The raging debate on training discussion boards and news groups these days surrounds whether a Web-converted PowerPoint presentation constitutes real e-learning. Some say the use of PowerPoint is appropriate for certain types of learning content. Others say that PowerPoint is not engaging and interactive enough to teach in a stand-alone, self-paced learning environment.
At the same time, we have observed the following conditions in the training industry:
-A majority of organizations use PowerPoint to create material for instructor-led, classroom events.
-They use PowerPoint because it's very easy to use, is approachable by SMEs and novice developers, and is found on most computers as part of the Microsoft Office suite.
-Because PowerPoint is used so frequently, many organizations have amassed large repositories of legacy PowerPoint training content.
-A recent survey, conducted by Brandon-hall.com, discovered that 66 percent of Fortune 2,000 companies use PowerPoint as a primary tool to create e-learning content, compared with 45 percent that use Macromedia's Flash, 32 percent that use traditional authoring tools like Authorware or Click2Learn's ToolBook, among other tools listed. Note: Survey respondents were allowed to list more than one authoring tool, explaining why the numbers total more than 100 percent.
-Over the past two years, there has been an explosion of e-learning products that convert PowerPoint to e-learning.
Because of these conditions, we put several systems to the test. At the Training 2003 Conference in Atlanta, we invited 12 teams to convert a PowerPoint presentation, created for classroom use, into an e-learning course in front of a live audience. As with previous Shootouts, we replicated a real-world business task by creating a 16-slide PowerPoint presentation for them to use as source material to create a new self-paced, e-learning course, adding additional interactivity and/or rich media, such as audio and video, if desired.
The format for the Shootout was as follows:
-The Shootout was conducted in three rounds (one round per day), with four teams competing each day, for a total of 12 teams. Each round of the shootout was completed in 45 minutes.
-At the beginning of the round, each team received a sealed envelope containing a CD-ROM with the 16-slide PowerPoint presentation along with a printed hard copy of the presentation. The topic of the presentation was a product-knowledge, sales training course teaching sales representatives how to sell an atomic clock. The PowerPoint consisted of a few static information pages, an animated diagram of how the clock works, two slides teaching the functions of the clock and three test questions (not interactive). Note: The teams received a practice copy of the presentation one month before the competition. The content for the final presentation was altered to prevent teams from pre-producing their courses and avoid cheating during the competition.
-The teams were given 20 minutes to use their own technology to create a derivative e-learning course, using the original presentation as source material. A large clock counted down the time, and audience members could watch the development tasks in real time on large screens. There were no specifications given for the exact output of the course. We did this in anticipation of seeing a variety of approaches and allow for maximum flexibility and creativity. As a result, some teams set up video studios on stage, recording live video or recording audio narration using headsets. Others focused their attention on designing interactivity by converting the function slides into dynamic discovery exercises. Some made the test questions interactive; others left them as part of a linear, streamed version of the presentation.
-At the end of the 20-minute development time, teams were not allowed to work further on their creation. Each team was given five minutes to show the audience what they had built and discuss how they built it.
The audience, consisting primarily of classroom instructors and training managers, rated each system on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the highest rating) in four categories: ease of use, use of rich media, interactivity, and innovation in conversion of PowerPoint.
Technically, it was possible for any team to simultaneously win in any or all of the four categories. Yet, we found it fascinating that there were separate winners in each category. Given the short duration of each round, we found the audience very astute at picking up the nuances of these products. For example, in the use of rich media category, both Sonic Foundry and OnPoint Digital—finishing first and second, respectively—added streaming video to the final course, using text in the notes field of the PowerPoint as on-screen narration. The team from Bernard D&G (makers of Turbodemo) won the interactivity category by spending much of its time turning the two slides that outlined the functions of the clock into a discovery exercise in which learners could roll their cursors over any part of the clock to learn about its function.
In the innovation category, the audience was impressed by Breeze, a new product from Macromedia, that uses innovative technology that allows novice developers to stay inside PowerPoint to embed test questions (in the presentation), create advanced synchronization between audio and PowerPoint animations, and then convert the entire interactive presentation to Flash output. The second place team in the innovation category, Handshaw, used a completely different, but innovative approach to convert the PowerPoint. Their system read the PowerPoint, stripping out all the text and graphics, storing each object in a database and making each object immediately reusable. They then took the atomic elements and rebuilt the presentation into an interactive e-learning course.
The Shootout was a great opportunity to learn about a wide variety of creative approaches for using PowerPoint to create e-learning courses. We were impressed by the advancements that are being made to leverage the simplicity of using PowerPoint to minimize some of the complexities of e-learning deployment. There is still much work to be done. This will be an exciting area to watch in the near future as these technologies evolve further. Thanks to all the Shootout participants. And most importantly, thanks to all who took time to join our voting audience and rate each system.
Click here to see the list of participants and their scores.
Bryan Chapman is an e-learning analyst for research firm Brandon-hall.com. firstname.lastname@example.org
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