Rapid Development

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Concept of reusability

The concept of reusability has its roots in the production process. Typically, most of us go about creating e-learning using a process similar to what is shown in the following screenshot. It works well for large teams and the one man band, except in the latter case, you become a specialist for all the stages of production. That's a heavy load. It's hard to be good at all things and it demands that you constantly stretch and improve your skills, and find ways to increase the efficiency of what you do.

Reusability in Storyline is about leveraging the formatting, look and feel and interactions you create so that you can re-purpose your work and speed-up production. Not every project will be an original one-off, in fact most won't, so the concept is to approach development with a plan to repurpose 80 percent of the media, quizzes, interactions, and designs you create. As you do this, you begin to establish processes, templates, and libraries that can be used to rapidly assemble base courses. With a little tweaking and some minor customization, you'll have a new, original course in no time. Your client doesn't need to know that 80 percent was made from reusable elements with just 20 percent created as original, unique components, but you'll know the difference in terms of time and effort.

Leveraging existing assets

So how can you leverage existing assets with Storyline? The first things you'll want to look at are the courses you've built with other authoring programs, such as PowerPoint, QuizMaker Engage, Captivate, Flash, and Camtasia.

If there are design themes, elements, or interactions within these courses that you might want to use for future Storyline courses, you should focus your efforts on importing what you can, and further adjusting within Storyline to create a new version of the asset that can be reused for future Storyline courses. If re-working the asset is too complex or if you don't expect to reuse it in multiple courses, then using Storyline's web object feature to embed the interaction without re-working it in any way may be the better approach. In both cases, you'll save time by reusing content you've already put a lot of time in developing.

Importing external content

Here are the steps to bring external content into Storyline:

  1. From the Articulate Startup screen or by choosing the Insert tab, and then New Slide within a project, select the Import option.
  2. There are options to import PowerPoint, Quizmaker, and Storyline. All of these will display the slides within the file to be imported. You can pick and choose which slides to import into a new or the current scene in Storyline.
  3. The Engage option displays the entire interaction that can be imported into a single slide in the current or a new scene.
  4. Click on Import to complete the process.

Considerations when importing

Keep the following points in mind when importing:

  • PowerPoint and Quizmaker files can be imported directly into Storyline. Once imported, you can edit the content like you would any other Storyline slide. Master slides come along with the import making it simple to reuse previous designs. Note that 64-bit PowerPoint is not supported and you must have an installed, activated version of Quizmaker for the import to work.

    The PowerPoint to Storyline conversion is not one-to-one. You can expect some alignment issues with slide objects due to the fact that PowerPoint uses points and Storyline uses pixels. There are 2.66 pixels for each point which is why you'll need to tweak the imported slides just a bit. Same with Quizmaker though the reason why is slightly different; Quizmaker is 686 x 424 in size, whereas Storyline is 720 x 540 by default.

  • Engage files can be imported into Storyline and they are completely functional, but cannot be edited within Storyline. Though the option to import Engage appears on the Import screen, what Storyline is really doing is creating a web object to contain the Engage interaction. Once imported into a new scene, clicking on the Engage interaction will display an Options menu where you can make minor adjustments to the behavior of the interaction as well as Preview and Edit in it Engage. You can also resize and position the interaction just as you would any web object. Remember that though web objects work in iPad and HTML5 outputs, Engage content is Flash, so it will not playback on an iPad or in an HTML5 browser. Like Quizmaker, you'll need an installed, activated version of Engage for the import to work.
  • Flash, Captivate, and Camtasia files cannot be imported in Storyline and cannot be edited within Storyline. You can however, use web objects to embed these projects into Storyline or the Insert Flash option. In both cases, the imported elements appear seamless to the learner while retaining full functionality.


Build once, and reuse many times

Quizzing is at the heart of many e-learning courses where often the quiz questions need to be randomized or even reused in different sections of a single course (that is, the same questions for a pre and post-test). The concept of building once and reusing many times works well with several aspects of Storyline. We'll start with quizzing and a feature called Question Banks as follows:

Question Banks

Question Bank offers a way to pool, reuse, and randomize questions within a project. Slides in a question bank are housed within the project file but are not visible until placed into the story. Question Banks can include groups of quiz slides and regular slides (that is, you might include a regular slide if you need to provide instructions for the quiz or would like to include a post-quiz summary).

When you want to include questions from a Question Bank, you just need to insert a new Quizzing slide, and then choose Draw from Bank . You can then select one or more questions to include and randomize them if desired.

Follow along…

In this exercise we will be removing three questions from a scene and moving them into a question bank. This will allow you to draw one or more of those questions at any point in the project where the quiz questions are needed, as follows:

  1. From the Home tab, choose Question Banks , and then Create Question bank . Title this Identity Theft Questions .
  2. Notice that a new tab has opened in Normal View . The Question Bank appears in this tab. Click on the Import link and navigate to question slides 2, 3, and 4. From the Import drop-down menu at the top, select move questions into question bank .
  3. Click on the Story View tab and notice the three slides containing the quiz questions are no longer in the story. Click back on the Identity Theft tab and notice that they are located here. The questions will not become a part of the story until the next step, when you draw them from the bank.
  4. In Story View, click once on slide 1 to select it, and then from the Home tab, choose Question Banks and New Draw from Question Bank .
  5. From the Question Bank drop-down menu, select Identity Theft Questions . All questions will be selected by default and will be randomized after being placed into the story. This means that the learner will need to answer three questions before continuing onto the next slide in the story. Click on Insert .
  6. The Question Bank draw has been inserted as slide 2. To see how this works, Preview the scene.
  7. Save as Exercise 11 – Identity Theft Quiz.


    There are multiple ways to get back to the questions that are in a question bank. You can do this by selecting the tab the questions are located in (in this case, Identity Theft ), you can view the question bank slide in Normal View or choose Question Banks from the Home tab and navigate to the name of the question bank you'd like to edit.

Interaction templates

Whether a question or interaction is created from scratch, from templates that came with Storyline, or that someone else provided you will likely modify it to suit your needs. To reuse a question or interaction, you can save it in a Storyline file by itself and then import it into a project. All formatting, media, animations, and triggers will come along with it.

Keep in mind that the slide size matters, for example, if you save the template as 720x540 and import this into a project with dimensions of 720x405, images will be stretched to adapt to the 16:9 ratio.

Follow along…

We'll start this exercise with a new, blank project as follows:

  1. With a new, blank project opened, select New Slide from the Home tab, choose Import and navigate to Storyline . Locate Exercise 6 - Sales Training and click on Open .
  2. Select None in the upper-right corner of the Import window to deselect all slides, and then navigate to the Module 1 section and select just the Details slide.
  3. Select import into Current Scene , and then click on the Import button.
  4. Delete the first blank slide.
  5. On the newly imported slide, in the Triggers panel, delete the Slide Trigger (set Mod1Complete…) and Player Trigger (jump to…).
  6. Save this as Exercise 11 – User Thought Interaction.
  7. Open Exercise 11 – Identity Theft Quiz and select the last slide.
  8. Let's bring in the interaction by selecting the Insert tab and choosing New Slide then Import . Select Storyline and locate Exercise 11 – User Thought Interaction. Only one slide will be selected, choose to import this into the Current Scene and click the Import button.
  9. Open the TextEntry trigger that displays in the Trigger panel on the newly imported interaction and change the variable to Thoughts.
  10. Preview the slide and test functionality.
  11. Save the file.


Reusing glossaries and resources

The Storyline Player includes tabs that contain glossary terms and definitions as well as resources for links to supporting documents and websites. What if you want to use the same glossary to resources listing in more than one project?

You might think that, by saving the Player , the glossary and resources will also be saved with it, however, this isn't what happens. The glossary and resources stay with the project and not the Player.

To reuse these items you will need to save the current project as a template by selecting the Articulate file icon (upper-left corner of the Storyline window) and choosing Save As… , and then select the Storyline template from the file type drop-down menu. When the template is used to create a new project, the glossary and resources will come along with it (note that this works only when creating new projects with the template).

Reusing characters and images

The Characters feature in Storyline is terrific for being able to insert high quality cutout images of people into your e-learning courses. The fact that there are so many poses and expressions lends itself to all sorts of creative ways to use these images.

The characters are available in every project, but how they are set up in terms of poses and expressions needs to be manually configured each time you use a character. For example, if you use a female character that is in a happy pose, but when clicked changes to a confused pose, that means you have two states for the character. If you want to use this character with these states in another project, you'll need to manually re-create it, unless you save the characters in a file and import them into a project.



Creating images from video

Another useful way to reuse existing media is to create images from video clips that you may have for a project. Instead of spending time trying to locate fresh images, why not create them from video footage you already have You can do this using the technique shown here:?


Best practices for organizing assets

It doesn't take long to accumulate a large volume of files for a given project. You can save a lot of time and frustration by keeping the following points in mind as you set out to develop and manage e-learning courses:

  • Establish and adhere to a file naming convention and use this consistently.
  • Establish a versioning system and use this frequently and consistently, bring the version number right into the beginning slide so there is no confusion about which version is being worked on.
  • Create a master folder structure and copy this when starting a new project. This ensures that the image files are placed in an image folder, documents and scripts in another folder, and so on. Use this structure locally and on a network if you are working with others.
  • Use a style kit to define the branding, colors, fonts, and template elements. This is the single source for definitive information regarding the use of your client's images, logos, and brand in the context of the design you have created for the Storyline project. Version this style kit like you would the master Storyline project files.
  • Create a companion PowerPoint elements file that contains all the original graphics and animations you may have created in PowerPoint then brought into Storyline. Doing this will help you save time editing down the road when changes are needed for these elements.
  • Establish a master or global folder structure that all projects can draw from. This might contain folders for commonly used fonts, logos, sounds, images, production process templates, Photoshop files, and so on.
  • Place into that master or global folder a living document called Storyline Best Practices and Tips . This could be done using OneNote or EverNote, so you can easily capture images, bookmarks, and other elements as you discover new tips. You'll be amazed how many timesavers and workarounds there are, not to mention interesting new ways of developing in Storyline. You'll want to keep a list of these items; perhaps organized by production process, development, graphics, audio, video, animation, and so on. Increase the value of this curated information by having the whole production time contribute to the shared knowledge base.


Productivity boosters

There are many ways to boost productivity when using Storyline. Your best bet will be to approach development from the point of view of what's really necessary and avoid creating more complexity than what's called for. Often the most elegant solution is the simplest one.

Top 10 Storyline productivity boosters

Here are 10 common methods to boost your productivity with Storyline:

  1. Become a master formatter. This means using shortcut keys and automating where you can. Here are some examples:
    • When you need to apply formatting to multiple objects over multiple layers or slides, double-click on the Format Painter option. This lets you to continue applying formatting until you click anywhere outside the slide.
    • Need to apply a trigger to multiple objects? Copy the trigger then select all of the objects and click on the Paste button in the Trigger panel. All you need to do now is make slight adjustments to each instead of creating each trigger from scratch.
    • You can also use Duplicate or Ctrl + D to quickly copy objects. For example, you might have multiple instances of the same interaction on a slide, perhaps a tabbed interaction. To set up another fully working instance, you can select all the objects that make up the interaction and then duplicate the elements and make slight adjustments. Remember that Ctrl + A is a shortcut key for selecting all of the elements on a slide.
    • If you use a shape effect for a lot of the shapes in a project, such as fills, outlines, and alignment, why repeat formatting over and over again every time you insert a new shape when you can right-click on a shape, button, or caption and choose Set as Default . Next time you use one of these elements, it will come preformatted using your most frequently used settings.
    • Size your graphics before importing them into Storyline. You want crisp, clear images. If you resize an image in Storyline, it will become fuzzy since Storyline works only with raster graphics, not scalable vector graphics. Note that the maximum size for an image in Storyline is 2048 x 2048 pixels.
    • Study the shortcut keys that are listed in the Appendix of this book and get in the habit of using them for most tasks. This seems minor but it will save a lot of time. It's also worthwhile to customize the Quick Access toolbar so that features you commonly use are just a click away.


    • Place the audio and video objects in once, then copy and paste when you need to use the same clips on other slides. It's faster than importing, particularly using shortcut keys. The bonus is that Storyline does not increase the file size, it recognizes the duplicates as copies whereas importing each time increases the file size and treats each instance as a unique object, consuming memory, file space, and additional to publishing time.
  2. Keep the trigger logic simple and well planned. Consistently organize them from slide-to-slide so it's easier to interpret and edit.
  3. Use short variable names that are descriptive with logical sequencing and numbering. It's much easier to see short variable names in various displays and drop-down menus.
  4. Get into the habit of naming the objects in the timeline, again using short names that are meaningful. This will speed up production by consuming less of your time trying to figure out which object is which.
  5. Leverage templates whenever you can. There are numerous ways you can do this:
    1. Use the Save As... feature in the Articulate menu to save a projects as a Storyline template. This saves not only the look and feel, interactions and player set up, but also glossary and resource information. This is a great technique when creating multiple courses that are part of a series.
    2. If you have a single activity that you want to re-use, save it by itself in a Storyline file and then Import the slide(s) into other projects. This speeds up production time because you are re-using, not re-creating, you work with the added bonus that the interaction comes already error-free and tested.
    3. Make use of Master Slides to automate custom navigation. Set up your navigation buttons and links once on a master slide rather than duplicate on each individual slide.
  6. Use cue points to synchronize animations. It's a simple feature but a time saver. Clicking on the Play button in the timeline plays back the slide animations and audio track. Pressing C on the keyboard creates a cue point as you listen to the audio. Later, you can align objects and animations to these markers.
  7. Keep daily versions, if you're working on things daily or weekly, if it's upkeep. Use a consistent naming convention, for example, projectname-v001, -v002, and so on.
  8. Preview often and publish frequently to check your progress. Look for design inconsistency issues, functional errors, and navigation problems on more than one monitor and in more than one browser. This will go a long way in catching technical or design issues early in the process, otherwise you'll have to apply changes to more slides/scenes later, which will slow down your productivity and increase your risk of errors.
  9. Take the time to get to know where the limitations are with Storyline, what works well and not so well. Document tips and best practices and share it with your team. It's a continual learning process and when shared, boosts the productivity of the entire team.
  10. Save your projects often. There is no autosave in Storyline.


This article highlighted some of the techniques you can use right away to begin boosting your productivity with Storyline.

The title of the article is Rapid Development , but this is an overused term with many meanings. It's impossible for a software tool to help you rapidly develop e-learning courses. The tool can make the process more approachable, but as a developer or instructional designer, you need to have the know-how and skills to properly operate the tool. Great e-learning always begins with great content. You can dramatically reduce production time by spending more time up-front in the planning stages finalizing content and navigation prior to starting development in Storyline.

By practicing the top 10 productivity boosters, you'll be setting yourself up to work more strategically with Storyline, where you are seeing the full potential of the tool and will be able to apply your skills with the tool to specific learning events in your courses.

As you've seen, Storyline has an almost open door policy where they have made it incredibly easy to leverage the work you've already created in other tools. By extension, you can easily curate the content you've not created; this is a huge time saver and adds a level of depth that would have taken much longer to create any other way.

One of the best ways to become more efficient and effective in Storyline is to participate in the community of developers. This particular community is very active and the Articulate E-Learning Heroes Forums (http://community.articulate.com/forums/) are filled to the brim with helpful tips, techniques, inspiration, and conversations. Your participation in this community will help you to become an enthusiastic Storyline expert and a seasoned e-learning developer.

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