PowerPoint for e-learning – more like Storyline than you’d think

Unhappy and happy counterpartsDo you use PowerPoint to train people? That’s very common of course, and there are many ways you can do it:

  • Face-to-face, in the same room;
  • Remotely, using something like Microsoft Live Meeting or Adobe Connect;
  • Asynchronously, perhaps using a tool like Brainshark or Articulate Storyline – both of which do a good job of importing PowerPoint slides.

Here we’ll look at that 3rd option, because recently I read a short but fascinating post that compares PowerPoint and Articulate Storyline as training tools. (If you’ve seen my about page, you’ll know I’m a training developer – hence my interest in the topic.)

Storyline’s the “new kid on the block”

Storyline’s the “new kid on the block” of major e-learning tools. When you open Storyline, it looks a lot like PowerPoint, and it has many similar features. But it’s designed to make e-learning, rather than just slides.

Anyway, the post I mentioned is by Brian Washburn, and it’s provocatively titled:

PowerPoint vs. Storyline (AKA: Telling vs. Experiencing)

Brian’s post presents PowerPoint as a tool for what you might call “linear lectures”, and Storyline as a tool for what you could call “interactive adventures”. The post compares a pair of small e-learning modules, each made in around 45 minutes. Brian made one of the modules with PowerPoint and the other with Storyline.

PowerPoint’s much more capable for e-learning than most people realise

My premise here’s twofold:

  • PowerPoint’s much more capable for e-learning than most people realise.
  • Despite Storyline’s far greater power, I believe most e-learning developers will barely scratch the surface. (Still, that’s great news if you use Storyline to develop high-quality e-learning, because you won’t have much competition!)

A bit later in this post you’ll find specific steps you can use to make e-learning with PowerPoint. But first, why do so few people realise it’s even possible to make e-learning with PowerPoint?

I believe people form their views on PowerPoint for 2 main reasons:

  • Most slideshows are dull and ineffective, so after decades of seeing those, most people assume PowerPoint’s to blame.
  • Almost no-one’s taught to use PowerPoint, which is why so few people know what it can do.

You can even use PowerPoint to build realistic software simulations

For instance, did you know you can even use PowerPoint to build realistic software simulations, like you might in Storyline or Adobe Captivate? I know because I’ve done it. (As you’d guess, PowerPoint’s not the best tool for the job, but if your budget’s as tight as mine was 7 years ago, you might be surprised how much you can do with PowerPoint!)

If you don’t think you can use PowerPoint for convincing simulations, try this:

  1. Insert a screenshot of the software you’re simulating.
  2. On the part of the shot you want learners to click – such as the Save button – neatly place a shape with no fill and no border.
  3. Hyperlink your shape, so clicking it takes learners to your next slide. (To do that, with your shape selected choose Insert > Hyperlink, click Place in This Document, and near the top of the list click Next Slide.)
  4. On your next slide, add a screenshot of the next step in the simulation – such as the Save As dialog box.
  5. Use text boxes to guide learners on what to do.
  6. On the Slide Show tab, choose Set Up Slide Show and lock your slides into “kiosk” mode. (That way, learners’ clicks outside your hyperlinks are ignored.)

In fact you can broaden those steps to make a course with PowerPoint that gets learners to click any object:

  1. Add hyperlinks to each object you want learners to click.
  2. Lock the slideshow into kiosk mode.

Most e-learning is linear and boring (and thus, I believe, largely pointless)

I do agree with what Brian Washburn found about e-learning: Most is linear and boring (and thus, I believe, largely pointless), because that’s far quicker and easier to make than courses that are truly worthwhile. (Being a huge waste of time and money is another matter entirely, it seems!)

It’s also true that Storyline has loads of features that let you make e-learning much more easily (and far better) than with PowerPoint. For instance, even just at the level of slide design, Storyline comes with dozens of photos custom made for e-learning. (That is, each photo shows just one person, with a certain facial expression and pose, and its background’s removed so it works on any background you choose.)

PowerPoint doesn’t come with photos made for e-learning. (Like with other PowerPoint features though, most people don’t know you can easily access 1000s of photos through PowerPoint – for free, and legally!)

But sadly, despite Storyline’s deeper powers, I believe most courses made with it will end up the same way as if people used any other tool. That is, mostly linear, boring, and ineffective.

The fact you can make brilliant e-learning with Storyline doesn’t mean users will

Let’s face it, presenters can make great and effective slides with PowerPoint, but most presenters don’t. Likewise, the fact you can make brilliant e-learning with Storyline doesn’t mean most users will.

After all, Storyline has a neat PowerPoint import feature, which is a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it lets you convert static slides into something far better. But it’s a curse because it lets you publish static slides as is, and call them e-learning! (And importing from PowerPoint’s likely to be one of the commonest ways to create a course in Storyline, I’d say.)

In the end, the value of any e-learning all comes down to how much time, knowledge and skill its developers have (whatever the tool used). And naturally, those 3 resources are spread quite thinly between all the places people have to apply them these days!

Over to you

  • What’s your opinion on the state of most e-learning, and whether Storyline will improve matters?
  • What’ve you made with PowerPoint that most people wouldn’t think was possible?
  • Want to know more about making e-learning or interactive slideshows with PowerPoint? Please ask – I gladly answer all comments.

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8 thoughts on “PowerPoint for e-learning – more like Storyline than you’d think

  1. Craig – As promised in my response to your comment on my post “Technology – The Great Equalizer”

    I think this post brings up an interesting question. Chicken or egg? People use PPT to create “learning” because it’s free, they do not receive training on how to actually use it in the creative manner in which you discuss above, because they don’t know that sort of creativity is even possible. The hamster wheel keeps going around and around. Brian brings up the $64 million question [below] about education. I feel this is dead on, but incomplete. There is the mention of getting “them” to *want* to use the tools more effectively. I can’t want anything unless I understand the need for it. Why would I want black shoes if I don’t understand I need shoes. Therefore the question is less about educating them to use the tool, but educating them on the needs of learners in general.

    So what do we do about that? As L&D people we are very good at spotting less than stellar content (classroom or online), and then jumping on the troll bandwagon. My question to everyone is, if we do not provide guidance – who will? A great many “Accidental Trainers” find themselves in this spot with no real Learning Leadership. So rather than harp on the bad, and lump the good, the bad and the uneducated all together – perhaps we should start by taking a mentoring approach? If you are lucky enough to work in a team, perhaps provide collaborative workshops (bring a project, lets all work together to make it better). I believe the $64 million dollar question is how do we reach the Accidental Trainer who is part of a one person department? How do we provide coaching regarding adult learning, or just learning in general? Poor course development is just symptomatic of a larger problem and we must deal with this issue first. Now that I’m off my soapbox ~ I’m curious as to your thoughts.


    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Shannon, and for the links – both are always welcome!

      I’m lucky that I do work in a team, and we’ve started peer workshops similar to what you mention.

      Maybe we could start to reach some of the legion of 1-person teams out there by posting example makeovers online.

      I also have in mind a future post about just 2 criteria that distinguish useful e-learning interactions from pointless ones (like the enRage-style interactions I mentioned in my comment on your post.)


      • I love the idea of before and after examples – That would make a great addition to your site. Perhaps an additional page that is collaborative in nature – post a bad example and invite guest reviewers to critique? We all would learn a thing or two. I really like what Tom Kuhlman is doing over at Articulate, once a week he posts a task for developers to play with and submit back. The more we can mentor and support others in our field the better we are – it’s a win-win. Good luck and sorry you can’t make it over here for the conference, but I’m sure we’ll be in touch again. 🙂


  2. Great post, Craig! And very timely. I’ve been having this conversation with several colleagues and bloggers. I think you’re right on – the issue is more to do with the design of PPT (or Storyline) vs. the tools themselves.

    The $64 million question is: how do we educate users of these technologies in order to move them to use these tools more effectively (or get them to *want* to use the tools more effectively)? Have you found anything that seems to work when it comes to this question?


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