Tips to Stop Sucking at PowerPoint

The title is bold and direct, I know. I like it actually, because when a PowerPoint presentation sucks, it really, really sucks. So sometimes, we just have to call it what it is.

The bottom line is that we cannot escape PowerPoint in today’s business and/or academic world. And as Jessee Desjardins wrote, it’s really not a bad tool at all. In fact, I think it is a fabulous tool. One just needs to learn how to use it efficiently and effectively.

About 3 years ago, I read Edward Tufte’s The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, and though he did not convince me to abandon PowerPoint completely, I did take into account his main criticisms of the tool—such as it being a tool used to support the presenter on what s/he wants to lecture about rather than supplement with supporting visuals—and try to find ways of working around them.

Reference:

Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today



Brushing Up On Your User Experience Design Skills? Take A Look At These Books

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of user experience design testing as part of the overall eLearning course testing process. Paul Seys compiled a fantastic list of books on user experience design (or UX). Borrowing mainly from Web and multimedia design best practices, much of this can inform the design of your online learning environments and resources.

The list comprises all sorts of books including those that focus on

  • user experience design
  • storytelling & conversations for user experience
  • information architecture
  • search analytics
  • grid systems for the Web

As well as two specialized books focusing on best practices and innovation in the field of user experience design.

References:

Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today

Taking Into Account User Experience In Your E-learning Design

Two months ago, Tom Kuhlmann wrote a piece on the importance of thoroughly reviewing your e-learning courses before launching them. One of his key tips was to watch learners go through the course in order to understand how they experience it. Web and multimedia designers call this user experience design testing.

ZURB, a team of interaction designers and strategists, put together a guide to facilitating feedback on user design which can be implemented throughout the design process. These techniques are very useful for understanding the user experience while following an e-learning course.

References:

Initially published on Brandon Hall’s Workplace Learning Today

From the Innovative Mind of Janey Clarey: Instructional Design by Example Blog

Janet Clarey is one of my favorite bloggers on the topic of training and developement. It is no surprise that she has kicked off this absolutely fabulous idea of blogging about real life instructional design examples.

I wish her the best of luck possible and am thinking up an example to contribute in the very near future.

Corporate e-learning needs another blog. Oh yes. It does.

In this blog, you’ll find examples of e-learning courses and details about the instructional design process used in creating them. You’ll also find specifics about the logistics of the courses. Anyone is welcome to submit an example using the submission form. The site is maintained by Janet Clarey.

Reference:

Wireframing Tools for Mockups and Prototypes

Great list and commentary on desktop and online wireframing tools to create mockups and prototypes for when pen and paper just aren’t enough.

Like most things today, the world of interaction design moves quickly. Although a pen and notebook may suffice when it comes to simply jotting down ideas, planning a series of website screens can sometimes demand additional precision and cohesion.

This is where today’s wireframing tools come in. Engineered to make the design process as intuitive as possible, these tools allow you to construct a visual representation of your interface. Some even allow designers to construct interactive prototypes in order to receive user feedback before a single line of code is written. The following list comprises 15 of the most prominent wireframing applications available today.

Reference:

The Ethnography of Design

I’ve been looking at ethnographical studies to determine how researchers and experts collaborate. Of course, this proposes that ethnographic analysis can inform design. This leads me to reflect further on the impact of the research results on the way that online environements in which researchers and experts collaborate are designed.

Ethnography is a research method in which the researcher observes people in their natural environment so as to gain insight into the ways in which people inhabit their spaces, use their products and interact with the various physical, social, economical and ecological systems around them. It is a heavily qualitative research method, involving much participant-observation — observing and recording the actions and decision-making processes of individuals and groups in a given environment.

There are several different ways in which ethnographic methods can be used in the design world:

  • an ethnographer collects data and reports to a designer
  • an ethnographer and designer work together and study a certain population
  • an ethnographer, designer and end-user collaborate as a team

and so on…

Reference:

Blog Design Study

Smashing Magazine present their findings of their study of top blogs.

  • Part 1 discusses layout design and typographic settings.
  • Part 2 discusses navigation design, information architecture, advertisements and functionality (RSS-feeds, tag clouds, pagination, etc).

What Smashing Magazine has to say about their study:

We have identified 30 design problems and considered solutions for each of the problems separately. We have posed 30 questions which we would like to answer with our blog survey. Below we present findings of our survey of popular blog designs — the results of an analysis of 50 popular blogs according to Technorati’s Top 100.

Also from Smashing Magazine is their helpful post on 15 Desktop Blogging Tools Reviewed. I actually wrote this post using BlogDesk. Not too bad, just took some getting used to. I will try ScribeFire (a Firefox plugin) for my next post.

References:

The Capacity to Recall vs. the Capacity to be Resourceful

In a post entitled Brain 2.0 : eLearning Technology, Tony Karrer discusses whether or not it is more important to be knowledge-able rather than knowledgeable. The basic premise is whether or not is more important to:

  • store a bunch of information in our minds that we can recall at any time (recall), or
  • know which information to access, where to find it and how to verify it’s accuracy (resourcefulness)

This reminds me of the research methods class I took a few years back. During one of the first lectures, we learned basic statistical formulas such as alpha coefficient and chi square. Now numbers and I aren’t always friends. I can work through formulas by following instructions but it takes all my concentration to do so and I often make mistakes. I have a tendency to inverse numbers a lot too. Anyhow…

I asked the professor when would it be appropriate to use chi square as opposed to alpha coefficient (I know now that they don’t do the same thing but I’m still not clear on what it is that they do). He answered that it depended on the data and when I would have my data, I’d need to listen to the data. For the exam, all I needed to do is memorize the formulas. Oh boy. That is perhaps when I decided I’d look for a thesis topic that would lend itself well to qualitative inquiry!

I need to learn things in context. If I know why I’m learning something or I have a set use for it, I’m more likely to remember it. So at this time, I can’t remember the formulas for either. But I know that they are available online. The thing is, that right now I have no idea when to use them, nor can I assess the validity of the resource. So I got a B in research methods, lowest grade during my whole MA, but I passed, but not without developing a total aversion to statistics. How absolutely unfortunate.

Tony Karrer refers to Brent Schlenker’s There is no Brain2.0…so why Learning2.0?, where Brent evaluates the pros and the cons of the e in eLearning, something I’ve addressed in another post. He argues that:

We must better understand the learning process in order to create better content and experiences. Its not just behavior that we need to understand. We MUST understand the human brain. (link from original post)

Absolutely, we need to understand how the brain works in order to design better content. If more people did, we’d have less of these page turning eLearning course with information recall assessments at the end of them. We’d create simulations and problem-based learning courses. And if we created these types of courses, perhaps “training” would give individual tools to make contextual decisions rather then be bounded to a set script.

Now I agree with Brent that technology is an important factor and that is where the “e” comes in. However, the technology can be used to store the tools and resources (formulas, language rules, procedures, etc) that we don’t use on a daily basis so that we can concentrate on thinking.

References:

If an Image is Worth a Thousand Words, How Much is an Animation Worth?

Nicholas A. Christakis, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., and James H. Fowler, Ph.D. recently published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine entitled The Collective Dynamics of Smoking in a Large Social Network.

What is fantastic with this article published online is that there is a page with supplementary material containing an animation entitled: Dynamic Graphic Representation of a Portion of the Framingham Heart Study Social Network (pump up the volume).

I’ll admit – I didn’t read the article. My eyes are too exhausted from editing my thesis (and yet somehow I find the will to blog). However, the animation was clear enough, and though I may not have as much information as I would have had by reading the article, I believe I got the essential information that I needed, and because I’m a very visual person, was able to comprehend the message quite quickly.

If only I could have done a giant Tag Cloud of my jumbled thoughts for my thesis!

Reference:

Visual Display of Information

A few years ago, I discovered Edward Tufte, who has been writing about how to efficiently display information. Here are 2 exerpts from The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1983) – click the images to enlarge.

Fuel Economy Standards for Autos - New York Times, August 9, 1978, p.D-2.
The Shrinking Family Doctor - Los Angeles Times, August 5, 1979, p.3.

I was thoroughly impressed with the multiple examples of clever mix of text and images. It made me reflect quite a bit on the use of images in my own presentations. Now I’ve been known to use a lot of charts, diagrams and other methods to visually display information when I make presentations or posters. Maybe it’s because I’m a visual person, but I find it really helps me understand, process… well visualize the information.

In his November 2007 blog post entitled Warning: Using the Wrong Images Can Confuse Your Learners, Tom Kuhlmann discusses the importance of using images appropriately. He starts his post off with:

To lessen the cognitive load and make your content more memorable, it’s important to use images that contribute to the learning experience rather than detract from it.

Images are powerful, as are words. There seems to be a trend about adding some kind of a visual display to words on the Web 2.0. The Tag Cloud is gaining popularity. Wordle seems to be on many web aficionados’ radar lately. Below is my wordle of The Gashlycrumb Tinies.

Wordle: Gashlycrumb Tinies

And my personal new favorite discovery is Many Eyes. Click on the vignette below to see my Dr Seuss word tree!

References: