An e-learning designer’s toolbox

Photo by Haupes Co. on Unsplash

A craftsman is only as good as the contents of his toolbox, so as much as I like Storyline for the versatile software that it is, I think any e-learning designer who considers themselves above the beginner level, must diversify with a few additional tools. Here are my essentials:

An image editing tool

Nowadays, digital learning products are all about personal approach and nothing is less personal than stock images. At the same time there are usually budget and time constraints to most projects that make it impossible to provide custom photos and illustrations.

In this case, the most efficient thing to do to achieve a personalized and coherent look for your project, is to find suitable visuals on free image websites like Unsplash or Freepik (make sure to read the attribution rules first). You can even start by creating a mood board to help you organize and select the best ones.

Once you have chosen the images, use Photoshop and customize them to fit your project. You don’t really have to be a design guru to get this right: being able to modify shapes and colors is pretty much what you need to make it work in the beginning. Even if you have zero experience, there are plenty of tutorials online that can help get you going in a couple of months’ time, if you commit to practicing every day. It’s an investment that pays off well in the future – after all you can’t claim to be a professional e-learning designer if you are still using ready-made templates.

An audio editing tool

Nothing can ruin a perfectly decent e-learning course like poor quality audio. I admit to being guilty of this once or twice in the past. Mainly, because I treated Storyline like a one-stop shop and relied on it too much while overlooking the obvious: that a software is usually aimed at doing one thing and that’s what you should be using it for.

In other words, use Storyline for course creation only, and get the proper tools for audio recording and editing elsewhere. When it comes to audio production, these should be at least two, since you need to have a good quality recording in the first place. Otherwise you can edit the hell out of it and it still won’t work.

The poor freelancer that I am, I can’t afford fancy equipment, so I make do with whatever I have. Fortunately, nowadays there’s an app for everything and for me the Smart Recorder smartphone app has been the real lifesaver. It’s absolutely free and perfectly solves the problem with my lack of a reliable microphone.

Another major thing to be mindful about while recording is reverberation, as you cannot “edit it out” without compromising your track otherwise. If you work from home like me, choose a room with soft furniture and thick curtains as this prevents the sound from “bouncing” off the surfaces.

Once you manage to get a decent quality recording, half of your work is done. What you need now is to polish your audio with the right tool. I personally prefer Adobe Audition.

And while there is no recipe on how to do this, there are several essential steps and settings that you need to be familiar with. This video gives a good overall idea.

A video editing tool

In my opinion, video production should ideally be left to the professionals, but that’s not how things always turn out, so it’s better to be prepared to do some video editing, when need be. I only mention the editing part, since that’s the one thing I’ve done singlehandedly. I’ve never filmed alone and don’t think it’s the best idea, especially for non-professionals. Nevertheless, I have still picked up a thing or two about the filming process, that are pretty crucial, as you can only edit a video so much. For example, be mindful of your lighting – you cannot compensate for it with editing. Plan ahead and take the time to think your setting through. Coordinate the looks of the “stars” in your video – after all, creating a video is as much about design as any other part of an e-learning course. And remember that dots, stripes and patterns on clothes are a no-go as they create a distracting trembling effect on film. It’s also a good idea to have a compact powder at hand, especially if you will be filming for a long time.

When it comes to editing, my go-to tool is Adobe Premiere. Of all tools presented here, this is the one I have the least experience with, but was also able to most quickly get a grasp of. Again, thanks to the numerous videos available on YouTube. And also some advice from professionals (like I said, can’t do without them).

Regardless whether you have knowledgeable colleagues to turn to or not, it won’t take too long before you are able to cut and sync scenes, adjust color and add simple effects like transitions, text, or blur, for example.

Of course, the list of tools goes on, as there is no limit to what you can do to improve your work. But like I said in the beginning of this article, in my opinion, the tools mentioned here are the ones you need to get your hands on as soon as you have the time and opportunity.

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