Inspiration for Technical Content

May 10, 2011

I work for a telecommunications company. We have been tasked with taking content dealing with hardware descriptions and software features and putting it into Articulate overview courses. Other than pictures of the hardware and cable network, it's difficult getting away from bullet points to describe features and functions. Does anyone else have this creative dilemma of jazzing up technical content? Any suggestions? Thanks!

21 Replies
Susan Wilson

Phyllis, I also work with technical content similar to what you are describing.  The answer to your question partly depends on the audience.  Are they technical people?  Is this an introductory course followed by more in-depth training, or is it an overview for non-technical people?

Starting with a graphic of the entire system, where each piece of the hardware can be linked to pages with more detail about it is one idea.  Animation to show the internal or invisible workings of hardware can also be helpful for learners and you can make this slightly more interactive by having the learner click to initiate the animation. Adding frequent, small quizzes or games that ask the learner to apply what they have learned is more interesting than just stating the functions.   For example, you could introduce the components at a very high level, then create a troubleshooting scenario and ask the learners to choose the component that they think is causing the problem.  In the feedback, you would provide more information about the function of that component.   I would love to hear other ideas on this.

Shelley Owens Schaal

Hi Phyllis, like Susan I also do a lot of more technical training. One approach I like to take is using storytelling with scenarios. I look at what the end user is expected to be able to do after they view the training (i.e. troubleshoot hardware, install hardware/ software, etc.) and then create a story based on that. I try to include the typical things that might go wrong (and have the user try to fix it) as well as a practice component that allows the user to apply what they have just learned. Stories are very engaging for people and add a more interesting approach than your standard list of features. What you can then do is provide additional support materials like Quick Reference Cards (for step-by-step) that can be attached to Articulate as a tab in the top right of the window or include Engage interactions for an FAQ or definitions list. Finally, I also like to structure my PowerPoint template like a web page using links and menus so the user has the option of returning to a particular spot to review a specific topic.

Sammy Hwang

I think this is the perfect example of a good question and a stupid answer (the first one) and two excellent answers (the second and third). ^^ I totally agree that the content should have some sort of engaging storytelling and realistic scenarios. If you don't mind, could you share some tips, books or resources for a better script writing or effective storytelling? 

Susan Wilson

Phyllis makes a very good point.  When the material is technical, our users report that they frequently  refer back to the material after completing the initial training, so it's important that your design makes it easy for them to locate exactly what they are looking for, quickly.  Attached job-aids they can download are also very useful.  One drawback of using Engage Interactions is that it is not easy for the learner to locate something within an interaction. This doesn't speak to your initial request for ideas to "jazz up" your content, but it does make your final product more useful.

Phil Weber

Hi, Phyllis: You're being asked to create a classic "information dump." As Shelley suggests, the first question to ask stakeholders is, "What should learners be able to do (not know) after viewing this course?" I'm a huge fan of Cathy Moore's action mapping approach:

Sami: There's lots of great information on Cathy's site about how (and why) to use scenarios and stories in e-learning:

Bob S

Hi Phylis,

As some have said here, it really depends on your audience and what it is they are expected to be able to do after the training.

If it's a tech feature training for sales folks, one kind of solution.

It it's a tech integration training for installers, another kind of solution.


So with that said, here are a couple of random suggestions you might find some value in...

Thought #1 - Find ways to have them pull the information, rather than you pushing it to them

  • Create a sort of technical feature treasure hunt where they are given clues and must go find the right component
  • Create scenarios (install, design, sales, et al) where a set of specs or needs are required, and they must do research to choose the right components for the need

Thought #2 - Teach key functions, not specs and features

Often there are some key functionalities that your products/software offers. Teach those, how they work, why they are important, etc. and relate them to the real world. Focus on what makes the stuff different/better. Then simply display the products in chart or line-step form so they can see the rest of the standard features they might have (ie create a reference doc).

Good luck.

Natalia Mueller

Hi Phyllis- All excellent advice here. I primarily train software and I'm on a constant quest for interesting ways to display text because so often it just can't be helped. Here are some great resources that inspired me with examples of ways to do it-

Guru winners

Diabesity -

and  Motivating Your Team  -

have some great alternatives, even tho neither are for technical training.

Also, Tom K took the Dump the Drone course by Cathy Moore referenced in this thread and used it to show some great alternatives to standard bullet points.

I also like to take screen shots of the software, insert them in to PPT and add hyperlinks in key areas. This allows the learner to click in the screen and feel like they are practicing the actual software. There are, of course, other tools that do that but given the learning curve required to get good at those tools I find that powerpoint is great for faking simulations on a smaller scale.

Good luck to you!

Phyllis Colgan

Thank you all for taking the time to reply!

All your suggestions and examples are helping me to think more creatively.  Branching, scenarios, treasure hunts are all great ideas. I have used Engage interactions but as Susan points out referring back to specific content is more difficult than clicking back to a slide from the menu-tree. I'll definitely consider some of your ideas for the next revision of the course. If you think of more suggestions or links to share please forward them along. Appreciate your help!

Wilson Santiago

This is some great advice folks!  Just what I need to help me get started on a similar project.   I have been given a set of webinars (and their original PowerPoint files) that were prerecorded, and must turn them into Articulate presentations.  They are very technical involving building code changes within a specific state, and to make matters worse the prerecorded voiceovers are not of the best quality.  I therefore have to stick close the original webinars.  My dilemma is in attempting to make technical text at least look interesting.  Any suggestions on how to improve?

Susan Wilson

Wilson, can you clarify?  Do you mean construction building codes?  Who is the audience, inspectors, builders,?   What is in the webinars, just the PPTs and speakers audio?

Also, it sounds like the PPT files are mostly text.  Do you have any graphics/illustrations available?  If not, can you get your hands on some or create them yourself?  For example, you could use the guided image or labelled graphic Engage interactions to show a building plan/blueprint and use that to point out the differences between the current codes and the changes.   If you don't have Engage, you could do this by creating links on top of your graphic.   Also, I'm wondering if you could run your audio through Audacity and try to clean it up. 

Natalia Mueller

So you're stuck using the existing audio? That IS limiting. At the very least, it can help to edit down the visible text to the fewest words possible to support the speaker's main ideas. To keep it looking current, create your own template with a theme/graphics/fonts to match the industry you're in. Building codes... would industrial work? I know there are some good resources for that in the community's download page.

Wilson Santiago

Thank you both for your input.  These are building construction code related.  Several of them are for changes from the old code to the newer code.  They are PowerPoints and audio clips.  I asked for clarification on what I was allowed to do to improve these, and the response was NOT to add any new graphics, No interactions and not to add or break apart any slide content.  The only things I can change are the Powerpoint background, colors and fonts.  There is very little I can do to these, so I am going to focus on which fonts to use and a color palette. 

Meg Bertapelle

@Wilson - check out Nancy Duarte's work re: getting away from text-based presentations.  She has a wonderful style, and can certainly describe it better than I can, but...

try using the audio you already have (maybe cleaned up w/Audacity) if you must, but completely replace the PPT with illustrations/media etc. that SUPPORT that script.  You don't need the words most of the time, they're listening to the words already.  In fact, trying to listen and read at the same time can create cognitive overload, or at least cause people to work harder on syncing them up then actually internalizing the content.

Give it a shot & let us know how it goes!

Susan Wilson


Maybe it's not worth the time but you might play around with the slide background using some kind of construction theme.  Semi transparent blueprints or schematics - something that would not visually interfere.  You could vary the backgrounds according to slide type, or just use that background on summary and intro slides.    Hope you have some good music on your ipod. 

Wilson Santiago

Susan Wilson said:


Maybe it's not worth the time but you might play around with the slide background using some kind of construction theme.  Semi transparent blueprints or schematics - something that would not visually interfere.  You could vary the backgrounds according to slide type, or just use that background on summary and intro slides.    Hope you have some good music on your ipod. 

I actually had that idea as well to add some semitransparent images relating to the construction theme, but it was nixed.  Oh well, the client is always right I guess!

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