Creating e-learning from existing presentations

Most elearning professionals have to face the issue of creating elearning modules from simple, linear Powerpoint slides. There is no easy formula that can be applied to solve this. Christopher Pappas from the excellent eLearning Industry website offered some suggestions that are sound but, in my opinion, in the wrong order.

6 Tips To Turn Your Presentation Into An Interactive eLearning Course – eLearning Industry.

There is nothing in this article that I disagree with, but I think the sequence is misleading, and a key element is omitted. My tips – in workflow order – are:

  • Confirm the learning objectives (you DO have learning objectives, right?)
  • Review the content to understand the flow and to see where the content focuses on the specific learning objectives
  • Map out the content and work out where interactivity can be introduced (eg where do scenarios tell the story best? Where can an interactive exercise help a learner to better understand a concept? Where can the user choose the learning path vs where is the linear pathway essential? Where can you add video resources?)
  • Redraw the flow to reflect your new interactive structure
  • Now choose a tool that can fill the requirements
  • Follow Christopher Pappas’s suggestions regarding stories, scenarios and navigation

The construction of an interactive elearning course from existing material is very challenging and must be driven by balancing the learner’s needs and the educator’s objectives.

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Two key questions about cartoons in CME

A cartoon-based learning tool gave a significant improvement in participant’s knowledge of hepatitis B serology, according to a paper published recently in BMC Medical Education.

Does this mean that I should be recommending the use of a cartoon format in CME activities for the continuing professional development of healthcare profesionals?

This report raises as many questions for me as it answers and, as always, whether the conclusions are valid for you will depend on the audience you are addressing.

The two key questions to ask before you consider applying a cartoon approach with a continuing professional development audience are:

  • Does using cartoons trivialise the content you are communicating?
  • Does the cartoon format increase the conceptual load of the teaching material?

The study compared performance in pre- and post-tests but did not make any comparison against other ways of delivering the learning. The majority of the 120 eventual participants (of the original 699) was medical students.

Interestingly, a small number of participants actually scored lower in the post-test than in the pre-test.

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The cost-efficacy balance in new e-learning approaches

There is something inescapable about the old quality criteria triangle. You remember the one: there are three criteria, but you can only have two…

Good - Fast - Cheap triangle

  • You can have it cheap and good but you can’t have it quickly.
  • If you want it quick and cheap, then it won’t be good.
  • If you want it good and quick, it won’t be cheap!



It bothers me that this triangle seems to be forgotten in much of the current discussion about new e-learning approaches such as gamification and serious gaming.

It is very easy to get excited about the possibilities of learning through games. It is even easier to argue the benefits of gamification in motivating learners.

However, I have not seen any discussion that relates the benefits of these approaches to the additional cost and complexity of development of, say, a serious gaming approach to delivering a curriculum vs the cost of a ‘conventional’ approach.

The Chapman Alliance data from 2010 indicates that an average ‘Level 3’ e-learning activity (ie ‘highly interactive, possibly simulation or serious game-based’) will take over six times as long to develop and will therefore cost six times as much!

Is there a way to justify a six-fold increase in cost in terms of the benefit to the learner?

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Pinterest and the pharmaceutical industry

I noticed an interesting article recently about the pharma industry’s increasing use of Pinterest.

Now I confess to a certain amount of scepticism about the potential for Pinterest as a professional comunication channel. It was interesting therefore to read that some pharma companies are now starting to engage. For example, Roche, Novartis, Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim and Genentech all have Pinterest pages.

But before we get too excited about the potential for this massively growing audience we should reflect for a moment. There is little doubt that Pinterest is growing very rapidly – the article quotes ’60 million monthly users’ and its percentage annual growth is huge – but is this an audience that can be tapped into? Probably. Eventually. But it’s not happening quickly. Bayer was probably the first pharma company to join Pinterest in 2012; two years later it has 547 followers.

I have little doubt that the stats are correct and that Pinterest provides a huge opportunity for certain industry sectors to drive visitors to websites, and ultimately to convert to sales. The channel is extremely visual and is therefore ideal for fashion retail, high-quality branded goods, homewares etc. I’m just not sure how important this channel will be to pharma. I will keep an open mind.

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Should we use video in e-learning?

There is something of a paradox in e-learning.

If you trawl the internet looking for e-learning activities, you will rapidly find that there is a preponderence of video-based content. University lectures are available online through iTunes. Continuing professional development in medicine features mainly video recordings of conference presentations. Most of the MOOC courses currently available use video as their primary teaching approach.

So you could be forgiven for drawing the conclusion that video recordings of lectures is the ‘quality standard’ for e-learning.

If you now take a little more time to read what they academics and e-learning professionals say you will find that video is absolutely not the right medium for an e-learning activity. It is a passive medium. Statistics say that viewers don’t watch to the end of videos. It’s not engaging. Passive learning is not appropriate. And so forth.

These days you can find stats to prove anything you want, and you need to be careful to compare apples with apples. What is essential for K-12 e-learning might not be at all relevant for corporate training. And the motivational enticements to persuade an employee to finish a staff training course won’t be appropriate for continuing professional development.

I guess we all agree that video is a passive medium and passive learning isn’t great. This is especially true of the kind of self-built teaching delivered as low quality, unedited webcam footage. But against that, you need to consider that video is still a valid way of capturing and re-delivering existing learning activities. (Video recordings of lectures are still a big part of many e-learning offerings and there are some vendors who major on EXACTLY this point.)

I think it is still true to say that – if the ‘teacher’ can deliver it – video can still be the best way of personalising the teaching. And in some cases it is the ONLY way that some learners will ever see and hear some of the key thinkers in their discipline talking about their own work.

My personal viewpoint is to that we should continue to use video (these days it is cost effective and very ‘plannable’) but we should use it as part of the delivery, not the whole e-learning activity. So make sure your video ‘teaching’ is delivered as part of a proper e-learning plan, with small segments of (video) teaching interspersed with additional material, background information, and especially interactivity for reflection or reinforcement.


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e-learning design – where to start?

There are important principles that need to be applied when designing e-learning. Of these, the intimate relationship between the learning objectives and the assessment is – possibly – one of the more important.

A recent article by LuAnne Holder and David Holden on the elearningindustry website make a strong case for a new methodology. The easy trap to fall into in designing online learning is to focus on the content – the materials and the resources. The assessment is left to the end. A better approach, the authors argue, is to work on the learning objectives and assessments together and only when these are complete and aligned to prepare the materials that will deliver the necessary learning to achieve the objectives.

Part of this process will then be the construction of the assessment activities that will best assess whether the learning objectives have been achieved, and ensuring that the right assessment is used for the appropriate level of Bloom’s taxonomy.

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching has a very useful page with helpful detail on preparing multiple choice questions.

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It’s not what you measure – it’s how you use it

I was delighted to see the article Nothing personal: The questionable Myers-Briggs test in the Grauniad recently.

It summarises rather neatly my feelings on the whole Myers-Briggs profiling exercise and provides me with some background that I had not previously known. The explanation that it was devised to measure ‘preference’ is helpful.

The article makes a clear point that relying on its use in team-building and development is misguided.

The comments following the article are varied and interesting. Is there a conclusion? Possibly just this: tools can be useful as long as they are used appropriately. To the man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

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MOOCs and higher education

An article just published in Scientific American povides a good background to one of the hottest topics of the moment ‘massive open online courses’ (MOOCs) and their potential to support education.

I will be discussing MOOCs more in the coming weeks but this makes a splendid starting point.

The MOOC is an interesting phenomenon in itself, with a large number of potential pitfalls as well as some possibly significant benefits for education.

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Missed the meme!

When did ‘curating’ become sexy? Last time I thought about the word it was what museum staff did. Now it means ‘re-blogging’, ‘re-pinning’ and otherwise putting things into different containers.

Isn’t it a bit like the gene pool, though? You need to keep adding new things to it for it to do anything other than die a lingering death? Things like Pinterest seem to be mainly about sharing other things that are already on Pinterest – have I missed the point as well as the meme?

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Principles of e-learning

We all need some kind of principles to base our decisions on. Sadly in the e-learning world there still seems to be debate about how sound some of the principles are.

But we’ve got to start somewhere and Mayer’s principles of multimedia learning make a good starting point.

This concise summary by Dorian Peters is a few years old, but it remains a very nice, concise and helpful summary of Mayer’s principles.

E-learning must be based on sound needs analysis and clearly defined learning objectives designed to permit outcomes measurement, but it can still help to have some handy guides for when we start to prepare the actual learning materials.

The important elements to me are the support that these principles provide for:

  • Using pictures and voiceover without repeating text onscreen
  • Avoiding distracting graphics and irrelevant audio
  • Breaking learning into bite-sized segments

How we apply these and Mayer’s other principles and whether we choose to ignore any are a matter of choice in the instructional design process, and we need to balance the proven (or at least the ‘extensively explored’) guidance such as Mayer’s against the demands to use video, make it mobile, make it ‘cool’ etc.

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