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How to Create a Visual Design for Your E-Learning Scenario

September 22nd, 2009


In a previous post, I wrote about a simple way to structure a scenario by using the 3C model.

  • Challenge: This could be something as simple as a question or a very involved case study. The goal is to get the learner to think through the content and make a decision.
  • Choice: Once the learner is ready to make a decision, you provide choices. A good scenario is nuanced and not completely black or white. You want to engage the learner and really get them to think through the scenario. You don’t want the choices to be too obvious. If they are, then a scenario might not be what you need for the course.
  • Consequence: Each decision the learner makes produces consequences. At this point you can provide feedback. It could be simple text with instructions to continue. Or you could advance the learner to another decision-making challenge.

The 3C model is an easy way to build the scenario infrastructure. You can save this as a scenario template. That’s easy enough to do. Where a lot of people struggle is how to create the visuals for the scenarios. That’s because most of us don’t have the technical skills to build out the right graphics.

To make the task easier, I broke the graphics for scenarios into five parts: characters, environment, text, containers, and buttons. Using that approach makes it easier to think through the visual design.

Here’s a quick overview. The image below shows a scenario screen with the five elements. You have characters. The are in an environment. The scenario usually has some text. It’s either going to be on the slide or in some sort of container like a box or callout. Then you’ll have the choices for the learner to activate. These can be actual buttons or hotspots.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - all of these parts added together make a scenario

Those five parts together make up the visual elements of your scene. Now let’s look at them in a bit more detail.


Characters are the people or avatars you use for the scenario. You can have a single character or multiple characters. I prefer to build a few different templates from which to work. In the examples below, there’s a single person scene and one that represents two people talking. As you can see, nothing fancy, just a bunch of placeholders.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - create various templates with different character placeholders


The environment is the backdrop for the scenario. Is the character in an office, public area, warehouse, or a production environment?

The environment sets the tone for your scenario. If you add some ambient background noise, that will lend to the reality of the scene. For example, if it’s a business environment you could add some office machine sounds or people murmuring the background.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - easily swap out your environments


In most cases you have onscreen text. There are all sorts of ways to add the text so you want to consider the font you use and how it’s positioned onscreen.

Keep in mind, the text not only conveys the written word, it’s also a graphic that conveys its own meaning and helps set the tone for the scenario. For example, in the thought cloud below, I used Comic Sans because it’s more personal than something like Times New Roman. It fits a text bubble. On the chalkboard, I used a handwritten font to look like it was written on the board. The Rapid E-Learning Blog - the text can be represented in many ways


Containers are the boxes you use for the text or scenario-specific content. For example, a text bubble or call out is a container. You might have other containers on the screen such as an instruction box, or one of those text boxes that contains key points or a call out. These containers will change based on the layout and look of your course.

In the examples below you can see a number of containers from paper strips to a picture frame. There’s really no limit to the type of container you can use.

To keep with the visual theme make sure to pick images and fonts that go with the theme. You want everything to be cohesive and look like it belongs together.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - containers can be simple text boxes or elaborate images


A button is where the learner clicks to activate the choice. It could be an actual button or it could be a place on the screen where the learner is going to click (like a hotspot). If it’s a hotspot, you usually have to design a unique graphic or text that indicates that is part of the choice.

In the first example below, the “button” is actually a hotspot over the paper strips. However, in the second image, I used real buttons.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - what's the learner going to click on and how will it look?

I use this simple framework to build my scenario templates which contain placeholders for all of the five visual elements. When I know that I am going to use a scenario template, then I know what elements I have to custom build for that scenario. Once they’re built, all I have to do is swap the placeholder graphics with the real course assets. However, it doesn’t mean that the screen is going to look exactly like the placeholder. Look at the example below and compare the placeholder screen to the final screen. You’ll notice that while all five elements are represented, the layout isn’t verbatim.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - template before and after

  1. Character: The character isn’t full body like the placeholder.
  2. Environment: I added an office environment. I blurred the image so you can tell it’s in an office, but I didn’t want too many details that might distract.
  3. Text: I pasted in my content.
  4. Container: In this case the container isn’t a text box. Instead I chose to go with a note theme and used the grid pad for the container and sticky notes for the choices.
  5. Buttons: The buttons are made to look like sticky notes. The learner clicks on them to make a choice.

I created a tutorial to show you just how easy it is to use the template and give you some tips on creating the assets.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - click here to view the scenario assets tutorial Click here to view the demo.

Here are some considerations:

  • You want to be able to right click and swap out the placeholder content without a lot of tweaking. Because of that, make sure your assets are the same size. Otherwise, when you make the switch, you’ll have to scale and move the inserted assets around.
  • On the other hand, it’s just a template. The template is just a guide. You’re not locked into the way it’s initially designed. Don’t worry about having to move stuff around or changing your content. Feel free to delete items you don’t need. Or adding additional assets.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t overcomplicate the scenario. Remember, the elearning course is just one facet of the learning process. I’d rather build a simple scenario and get it out to my learners in a few days, then spend weeks (or months) building out a more complex scenario.
  • Remember good visual design. It’s easy to add too much to the screen when building a scenario. Only add what you need and make sure that it’s clear to the learner what you want them to do.

Building elearning courses can be quite the undertaking. Most people I know are one person shops or work on small teams with few resources and usually no graphic design support. Hopefully these tips will help you the next time you need to build out a quick scenario.

If you have some tips or additional ideas, share them by clicking on the comments link.

3 Creative Ways to Empower Your Learners

September 15th, 2009


Years ago, I was a finance specialist in the U.S. Army. Every year we had to pass a pretty tough finance exam. To prepare us, each person was assigned the task of teaching part of the exam to the others. To this day, I can still recall some of the topics I had to teach. This makes sense since a great way to learn is by teaching. So why not get your learners involved in the teaching?

What I’ve done in the past is assign a project where instead of me teaching, the learners had to teach. They were given an assignment and my role was to act as guide. I helped keep them on track, set some guidelines, and provided access to resources. The output for them was a multimedia product that could be shared with others.

This is where the rapid elearning tools come in handy. They’re easy to use and allow the learners to create simple projects without stressing over programming. In fact, to prove the point, I had my children put together a quick presentation on teeth (that was their punishment for climbing on my car). They created this simple demo in just a little over an hour.


Click here to view the demo course.

There’s a lot of power in getting your learners involved this way. It’s a fun way to learn and people enjoy adding their own creative flair. Plus, you can be guaranteed that the learning experience will have impact and be memorable.

So the main considerations are the right type of project for the learners to do, where they can find resources, and then how to assemble the multimedia. If you’re interested in this approach, here are a few ideas:

  • Assign a video project. Video cameras like the Flip & Kodak Zi6 are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. The cameras even come with simple editing tools. Have your learners shoot quick videos that can easily be added to a web page or rapid elearning product.
  • Build a rapid elearning module. Using a form-based application like Engage makes it easy to create simple multimedia projects. The goal isn’t that these are crafted by trained instructional designers. So don’t expect the world’s best elearning, but don’t be surprised by what some people can produce. Not having to do the multimedia programming frees them up to focus on the teaching part of the part. Set some stipulations for what they have to cover; and then let the content research and production process become their learning experience.
  • Leverage social media online. There are a lot of free tools online that help you create content. I’ve been playing with Dipity for a family history project. Something like this could work for your learners. Screenr is also an easy application for your learners to share information, especially something like how to use a software application or navigate a web site. Below is an example from another site, VuVox, where I quickly created a demo using content from my blog.

Click here to view demo.

Many of the free sites like Screenr and the one above give you an embed code. You can use that to put the projects on a web site or wiki. I took the embed code from the example above and placed that into my rapid elearning course using the web object feature. This is a great way to aggregate the individual projects into a group project; and then host it on your own site or even in your LMS.


Click here to view the web object demo.

There are a lot of ways to engage your learners. Leveraging your rapid elearning tools and their ability to create multimedia content is just one way. Regardless of your approach, you’ll find that the learners are much more engaged in the process and become very passionate about what they’re doing. That’s because you’re empowering them and not just dumping a bunch of information in their laps. This is also a great way to leverage the expertise of your learners and build a network of relationships that extends beyond the formal training.

So on your next project, rethink how you’re using those rapid elearning tools and see if there might be some value in giving more control to your learners by getting them involved in teaching others. What do you think? Share your thoughts by clicking on the comments link.

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See How Easily You Can Create Graphics in PowerPoint

September 1st, 2009


The other day I was looking at the AI Vault web site. I ran across a tutorial on creating an envelope icon. It’s a great tutorial and relatively easy to do. However, the tutorial is targeted for Illustrator users.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - AI Vault icon

Looking over the tutorial, I wondered if I could follow the steps to recreate the icon in PowerPoint. So I went through the Illustrator tutorial and came up with the image below. It was easy to do and only took a few minutes.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - PowerPoint icon

Obviously the steps are a bit different and since PowerPoint is not as robust as Illustrator, you have some limitations. However, with all that said, it proves that PowerPoint can be an effective graphics tool when building your rapid elearning courses.

Another benefit to this exercise is learning to use PowerPoint in new ways. While you may never need this envelope icon, if you practice building it, you will learn how to use PowerPoint’s features. And you’ll have an experience that you can rely on for future design ideas.

Here’s a quick tutorial where I walk through the process of creating the icon in PowerPoint.

Click here to view the tutorial at Screenr.

1. Create the envelope.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Create the envelope in PowerPoint

  • Create a rectangle
  • Add a radial fill.
  • Color the border a bit darker than the gray you use for the fill.

2. Create the envelope flap.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Use PowerPoint shapes to create the flap.

  • You can draw the flap and create a curved tip like the original tutorial. I chose to use a PowerPoint shape to speed things up. You could use a triangle or a shape with a rounded edge.
  • Fill flap with a linear gradient fill. Light on the bottom, dark on top.
  • To create the flap’s shadow, duplicate the flap shape and size it down a bit. Then fill with solid gray. Place it behind the flap.

3. Create envelope lines.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Use the triangle to create the lines in PowerPoint.

  • Instead of drawing the lines individually, I just used a triangle shape.
  • Place the triangle under the flap shapes.
  • Use no fill color and then color the lines to match the envelope line and thickness.

4. Create the arrow.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Create the swish effect by editing the points.

  • You could just use one of the default arrows, but you don’t get that swish.
  • I started with a default arrow. Then I edited the points to create more of a swish look. I filled the arrow with a linear gradient.
  • To add the highlight, I used some default shapes. I filled them with white and made them about 60% transparent.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Final icon image from PowerPoint tutorial.

I used a partially transparent oval that has a gradient fill to make my shadow under the envelope. Put them all together and you have a nice envelope icon. When you’re all done select the objects, group them, and save as an image.

  • Save as PNG to maintain the transparency.
  • Save as EMF to keep it as a vector so you can scale it up or down.

As I said earlier, even if you don’t need the icon image, get in the habit of practicing these types of tips. They’ll help you become more fluent with PowerPoint. And as we all know, when it comes to rapid elearning, the more you know about PowerPoint, that much better you’ll be able to make your courses.

Now it’s your turn. Find a tutorial and give it a go. If you do create something, make a quick Screenr video and post it to the comments section. If you find a cool tutorial, send it my way. I’ll see what I can do for another blog post. Also, feel free to share your comments by clicking on the comments link.

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How to Use This Free Screencasting Tool for E-Learning

August 26th, 2009


You may have heard the news last week that Articulate launched a new screencasting tool called Screenr. It is a free web-based tool that lets you create screencasts without installing any software.


I really like Screenr. If you haven’t tried it out yet, you should give it a whirl. Here’s what I like best:

  • Screenr is super easy to use and there’s nothing to download. You just click the record button on the website and you’re recording your screen activity and your narration.
  • The image quality is pretty darn good. You can even watch the screencasts back at HD-quality and they look great.
  • Screenr gives you multiple ways to use your screencasts. It works with Twitter and the screencasts play as Flash on the web. You can also upload the screencasts to YouTube. And you can even download the videos as MP4 files. They also look nice on the iPhone. All these options give you a number of ways to reach your learners.
  • My favorite…there’s no branding on the downloaded MP4 files. Since you can download the videos, you’re free to use them as you wish. That means you can use it in your elearning courses without looking like one of those MLS soccer players. Go Sounders!
  • And of course, Screenr is free. Free is always good.

With that said, let me share some ideas on how you can use Screenr with your rapid elearning courses.

1. Add Screenr Videos to Your Blogs, Wikis, and Slides

Screenr gives you an embed code. That means you can create a video and easily add it to your blog, wiki, or website (or any other place that takes HTML). If you use the Articulate products, you can the web object feature to add videos to your slides.

Here are a couple of tutorials on how to embed the Screenr videos in Moodle and how to embed them in Blackboard. Below is an example of the Screenr video embedded in a slide using the web object feature.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Screenr video inserted into an elearning course as a web object.

Click here to view the web object demo.

2. Download Screenr MP4 Files & Add to Your Course

As I mentioned earlier, one of my favorite things about Screenr is that I can download the videos as MP4 files and not have the Screenr logo in the video. That means I can easily use them in my courses.

Here’s an example of a Screenr MP4 file inside an elearning course.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Screenr video as MP4 in an elearning course.

Click here to view the MP4 demo.

3. Create a Virtual Whiteboard

Use a tablet PC or something that lets you do pen input to simulate a whiteboard. All you need is a blank area to write and capture the video. Here’s a demo of a whiteboard screencast in an elearning course.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - Use Screenr to create virutal whiteboards for elearning courses

Click here to view the whiteboard demo.

4. Put Screenr in the Hands of Your Learners

There’s no reason to hog all of this goodness for yourself. Have your learners do screencasts to demonstrate their skills. It’s a great way to reinforce their learning and assess their level of understanding.

Screenr works with Twitter and Youtube. And as I stated earlier, the embed code means your learners could make videos and put them on their own blogs or wikis.

Here’s an example where both teacher and learner are going through the process together. It gives you an idea of how Screenr can add value to the learning process.

Click here to view the demo.

5. Make it Mobile

Many mobile video devices and smart phones can play MP4s or videos from a website. That means you can take your courses mobile. All you need to do is use the URL in your mobile device’s web browser.

Here’s an example of what it looks like if you view the Screenr videos from an iPhone or iPod Touch.

Click here to view the iPhone demo.

When I first heard about playing back screencasts on the iPhone, I was a bit skeptical about what it would look like. But I’ll have to tell you that I was pretty impressed with the image quality considering the size of the screen. I thought that it would be too hard to see what’s going on, but that wasn’t the case.

Of course, you can also download the MP4 video and then upload it to your device manually.

So that’s about it. Screenr’s a pretty cool application. It’s easy to use. Free. And can be used with your elearning courses. What are some other ways you can think of to use Screenr videos for your elearning? Click on the comment links to share your thoughts. (And better yet, share your screencasts!)


If you want to learn more about some of the ideas I covered in this post, I added a few quick Screenr tutorials to help you get started.

Unleash Your E-Learning Graphics from PowerPoint 2007

August 18th, 2009


This is a trick I kind of stumbled upon a few months ago. I was attempting to zip up a PowerPoint 2007 file and accidentally unzipped it to reveal a media folder that held all of the images I was using in my course. Now, keep in mind that this only works for PowerPoint 2007, but it’s still a cool trick, nonetheless.

Here’s a quick screencast I did to show you how easy this is and how you can use it to manage your course images.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - 7-Zip demo

Click here to view the 7-Zip demo.

Download 7-Zip. It’s Free!

The first step is to download 7-Zip. It’s a free application that you can use to compress or extract files that are compressed. For example, if you get a presentation.zip file, you can right click on the file and choose to extract it.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - steps to extract a .zip file using 7-Zip

Extract the PowerPoint 2007 File

Once you have 7-Zip installed, you can extract the contents of your PowerPoint 2007 file. What happens when you extract the .pptx file is you’ll get a folder with a matching name. Inside that folder, there’s a media folder than contains the images that you used in your elearning course.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - compare a .ppt file to the extracted folder

Locate the Media Folder

Let’s see this in action. I created the FTC demo course below. It was built with PowerPoint 2007. If you notice, I have quite a few images on the various slides.

After I extracted the .pptx file, I locate the media folder which has all of the course’s images in one location. The media folder is one level down inside the ppt folder.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - FTC demo course

Click here to view the demo.

If you look at the image below, you’ll see the contents of the media folder. What you’ll notice is that all of the images I added to the course are in that one folder. This really comes in handy.

The Rapid E-Learning Blog - example of images in the extracted media folder

Tips on Using the Media Folder

Here are a couple of ways that you can use the media folder to save time.

  1. Keep all of your images in one location. Many people aren’t very organized when it comes to managing their course’s assets. When you’re done with your course, just use 7-Zip to extract the media folder. Move the media folder to a place where you save your images. Rename it to match the course and all of your images are now in one place. You can quickly scan the folder with an application like Picasa or Windows Photo Gallery.

  2. Quickly save clip art images to your slides and then save the .pptx file. It’s easy to just drag and drop images to a PowerPoint 2007 slide. Normally, you have to right click on the image and then save as a picture to have it outside of the slide. Not with this technique. Add images to your slides and then extract the file to have quick access to all of the images.

Here’s a link to IrFanView. This is a free application that you can use to quickly view your .WMF files. It has a lot of other useful features, but you can learn about that on their web site.

What are some other ways that you can use this approach to your advantage? Feel free to share your thoughts by clicking on the comments link.

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