Training Best Practices/PowerPoint for E-Learning
Putting Together An Inexpensive PowerPoint On-line Module, by Michael McGinnis
The question I am most often asked is how do you create your on-line training programs. When I respond by stating that all we use is PowerPoint, the most common reaction is a look of puzzlement or shame. Those with the puzzled looks are amazed at the response, often anticipating some name of an expensive content development application or company that we outsource this to. Those with the shamed reaction are often looking down and wondering why are we so primitive.
The answer lies in the fact that we have been incredibly successful using this approach, an approach I refer to as Keeping It Simple and Straightforward (KISS). The background for how we developed our successful on-line learning center further exemplifies how companies can reap the rewards of on-line learning without having to spend much (see articles on “e-learning on a shoestring” and “LMS on a shoestring”). This article will provide you with a step-by-step tutorial for how we develop our modules.
Another key point to stress up front is the resources that we use, or better said, don’t use, to develop our training. Part of my KISS methodology for training has shown us that we do not need instructional designers, multimedia specialists, web developers, etc. as a part of our training department. Instead, I simply turn on a small group of technical and soft skill trainers, and a ton of subject matter experts, to using PowerPoint. Here is how we do it.
Step 1. Instructional Design
Still basic to developing training is applying the basics for instructional design. The figure below includes the steps I use to guide the instructor or subject matter expert to create the module. Instructors quickly get the hang of this. What I have found that works the best is to have the developer review some of the existing on-line modules. I often walk through a couple of modules to show how we put them together.
I explain the basic premise for instruction using the Tell Me, Show Me, Let Me and Assess Me design criteria, and state that the module can accomplish most of the Tell Me and Show Me steps. After they have completed the form and we have walked through sample modules, we begin by creating a basic agenda. From this they are set to go and begin their first draft.
Step 2. Drafting the Presentation
Most of us recognize and agree that PowerPoint is a powerful presentation tool. However, this paradigm can get in the way of using PowerPoint as a content developer tool. Like any paradigm we tend to live within the parameters of the program, or in this case the standard set of slide design templates.
Instead I stress the point that what you really have is a blank piece of paper with a lot of possibility. Initially I used other content development packages but found them limiting when it came to applying basic animation to the slides. Simply placing an arrow or square around an object required a lot of extra steps. In addition were the license fees and learning curve associated with these applications. What I wanted was a tool that our technical trainers could easily learn and use to capture the large number of training needs and requests.
The information collected in Step 1 gave us the information we needed to create the draft. The example used below is typical of the type of training request we would receive. There was a problem that was driving the need for people to behave differently. The module would describe the current issue, the change that is needed and what will need to be done differently. The first few slides include the detail that would be completed for each slide.
Note: I would consider myself an intermediate skilled user of PowerPoint. Therefore there most likely are easier ways to accomplish what I suggest below. I continually learn of new techniques that are more effective or add new possibilities. The irony is that I learned the most from our technical trainers who had minimal to no PowerPoint experience prior to learning these steps. Once they created a couple of modules, they discovered how easy it really was. Most had so much fun creating these modules, that I often had to remind them to spend more time on the floor or perform their other assigned tasks. By searching the internet they were quick to find other inexpensive to free tools that they could use.
The following provides you with a step-by-step tutorial of how we build a typical technical or leadership training module using PowerPoint, version 2002. Title Page
Figure 1. Drafting the Title Slide The information below was used to storyboard what we wanted to include in this slide. We included the slide content, script in the Instructor Notes section and selected a Slide Design.
Title: The Importance Of Visual Inspection
Other Content: Visuals relating to theme, “You are the last set of eyes before the customer sees our product”. Get picture of eyes.
Script: Welcome to the module on Packout, the importance of visual inspection. Due to the quantity of escaping defects that have left this plant and ended up in our customer’s hands, along with the costs associated with this, we are now requiring that only specified employees perform this role and have the training to ensure that they are identifying visual defects before they are packed out
Slide Design: PowerPoint provides users with a variety of choices of slide designs to use. These can be accessed by clicking on Format and then selecting on Slide Design… However, these designs are often overused and seen wherever PowerPoint presentations are given. There are vast amounts of slides designs and templates available via the Internet, ranging from free to custom designed. You can buy CD’s filled with templates for all types of occasions. To date I have never purchased a template.
In some cases we have opted to create our own template for modules that relate to a specific business division, where the audience is management, or for our own training department. For our training department we created our own template using the Drawing toolbar and our logo. In other cases, we copied and inserted logos from our company Intranet or Internet sites (just be sure to check with your company policies regarding usage of company logos).
Okay, so far we have completed the basic instructional design of the module. So what tools are needed to transform this into an interactive on-line module to include audio, digital images and video, and animation.
Images can be acquired using screen shots off of the PC, downloading images from a digital camera, clip art, or other types of stored images (.gif, jpg). Pictures are inserted into the PowerPoint file and therefore cause the file size to increase. File size will be considered later in this paper along with some options we have found to reduce file size when this needs to be considered.
Even though the images are copied to the PowerPoint file once they have been inserted, we store all images into the folder where the PowerPoint file will be saved. We create a subfolder in this folder entitled, “Images”. This helps us to create a sort of library allowing us to more easily find stored images.
PowerPoint provides you with a basic means to edit the image once it is inserted. The majority of images we use have been taken using our digital camera or from screen shots taken on our PC. Approximately 90% of the edits we make are cropping the picture and adjusting the brightness and contrast (see Figure 2). We then place a border around each picture to accent it in the slide. If more sophisticated graphic editing is required, there are a number of editing applications on the market. Although rarely used, we use Paint Shop Pro in these situations. These applications can also be used to reduce the size of images by saving them into various formats (e.g. .gif). However be sure to try Microsoft’s own Paint application along with a variety of inexpensive editors available on the Internet.
We limit the use of clip art since it is our opinion that this can easily be overused. However, they are useful when we want to introduce a feeling which can be demonstrated by an unhappy face, downward sloping sales chart, dollar bills, etc. We will also select clip art when we want to break up the text on a screen and no picture we can take makes sense. Clip art is readily available on the Internet. Microsoft has an extensive library of clip art. Another recent find are the images available on the Google search engine.
Figure 2. Formatting A Picture
In this example a picture was inserted into the slide. To format, right click on the picture and select Format Picture. The menu appears as shown above. Selecting the Picture tab provides you with the opportunity to crop the picture and edit the brightness and contrast levels. In most cases with pictures from our digital camera, we click once on the Brightness and Contrast bars just to the right of the box in the middle which will increase the brightness and contrast to 60% to make the image more presentable. To place a border around a picture, which is suggested to accent the picture, select the Colors and Lines tab, and in the Line section, choose a color form the drop down menu and then choose a line Style. Figure 2 has such a border that was created using these steps.
We will often animate a sequence of our own images and clip art in order to demonstrate a point or make for a more enjoyable presentation. For example, we wanted to place a visual emphasizing the other costs. To accomplish this, we placed a clip art picture of a trash can and had pictures of; bag of money, losing money, and a text box, dropping into the trash can (see Figure 3).
Figure 3. Using Clip Art To Demonstrate A Point. Clip art was used in this case to emphasize that there are significant costs associated with this particular issue. To emphasize this we found clip art for the trash can, bag of money and declining profits chart. We created a text box with the word “JOBS”. Each of these was inserted into the PowerPoint and then animated. In this case the effect used was Motion Path which allowed us to simulate these items being thrown into the trash can. Note: you will also have to consider the order of the objects. In this case, we wanted items to go behind the trash can, therefore keeping the trash can on top. This was accomplished by clicking on the “Draw” button on the drawing toolbar, then selecting “Order”.
We often wanted to highlight or refer to a specific area in the picture. Here we used the various graphic tools supplied with PowerPoint. Arrows pointed to a specific area of the product showing a defect. In other cases, a box or circle surrounded an area we wanted to draw the users attention to (note: most objects such as circles and squares once inserted are filled with a color as the default. You can erase the filling by clicking on the tipping paint can button on the drawing toolbar, and then selecting “No Fill”. Check out the “Fill Effects” link to discover two tone fills, fill designs, degrees of transparency, etc.). One issue I found with some other content developers was that adding graphics was more complicated than with PowerPoint. PowerPoint makes it very easy to add a graphic such as an arrow, box or circle and then modify its size, fill color, line width, line color or direction.
Text boxes or callout boxes are often used to provide an explanation to an image or graphic. This can prevent the need to create bulleted lists which take up space. These boxes can also be animated and timed so that they appear only when referencing a specific area of a picture and then erased later in the slide (see Figure 4).
Figure 4. Here is an example of using PowerPoint to simulate an application. We took screen shots of each step in the application (using Shift, Print Screen on the keyboard, or you can use a screen capture program). These were layered over each other and animated to provide the appearance of a new screen or menu appearing. On each screen, we used the various drawing images to reference particular parts of the form. A callout box was introduced to emphasize a key point. On the right you can see that there were a number of images placed in an animation sequence to achieve this affect. It did take some time to get the timing to match the audio, but the result was worth it. Note: there are numerous software simulation programs that are the ideal for simulating applications, however, at a cost.
My skills in this area would most likely be considered novice to intermediate. There appears to be so much to learn in this area and many new developments. Without graphic artists or multimedia specialists on our team, we were forced to find simple ways to integrate video clips into our modules.
What we have discovered is that if a picture is worth a thousand words, than a video is a chapter. Even a series of pictures cannot duplicate the ability to show a series of steps using a video clip. This is true of technical and soft skill training. We used videos to show how complex tasks were performed on machinery, or showed examples of soft skills being used in the work place (e.g. simulated scenario of supervisor coaching an employee and using a prescribe method).
Video clips were taken using our digital cameras. Still images were stored on the memory stick and videos were stored on the tape, although it was possible to store both types on the stick or tape (this just made it easier to locate and download). We limited video clips to less than 30 seconds simply due to the size of the video file. In no case did we find this as a major limitation. To prevent having to edit the video if at all possible, we found that taking re-takes was quicker. Once we took the video, we would play it back on the camera and decide whether it was a keeper or not.
Video clips were downloaded in .avi format from our cameras. Although the best quality we found was the .avi format, the size of these files were very large. My ignorance on this subject must be considered here since I have no doubt that there are better techniques available than what I describe below. However, what I do describe works and is relatively easy to create.
PowerPoint will only insert certain video formats. We purchased an inexpensive video converter (Magic Video Converter from Video-Tool.com). This allowed us to convert large .avi video format files to smaller formats that also could be inserted into PowerPoint. In most cases, we selected the .wmv (Windows Media Video) format since the file size was considerably smaller, and the quality was also compromised to some extent. We are still experimenting and learning more with video, however, what is important is that we can use it now which is an important aspect of our on-line training.
If we wanted to edit the video by cropping sections or adding text or music, we used Vegas Video. We are only using a small fraction of this application’s capability at this point. Here we crop the video, add sound tracks, add text and convert to a .wmv file. At some point we would most likely attend a class or find someone in our neighboring community to come in and instruct us on better methods for implementing video and other graphic media.
Once again, the format you use must consider the variables of size, access time and quality. Experimentation is the key here. You must understand what is the lowest common denominator in terms of computers that will be accessing these modules. This also supports having a computer lab wherever possible to ensure that PC’s have the configuration needed to access these modules and videos are available. Always be sure to test out a module on the user PC’s before releasing it. For example, initially we only used .avi video files. In cases where the video clip was greater than 30 seconds, the download time to view was too long.
This is what prompted us to search initially for ways to reduce the file size. Now there are ways to convert video to streaming media format, or other alternatives to make them more easily accessible. Because we access these files over our Intranet, and our network bandwidth is more than adequate, viewing larger files is possible. However, if you need to access these files over the Internet, then reducing the size of the PowerPoint file and included images/video is critical. We have just begun experimenting with Presentation Pro which converts the PowerPoint presentation into a Flash file, reducing the size dramatically. This so far has proven to be very successful and quite easy to do. In addition the cost of this application was only $399.
We include audio with every slide in our modules. Our stance is to create a script for each slide that compliments whatever text or content included in the slide. The script matches the text on the slide in few cases (e.g. when we are creating the script for the agenda or objectives the script is the text on the slide) However, in all other cases, we use the script to expand upon the information on the slide, much as an instructor would do while using a presentation in a class. In fact that is how we create the script, by asking the instructor or subject matter expert, what they would say if they were in front of a class during that slide.
The first few scripts will require some editing by someone on your team who has a good command of sentence structure and grammar. I suggest that you make these edits with the instructor who is developing the module, so that they learn from you as you suggest the changes. Most will improve in their ability to write their own scripts after a few modules. In some cases you may have to continue to edit certain instructor’s scripts who are less skilled in this area. The method I use to improve these skills in others is to ask them to read slowly and out loud the script they wrote. We also have one other instructor review the module prior to publishing it.
Once the script has been completed, the next step is to record it. We started off using Microsoft’s own Sound Editor or PowerPoint’s Sound Recorder (Insert…Movies and Sounds…Record Sound). In both cases, we were unsatisfied with the quality of the recording. We downloaded a few sound editors who had free trials, and then selected an inexpensive yet easy to use product, ARWizard by NowSmart Studio (www.nowsmart.com). We experimented with different settings and found those that offered good quality. Recordings were saved using the .mp3 format to limit the size of these files (see Figure 5).
The application was simple to use and produced a higher quality sound. To record the sound, we use an inexpensive microphone headset. I recommend this since it can set on your head and you can maintain the microphone in one relative position compared to your mouth (this helps to ensure that the record level is the same for each recording). We purchased ours from Radio Shack since they have a headset with an extra long cable which is important so that you can move around freely, along with a cover on the microphone that helps to muffle outside noises.
We set up a PC in our storage closet to minimize outside noises and providing the instructor privacy while they went through several recordings in several cases to obtain the script as they wanted it. Believe me, this is both a humorous and frustrating process at first.
Figure 5. To use this audio develop application, we simply click on the red button (record). A menu box will appear (right) which will prompt you to name and designate a save location for the audio file. We use the MP3 format and also save the audio files in the same folder as the presentation. Audio files are saved with initials relating to the module and a number which is the slide number. This makes it easier to input the audio file into each slide.
Initially we had our best voice in our department record all of the audio. Experience at this along with a good voice really helps. Over time I allowed the different instructors to begin to record their own modules. There was a greater sense of ownership and pride since the instructor has completed all aspect of the module by this point. In addition, this did not burden one single instructor who would fall behind in their own projects. However, you must use your judgment here since you want to ensure that your users are able to clearly understand the audio portion of the modules. Those with accents or otherwise poor recording voices should not make the recordings.
Recording is considered by our instructors to be the most challenging aspect of creating their on-line modules initially. This is primarily due to the number of re-takes required due to making mistakes when recording. You gain the appreciation of movie directors who require continual re-takes until it is done correctly. I can tell you from my own personal experience with this, the frustration will come when you have almost completed a 2 minute recording and then you make a mistake in the last sentence. More sophisticated sound editors will allow you to re-record specific portions of your recording. At this point we find that just starting back at the beginning works the easiest. Experience definitely pays off. Recording now takes only an hour or so for a 30 slide module. This includes making the recordings and then inserting them into each slide.
Note: I suggest that you save the audio files also in the same folder as the presentation and video files. When you save the audio for each slide, it is also suggested that you provide an abbreviated name followed by the number of the slide. For example, for the module, Final Inspection, I would name the audio file for the first slide as FI1.mp3, second slide as FI2.mp3, etc. There are times when we update the module that we may add additional slides. In these cases, the naming convention here will no longer match the new slide sequence. However, if we added a new slide # 10, we would save the audio file for this new slide as, FI10new.mp3.
If we added slides and now wanted to modify the script and therefore re-record the audio file for a particular slide, we can easily identify the name of the audio file by right clicking on the speaker icon on the slide you are modifying, and then click on “Edit Sound Object” link, which will show you the name of the audio file.
Once the audio files are created, the next step is to insert these into the PowerPoint slides. We use the “Insert Sound From File…” option. This places a speaker icon in the slide. It is followed by a menu prompting you to determine whether you want the audio file to play automatically when the slide is accessed, or when the user clicks the speaker icon. Most of the time we respond, “Yes”, so that the audio begins immediately once the slide is opened. We then click and drag the speaker icon to a specific area of the slide.
In our case we save the PowerPoint files as a PowerPoint Show (.pps) format. When the user clicks on the link to open the module, it is automatically opened as a PowerPoint show. We found this works better since it eliminates the user having to launch the presentation and does not require that the user have any knowledge of how to use PowerPoint. Initially we included an opening slide to explain to the user how to navigate through the module. The audio and arrows pointed to the navigation buttons to go to the next or previous slide. We also stated that the user could replay the audio by clicking on the speaker icon. This was the advantage we found for inserting the audio in the manner we stated above.
One of the advantages we discovered now using Presentation Pro to convert the PowerPoint file, is that once the conversion is complete, you can select to have the user view the module with their player option. This presents the user with the ability to see the presentation on one part of the screen, the audio script that was written in the Instructor Notes section, along with thumbnails of each slide in the presentation. Users have commented that this helps with following the audio portion, since they can now read the script for the audio while the audio is playing, or refer to the script after the audio has finished.
Custom Animation Now that the audio has been inserted in each slide, we can begin to add animation to each slide and time it to match the audio. To activate this feature, click on “Slide Show” and then select, “Custom Animation”. This will open a menu on the right hand side of the slides (reference Figure 6 below).
I recommend that you review the audio script in the Instructor notes and consider what type of animation that would accentuate your presentation. For example, you may want to introduce arrows, circles, or “Autoshapes” to reference particular areas of the slide. As you create and insert each figure, you would then click on the “Add Effect” & then “Entrance” options in the Custom Animation menu and determine how you want the graphic to be animated when being introduced to the slide. You have a variety of options to chose from. Most of the time we use the “Appear” or “Dissolve In” command. (Note: be careful about getting carried away with the options, since it can become distracting to the user).
Once you have selected the graphic and how you want it animated into the slide, it will place this in a list in the Custom Animation menu. You should note that your audio file is already in this list if you selected the play automatically option when inserting the audio file.
Figure 6. On the right hand side is the Custom Animation menu. In the example above, we are simulating an application which includes several screen shots layered over each other. In addition we use various graphic symbols (boxes, arrows, circles) to reference specific areas on each slide. The format that works most effectively is to create the graphic symbol, and then add it to the Custom Animation list by selecting the Add Effect button and then selecting the method in which it will be introduced (e.g. Appear or Dissolve In, etc.). We will then want to erase the symbol when we want to reference another area in the slide. To do this we select the graphic symbol, click on Add Effect and then Exit to determine how you want the image to leave the presentation (e.g. Dissolve Out, Checkerboard, etc.).
Note: in most cases I suggest immediately following the above step by also creating an exit animation. This will allow you to erase the image at a designated time in the presentation. Performing this step immediately after selecting the Entrance option is important particularly when you are adding layers to a slide (e.g. pictures over other pictures). It becomes more difficult to select the individual objects after they have been layered. Also, it is strongly recommended to write down a name for each figure you are animating along with the name given to that animation sequence. For example, for animating a rectangle, you would write down, “rectangle over defect”, and, “Rectangle 3” which is the name given to this animation in the custom animation list. This allows you to track your animations. You will also use this list to write down the appropriate time to start the animation as well as erase it.
You may also want to introduce other objects such as callout boxes or other text boxes and animate them as well. You can also animate existing text in the slide such as title slides or bulleted lists. A nice feature is that you can time each bullet and its associate text from a bulleted list. To do this, click on the bulleted list and then add this to the Custom Animation list using the same instructions as above. Once inserted you will notice that the Text Box has a name & number, along with a double downward facing arrow below this name. If you click on the downward facing arrow, it will list each bullet. This allows you to time each bullet just as you would all other animations.
Once all of your figures and animations have been introduced, you need to time the entrance and exit for each animation in your list. Here is where your list you created, identifying each image you inserted into your animation sequence including the description and name given in the Custom Animation list, will come in handy. The first step is to click on any item in your Custom Animation list, then click on the downward facing arrow and select, “Show Advanced Timeline”. This will place a Seconds counter at the bottom of this list.
Begin by clicking on the Play button at the bottom of the Custom Animation list. Your goal here is to write down on your list the time according to the Seconds counter when each image should be introduced. It may take a couple of plays to get all of the times written down. Once you have these times (do not worry if they are not exact at this point), you will begin establishing these times for each animation object.
To do this click on the object in the Custom Animation list. Then click on the downward facing arrow for that object. You will first want to select the option, “Start With Previous” (there are several ways to place your objects into a sequence, this is just the way we found works for us). This is the method that automatically introduces objects vs. being introduced via a mouse click. With the timeline present, you will then click and drag the timing icon (represented by a blue rectangle in most cases) to the appropriate start time. As you drag the icon it will show you the exact time. You will notice that the seconds in the Seconds timeline will advance as you drag the icon to the right.
Repeat this for each object in sequence. Note, you will want to be sure to erase the previous item prior to, or at the same time that your next object appears, if you want the previous object to disappear. After you have all of your items timed, click on the Play button once again. Note those items that are out of sequence or need timing adjustments. Make these adjustments and repeat until you get it correct.
This will take some practice to get the hang of it. The challenge we discovered is when we forgot to create a graphic such as an arrow after we have placed all of the images over each other. In this case you will have to move all of the layers of images until you locate the one that you want to add the graphic to. The other suggestion is that you always create an exit for an image and graphic in the custom animation sequence. This removes the graphic or image so that you do not have to worry about the order of the images. Simply making a list of all the animation activity and names of each animation helps tremendously.
As mentioned previously, we save all of the final presentations as a PowerPoint Show (.pps). This will automatically start the show when the user clicks on the link to access the module.
Your next question is to determine how you will access these modules. We started our on-line initiative by placing links to the .pps files on our Intranet. This was a great way to launch this capability with minimal expense. Your IT or MIS department can help you here. Another option is to save the presentation on a CD. To do this within PowerPoint select the “Pack and Go” option in the File menu. You will be guided step-by-step how to do this. Once the file is created, save it in a separate folder. You will need to have a CD burner and software to place the Pack and Go file onto the CD. These are both quite inexpensive today.
If using the CD option, I would suggest creating your own labels for the CD. This helps to create a professional image. Many of the CD label packages have their own software included. We use the NEATO brand which included an easy to use CD labeling application. We added our logo, selected a design and added the text which was the name of the module and date or revision of the module. You can also purchase the inserts if you are placing the CD in a plastic case. On the front of the insert was the name of the module and any other information or logos you want to add. On the back was the instructions to launch the module.
You can also download the PowerPoint player which is used to place on the CD so that users can view the module even if they do not have PowerPoint installed on their computer. The player is available on Microsoft’s web site. Most recently we experimented with Presentation Pro which converts the presentation into a flash file. You can download a trial version of this application. Presentation Pro will only accept certain video formats, which include .avi and .wmv, so we were set to go.
There are advantages and disadvantages to whatever tool you use to create on-line learning. The advantage that I hoped to portray is that PowerPoint provides you with everything you need to develop on-line training. The learning curve is not that steep which is what I found with some other content development applications. The biggest advantage was the price, free! Another key advantage is that you can turn any subject matter expert into a basic instructional designer since most have at least a basic knowledge of PowerPoint or can get a basic knowledge rather quickly. Another advantage is that a lot of presentation material is already developed in PowerPoint, which can then be easily modified into an on-line module.
The key is getting started. You will need to learn some intermediate and advanced PowerPoint skills, which are not that difficult to learn and apply. The next step is jumping in and creating your first module. Expect frustration as you would encounter with any new skill. Start with a simple module that would not require a lot of animation. My best recommendation would be to start with a presentation that is currently used in one of your classes. Insert the instructor’s script in the instructor notes section, add some pictures, a few quiz slides and off you go!
As you learn new skills please share these new ideas. I have placed a simple threaded discussion board on my web site, www.trainingonashoestring.com. This way we can all learn together.
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