If you’re moving from a traditional learning environment to eLearning, it can be difficult to figure out exactly how to present your materials.

Most people choose PowerPoint, which is a popular tool for created slide-based presentations (or Keynote on Mac).

The trouble with PowerPoint is that most people who use it still build eLearning slides the same way they would for a face-to-face learning experience. But eLearning requires a level of visual interaction entirely unique from traditional learning.

[Tweet “When you’re creating with PowerPoint, what you see is what you get.”]

With eLearning, there are far fewer ways to explain a confusing slide, so when you’re creating with PowerPoint, what you see is what you get.

Which is why it’s important to make sure that your design is visually appealing, your content clear and uncluttered, and that you’ve included engaging elements that keep people in tuned to the lesson, even without a physical instructor present to guide them.

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Design

Design is the staple of any good eLearning presentation, and it’s easy to tell a good one from a bad one. Unfortunately, PowerPoint sometimes gets a bad reputation when it comes to beautiful design, but that’s only because users tend to be new at it, or they’re not design experts to begin with.

But the good news is that you don’t have to be a design expert to create a great presentation. While PowerPoint comes with plenty of engaging templates, there are also a few design best practices to keep in mind when building slides (which can be applied to any presentation, whether you’re using PowerPoint or not):

More Visuals Less Text

Whether the slides are self-paced or set to a timer, nobody wants to try to get through huge amounts of text during a presentation. eLearning is meant to be a visual aid, and text should ideally be kept to bullet points or short snippets that can be easily absorbed.

visualsUse High-Contrast Colors

One mistake that’s easy to make when it comes to PowerPoint is to use a lot of bright colors in an attempt to grab attention, but too many colors can actually prevent people from engaging, especially if those colors are low-contrast or difficult to read. It’s best to stick to high-contrast color schemes like a simple, dark background with white text, or a white background with black or dark colored text. If you’re not sure if your slides are readable enough, you can check the contrast of your colors using a tool like Color Contrast Calculator.

Use Larger Fonts

Your presentation will likely be viewed on a computer or mobile device, which means that it will be shown on a variety of screen sizes, and most of them will be relatively small. Use a font that is at least sized at least 24 points, with the preference being 28 to 32 points. For titles or headings, it’s recommended to use 36 to 44 point size fonts. If you’re concerned about fitting all of your content onto one slide, it’s better to trim your content than to reduce the font size.

Use Animation Sparingly

It can be easy to assume that “animation” equals “engaging,” but sometimes moving text or graphics can actually distract your audience far easier than engage them. As much as possible, avoid transition effects that don’t add to the message. If you’re needing to demonstrate something through movement consider using animation that supports you message, videos or an animated GIF image on a single slide with no text. The key to successful design is simplicity, high contrast and easy readability.

Content

The best design in the world won’t give you a great presentation if the content itself is lacking, however. If you’re looking to significantly improve your presentation, you’ll want to make sure your content contains a few things:

Include a Specific Goal

Most presentations are designed to either be informative or persuasive, but in the case of eLearning it might be a little of both. It’s important to set clear expectations throughout your content so that your audience knows what action to take after the presentation is over. You can do this by including a single statement on a slide at the beginning, a summary at the end of each section with actionable items, or a slide or two at the end with next steps (or all of the above).

Provide Non-linear Navigation

By default, most slide-based presentations allow audiences to advance by clicking the screen, and the most common way to build slides is a linear A-to-B-to-C method. But you can actually improve engagement by disabling this feature and using non-linear navigation that requires users to click on an image, or to choose between two options to proceed forward. This style gives you more control over learning objectives, too.

non-linearnav

Include Interactivity

While we do recommend using animations and over-the-top graphics sparingly, that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t use different forms of interactive elements. Whether it’s the non-linear navigation as mentioned above or you include features like clicking to enlarge an image, having new text appear, or things like quiz questions or polls (which we’ll talk about in a bit), having more engaging content besides plain text and images is a surefire way to improve the overall eLearning experience.

The key to including successful content is to make sure your audience knows why they are there to begin with, and to include elements that help them reach those learning objectives in interactive and engaging ways.

Engagement

Speaking of engagement, did you know that studies show over 41% of U.S. employees would rather go to the dentist than sit through a slideshow? That’s why your presentation needs to be made up of more than just slides with content. There are a few elements you may want to consider adding to your presentations to help improve focus and create a better learning experience.

Because your eLearning presentation won’t include a live-action instructor or direct connection with other learners, it’s important to find ways to help people feel connected during the process. Here are a few things you can try to improve overall engagement:

Ask Questions

Audience participation is great in a traditional learning environment and should be a big part of your eLearning environment, too. Depending on your method of choice, you can ask questions in a slide that your audience can send back to you through a chat app or forum, you can send them a questionnaire to fill out, or just have them answer questions to themselves. Either way, it’s best to get them thinking about the content instead of just reading or clicking through it with no second thought.

Add a Poll

In newer versions of PowerPoint, you can use apps like Swipe to add polls to your slides. Audiences can give live feedback and anyone on a mobile device can respond with results being shown in real time.

Swipe-polls-580x407

Add Hyperlinks to Improve Digital Engagement

Since your eLearning presentation is not shown on a big screen in the middle of a classroom, you can include links to other helpful sources in your content that will allow users to do more research on their own. If you know you have an audience that might be curious about a certain subject, consider linking to a research website, a recent case study, or another interactive learning experience to keep them engaged.

The key to successful engagement is all about getting your audience to take action, whether it’s clicking on a link and browsing a third-party site, taking a poll, or chatting with fellow eLearners in response to your content.

If you can combine all three things – simple design, great content and other elements of engagement – you’ll have a great foundation with which to build a truly superior eLearning course.

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Jonathan Davis is an accomplished professional with experience helping Fortune 500 companies achieve success in employee communication and training programs. Jonathan focuses on delivering reliable, successful outcomes that increases employee engagement through highly targeted deliverables, creative messaging and robust programs.