Microsoft Sway App

As open educational resources become more ubiquitous, especially in survey classes, an app I discovered a few years ago from Microsoft Sway, is far better than I originally thought.  The app allows easily integrating images, videos, and Internet resources cohesively, and presenting them in a visual way to your learners.  With built in Creative Commons searches, copyright headaches can be much less worrisome for educators.

I made this short presentation using Microsoft Sway, which covers how to use the free app, considerations for use of media with the built in Creative Commons licensing, as well as a review on the wonderful accessibility that is built right into the app.

Sway is by far, the best app that Microsoft has developed in a while.  With built in accessibility features, a simple user interface, and built in searches for resources to include, the app can change the way you deliver information to your learners.  You can even make it more interactive by embedding a form with quiz questions to help your learners check their knowledge.

The good news is that you do not even have to start from scratch.  Take an old boring document and use it to create a highly appealing report.  Have a PowerPoint that needs sprucing up?  Upload it and watch how Sway converts it into cards for you.  The best thing is the ease of inserting images, videos, media, and even Microsoft Forms.

Educators, teachers, and instructional designers wishing to benefit from a new app and new way to present, I highly recommend that you check out this free app from Microsoft, and perhaps even have your students use it as a means to turn in an assignment in a brand new way!

The very best thing is that you only need a browser to get started.  Check out for more to get the free app.


What is Articulate Storyline 2?

This is the first of a series of videos covering how to use Articulate Storyline 2. In this video we cover the basics of Articulate Storyline versus Articulate Studio, who uses the software, the basics of eLearning, and finally a few key tips to keep in mind when designing eLearning that makes it effective. We hope you enjoy the video series.

Look at the playlist on my channel for additional videos covering how to create Articulate Storyline 2 presentations, using assets such as images and audio, as well as other elements. We also have videos that cover how to use video and other media. We cover how to assess learners knowledge with quizzing slides. We will also have videos that cover publishing options with Articulare Storyline, including publishing to an LMS or learning management system, using SCORM, publishing to CD, and even exporting slides to Word to allow for editing designs.

Communities of Practice

Community of practice (Barab and Duffy, 2000) is a constructivist-based learning theory that advocates the need for authentic learning environments situated within a real-world community as a means to optimize learning. Given the growth in online education, this paper examines the importance of theory in educational technology, through a web-based learning environment lens and provides implications for instructional design, tools that support the theory, addresses challenges with the theory, and provides an example of a newer Human Presence system that provides promise in implementation of those interested in community of practice as a framework for designing and implementing their online course.

Learning context, realistic challenges, and situational consequences

We as eLearning professionals, instructional designers, and trainer have to move away from the information overload in our courses. I recently read 3 Friendly Tips to Save Your Learners from Information Overload by by Carrie Zens, director of marketing | @carriezens at Allen Interactions.  Zens asserts that our learning must “grab learners’ attention with a relevant context, realistic challenges, and situational consequences are most likely to leave a lasting and memorable impression on an audience.”   In order for instructional designers to do this, how and when do we create these contexts, challenges, and consequences in our eLearning?  Where do they come from and when will we know they are right?

This article has made me question, and thus, write, this blog post.  My core question is how does an instructional designer delve this deep into the learning context, realistic challenges, and situational consequences that Zens suggests we must have when it comes to technical training?

To answer this question, I began reading another book today, called Technical Training Basics by Sarah Wakefield, and think I am on the road to my answer.  In Chapter 2, a story highlights a typical problem associated with developing technical training where Wakefield highlights problems associated with course creation.  Clearly defined audiences as well as learning objectives rest at the foundation of discovering and creating learning context, realistic challenges, and situational consequences.  Wakefield also asserts that the subject matter expert that is part of the course design should know not only the knowledge, and skills, but also the business or job processes that result from one or more of the learning objectives.  It seems the answer to this question is highly dependent upon both the kickoff meeting, well defined learning objectives, a solid target audience, and finally, having a shared vision between the course developer and the SME.  When an SME does not know what the business/job process is, or even some of the related technical information, it is important that more people are included in an initial meeting and are part of subsequent meetings and design decisions to ensure they are getting at the right learning context.

I highly recommend reading this book.  I will be posting summaries of each chapter as I continue to read it.  Anyone designing technical training, this is a must read.  By the end, I will come full circle with how, precisely, an instructional designer or trainer developing eLearning might arrive to a realistic learning context, highly interactive and realistic challenges, and then situational consequences.

Microsoft PowerPoint basic tutorials for newbys

A big part of being on top of your game in instructional design is learning how to use productivity software.  Because PowerPoint is so prevalent, most eLearning authoring software is compatible with PowerPoint in some way.  Captivate allows for importing PowerPoint and maintains all of your animations, slide notes, and much more.  Storyline and Articulate also have PowerPoint import capabilities.  Intime, I will have a series of free tutorials on how to use Captivate, Storyline, and Articulate, which will include the PowerPoint functionality.

For those brand new to the field, that do not have Microsoft PowerPoint, you can use this blog post to begin learning the basics.  Please comment with additional video tutorials you would like to see, and I will add them to this playlist.

Creating electronic forms for collecting information from clients

While there are many ways to collect information for creating instructional design projects, such as using a shared Google Doc, Microsoft Word within OneDrive, or using email.  Sometimes, having a standard format, especially in large scale projects, can be very important.  Adobe Acrobat Professional provides the consistent format needed for just this purpose.

In the short video below, I show you how to convert a Word document into Acrobat Professional, and then create a simple form using Acrobat Professional X.   This might just help you create the form you need to keep that consistent format for your instructional design documentation.

Visual Literacy: Using whitespace when designing graphics

Whitespace principles can be very important when designing graphics.  Linda Lohr (2008) describes key principles to using whitespace when designing graphics that support learning in her book Creating Graphics for Learning and Performance, Lessons in Visual Literacy. 

Lohr states that space used as a tool for clarifying text can do three things:

  • increase reading rate as learners can easily see redundancies
  • helps readers access personally relevant pieces of information
  • enables readers to see the structure of a document

I used these guiding principles to create symmetry and hierarchy in the graphic below by using simple commands in Microsoft Word.  Each of the words related to accessibility vocabulary that the learners needed to become more familiar with in a training I created to teach learners accessibility concepts in Microsoft Word 2010.  I will be sharing some video tutorials on Microsoft Word in a separate blog post to help newby’s and those interested in Section 508 compliance with their documents to help those with disabilities.

Whitespace Project

In the graphic, I used kerning, bullets, and line spacing bullets to create visual separation with the laundry list of vocabulary needed for my project. I created a bit of visual interest using Snagit’s edge tool to make it appear that the words were torn from a page. The drop shadow gives it a bit of depth, and for that I used a light gray so it did not take away from the words.

To learn more about using whitespace principles, check out:

I also found a tip on using smaller and larger font size which makes great use of the whitespace.

The idea of creating structure within Word documents, web pages, and other digital materials are extremely invaluable skills for instructional design, especially because for many projects, Section 508 compliance is a must.  Whitespace principles are very similar in that they can ensure your learners can access visual information in an efficient way.

Reference – Lohr, L. (2008). Creating graphics for learning and performance (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education ISBN:0-­‐13-­‐219158-­‐X

PowerPoint Tip – Create a Torn Edge Effect inside of PowerPoint!

Sometimes, your place of employment may not have the funds for fun software like Snagit by TechSmith.  This was the case with me recently, so I have really been honing my skills on PowerPoint and using a lot of the embedded image editing tools to make our training look more professional.

Today, I was making a slide that reviews some learning materials that was covered previously, in order to bring that into my learners working memory.  I only had enough space on my slide to keep a portion of an image that I created in a previous module, and was wishing for a torn edge tool.  Not having Snagit or Adobe Photoshop, I went on a short quest to see if I could do it inside of or PowerPoint.  Low and behold, I figured out how to accomplish just that using this great video tutorial  by slhice on Screenr.  Thank you so much for this tip worth sharing!

Gestalt Theory and Integration

Gestalt Theory and integration involve several key principles; Closure, Contiguity, Similarity, Proximity, and Experience.


The concept of closure is the minds tendency to see wholes even if the whole is not present. Not all graphics created for learning need the whole parts shown….only those necessary to increase learning efficiency and reduce cognitive load. A great video overviewing the “Law of Closure” below.

This picture is a great example of closure in that your mind naturally puts a line to make this look like a Panda Bear.
Panda Bear demonstrating Gestalt Principle of Closure


The image below helps me remember contiguity as a principle. Our minds seek to follow paths even if they are broken. That said, simple shapes, such as brackets around words, or a simple line with a swoosh can create some visual separation and interest in graphics that draws the eyes of the learner to the necessary areas of a graphic or piece of learning material. Where do your eyes go when you see the image below?

Theory of Contiguity in action


The theory of similarity is the minds need to seek a pattern. Creating instructional websites or slides have a need for a consistent design to help reduce cognitive load and increase learning efficiencies. The theory also suggests that when things are designed with the same colors, textures, or other attributes that they will seem to belong together. In other words, when creating learning materials for optimal delivery, ensure consistency among similar learning units by using similar graphics, layout, and navigation. The video below shows the theory of similarity applied to photography. I think it is a great way to help solidify this theory applied to another concept.


Because the mind groups elements based on where they are, proximity is an important component of consideration when creating learning environments for students. The video below outlines some great examples of effective uses of proximity in action.

Prior Knowledge as a Gestalt Principle

Learners understanding of graphic usage will highly depend upon cultural and other prior educational experiences. When designing instructional interfaces with icons it is important to explain them to the end user when noone is available. A learners prior knowledge is one of the single most important factors to consider when designing instruction intended for distance-based delivery. Just keep in mind that different cultures interpret colors, icons, and other symbols very differently. The “Five Hat Racks” video touches on considerations for how users will interact with graphical information.

Reference – Lohr, L. (2008). Creating graphics for learning and performance (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education ISBN:0-­‐13-­‐219158-­‐X