Rapid eLearning is a term used to denote short development times of online instruction with limited resources versus traditional instructional design approaches involving lengthy periods of time and large amounts of money (De Vries & Bersin, 2004). Another important distinction between the two is that rapid eLearning is oftentimes developed by the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) using simple-to-use tools while traditional eLearning is developed by a team of training professionals (SME, web developer, instructional designer and project manager). A simple-to-use and, undoubtedly, one of the most popular rapid eLearning development tools is PowerPoint.

As a graduate student developing online content, Powerpoint ranks very high on my list of “go-to” tools. The versatility it offers not only in development but also in delivery of eLearning content is the reason why this tool features prominently in most instructional designers’ toolkit. However, PowerPoint just provides a blank slate like any other authoring environment. Good instructional and visual design principles have to be employed to create interactive and compelling learning modules. It is then up to the creative vision of the instructional designer to harness the strengths of this tool. This requires the designer to go beyond the simple basics and possess a certain degree of technical know-how.

When you have less than 2 weeks to create a high quality and rich learning experience using PowerPoint, you are bound to have many, many “how-to” questions (unless you are this guy!). Here are some places I go to when I need help:

1.     My best friend in this endeavor has been Google. For example, a query on the term “using PowerPoint for rapid eLearning” yields 89,500 results. Some relevant but most NOT! The drawback of this method is that filtering out the extraneous results takes time, and time is of essence in RAPID eLearning. Interestingly, Gwizdka (2010) found that formulating the query for a search engine imposes a high demand on the cognitive load than looking through the search results. Here are some queries which I use regularly and yield relevant results:

  • “PowerPoint for instructional design”
  • “interactive PowerPoint eLearning” and
  • “PowerPoint nonlinear eLearning”

2.     A quicker way is to subscribe to the following blogs that provide great tips and tricks for using PowerPoint in rapid eLearning development:

3.     Youtube is a wonderful resource for getting your questions answered and for some cool tips.  Some channels that I follow on Youtube are CBTCafé, Rapidelearningblog and Elearnaway.

4.     Another Web 2.0 technology that I am thankful for is social bookmarking. These tools with their tag clouds hold the answers to numerous eLearning development questions and doubts. Some bookmarks that I have been frequently using are Dr. Grant’s bookmarks on Jumptags; ahayman, edtechtalk and viral-notebook on Diigo and edach , lavignet , bonni208 on Delicious. Since these tools use a Boolean search query technique, a search term like “powerpoint + elearning” would point to more resources than simply “PowerPoint”.

5.     A popular networking tool, Twitter is a powerful professional development tool and works very well for finding articles, and resources on a daily basis that help in creating effective eLearning modules using PowerPoint. I follow @elearningbrothers, @PowerPointWiziq and @elearningexperts on Twitter as the resources shared and dialogs that take place benefit me in my work. Asking questions, initiating a dialog and getting responses are a lot easier on twitter than on a forum or a blog.

Besides these resources, giving “ The Insider’s Guide To Becoming a Rapid E-Learning Pro” a thorough read, serves as a good refresher course for rapid eLearning development. Clive Shepherd eloquently says what all rapid eLearning developers should keep in mind, “As such, e-learning is neither effective nor ineffective; it’s just a channel. What you put through this channel is up to you.”


De Vries, J., & Bersin, J. (2004). Rapid e-Learning: What Works. Retrieved February 1, 2011, from Macromedia: http://download.macromedia.com/pub/breeze/whitepapers/bersin_elearning_study.pdf.

Gwizdka, J. (2010). Distribution of cognitive load in web search. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 61(11), 2167-2187.

Guest blogger: Prashanthi Selvanarayanan is a graduate student in the Instructional Design and Technology program at the University of Memphis. She assists faculty in the Department of Higher and Adult Education with online course design and development. Her research interests include technology integration and mobile learning. She aspires to be an instructional developer in the healthcare sector which combines both her interests.

Image courtesy of Mike Licht at Flickr

4 Thoughts on “411 on PowerPoint in Rapid eLearning

  1. Suha Tamim on February 3, 2011 at 6:30 am said:


    I like your quick tour on rapid elearning, it goes with the theme. I also appreciate the tips and the resources you provided.
    On the subject of Powerpoint, I made my 360 degree turnaround. It started by being the only tool I know how to use besides Word. Then, after being introduced to Flash and Dreamweaver, my likes changed. Being much more versatile and having a nicer finish on the product (at least in my opinion),these tools were the ones for me… until I was asked to develop an instructional unit and chose Flash. I still liked what I was able to do with Flash, but it took for ever. So, on another project, I decided to dig into Articulate and I think I’m hooked. This brings me back to Powerpoint. Articulate takes rapid development inside Powerpoint, adds the ability to easily create quizzes and interactions, and provides a professional look to the end-product. To your point, working with Articulate, I discovered the power of Powerpoint and I found the time needed to think of the design of the instruction rather than the technical development. Then again, here, one might be faced with technical problems when bringing the product into an LMS. So the question still remains for me is on how to reconcile rapid elearning with good quality interactive learning modules while making the end-product accessible to your audience and client. Any ideas?

    • Suha, I was in the same boat as you with only knowing Word and PPT. (And I didn’t even know the full capacity of those programs!) I don’t have much experience with Articulate, but it sounds like its one of the better answers to rapid e-learning. I think the responsibility of ensuring it works within a company’s LMS lies on the company. If they want to reap the benefits from exposing their employees to solid instruction-that works, they need to make the effort and spend the money to ensure that the instructional designer(s) have access to the tools they want/need and that their LMS supports it. (As you can tell, I am referring of that perfect world.)

  2. Jennifer on February 3, 2011 at 10:56 am said:

    I like the resources you mentioned for PowerPoint. Every time I hear the word, “PowerPoint” I think of the “Death by PowerPoint” and the overuse of the easy-to-use tool. It has been used as a crutch for many poor presentors but Prashanthi points out the positive uses that we sometimes miss especially in terms of rapid eLearn environments.

    • PrathiNarayan on February 4, 2011 at 7:21 pm said:

      That’s true, Jennifer. PowerPoint gets a bad rap because of bad presenters. Instructional designers seem divided on the use of PowerPoint as an e-learning development tool. I think although PowerPoint offers some wonderful advantages, but it can be ineffective as an authoring tool if the designer doesn’t plan for integrating the tool with the learning strategies. As is the case with every other tool, its NOT the tool, its how you use it to cater to the instructional needs that matters.

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