters boils down to a matter of preference.  For every course you publish, you’ll have some people who wish there were more salesmen-esque characters with ridiculous poses, and some who think your use of italics was excessive.  You can’t please everybody.

But there are things to think about:

  1. What visual cues can help learners make good decisions, or might distract a learner in real life?  If possible find a way to integrate whose cues into the course.  If reading body language is essential, photography may be needed.  If a map will be used in the field, use a map in the course.  Do learners need to learn to notice certain items in a room?  A cluttered picture of a room is perfect.
  2. Can you substitute a more meaningful graphic for generic clip art?  Sometimes just customizing public-domain images can make the image more relevant.  Nobody needs a graphic that just takes up space.
  3. Or is text-only best?  A good choose-your-own-adventure-style scenario typically does not require any images to support it.  Perhaps interpreting the written word is part of the skill set the learner needs to work on.  In that case, we don’t need to provide crutches in the form of graphics.  And, if you don’t have the resources to create appropriate images, there’s a good change that trying to make something work will detract more than add.

What do you think?  Simple, text-centric, and sleek?  Or eye-catching, colorful, and character-ful?