Creating Better Learning - With Less

This week I'm excited to talk about one of my all-time favorite tools. It's an oldie but goodie that often gets a bad rap which, in my opinion, is because most people don’t use it well.

Okay, so enough introduction already. What is it? It’s Microsoft PowerPoint - and I plan to feature it fairly often on this blog because it’s incredibly versatile. 

For anyone trying to find simple and cheap tools for creating learning content, PowerPoint is a real winner. If you’re just starting out, or on a tight budget, consider using PowerPoint for these instructional design deliverables:

  • Self-paced eLearning

  • Graphic design

  • Instructor led training (ILT)

  • Virtual instructor led training (VILT)

Over time, I’ll create blog posts showing you ways to use PowerPoint for all of these, but for now, we’ll just start with some basics of self-paced eLearning.

Self-paced learning
The most simple format for eLearning is a straightforward presentation of material, slide by slide. In this format, learners click “next” (or use some other method) to advance from one slide to the next to cover the learning material. PowerPoint is a natural choice for producing the same type of interaction. 

In fact, some eLearning creation software is built to mimic the familiar PowerPoint Interface, so the transition to this type of software is usually pretty simple. 

Either way, it’s good to remember some simple do’s and don’ts to make sure your course is as effective as possible. 

Here's an overview:

  1. Don’t overcrowd your slides with text

  2. Do use visual hierarchy to break up your content

  3. Don’t use transitions willy-nilly

  4. Do use push transitions to connect related content that must broken up over two or more slides

Don't overcrowd your slides

First and foremost, when creating text on your slides, be sure not to overwhelm the slides with too much information.

It’s an easy trap to fall into - but it’s still one you need to avoid! It’s tempting of course to fill your slides with all the information you want your learners to know. After all, how else will they learn it? There are some more advanced ways to work with PowerPoint which will help you navigate around that problem. But for now, let’s just say, “don’t do it!” 

Use visual hierarchy

If you must load your slide with written content, be sure to break it up by applying principles of visual hierarchy. Just like hierarchy at a company, in a family, or in a social group, there’s a relationship between the various parts of your content. Your job is to make that relationship immediately obvious. 

Using that illustration, you need to make it clear who’s in charge, and you can do that with size and weight. Your headline (the person in charge) should be significantly larger than the supporting content (staff). 

Because the “person in charge” carries more responsibility, you would assign it more weight by making it bold, if necessary. It’s not that the headline must be bold, but if anything on your page will be, make sure that’s it. Otherwise, you can see from the image how confusing that could be for the learner.

Instead, try something like this. I know, I know, it seems simple enough, but you’d be surprised by how many times professional organizations release content that looks more like this... 

In my opinion, it's at best like walking into an unorganized office. At worst, it's like an office during an unorganized fire drill!

Don't use transitions willy-nilly

This brings us to the second point for this post: Transitions. Transitions are the animations that you can apply as you move from slide to slide. No matter what you’ve seen, or what you’ve been told, funky transitions, for the sake of being funky do not add value to your content! Just don’t do it.

For that matter, don’t animate anything unless it adds real value. How you define that value is up to you. I’ll discuss some forms that animating for value can take in later posts, but for now let’s focus on how animating your transitions effectively can help you with your text.

Use transitions to connect related content

Even after you’ve paired down your text, you might still find that one slide just isn’t enough space for all you have to say. In that case, just use two. But here’s a great opportunity to use a slide transition to connect the two thoughts. In this case, why not try a Push Transition.  

This type of transition, in particular, provides the illusion of a camera panning. The effect can make the slides feel like one large space in which all the information is connected.

You’ll find this is an elegant solution for the problem of "click next” training. Even without an advanced knowledge of PowerPoint, you can help learners enjoy a more interactive and engaging experience!

To watch a quick tutorial on how to use this transition effectively, click on the YouTube Video below.

So that’s it - two simple and effective ways to improve on using PowerPoint for self-paced eLearning content.

Let’s recap:

  1. Don’t overcrowd your slides with text

  2. Do use visual hierarchy to break up your content

  3. Don’t use transitions willy-nilly

  4. Use push transitions to connect related content that must broken up over two or more slides

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