Powerpoint in eLearning: Part 2 – PPT Becomes Critical App in Course Development


In my previous post I reviewed the beginnings of Powerpoint in relation to Authoring tools. I wrote from my own perspective with the help of wikipedia. It was not intended to be a fully researched academic paper. The intent was to simply review my personal experiences in this industry and how I engaged with authoring tools a couple decades ago. If you missed it, you can read it here. In this post I’ll extend those reflections into how Powerpoint got to where it is today. Not in the business or product sense. But as a tool in the Corporate Training industry.

As I mentioned in the last post, Powerpoint was not a favored tool by anyone developing eLearning back in the ’90s. It was the tool of classroom trainers, and not capable of doing the cool multimedia interactivity that authoring tools allowed us to do. We were all very excited to be able to create interactive programs as self-paced training courses. We all saw Computer-based Training (CBT) as the future.

But despite being shunned by the CBT development crowd it was still in heavy use within corporations. There was no stopping the Microsoft Office juggernaut. Everyone working in an enterprise had access to Excel, Word, and Powerpoint. And everyone was creating presentations with Powerpoint. By the time the term CBT transitioned to “eLearning”, Powerpoint had become the main format for any and all presentation requirements. And this included online training courses, and eLearning. Powerpoint may have been ignored by the eLearning development community but it was the tool of choice for everyone else required to teach something.

Professionals vs Subject Matter Experts

Once it became obvious that Powerpoint was not going away, the industry began to embrace it. We soon saw “rapid development” tools coming to market blending the basics functions of elearning authoring tools directly into Powerpoint as a plugin. We learned a lot during the early years of CBT development. Instructional designers were working with subject matter experts who delivered their content via Powerpoint. And developers loaded the Powerpoint content into authoring tools so they could add the interactive elements in the hopes of making the learning experience more engaging. This was a pattern that emerged over time and became a common process for developing eLearning.

Understanding the relationship between the SME and instructional designer/developer got everyone thinking about options. Why not let the SMEs create their own eLearning courses? And if we wanted to allow them to do that, what would be the easiest way to help them get it done. The answer was simple. Start with Powerpoint. It was the perfect starting point because everyone knows how to use Powerpoint. The next step was a little more complicated. How do we make it easy for non-developers to develop eLearning courses with the same interactivity from their Powerpoint content? And the answer came in rapid development tools that embedded advanced development features into Powerpoint. It worked for a long time, but not everyone was happy about it.

Instructional design professionals balked at the idea of letting SMEs create their own courses. The concern was based on the idea that SMEs don’t understand instructional design. And that anything they create is just information, or an interactive communication. The instructional design magic had not been properly applied. This is a battle that plays on today, with both training professionals and SMEs actively creating course content. Personally, it’s something okay with. In fact I actively encourage it. There is a time a place for both.

The Cloud Rolled In

Rapid development meant publishing Powerpoint based courses as SCORM files which were then uploaded into learning management systems. It didn’t matter who was creating the SCORM files at this point. SCORM had become the most popular standard for self-paced eLearning courses. And learning management systems were built to manage their distribution. Early LMSs managed courses only if they were in a pre-defined format like AICC, SCORM, or others. And that was your only option. Because back then training was packaged as a course. And a course meant having all the elements wrapped up into one package. But cloud-based LMSs were born and changed everything.

The introduction of cloud computing opened up many opportunities. Soon systems from all industries began moving to the cloud. And so did LMSs. Litmos was one of the first cloud-based LMSs to launch and disrupt the LMS market. But this was also a time when YouTube and other self-publishing platforms were being born in the cloud. This opened the flood gates of massive content creation. Massive content creation that included instructional content being created by NON-instructional designers. And while YouTube dominated the video publishing market another cloud based system launched called slideshare. Slideshare gave creators of presentations a place to share their Powerpoint content. And the story goes on with content publishing in all media becoming easier and easier. These cloud-based tool made it okay for anyone to produce and publish instructional content. And idea is now spreading into the enterprise.

Powerpoint is Still The Most Popular Training Tool

Today Powerpoint is no longer as openly hated as it used to be. Yes, like any other tool, it gets misused. But that’s not Powerpoint’s fault. Powerpoint is used by many instructional designers for storyboarding their elearning projects. The slide sort view makes it easy to rearrange slides as needed, and since Powerpoint is known by all, it makes the review process flow more smoothly. Powerpoint is useful as a starting point. All content can be useful as learning content to someone. Starting an online course with just a simple powerpoint is now part of an iterative development process for many. It’s a modular approach to course development that allows rapid prototyping, rapid development, rapid feedback loops, and immediate value added to the business.

Powerpoint is one of the cool kids now. It is used as both a design and development tool. And without the need for an authoring tool acting as the middle man you can upload your .ppt file directly into the Powerpoint module of Litmos. Then you can add quiz modules before and/or after it as well as adding modules for many other media types. There is still a time and a place for more powerful authoring tools, but necessity is gone. Powerpoint was born with the authoring tools and moved through some transitions over the years, but has stayed a strong, valuable tool, for corporate training professionals. With Powerpoint and a cloud-based LMS like Litmos you’ve got everything you need to start a powerful training program.