How to Build... Illustration

The great thing about rapid e-learning tools like Articulate Storyline is that they make it easy for nearly anyone to create engaging courses. As a result, Community members often ask about the best and most efficient way to build courses.

During the Ask Me Anything (AMA) with Tom Kuhlmann, Nan Boyer asked a great question: How do you know when to use states vs. slide layers?

While I agree with Tom that there is no right answer, I was curious to see what our community had to say about it. I started this discussion which spawned a second discussion about when to use slide layers vs. slides. As always, our community members provided some great insight on how each makes these decisions. Since it’s something I think benefits everyone, I decided to compile the answers into a list of things to consider.

States vs. Slide Layers

There are no hard-and-fast rules about when to use states rather than slide layers. However, there are a few questions you should ask yourself before you start designing to make the best use of the features.

  1. How many objects are involved? Bruce Graham, David Glow, Danika Clark, Kevin Thorn, and Nicole Legault suggest that states should be used to change the appearance of a single object when a learner does something, whereas slide layers should be used to build on the base layer by adding new content.
  2. Do you need to add other clickable objects? As Nicole Legault mentions, you can’t add triggers to states, so if you need to add any other clickable objects use a slide layer instead of a state.
  3. Does the content need to be reviewed/approved? Douglas Spencer points out that putting content in states may make the review phase more difficult, since that information isn’t visible in the Word output. If you use this output to review, put information that needs to be approved on a slide or slide layer, rather than in a state, so reviewers can easily view it.
  4. Is the content likely to change? Nicole Legault reminds us that it takes more clicks to change states. If you anticipate that the content may change in the future, you may want to put it on a layer so that it’s faster and easier to maintain.

Slide Layers vs. Slides

Once again, there is no single right or wrong way, but these questions might help you decide which is better suited for your content.

  1. Is the topic of the content the same? David Glow suggests that it’s better to consolidate related content on a single slide with multiple layers than to create multiple slides in order to keep the file size down and facilitate course maintenance. He does point out that there are exceptions to this rule, such as when you’re developing a course for HTML5.
  2. Does the content include multimedia objects (audio and/or video)? As Kevin Thorn points out, keep in mind that adding multiple large audio or videos files to the same slide may affect your slide’s load time. David Glow adds that if you’re designing your course for mobile devices using HTML5 output (or if your learners have a limited bandwidth), you should create a separate slide for each large video or audio file.
  3. How do you want learners to navigate through your course? Kevin Thorn reminds us that if you place content on a layer and you’d like learners to be able to navigate using the Next button, you’ll need to add complex triggers and variables to make it work. On the other hand, if you place the content on a different slide, all you’ll need in a simple Jump To trigger. So if your learners are accustomed to using the Next button to navigate, creating several slides will make the development process quicker and easier.
  4. Do you want the title to display in the menu? In a similar discussion a while back, Steve Flowers reminds us that layers are not displayed in the menu, so if you want a title to appear in the menu, you should create a slide.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully it will get you thinking about the fastest and most efficient way to build your course. What about you? What course-building tips do you live by? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. And, follow us on Twitter and visit E-learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning.

Phil Mayor
David Glow
Gardner Fair