Why Today’s ELearning Can Stink

store-storyline2Elearning today is suffering from standards of the past, from instructional design principles to the tools we use to create the courses.

For years, Articulate has been a juggernaut in the rapid elearning development space. They have nearly perfected their offering making easy (and intuitive) for instructional designers to jump into course creation without having to learn complex systems or technology.

However, as great as Articulate is, sometimes courses created in the program have a negative perception of rehashed PowerPoint presentations.

On many of my consulting arrangements, I was asked to develop elearning using one of two programs: Articulate or Captivate. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but the clients generally preferred Articulate for one reason: it plays nice with Microsoft PowerPoint.

While this is one of Articulate’s greatest strengths, it is also what is holding back creative elearning development.

PowerPoint’s linear progression, slide title design, and bullet points have been way overdone. Simply transposing a PowerPoint format into an online course player isn’t really maximizing the potential of elearning.

To be fair, Articulate Storyline doesn’t necessarily rely upon PowerPoint. There are plenty of options in this tool to help designers create non-PowerPoint looking programs. Still, much of the program does resemble their previous flagship product Articulate Studio.

Ultimately, this tempts instructional designers to revert back to their PowerPoint ways. Not because they are incapable of producing the courses in another fashion, they just don’t have any real reason to. This concept is often perpetuated when companies request that you leverage their previous assets for course development – much of these assets in the form of PowerPoint.

The industry is in desperate need of a new standard. PowerPoint was a fantastic stepping stone – a great way to add familiarity to a relatively new learning medium. However, we are now in a new era, an era where elearning is vastly accepted and utilized by the largest educational and for profit organizations around the globe.

The onus is on us as instructional designers, but also on the companies that create the tools we use to take elearning to version “2.0”, one that builds upon the PowerPoint foundation and pushes us beyond the slide design & progression format.

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About the Author:

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by the world's leading organizations, such as the University of Michigan, Digital Marketer, WPEngine, and Infusionsoft. Justin has made a career as an elearning consultant where he has implemented large-scale training programs for Fortune 500 companies. Twitter | LinkedIn

14 Comments
    • So true. Many client’s have a limited budget in which they can allocate to the project complete, which in turn decreases dev time – so many IDs go with what they know will work (I know I have).

  1. Why “Articulate Storyline” is displayed? Is an real evaluation that this is better than “Adobe Captivate” or is because it is publicity? Your comments are important as a source for decision making. Please clarify.

    • Adobe Captivate is a solid tool as well. They also allow for PowerPoint to be used but the feature is actually quite awful (but maybe that’s a good thing?)…

      Articulate started their entire offering as an add-on with PowerPoint, which is why the article highlights that particular tool.

  2. I agree with Richard’s comment. There is a line between innovation and design: the time and cost of developing new reliable tools.

    We work work into the market in Latin America and Spain. The things these places are quite different to what happens in the USA, Northern Europe or Asia.

    For many years we used iSpring (follow the same path as Articulate but with a lower price and a team of highly efficient and responsive technical sporte). Also we use LCMS ATutor because our designs are “instructional” and do not require the concept of “constructivist” current (as Moodle or similar). In some cases, we use video conferencing services for online classes.

    Now: “Learndash”… has been a pleasant surprise for us! It is challenging my team to think of ways to simplify how we present content, how we expose our students play … we are learning to see what poses Justin is a leap to give at this time. Within “a few months” later could be too late.

    Thanks Justin for your valuable contributions to our “discomfort” in our respective “comfort zones”.

    • Great comment, thanks Mario! I’m not as familiar with iSpring compared to some other tools, but I suspect it is similar in many respects. For live online courses, a good tool to look at is Big Blue Button.

  3. Hi, Mr. Ferriman, I must confirm that I’m an admirer of your hardwork. I love that despite your being (seemingly) the only force behind LearnDash you have stuck to it, and you continue to educate us on your blog.

    To some point I’m becoming a fan and considering becoming a customer. I have reasoned whether I should use a membership plugin (I love iThemes Membership very much) for my site at Stipse.com the program of teaching fiction marketing at Stipse.com/idler, or if I should use LearnDash LMS plugin.

    Well, this morning I received my certificate from Coursera, https://www.coursera.org/records/mgS88L7TRwa8V7WB, and I thought, “wow, this is nice,” could LearnDash do something like this for my students, when I have some, at Stipse?

    I think Verified Certificate would be a key feature the LearnDash LMS plugin should have if it doesn’t already.

    Thanks and keep at it, you sure have great admirers!

    • That is a pretty slick feature, thanks for sharing. There are some certificate features in LearnDash but it could be bolstered up, and I don’t see why this wouldn’t be possible to some degree.

  4. As much as I don’t want to “defend” Powerpoint, it isn’t the root of the issue. Powerpoint can be non-linear and interactive. It doesn’t have to be Title + Bullet list design.

    It’s the designer/developer’s job to develop what’s needed to support learning- and most tools do have the capabilities, but in the interest of speed and convenience, we often accept certain defaults offered by tools or suggested to us by clients.

    To me, the issue is much more clear- too many people still think that the web is just a very very large book put under a piece of glass.

    Until we lift our anchor from that paradigm, we won’t sail too far to new lands.

  5. I agree with David: I am no fan of PowerPoint, but it’s mostly because people MISuse the tool. As with any tool, the end product is the result of the designer, not the tool. I have done PowerPoint “videos” that my clients SWORE were done in Flash–until I showed them the raw PPT files. Similarly, I have seen boring “page turners” done in Storyline.

    I think sometimes in our industry we become so focused in the tools, that we forgot to develop the basics: what makes a good story, context, and the basics of good design and movement (if animation is used). Of these, my personal opinion is that a compelling story line is most important to imparting information and driving behavior change.

  6. I agree with David and Vicki. I just want to add that I can’t remember how many times I have asked to see a client’s existing course and been shown a PowerPoint pack and nothing else. And I agree that there’s nothing as tedious as page turning e-learns and slow simulations. It’s almost anti-training. Surely we can move beyond pages/slides as the dominant construct?

  7. I understand that Storyline and Captivate are in a sense just containers into which elearning is placed. It’s how we present the materials that’s important. I wonder what percentage of elearning is built using 4-5 basic templates. My guess is that it would be very high – in the 90s.

    We make short explainer videos whatyouneedtoknow.co.uk/showreel/ but realise that this is a limited format too. When I became interested in elearning it was because you could put multimedia elements into the learning easily. I think too often people go for the quick, cheap and easy option – not that it should be slow, expensive and difficult! Working with media is so much easier these days and I believe we need to focus much more on how we produce materials and that how we do this should be based on pedagogical principles.

  8. Sylvia

    Justin, will Storyline 2 run in LearnDash? I think once LD develops more complex quizzing options like Storyline’s drag and drop, scenarios+++ it will become a serious contender in building e-learning. I love LD, but the quizzing limitations make it too static or (?).

  9. Sylvia

    The challenge with LearnDash and Storyline for me is that Storyline is a one time, abeit a bit pricey, cost whereas LearnDash is an annual renewal so to develop a Storyline course using LearnDash as LMS can be tricky if in the future the organization chooses to not renew. It may be better to do the somewhat clunkier straight up Storyline and use HTML, CSS, PHP etc to assist with the flow and look. LearnDash is a GREAT product.

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