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Building Effective e-Learning with Any Authoring Tool

Ethan Edwards, chief instruction strategist, allen interactions
by Ethan Edwards, chief instruction strategist 

I came across a really encouraging post in an e-learning forum this week with a great example of a point I try to often to get across when talking about e-Learning design.  New designers and developers say with great regularity that they can’t do much except page-turners because of the tools at their disposal.  My response is that with enough creativity and cleverness you can implement a good design in nearly any tool, to which I usually get some nods of agreement but also some skeptical rolling of the eyes.  Well, check out this little screencast at http://screenr.com/DK1. It’s a short presentation from Tom Kuhlmann of the Rapid E-Learning Blog in which he describes a solution he built entirely in PowerPoint/Articulate that recreates one of Allen Interactions’ most well-known and engaging examples: the Employee Security supervisor training piece.


Is the recreation as good as the original? Well, not really.  As Mr. Kuhlmann, himself, points out, limitations in drag-and-drop functionality and lack of variables forced some minor adjustments in the design.  But does it still create an engaging piece of e-learning that embodies all aspects of the Context-Challenge-Activity-Feedback model? Absolutely!  It’s hard to put a value on specific contributions of any given elements within a design, but I’d say, even with the compromises, the PowerPoint piece still has 90% of the impact of the original or more.

Now clearly, creating that interaction entirely within PowerPoint took very deep knowledge of the rich functionality in that ubiquitous tool, left pitifully unexplored by most of us. And the critical part of the piece, more than the actual construction of it, was the instructional design insight that came up with the idea in the first place. The lesson for me in this, though, is that great, engaging e-learning is really available to all of us.  And if we only produce boring, ineffective e-learning, it isn’t because the tools force us to, but that we or our organizations as a whole are choosing to do less than we are capable of.