Articulate Studio is a suite of rapid eLearning development tools that allows users to create professional and interactive eLearning courses without intensive programming skills. At Fredrickson Communications, we’ve seen and helped many of our client organizations adopt this tool because of its efficiency and relative ease of use.

The complete Articulate Studio package includes:

  • Presenter – Converts your PowerPoint slides into a Flash presentation.
  • Engage – Helps to create engaging interactions for your course.
  • Quizmaker – Develops graded assessment or non-graded surveys.
  • Video Encoder (‘09 version only) – Converts full-motion video clips for use within courses.

Articulate Studio packs a lot of functionality in one package, but having a powerful authoring tool is just a good start. Creating a high-quality eLearning course requires solid knowledge and skill in the areas of instructional design, graphic design, and usability in addition to the ability to use the development tool.

As the functionality and features of the Articulate products have increased, so too have the demands they place on the instructional designer and developer. I’d like to share some of my experiences in using Articulate Studio to develop courseware for our clients. Often, our clients are subject matter experts who have been asked to create eLearning courses as an alternative to classroom training. For the most part, they are new to eLearning development and Articulate is the only tool they’ve been exposed to.

My suggestions in this article are intended for those who are new to eLearning development and are using Articulate Studio as their development tool of choice. I hope you find these helpful and time-saving.

Keep the pace in mind

Creating a self-paced eLearning course requires a systematic approach to deliver the content. In classroom training, there is real-time communication that allows the instructor to adjust the pace of the learning. An eLearning course also needs to provide the ability for the learners to control their learning pace, and to react to and absorb the content.

To add pace to an Articulate course, the designer needs to put more breaks among the key learning objectives, and systematically reinforce the learning outcome by using interactions and quizzes.

Some examples are:

  • Add Engage interactions, short quizzes, or learning games in the middle of long sections of content.
  • Use visual aids and animations to explain complicated concepts.
  • Add a short summary at the end of each lesson to recap the learning objectives.

Because Articulate makes it very easy to add a lot of written content to a course (by way of easy importation of PowerPoint slides), there is a temptation to overload the course with written content.

Place yourself in the learner’s seat, and answer these questions:

  • Is the content comprehensive enough to support the learning objectives?
  • Is the pace too fast or too slow?
  • Is the “seat time” too long?
  • Is the instruction clear for using the navigation buttons and features?

It is always helpful to run a pilot test with some of your target learners and ask for their feedback and suggestions. Usually, piloting the course with a small group of testers will reveal any problems that exist with the course’s pace, flow, seat time, and usability.

Write for narration

One of the amazing features of Articulate Studio is the ease of synchronizing the animated bullets with audio narration. However, just because Articulate makes it technically easier doesn’t let the instructional designer off the hook.

Writing for narration can be a difficult task. Writing content for use as an audio script is very different from writing content that is to be read by the user.

Here are some useful tips in writing a good audio script:

  • Avoid long sentences and jargon. For the narrators, short sentences are easier to read, and therefore it saves a lot of time in recording due to fewer mistakes.
  • Use transition languages to create a bridge between topics and lessons.
  • Read your content. If you are not able to get it through smoothly, your learners may have difficulties following it too.

When recording your narration, read it confidently and with expression. Narration is a skill by itself and it takes practice. If you don’t have confidence in your narration quality, consider using professional narrators.

Use visual design to your advantage

Good visual design can dramatically improve the appeal of your course and it’s also important for usability. Keep in mind that simple design is often the best design.

For example:

  • Use consistent color and font style for your content.
  • Use light color on the slide background.
  • Apply the same treatment over the graphics.
  • Put simple bulleted lists on your slides instead of long paragraphs.
  • Use different slide layouts to regain learner’s attention.

Be creative

Yes, you can create a very sharp course using Articulate Studio, but only if you can jump out of the linear nature of PowerPoint slides.

Consider using the same techniques that we use in a comprehensive eLearning course. For example, create role-based characters, themes, and branching scenarios. Using these elements will create a different learning experience, and will make your course more engaging to learners.

Articulate Studio offers many tools to help author creative and engaging courses, but as I wrote in the introduction, as the software becomes more feature-rich, the demands placed on the developer and instructional designer become greater. Rapid eLearning tools are often sold based on the premise that using the software, “anyone can create eLearning.” While that may be partially true, I would argue that it still takes a considerable amount of skill to create good eLearning. As the development tools become more sophisticated, it’s natural that it will take even more skill to use them well.

To summarize, you can create a great eLearning course in Articulate by using appropriate instructional design approaches, writing style, and visual design. And, trust your creativity! I will share more of our hands-on experiences of using Articulate Studio in future articles.