Tag Archives: instructional design


Articulate Storyline Presentation for Ugly PowerPoint

At long last, after much tweaking and editing, I’ve managed to finish my Articulate Storyline presentation for my Ugly PowerPoint on Reclosers. This is where it all comes together. So, instead of discussing every step of the process, I’d like to focus on some of the things I learned. And, that’s what I find the most exciting about instructional design… I’m ALWAYS learning something new! Of course, in order to do that, I had to push myself beyond my comfort zone. I pushed myself to learn how to create vector art in Photoshop, use a new authoring tool, and work with sound files. I hit a few roadblocks along the way, but I figured out enough to make the presentation professional and effective.

Getting to Know Storyline

I’ve had a lot of experience with Articulate Presenter. Your authoring is done in PowerPoint and then it’s published in Flash format to use on the web. It’s an old, comfortable friend and I’ve figured out a lot of its quirks and ticks. I’ve also used Adobe Captivate and found it pretty overwhelming and amazing. Authoring always took a little longer in Captivate because there’s so much more to control. So, when I made the decision to go with Articulate Storyline, the “new kid on the block”, I was hoping I’d get the best of both worlds. There’s a lot that Storyline can do that Presenter just can’t. And, it’s just about as configurable as Captivate. I found that the timeline authoring in Storyline is very similar to Captivate. And, the slide authoring is very similar to PowerPoint, as you would see in Presenter.

Cue points were something new to me. In Presenter, when you needed an animation to happen at a particular point during your narration, you would watch and listen to your slide and click to cue your animation points. In Storyline, you add cue points to your sound track and line up each element to these points on your timeline. It’s a very different approach, but I really like it. You can record your narration in Storyline or you can use a different program to record and then import your sound files. Either way works great and either way you get your sound files into the program, you can still use the sound editing tool to make quick edits on the fly.

RCA 40A Ribbon Microphone John Schneider via Compfight

One thing I did encounter was an issue with using the wrong bitrate when I recorded my voice over. I like to record my sound files using WavePad, an inexpensive but very flexible sound editing program. My past experience with Presenter taught me that recording in the program itself produced lower quality audio and did not give me access to each sound file. Uncompressed wav files are larger, but much better quality and I have a lot of flexibility with each file. My problem was that I recorded using the wrong bitrate settings and the files would not import properly. So, I consulted the E-Learning Heroes website and posted my problem on their forum. I had answered pretty quickly! Articulate staff and veteran users post tutorials, program issues, questions, and comments pretty regularly. Once I got the answer to the bitrate question in the forum, I was able to convert my sound files pretty easily using a batch process in WavePad and get going with my work.

Fun with Triggers

So, triggers are something new to me in Storyline. It’s not a feature in Presenter and it really opens a whole new world up. Triggers are actions you can create to make any element do an action. They are essentially little bits of code and most of them are created behind the scenes and you don’t need to know much about them for most actions. For example, you can insert a button into Storyline and the triggers are preset to go to the next slide when the user clicks on it. But, if you want to make it do something different, like show a different layer or make a certain action happen when the user clicks it, you can edit the trigger pretty easily. No coding required!

Haciendo arco Eduardo Amorim via Compfight

I got a little more personal with triggers when I wanted to do something that wasn’t already a preset action in my quizzes. In Presenter, there was always a counter in the upper left that let the user know which question they were on and how many they still had to do in this format: Question # of #. It kept a running count of the user’s activity. So, I consulted the E-Learning Heroes site to see if any other users had an answer for this dilemma. Sure enough, they did! I had to create a couple of new variables and then add a text box with the call to the variables. At first, I broke out into a sweat… coding is just not my thing. But, I have taken enough classes to at least get the basic concepts. So, once I stepped through their suggestions, I was able to find a way to do it that worked for my testing set up. Not painful at all!

Time for Feedback

At this point in the project, I would need some final feedback from my team of subject matter experts. If I had a public folder, I’d publish a web version of my Storyline project to that server and send a link out to my team with instructions to take a look at it and send feedback my way by a certain date. They would be instructed to find any production errors, make sure the quiz questions were correct, and do their worst to try and “break” the course. By that, I mean they should try and do things that the course did not intend, like jump from place to place, click the wrong things at the wrong time and that sort of thing. My hopes would be that the feedback would be minimal because we had already done a lot to build the course in the early stages. They would be looking for structural problems and hopefully not find any content issues. The good news is that if anything did come up, it’s a pretty painless process to fix it and republish.

So, when all of the feedback is addressed, it’s time to publish for the LMS and add it to the system. I have found that before that process begins, it’s a good idea to know what’s involved in that whole process.You may need to ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do you need to submit the presentation to an LMS governance board for approval? Do you need to go through an official submittal process? Is there a file naming scheme that you need to be aware of?
  • Do you have an official description written? Is it part of another series of courses?
  • Will you need to create separate attachments in the LMS for a roster and handouts?
  • Do you need to publish a CD ROM version for facilitators to use in the classroom for learners who don’t have access to computers?
  • Do you need to create a printable quiz and answer sheet for classroom learners?

I have found that using my Project Checklist is very useful at this stage of the project. I have a Word version of the Project Checklist available for download that anyone can use and modify as needed. Every company is going to have a different process at this stage of the game, so it’s a document that I modify pretty regularly. But, it keeps me on track and from forgetting something important.

 Final Thoughts

So, I’m pretty much finished with this presentation and I’m ready to move on to the next challenge. For the purposes of my portfolio, I’m ready to take on subject matter different from the electric utility business. And, I’m eager to continue to challenge myself by expanding my Instructional Designer Toolbox. My thinking is that prospective clients will want to see a variety of formats and my handling of different subject matter. Clients tend to need not only one kind of learning format, but many. They need to make the most of the content that they have to deliver. Some clients need to have a means to train in the classroom as well as online. They might also need a way for learners to access information after they have completed training. And, they might need a way to follow up on that training to track whether those learner have retained what they have been taught. Of course, the “bottom line” is very important and knowing how to evaluate ROI is essential. So, I’m going to be exploring these thoughts as I move on to my next project.

Happy Birthday Ola!

Graphic Design for Ugly PowerPoint

At this point in my Ugly PowerPoint project, I want to create a good visual “look” for the course. I have found it’s pretty handy to think about this at a pretty early stage in the project. First, I take a look at the existing photos supplied in the PowerPoint and think about whether or not I want to use them. Sometimes, there’s no choice in the matter; you must use the supplied graphics. Sometimes, they need to be re-photographed. And, sometimes it’s a good idea to just re-create the graphics in Photoshop. Looking at the existing photos, I can start to think about color.

Adobe Kuler is a great place to start if you have photos already. It’s a free online service and you can set up an Adobe User ID pretty easily if you don’t already have one. Once you log in, you can upload a photo from your project and select colors for your palette. Using this photo, I’ve set up a palette that seems like a good place to start. Once you have that set up, Kuler gives you the hex values for each color that you can use in a graphic editing program.

Another cool tool is Pixie. It’s a great freeware program that you can download and run from your computer whenever you need it (no installation required). It turns your mouse into a color picker and it will tell you the hex, RGB, HTML, CMYK and HSV values of wherever you are pointing.

Other online cool color tools I’ve used are COLOURlovers and Color Scheme Designer. COLOURlovers is very plugged into the designer community via Twitter and offers a lot of tools and ideas. It’s a great place to get inspiration. Color Scheme Designer is more of a web designer geek tool, although it’s quite sophisticated. Once you pick a theme and type of scheme you want, you can export it into a few different formats, such as HTML/CSS, XML, Text, ACO for Photoshop, or GPL for Gimp (an open-source Photoshop alternative). Just plug in a color value and start poking around, I dare you!

For my purposes, I’m pretty satisfied with the Kuler Theme I created, so I’ve made a note of those values. Now I can go into Storyline and plug those values into my project.


In Storyline, I can customize a theme based on my color palette. I’m not sure I’m satisfied with this one yet, but it’s a good start. Once I start adding content to my Storyline project, I will have a better sense if it’s working or not.


Next post, I’m going to talk about re-creating some of the graphics in Photoshop. In the past, I’ve been very apprehensive about using the dreaded Pen Tool and I think it’s time to dive in and see if I can master this highly powerful yet scary tool.


Adobe Kuler: http://kuler.adobe.com
COLORlovers: http://www.colourlovers.com
Color Scheme Designer: http://colorschemedesigner.com/
A work of art

My Project Management Tools

I’d like to talk about Project Management, something I have done whether I wanted to or not. I found that on several of my past team projects, I was selected by default to do the project management because I was the designated “computer geek”. I took a couple of courses on the subject and then dove right in. I wasn’t that interested in Project Management as a career, but I did find that it’s just another tool in an Instructional Designer’s toolbox. A little competency goes a long way here! Along the way, I’ve used Excel spreadsheets, MS Project, and some online solutions.


Spreadsheets are probably the most common project management tool that I’ve found in most organizations. Everyone has the software on their computers and some companies consider them the backbone of their data infrastructure. The tricky part is getting them to work with a group of users with varying degrees of spreadsheet expertise. The boss usually demands a pretty complex spreadsheet that includes nested projects, roll-up formulas, and color coding. The users tend to email various versions of the spreadsheet amongst the team and “break” formulas pretty regularly. It’s not the best solution, but it’s a good start.

MS Project

Moving a spreadsheet into MS Project is pretty easy but that’s only the beginning. MS Project offers a complex interface with many variables available… so many ways to spiral a simple project out of control. I found that I was spending way too much time filling in the details that only I would appreciate and less time on the project itself. Plus, each team member needed to purchase an expensive license to use it. As the Internet began to offer more online solutions, I looked there for inspiration.


I found Smartsheet a couple of years ago through an article on www.greenmoxie.com/7-steps-toward-building-an-environmentally-sustainable-home/ and recommended it to my team at the time. We were a small team but we were spread across several states, so an online solution that we could all access made a lot of sense. It was a less expensive solution than MS Project, so we gave it a whirl. I found it simple enough for my less computer savvy teammates but complex enough to manage several projects at once. For a small team in a larger company, it was a great solution. But now that I’m on my own, I wanted to find something almost as good as Smartsheet, but within my price range… which is FREE!


I started with Rapidtask, an online free project management solution, but found it was a little clunky and did not give me a lot of options to manage each of my tasks. It’s more like a fancy To-Do list, which is pretty good, but not exactly what I was looking for. So it was back to the drawing board.


Right now, I’m using Gantter and so far it reminds me a lot of Smartsheet. The interface is very MS Project and allows me to get pretty complex if I want to, or just keep it pretty simple. Best part… it’s totally free and doesn’t pester me with expensive upgrades for full functionality. For me, it’s working out great and I began to use it for my Ugly PowerPoint project.


Whatever application you choose, don’t be afraid to try a number of project management solutions until you find what works for you. The best ones I found have excellent user help sites with how-to videos and documentation. User discussion boards are also very helpful (but can really lead you down a rabbit hole sometimes).

Additional Reading:

#271 eLearning

An introduction to my blog

My name is Barb Roland and I’m an Instructional Designer in the Central Ohio area. I’m going to use this blog to document some of my portfolio projects. Hopefully it will capture my journey as I transition into a different phase of my career.

Here’s a little background on me: between 2000 and 2013 I worked at American Electric Power in Columbus Ohio in their Distribution Technical Training department designing their training materials. They train line mechanics, underground network mechanics, and meter electricians. Their programs are four-year apprenticeships for the workers who build and repair utility equipment. They climb poles, use bucket trucks, crawl into underground vaults and need to have technical knowledge about how to work on their equipment. These four-year programs consist of learning guides, PowerPoint presentations, web-based training, hands-on field training, and testing. My job was to write or update their material and make their material available on the company’s Learning Management System and their intranet site. My goal was to push the trainers to embrace web-based technologies whenever it was practical to do so.

During my time at American Electric Power, I managed to finish a long-overdue Bachelor degree at Franklin University. I majored in Digital Communication, something that I hoped would help me figure out what I wanted to do with my career. I had been an Administrative Assistant for many years, but always found that I was getting involved in graphic design, database building, learning management systems, and computer based learning. I was usually the “office geek” who was unafraid of learning new systems and exploring new technologies. I had studied at Kent State University in their graphic design department when I was much younger and always felt drawn to learning, writing, and art. So, it was a natural transition for me to get into Digital Communications. At the time, there was no program for Instructional Designers and I had never even heard of this as a career choice. After I had my degree, I approached my manager to promote me to a Technical Writer position, a position I figured was as close as I could get to describing what I was doing at the time. He agreed and I got my dream job. I got to work on a variety of projects and dove into our company’s learning community, where I learned about Articulate Studio and other elearning tools. I quickly learned that I was an Instructional Designer and my career came into focus.

Student in bucket truck grounding a line
Student in bucket truck grounding a line

The electrical industry is going through a lot of changes these days, and American Electric Power is no different. The company went through a re-organization at the beginning of 2013 and unfortunately my position was affected. But, I’m grateful I had the chance to discover that my passion was instructional design while I was in that position. I feel that I have a lot more focus about my career path now. So now, I’m in the process of putting together some projects that anyone can see online that show what I can do as a designer.

My plan is to post some details about each project I put together with each blog post. I may even post a bit about the process of transitioning from the corporate world as an employee to a contractor. It may be a bumpy ride, but I’m looking forward to what happens!

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