Free Paperclip-Themed eLearning Template

I LOVE finding free templates and resources that I can use in my projects… so imagine my excitement when I was searching for free  photos and I stumbled across MorgueFileIt says right on the website that you can use the images for commercial purposes without attributing the author, and the photos are great, high-quality images! When I saw the following set of paper-clip photos I became inspired to create an e-learning template….

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That’s how this Storyline template came to be; I was inspired by the paper-clip photography. I lifted the turquoise colour from the paper-clip in the image using the colour-picker tool.

The fonts used are Bebas, Desyrel (on the title slide) and Articulate Light. Download the fonts for free and install them on your computer if you want the template to look just like it does in these photos… it won’t have quite the same look without the Bebas font.

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If you want to check out the published Storyline file, you can have a peek at it here. If you’d like to download the .story file to use this template yourself, you can download it here. Sharing is caring! Hope this template is useful for someone, or inspires you to create your own.

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How To Create Custom Shapes/Graphics in Articulate Storyline

Last week I shared custom shapes I created using Articulate Storyline in the e-Learning Heroes Forum. Community members seem to like the shapes (yay!), and I’ve since developed an obsession with creating custom shapes. In case you’re wondering what I mean by “custom shapes” I mean that using shapes that are available within Storyline I created the items you see below:

Free Office Themed Articulate Storyline Custom Shapes

Everything in the images was created by me (except the wood texture background) by using Storyline shapes. The fun part is because these graphics are just groups of shapes, you can de-construct them, change the colors, etc.

You can also do a right-click on the group, Save as Picture, and then save the shape as a .PNG file that can be used in other applications. It’s a fun way to extend the functionality of Storyline from an e-learning development tool to a graphic design tool.

All you need to do to create your own custom shapes is insert your individual shapes, line them up, and group them.  The image below breaks down how I created the pencil.

pencil

Like I mentioned earlier in this post, I’ve now developed a bit of an obsession with creating fun new shapes. It’s given me all these ideas for fun projects and themes I can create using the shapes I’ve made. For example, I created a really cool looking desk phone (which I will share in a future post) and now I’m working on adding some functionality wherein you press numbers on the keypad, and it links to various slides. I also find that now I’m often challenging myself to see how far I can go “re-creating” simple items right in Storyline. My latest challenge was creating the Microsoft system calculator using shapes in Storyline. You almost can’t tell the difference between the two!

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I made a few more shapes this weekend; I created a few folders, a notepad, and a clipboard. I’ve posted these files in the e-Learning Heroes forum as well, so feel free to download them and use them in your own projects. Here’s a photo of the new shapes:

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I hope this has inspired some of you guys to create your own custom graphics in Storyline. If anyone has any suggestions or ideas for future shapes or challenges for me — bring it on! Please feel free to leave me a comment or question and follow me on Twitter!

3 Simple Design Problems to Avoid in Your eLearning Courses

You don’t need to be a professional graphic designer to know that yellow text on a white background is a no-no, or that the bright neon orange background is not so easy on the eyes.

However, there are some more subtle design faux-pas that not everyone is consciously aware of. Here’s a look at a few of them, and some tips on how to avoid making those mistakes in your own e-learning designs.

Claustrophobic Slides

White space (also known as negative space) is the unmarked or unused space on a slide/screen/layout. White space is a very important design element and it should be balanced with the objects on the slide. In other words, you should aim to have 50% white space on every slide. Claustrophobic slides happen when there isn’t enough white space and the objects on the slide are too close together,  touching each other or  touching the edges of the slides. Here’s an example of a claustrophobic slide:

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The elements on the slide are crowded and too close. It just feels a bit too “tight”. The fix: add  some white space! Here is the same slide, with all the same elements but with proper spacing around them.

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Ahhh! Now there’s some breathing room. That’s what white space does. It frames all the elements and provides balance.

Whispering Headlines

Why do you want your headlines to stand out? Because they introduce the slide and let the learners know what they are about to look at. Whispering headlines fail to attract attention, and are not easily distinguished from the text that they introduce. Here’s an example:

ex1

Notice that the headline doesn’t really stand out from the text that comes after it. Headlines should be significantly larger than the text that follows. Here is the same example, except this time the headline is bolded and a larger font size:

ex2

That helps a bit, but it’s still not really popping as much as it should. A few other techniques you can use to make your headlines stand out: make the text bolder, change the color or change the font. Here’s our same example once more, but this time the headline has a different font color and typeface. 

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See how much our headline pops now? Your eyes go right to the headline and right away you know what this slide is all about (or at least you would if you spoke Latin!).

Similar Typefaces

When you’re using more than one type of font in your e-learning design choose contrasting fonts. In other words, avoid mixing fonts that have a similar look-and-feel (whether it be in the size or weight of the type). Here’s an e-learning slide that uses similar typefaces:

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It feels a little heavy doesn’t it? The fonts used are too similar, too close to the same size, and too chunky and heavy. They compete for attention and don’t balance each other out.  As we looked at in the previous example, your headline should be what grabs attention first. Here’s the same slide, but now I have switched one of the fonts to be a “lighter” style and I’ve adjusted the size of the text.

exB

There’s much more of a balance between the two fonts  in the second example.

These are just a few common design mistakes that you can avoid making in your designs. Some of these “mistakes” are very subtle, and might only be caught by a very detail-oriented eye. That being said, it’s those little details that can make a design that much more pleasing to look at. I’ll follow-up with another post about common design mistakes in a few weeks, so stay tuned!

The Ultimate eLearning Design and Development Checklist

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I have combed the web and compiled several e-learning, instructional design and web design checklists to create this ultimate e-learning checklist. Not every item on the entire list will apply to every project, however I think that altogether it covers a broad range of items. If you think there’s something important that I have missed, please let me know and I will include it in the list; ideally, I’d like this checklist to cover as much ground as possible.

View The Ultimate eLearning Design and Development Checklist in .PDF format.

INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN

  • Training needs analysis is complete
  • Time and budget restraints have been identified
  • Primary and secondary audience have been analyzed
  • Task analysis and task listing are complete
  • Various instructional methods are used
  • Objectives are clearly stated
  • Objectives include measurable criteria
  • Instructional content relates directly to   objectives
  • Course objectives are met
  • Content is segmented into small chunks
  • Information is logically grouped
  • Major headings are clear and descriptive
  • One-third of the content is presentation
  • Two-thirds of the content is application   & feedback
  • Feedback is provided for questions   answered
  • A maximum of 5-7 bullet items per slide
  • There is a summary for every piece of   content
  • Glossary is used to define key concepts   and terms
  • Humor is used with care

ASSESSMENTS & TESTS

  • All assessments are relevant and complete
  • Assessments are challenging and realistic
  • Various quiz methods and types are used
  • Assessments are used throughout
  • Final assessment at the end
  • Pass/fail marks are appropriate
  • Feedback is adequate
  • Feedback presented within reasonable time
  • Post course assessment/evaluation is included
  • New content is not presented in assessments or in assessment feedback

GENERAL DESIGN

  • Total design is uniform in appearance
  • Branding/identity guidelines have been   followed
  • Use of logos is appropriate
  • Colors used are consistent and suitable
  • Color schemes chosen for visibility & contrast
  • Navigation is consistent throughout
  • Horizontal and vertical scrolling is   avoided
  • At least 50% of the screen is white space
  • Graphics/icons used to signify important concepts
  • Patterns and textured backgrounds do not interfere with legibility

FONTS

  • Maximum of  or three fonts used throughout
  • Decorative fonts are only used for headings
  • Body text uses sans serif fonts
  • Appropriate line spacing is used
  • Paragraph length is appropriate
  • Font sizes are appropriate and easily readable
  • Font colors visible against background color
  • Styles and colors are consistent throughout
  • Emphasis (bold, italics) is used sparingly
  • Body text is left justified

TESTING

  • E-learning has been tested in multiple browsers
  • E-learning has been tested in various resolutions
  • All links and buttons have been tested
  • Accessibility features have been tested
  • All audio has been tested
  • All videos have been viewed in entirety
TECHNICAL

  • Project load time is reasonable
  • Shortcut keys have been defined
  • FAQ document has been created
  • Hardware requirements have been   identified
  • Software requirements have been   identified
  • Dimensions are optimized for target audience
  • The course is viewable in all web   browsers
  • Pages are easily printed
  • Total time to complete has been timed
  • Contact information available for   questions

ACCESSIBILITY

  • Entire course can be navigated with keyboard
  • All ALT tags are used
  • Text is provided for all non-text   elements
  • Video files have associated script or   dialogue
  • Captions are provided for audio conveying   content
  • No flashes faster than 3 times per second
  • No colors used to convey information
  • No fine motor skills required (large   clickable areas, large field labels)

NAVIGATION

  • Main navigation is easily identifiable
  • All navigation is correct sequence
  • Hyperlinks are clearly identified
  • All hyperlinks work
  • Minimum use of external links
  • Backward links to navigate to previous   screens
  • Number of navigation icons is reasonable
  • Table of contents used to lay out the   content
  • E-learning has guided tour and/or map for   further explanations

VIDEOS & ANIMATION

  • Use of animation and videos is appropriate
  • Files are compressed/optimized
  • Videos and animations are consistent in quality, size and type
  • Videos are legally   owned

AUDIO & NARRATION

  • Narration is not exact text on the screen
  • Narration is clear and concise
  • Audio quality is high (not fuzzy or   scrambled)
  • Narrator sounds confident and knowledgeable
  • Audio synced to the content
  • Audio can be paused
  • Volume can be muted
  • Volume can be controlled by user

TEXT CONTENT

  • Language is clear and concise
  • Spelling has been checked
  • Grammar has been checked
  • Language is culturally appropriate
  • Tone is consistent throughout
  • Tone is appropriate for the audience
  • Text is gender neutral
  • Content is not plagiarized
  • Date formats, measurements, are consistent
  • SME has verified text content
  • Facts, statistics, data are accurate
  • Facts, statistics, data sources are   identified
  • Correct capitalization applies to units/acronyms
  • Correct capitalization is used
  • Punctuation is appropriate
  • Complex sentences are avoided
  • Content has been localized for all required languages

GRAPHICS

  • Images are meaningful,   have a purpose
  • Images/graphics are resized and compressed
  • Images use appropriate file type
  • Photos are consistent in quality, size,   type
  • Images are all legally owned
  • System screen captures are   up-to-date
  • Screen captures do not contain any personal information

Since you’ve made it all the way to the end of the checklist, maybe you should subscribe to my blog!

How to Optimize Your Graphics for eLearning

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What does it mean to “optimize” graphics?  It means to change the size of a graphic, to reduce it in visual and/or file size. You can do this by changing the resolution (the amount of pixels in an image), by changing the actual size of the image, or by changing the file type. It is a common practice in the web industry to optimize all photos and graphics for websites. The same principles apply to eLearning.

A stock photograph downloaded from the web can be up to 2500px wide by 1875px high. An image this size can have a file size of 8MB or higher. Simply by re-sizing the image to 500x375px you can reduce your  file size to less than 400Kb. Multiply this by several images and this makes a huge difference in the size of your project .

Why optimize graphics?

  • Quicker publishing and previewing during development
  • Files load more quickly for the end-user
  • Saves disk space
  • Reduces bandwidth consumption (which means lower bandwidth cost)
  • Good business practice
  • Positive user experience

 how to optimize graphics

  • Crop them to remove unnecessary excess
  • Strip/remove the meta data (information like date, time, GPS coordinates, etc.)
  • Use proper image formats (see table below)
  • Do not use graphic text (photos of text)

Note: Resizing an image once it’s imported into PowerPoint, Articulate or Captivate does not change the actual file size.

Which format to use?

File Type Description eLearning Use
.JPEG
  • Supports RGB colors
  • Typically used for photography
  •  Photos
.GIF
  • Supports up to 256 colors (index color)
  • Supports transparency (1 color in the image can be fully transparent)
  • Does not support semi-transparency.
  • Supports simple animation
  • Simple animation
  • Graphs, charts, diagrams
  • Small images with text
  • Buttons and icons
  • Logos
.PNG
  • Supports multi-transparency
  • Supports both RGB and index colors
  • Does not support simple animation
  • A .PNG image can be compressed to a smaller file size than the same image as a .GIF can.
  • Graphs, charts, diagrams
  • Small images with text
  • Buttons and icons
  • Logos

What software to use?

If you have any other tips or suggestions about optimizing graphics for eLearning, please leave a comment. And since you’ve made it all the way to the end of this article, perhaps you should subscribe to my blog!

Choosing Graphics for eLearning: Photos vs. Clipart

If you are an eLearning developer, you have probably encountered the following question before: Should I use photos or clipart in my eLearning course? If your organization has style guides, this might hold the answer to the question for you. Certain companies ban clipart from being used in their corporate PowerPoints and eLearning courses. They only allow the use of photos, because they find that looks more professional.

Clipart has a bad reputation – but it doesn’t have to look ugly.  Nowadays, most stock photo websites, such as photos.com and istockphoto.com, offer a wide range of professional illustrations that have consistent styles and that look really sharp. It is a good idea to get a subscription or  photo package with one of these sites. This lets you avoid the headaches of finding “free” or “royalty free” images and it makes your searches go much quicker.

Of course, this is less of an issue if you have either a) an in-house graphic designer who can create custom graphics and clipart for your project, or b) a photographer on hand who can take custom photos for you. Often times, neither of those are an option. So when that is the case, keep the following information in mind.

The Pros & Cons of Clipart and Photos

Regardless of which one you choose to use for your next project, there are pros and cons for both.

The pros and cons of using clipart:

  • File size is generally smaller than photos
  • A lot of royalty free clip art available online
  • Can be difficult to find a specific illustration
  • Can be very generic and not strongly convey a message
  • Sometimes look cartoon-y and unprofessional
  • Don’t normally require much further editing in a graphics software
  • It’s generally pretty easy to change colours in clip art

The pros and cons of using photos:

  • File size for photos is generally larger
  • Photos may require manipulation/graphic editing to achieve right look
  • Photos can be more expensive, need to purchase rights to use the photo
  • More difficult to find good quality, free photos online
  • Photos look more professional
  • Photos are better at conveying a strong message
  • It’s more difficult to alter colours in a photograph

Don’t Mix Photos and Clipart

Unless you’re a pro graphic designer who has an extremely keen eye for design, it’s better to choose either photos or clipart and stick to one throughout your eLearning. This makes a project look more streamlined and professional, as opposed to mixing and matching.

Everyone has seen a PowerPoint presentation or an eLearning course with a graphic that makes you think “Have I seen that somewhere before?”. That’s usually what happens when you do a quick Google image search, and grab the first image that is acceptable. You end up with a mish-mash of different photos and illustrations, which doesn’t look neat or professional.

Choose a Clipart Style and Stick To It

If you have decided to use clipart, it’s a good idea to stick to one “style”.

The three illustrations above represent three totally different clipart styles. These all came up when I did a quick “business man clipart” image search on Google. Some styles are easier to find than others, so you may want to take that into consideration when choosing your style. The type of clipart you use depends on your audience (corporate management and higher-ups at a company? Grade 9 students at a high school?). Here is a tip: when it comes to developing professional eLearning for the workplace, I recommend less cartoon-y clipart and more high quality vector artwork and silhouettes. Silhouettes are great because they look professional, yet are very generic, so it’s easy to find what you need.

Another tip for finding good clipart: sometimes when I am browsing through Google images, trying to hunt down a graphic, I will do a search for “vector graphic” or “.png graphic” instead of clipart. These keywords sometimes yield more quality graphics than simply searching “clipart”.

Select Clear and Consistent Photos

If you’ve chosen to go ahead with photos for your eLearning project, choose photos that are of similar style, size and quality throughout to ensure consistency. Don’t mix and match black & white photos and colour photos. If you absolutely need to use some black and white photos, you might want to consider making all of your photos black and white to make it cohesive.  I often  choose photos that have a white background. It makes the screen look less busy and it make the image really pop. Look at the two photos displayed below:

In which of the two photos do the employees “pop” out more? The one with the white background. A white (or solid colour) background also makes it easier  to edit the photo in Photoshop and create photos with transparent backgrounds. If your presentation or eLearning course doesn’t have a white background, make the background transparent and it will look great over any background. Look at the two slides below:

They both use the same photo, but removing the white background allows more flexibility to place the photo anywhere on the screen.  I really find that using images with a transparent background add that extra touch of professionalism and visual appeal. When you are using photos in eLearning, don’t forget to compress the files before you upload them to your course if possible – I use the Save For Web and Devices feature in Adobe Photoshop – it really helps bring down the file size.

Remember: the key is to find the right images that convey your message appropriately and professionally. Choosing a style and sticking to it will definitely help you achieve this.