E-Learning: Uncovered Articulate Studio '09

James Pritchard props a new book on Articulate beside his trusty laptop. Or maybe on it. As a regular user of Articulate Studio ’09, I was pleasantly surprised that after reading one of the chapters I had learnt three new things. Written by Tanya Coomes, Diane Elkins and Desiree Ward, the book is suitable for novices and semi-experienced users of the Articulate rapid development tools.

Small point, but it stays open on the page you are looking at – ideal when you are trying out something new and following the instructions. Not only does it show you how to use the functions of Presenter, Engage and Quizmaker, it also suggests a design process from configuring the player template, adding content and interactions through to publishing the course in different delivery formats.

Each chapter is nicely laid out with step-by-step instructions, screen shots and an array of tips and hints including:

  • Bright ideas which contain special explanations and ideas for getting more out of the software
  • Cautions which are full of lessons learned the hard way so you can avoid common problems
  • Power tips which are described as advanced tips and secrets that can help take your production to the next level
  • Design tips that help give you insight on how to implement the different features from graphic design, to instructional design, to usability
I love the cross references to other parts of the book and find the appendix an invaluable time-saver – a plethora of useful information, checklists and work-arounds (except when the page numbers are wrong!). For example, there’s a checklist for publishing to a learning management system using SCORM or AICC which includes specific questions to ask the LMS administrator. There’s also a table detailing the maximum image sizes for each of the Engage interactions – this really helps in getting your courses to look professional and polished. If you’re experienced with PowerPoint animation effects you’ll find a list of which effects work in Presenter and some useful work-arounds for animations, transitions and mouse-over effects.

Chapter 4 explains how to create ‘pop-up’ interactions and branching scenarios using hyperlinks and action buttons in PowerPoint. Reading on, we learn how to create more complex branched scenario simulations allowing the learner to choose options, answer questions and gain feedback on the decisions they made. The steps are clear and concise and include useful tips – test the interaction thoroughly and if you add, delete or rearrange any slides you will need to go back to your scenario and check the links still work as required.

In chapter 5 we learn all about working with audio in Presenter. Did you know that if your PowerPoint slides already have a recorded narration that you’ll still hear this in your published project? That aside, recording and working with audio in Presenter is very easy and the pages describe clearly the different steps to take as well as some nice tips on recording the best audio. A good tip is to consider using multiple voices, so that if you need to re-record a section or add a new narration and your original voice talent is not available, it can make it easier to insert a substitute voice. It goes on to say that if you can’t get your original voice talent at all, then ask a new person to re-record a number of slides and the end result will seem like a natural fit. Good tips! If you fancy a bit of DIY “Blue Peter” style, there are instructions on how to create your own makeshift sound studio – but you’ll need to collect quite a few egg boxes and don’t forget the sticky-back plastic!

Chapter 7 covers flash animations and videos. Incorporating video clips into courses is becoming more popular – and Video Encoder can be a useful tool to convert your clip into FLV format. The editing tools are very limited, so you’re more likely to do this in another tool. This section also details the different file formats that can be converted using Video Encoder – useful! However it would have been helpful if it mentioned the need for extra software and codecs when working with specific file formats such as .m4v. Conversely, if you are developing your own Flash animations to incorporate, the section on Flash settings is very comprehensive and you’ll avoid problems later on if you follow the instructions about the right frame rate, ActionScript etc.

The information about customising the look and feel of the tools is a bit weak, particularly with Quizmaker. In the Engage section it suggests that if we want our PowerPoint background to show through to Engage, we set the custom colour to 100% transparency. This does work to a degree, but in my opinion it is not the best way to achieve the desired result, particularly if we apply this technique to Quizmaker. When question feedback is displayed, we can see the question and other text or images through the pop-up box – it just looks messy. It’s far better to colour the player elements etc. To match your background rather than use transparency.

Another omission to the book is matching the font sizes of your Engages and Quizzes to your PowerPoint slides. If you choose the same font size in each application, the text will generally be larger in Engage and Quizmaker in your final published files. It would be good to see a table of common fonts and matching font sizes for PowerPoint, Quizmaker and Engage.

Overall this book has all the essentials covered and is great if you’re happy to figure some things out yourself. If you prefer more in-depth instructions and information and you’re also looking for tips on good instructional design, then go for Essential Articulate Studio ’09 which goes into more details.

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