No, I Won’t “Tweak” Your PowerPoint Slides

I got a call from a prospective client. She and I spoke briefly once when she was looking for a pool of instructional designers to call on for specific projects, but we haven’t worked together yet. In fact, I’m pretty sure she’s never worked with any instructional designers before.

“Hi, Christy, it’s Lynn. I need some help finishing up an e-learning course. The PowerPoint slides just need to be tweaked—editing the onscreen text, adding some animation, prepping the script for voice over recording, and syncing everything together. Are you available?”

“Your timing is good, Lynn. I’m just wrapping up some other projects and have some time now. Tell me some more about this project.”

“It’s about 200 slides. Here, let me email them to you now so you can take a look. The content is basically finished, and it just needs some polish. Can you do that?”

“OK, I’m looking over the slides now.” Some parts of the presentation have good visuals, but large sections are text obviously copied word-for-word from the employee handbook. Often, the same text is in the voice over notes as on screen. The slides contain no practice activities or assessments. “Is this a face-to-face course that you want to convert to online?” I ask.

Dense text on a slide describing benefits. No amount of "tweaking" will make this much text effective e-learning.

No amount of “tweaking” will make this effective e-learning.

She responds, “Yes, this used to be taught in a classroom. It’s part of the new employee orientation. We have a lot of new employees coming in, and we don’t always have a trainer available. Frankly, some of the trainers are better than others. We want to make sure everyone has the same experience. I had the best trainer write the script out in the slide notes for the narration so it would be just like what he teaches in class.”

“Well, I could do proofreading and animation to just tweak the slides, but I’m not sure that would be really effective. I don’t know what your budget is, but I think this course could benefit from some actual analysis and instructional design.”

“What do you mean by ‘actual analysis and instructional design’?”

“As an instructional designer, I don’t usually do projects where I’m just brought on at the end to tweak slides. I’m typically brought on board shortly after a client decides, ‘We need a course!’ Starting right from the beginning, I work with you to analyze the need, design the instruction, develop the multimedia, and manage the project until launch. I do a kick-off call with you to find out your needs. We talk about what business problem we’re trying to solve; needing a course isn’t a true business problem, so I work to uncover WHY you decided you need a course. For example, for an orientation like this, I’d want to know what’s working and not working in your current orientation. What do people leave orientation and still have problems with? What questions keep coming up over and over to HR?”

Lynn replies, “There are tons of questions with the benefits plan. People just don’t understand it, even after they read the handbook. HR ends up spending a lot of time walking people through all the options.”

“If people don’t understand it right now from reading the handbook, do you think they’ll understand it any better by having someone read it to them?”

“Hmm. I guess not.”

“Right now, you would probably get about the same results from having your new employees read the handbook on their own and take a quiz afterward. The slides are basically a pretty version of your handbook. Reading the handbook and taking a quiz wouldn’t only be cheaper to develop; it would be faster for employees to complete. People read faster than they can listen to voice over, so they can consume the same amount of content in less time by reading the document rather than watching and listening to the same thing online.”

“I see your point. But we don’t really have the budget to do a course from scratch.”

“You know, you probably will spend more upfront to do analysis and develop a more effective course. However, the final orientation would probably be half its current length because it would be focused on what employees need on day one to get started. That means employees would spend less time in orientation and be ready to do real work faster. We could also focus on the problems you really need to solve. If we can reduce the number of questions and problems HR has to deal with, we can free them up to do other work. That can save your company money in the long run even though the initial costs are higher.”

“You know, I might be able to justify that. Cutting down the time for new employees to get up and running is a big deal right now, so if we can help with that, I might be able to find some more budget. I need to talk to HR some more to find out if they have any other issues with new employees. I really thought instructional designers just did a little multimedia work at the end of the process. I didn’t realize you did so much.”

“Instructional design is more about being a partner to help you solve problems than just making slides pretty. You asked me to be a handyman and touch up some peeling paint, but I’m really an architect who can design you a house that better meets your needs.”

“Let me work on the budget and get back to you in a few days so we can talk about scope, OK? I’m not sure I can get enough to do everything you’d usually design, but maybe we can get something to do more analysis.”

“Sound good. I’ll look forward to hearing from you soon.”

This conversation is fictionalized, but it’s based on several real experiences. How do you handle it when someone asks you to just “tweak the slides”? How do you shift the conversation from just being an order taker to doing real instructional design work?

Captivate 8 Custom Motion Effect Example

I created a Captivate activity with a custom effect using motion and scaling to animate two cars driving away to the horizon. Each car moves depending on how you answer a series of questions. Click the image to view the activity (Flash only).

2 cars on parallel roads

The movement is saved as a custom effect (drive_away) so I can reuse it, as explained by Lieve Weymeis on her blog. The custom effect contains a Left-to-Right movement (which I edited to move up instead of left to right) and a ScaleTo 0.8. One note about these custom effects: they seem to be very glitchy and unstable. I had the entire activity working perfectly and then went back to add the Restart button and make a few minor edits. In every Advanced Action that I edited, the custom effect started scaling larger instead of smaller, even though the exact same action was being called. I had to re-create the effect a second time and save it with a new name. Lieve says these Effects and Advanced Actions don’t play well in Captivate 8, so she prefers to build these sorts of effects in Adobe Edge Animate. You can see the glitchy version from before I edited it to see the problem. Sometimes the cars get larger; sometimes they get smaller.

Each Yes/No button triggers an Advanced Action, so I built two Advanced Actions for each question. The Advanced Actions do several things:

  • Increment a variable (Points_ID or Points_Dev)
  • Apply the custom effect
  • Show the next question
  • Hide the previous question

I have 8 questions total. Questions 1 through 4 look like this:

Advanced Action

Questions 5 through 8 required conditional actions. Once the score for either variable exceeds 4 points, I apply the effect, show the appropriate final feedback, display the restart button, and hide the sign for the questions. The IF action checks the score and finishes the activity if the score is above the threshold; the ELSE action matches the earlier questions to continue to the end. The actions for the final question

IF statement


If I was creating an activity like this again, I might use Shared Actions instead of Standard Actions. For this time, I wanted the flexibility of being able to add more lines to the action (like adding the Restart button), which isn’t possible with a Shared Action. Now that I know all the actions needed, I’d be able to save some time with Shared Actions in the future. I would also investigate Adobe Edge Animate if I was doing more of these after the problems I experienced.

The car image came from GraphicStock; I edited the license plate and recolored a copy of the same image. If you’re interested in purchasing a license for GraphicStock, you can get an 83% discount through my link. For $99 a year, it’s a good library of vector images, buttons, icons, etc. The roads are built with Smart Shapes directly in Captivate.

The original concept for this activity came from another instructional designer on a recent project where she wrote the storyboard and I did the Captivate development. In the original version, learners weighed the benefits of two different types of insurance plans. I thought it was such a cool activity that I wanted to re-create it on my own with non-proprietary content. You could use this type of activity for anything where your audience needs to weigh the benefits of different choices: investments, employee benefits, hiring decisions, project management, face-to-face training vs. e-learning, time management, healthy eating, selecting the right equipment for a job, etc. Instead of cars, you could animate people moving along a track. With just ScaleTo in one dimension, you could animate a glass filling up or a thermometer rising.

Are you feeling inspired to create something like this yourself? How could you use a comparison activity like this? I’d love to hear about it if you use this as the basis for your own activity.

ID and E-Learning Links (2/8/15)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

My History of Live Blogged Notes

When I attend webinars or participate in online courses and conferences, I usually live blog my notes. That helps me remember what I attended and what I learned, and it lets me share that knowledge with others. In a recent discussion about how I have learned about instructional design without getting a master’s degree, someone asked me what courses and webinars I’ve attended. Because I have done so much live blogging, I was able to provide proof of my ongoing professional development efforts. These posts go back to 2007, so some of the content and references are dated. Generally newer posts are at the top of each category.


Storytelling and Scenario-Based Learning

Synchronous Learning

 Attention and Motivation

Trends and Future Predictions

Games and Simulations

LMSs and Other Tools

Learning Communities

Other Topics

Image credit: Matthew Bowden ( [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons

Storytelling LMS Presentation

Often when we talk about storytelling in learning, it’s related to e-learning. However, storytelling can be used in live presentations too. It’s much more interesting than a bunch of bullet points.

I recently gave a short presentation for a client in the early stages of selecting their first LMS. They currently do very little e-learning, although they hope to expand their offerings in the future for both internal and external learners. They manage their classroom training and webinars with spreadsheets and email, and they maintain a PDF course catalog that has to be sent to everyone every time they make a change. Their current processes aren’t very efficient, and they won’t scale well enough to meet their vision for the future.

The organization has experienced some resistance to implementing a new LMS, so one of my goals was to shift their attitudes. That’s one reason I used a storytelling approach for my presentation. The audience included a number of instructional designers, so the hero of the story is an ID—hopefully one the audience could identify with. Anna, the hero of the story, has problems similar to those faced by the IDs in this organization.

I adapted these slides to work as a standalone resource without a speaker; the original version had less text on the slides.

One quick note: I know it’s popular to bash LMSs, and I would never argue that LMSs can fix every learning problem. For example, you can’t manage informal learning, with or without an LMS. An LMS will, however, help this particular organization meet their immediate goals, and it will hopefully free up enough resources from administrative tasks to do more expansive work.

Have you ever given or attended a presentation that used this kind of storytelling approach? How effective was it? Share your experiences in the comments.