How to Create eLearning Using PowerPoint

Online Education with PowerPointHaving a solid foundation in PowerPoint is a must when using rapid content authoring tools to create online learning. Many rapid content authoring tools are either based on or an add-on to PowerPoint (PPT), including: Adobe Captivate,  Articulate Presenter, iSpring Presenter, Articulate Presenter, Articulate Storyline, as well as Digitec’s own Direct-to-WEB. If you’re not an experienced Flash or HTML programmer or are short on resources, PowerPoint may be the only eLearning development tool you have available. Luckily, PowerPoint is more versatile than most people give it credit for. While “Death by PowerPoint” is a popular expression in eLearning, you are not limited to click-and-read presentations. To create interactive and attractive online courses, you just need to know how to utilize the advanced capabilities available to you. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts for creating engaging eLearning courses entirely with PowerPoint:


Develop a “look” for the course. It helps to have a graphic designer on hand, but that’s not always an option. Thankfully, you can use tools within PowerPoint to create shapes, gradients, and more.  Begin by brainstorming the “look” of your course on paper. Next, sketch layout ideas and determine your color palette for the course (for tips on choosing the right color for eLearning design, check out my recent blog post). Finally, explore “Shapes” within PowerPoint; they’re the workhorse for creating your eLearning design template and backgrounds. Shapes are very malleable, allowing you to fill them with textures, change their transparency to create overlays, position them to act as menu bars, and so forth.

Consider providing navigation. By default, PowerPoint allows learners to advance whenever they click the screen. This is a tell-tale sign of a standard PowerPoint presentation. Disabling this feature gives you more options for interactivity and providing your own navigation gives you more control over what the learner has to do to advance in the course.

Set up Slide Masters. A consistent layout gives the course a professional look while making it easier for learners to follow along. Setting up Slide Masters also allows you re-use layouts without the hassle of matching up colors or text and shape positions every time you create a new slide. It’s best to set up your Slide Masters before you start developing the course.

Include interactivity. Use animations to create interactivity in PowerPoint. These could be quiz questions, clicking to enlarge an image, having new text appear on click, etc. The basic convention is to set the desired object(s) to animate in when the learner clicks something on-screen. If desired, you can trigger another on-screen element to make those same objects animate off the screen when it is clicked.


Crowd the slide. Avoiding too much on-screen text was discussed in a previous blog post, but it’s worth re-stating. If there is too much content on any screen/slide, the learner will not absorb it. They are likely to be overwhelmed or “zone out.”

Use bullet points everywhere. Bullet points are a signature feature in PowerPoint; seemingly everyone uses them, on every slide. There is definitely a time and place for them, but in most cases you don’t want an entire course to consist of nothing but bullet points. Not only does overusing bullet points scream “this was made in PowerPoint,” it makes it difficult to break away from standard practice and think creatively.

Use default Powerpoint themes. Anyone familiar with PowerPoint will recognize the standard themes the instant they see them. Don’t just change the theme colors and consider that a new look either. It’s been done.

Add transitions without a reason. In general, you don’t need to add slide transitions at all. They rarely contribute to the learning experience and they need more time and processing power than a default transition. Plus,  slide transitions tend to be distracting. Transitions can be appropriate in some situations, like using a Fade to introduce an “Imagine that” scenario. In that case, the transition is a cue that ties into the content.


Example eLearning from PowerPointReady to see a working example of how you too can create interactive eLearning using only PowerPoint? Download my sample course for the “Association of Puppies,” click the Slide Show tab, and then click From Beginning. Here you will see an example of all of the “Do’s” listed above in action!

For more tips, I recommend Jane Bozarth’s book Better Than Bullet Points: Creating Engaging e-Learning with PowerPoint.

With practice, you can create unique, interactive courses that go above and beyond baseline PowerPoint presentations. PowerPoint really can do a lot of amazing things. I never would have guessed that it can be used to make 3D objects, for example, but it can. How have you used PowerPoint as an eLearning authoring tool? I’m curious to hear about the challenges and pleasant surprises you’ve encountered.


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Jennifer Ritter

From storyboards to module building, Jennifer covers a lot of eLearning ground as an instructional designer, writer, and course creator. She earned her B.A. at Rollins College and draws on her past life as an occasional amateur film maker for insight on the zaniness of the production process. This Jen-of-many-trades is fascinated by the role of storytelling and gameplay in learning and engagement. This may or may not be connected to her urge to write novels and love of videogames and most things “nerdy.” A passion for learning that started in school and led to tutoring has happily landed her in the mystical realm of eLearning.

Spirit animal: Hawk
Diet-breaker: Ice cream
Comfort object: Throw blankets
Personal vice: Medieval-fantasy novels
Useless talent: Remembering useless facts
Unreasonable paranoia: Rollercoasters
Wishes more people cared about: Other people


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