Recently my fellow instructional designers Sarah Hodge and Madison McCartney and I teamed up to prove that there’s always more than one way to present course content. Each of us created a mini-course on prioritizing tasks, using the Eisenhower Decision Matrix as our starting point.

In this article, I’m going to walk you through how I got from this:

… to this:

View interactive version | Download template

Without further ado, let’s get into it!

Setting the Scene

Since I created this project as an example, there’s no real target audience, much less learning objectives. But to make it feel realistic I set some basic parameters to guide my design thinking. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Audience: Novice e-learning project managers
  • Learning objective: Be able to identify tasks, classify them as important and/or urgent, and prioritize them accordingly

Coming Up with the Concept

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of great e-learning examples in the E-Learning Heroes community, but a few really stand out to me. One in particular is this time management game by Phil Eagles. I love the way he took a series of simple multiple choice questions and made them into a scenario that feels real and meaningful. And since time management is so closely related to task prioritization, it’s the first thing I thought of when I started brainstorming ideas for my project. I wanted to create something similar—but put my own spin on it. 

Because I wanted to create a totally custom and immersive scenario, Storyline 360 was the perfect choice for this project. I decided to simulate a desk and let learners identify tasks and prioritize items for themselves. The idea behind this was to emulate real life—where learners have to identify tasks and decide which ones to do first—while also following one of the key principles of adult learning by giving them control over their learning experience. 

Refining the Scenario

Once I had a general idea of what I wanted to do, it was time to iron out the scenario details. I wanted to give learners enough opportunities to practice prioritizing tasks without it feeling repetitive. I included a few different types of tasks—since that’s what it’s like in real life. In the end, I settled on a total of six tasks, including a few emails, a couple of text messages, and a Post-it. 

As I started to build out my scenario, I ran into some challenges. One of the main issues was that my slide was getting overcrowded. 

To overcome this challenge and help learners focus on one thing at a time, I divided the process of task prioritization into two parts:

  • Step 1: identify and analyze the tasks to determine how urgent/important they are
  • Step 2: prioritize the tasks based on their level of urgency/importance

For step one, I used a series of toggles so the learner can decide if each task is urgent and/or important. Based on their answer, I provide custom feedback. This is how that turned out:

For step two, I made a simple drag-and-drop interaction so the learner can decide where each task belongs on their to-do list based on its level of urgency and importance. Here’s what that ended up looking like:

Because this project was intended for adults who may have previous experience with the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, I made the explanation walk-through optional, as shown in the screenshot below:

Is this how I initially envisioned my project? Absolutely not. To be honest, I don’t think I really had a clear mental picture of what it would look like. 

Some people can map out their entire project before they even open up the authoring app, while others do better jumping straight into building and get inspired along the way. Both methods are totally fine as long as you always keep your learners’ needs at the center of your design.

Designing the Graphics

As someone with no formal graphic design training, I can be challenged to come up with ideas for the look and feel of my courses. To find inspiration, I usually start by checking out the examples and templates on E-Learning Heroes as well as the Content Library 360 templates. Even if I don’t find exactly what I need, I usually come across something I can use as a starting point. 

Personally, I find that starting with a template is less intimidating than starting from a blank slide. And even if the final result ends up looking completely different than the original template, having something to start with helps me channel my ideas and inch closer to a place I feel good about.

So, once I knew that I wanted to create an immersive scenario, I headed straight to E-Learning Heroes to look for templates I could use as a springboard for my design. A quick search for “desk” led me to this template, which I thought was perfect:

Download Template

After opening the template, I made some adjustments and played around with different color options. Here’s what my first version looked like:

There’s nothing wrong with the way this looks, but—as I mentioned earlier in this article—it was at this point I realized there wasn’t enough room on the slide to allow learners to both identify and prioritize tasks in one spot. Splitting the activity up into two parts gave me more screen real estate to work with. 

Around this time, I also decided I wasn’t sure about the mint green wall and wanted to give white a try . . .

. . . but I wasn’t totally sold on that either. I also felt lukewarm about the way the desk looked and decided to incorporate some texture. This is what the next version looked like:

Wondering how I created the wood texture? I did a Google search for “flat design wood,” inserted one of the images I found onto my slide master, and then used the curve tool and shapes in Storyline 360 to achieve a similar effect.

This is what it looks like behind the scenes:

I was pretty happy with the way this looked, but when I started adding other objects to the screen, I realized they didn’t stand out enough against the dark blue background. That’s when I settled on the design you see in the final version:

I went through a similar process for the other slides in my project, so I thought I’d share the different versions with you as well.

. . . and here’s the final version.

You’ll notice that in the final version I pulled in the computer screen from the previous slide to tie it together a bit more. I also changed the size of the boxes to make it all fit on the screen.

As I was working on my core content slides, I also started to pull together my title slide. Since my other two slides used a flat design style, I wanted to stick with something similar. I found this simple slide template in Content Library 360 and used it as a starting point:

I didn’t want to include characters, so I deleted those and changed the color of the background to match the dark blue I was using at the time.

After taking out the characters and changing the color, I felt like the slide was too minimal. It was missing something, so I sat and thought about how I could incorporate more visual interest. That’s when I had an idea: what if the title slide was a view of the desk from above? And since we’re talking about prioritizing tasks—and many people write their to-do lists in a notebook—I thought that might make sense and look nice.

So I went back to E-Learning Heroes for some inspiration and ended up finding this spiral notebook template:

Download

I imported it into Storyline 360 and made a few adjustments to make it all come together. Here’s what it ended up looking like:

As you can see, graphic design isn’t always a straightforward process. It doesn’t necessarily go from zero to perfect in one fell swoop. In many cases it’s an iterative process involving incremental changes until you’re happy with what you’ve got.

So the next time you’re feeling stuck and unsure about your design, try doing what I did and search E-Learning Heroes or Content Library 360 for a template you can use as a starting point. Then, make small changes here and there. Eventually you’ll get to a place where you feel good about your design.

More Resources

Hopefully you’ve found this inside look at my design process interesting and insightful! Remember, it’s okay if your first draft isn’t perfect. Design (whether it’s instructional or graphic) is a process, and it often takes trial and error to get it to where it needs to be. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!

If you enjoyed this article and are looking for more insight into what goes on in the minds of instructional designers as they’re creating courses, be sure to check out these articles:

Want to try building your own immersive scenario in Storyline 360, but don’t have Articulate 360? Start a free 60-day trial, and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning. If you have any questions, please share them in the comments.

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