So Many Layers, So Little Time

Like an onion, too many layers can make an e-learning developer cry. You’re creating an e-learning lesson in Storyline and your client has a number of slides with multiple layers. Your client requires that the learner visit all of the layers on each slide before they can advance to the next.

Normally you’d disable the Next button in the Storyline player so that it won’t work until all the layers have been visited, or you have a customized Next or Continue button on the slide itself with an initial hidden state that switches to Normal after the learner has visited all the layers.


Each red dot reveals a separate layer, that’s 10 layers!

True/False Variables
To accomplish this, you create a separate True/False variable for each layer and when the timeline begins on each layer, or when learners exit each layer, you have a trigger that switches each variable to True. Well, it’s easy to see that if you have a lot of layers and a lot of slides with layers, you could end up with 100+ variables to create. Fortunately, there is a much better way, and it works!

Number Variables
Instead of creating True/False variables for every layer, create 1 Number variable. Let’s say you have 10 layers, simply create a Number variable (I’d name it after the slide you’re on, but you can call it anything) with an initial value of 0.


Why Greater Than or Equal To?
Then add a trigger on each layer to add 1 to the numbered variable you just created. And finally, on the base layer, add a trigger which says to change the Next button to normal when that variable is greater than or equal to 10.

In case the learner decides to visit one or more of the layers more than once before advancing to the next slide, it’s a good idea to use the “greater than or equal to” setting on the trigger. Also, if you try to set up this trigger, you’ll notice you don’t immediately have the option to set the value of the variable, you can only change it, uh oh!


Not to worry, you just set the variable to change, then you Add + a Condition that says the variable is greater than or equal to 10 and you’re done.


Click + and add a trigger condition

Disabling the Next Button
In case you don’t know how to do this, you can add a trigger on the base layer that says to disable the Next button at a certain point on the timeline. I usually set it to be disabled within the first second. You can do this by either entering the time (When Timeline Reaches) or adding a cue point to the timeline and setting the trigger to disable the Next button when it reaches the cue point.


If you’re using a customized button, and not the one on the Storyline player, just set the initial state of the button to Hidden, and have it change to Normal after the variable has reached 10 or more (or whatever value you need based on the number of layers).

It’s also important to make sure all the triggers are in the correct order to work. In my lesson, I have the trigger to disable the Next button appear ABOVE the trigger to change it to Normal.

I hope I made this all very clear and easy to understand, but let me know in the comments if you have any questions.


Lakes of Methane You Say?

As Sun Ra used to say, “Space is the place” and I wholeheartedly agree. Thanks to some adventurous souls who conceived of, built and operated the numerous successful spacecraft which have revealed to us Titan’s, Io’s and Europa’s secrets, we not only have some beautiful images of our celestial neighbors, but have added immensely to our knowledge and understanding of these remarkable and exotic worlds.


Adaptive Learning Paths
When creating e-learning lessons, you always want to think about your audience and their needs. Often learners have different levels of knowledge and experience. How can you create a lesson that adapts to their different skill levels, so you don’t waste the more-experienced learners’ time going over a bunch of information they already know?

E-learning designers have created adaptive learning paths (or ALPs) to accommodate these different learners’ needs. In this week’s e-learning challenge, David Anderson from Articulate asked us to create an example of an ALP.

Asking Questions First
First you have to assess where the learner’s knowledge level is at. The most common approach is to simply ask them a series of questions, and then based on their answers, only direct them to the parts of the lesson where they need help. In my example, I asked them three questions.


Confidence Levels
Sometimes learners will answer a question correctly by chance without really knowing the answer. I noticed one of my fellow designers, Jackie Van Nice had added confidence levels into her submission. So I added that feature, but to keep mine simpler, I only gave them two confidence-level options to choose from, either they’re certain they know the answer or they aren’t.

Under the Hood
So how did I make it work? I used a combination of states, variables and triggers.

Each question had three possible answers. Each answer had two states; Normal and Selected. The Selected state had an outline around it so learners would know they had it selected. Also, each of the two confidence levels had Normal and Selected states.

Secondly, I created three variables, each named after the moon being talked about in the questions; Europa, Titan and Io. All three variables were True/False variables with the initial state set to False.

Finally, I created simple check marks on the summary slide that would appear on top of each section of the lesson. All three check marks had two states: Hidden and Normal. If the learner needed to review the section, the check mark would appear (Normal), but if they already knew the material and did NOT need to review the section, the check mark would be Hidden.


I then added triggers to each of the three check marks. So the Europa check mark for example, would have a trigger set to hide it if the correct answer on the Europa question was selected AND the “I got this” confidence-level was selected. Because in that instance, the learner both got the question right and was sure of their answer, and thus didn’t need to review the Europa section.


After I set the triggers for the three check marks, I thought I better add a fourth trigger for those learners who didn’t need to review any of the lesson because they already had it all mastered. In that instance a box would appear telling them so. That box had two states; Normal and an initial Hidden state. I then set a trigger so that the box would only appear (change to Normal) if all three of the variables were set to True.

I’ve done enough talking, check out the lesson here and let me know what you think! I’d also like to thank Jackie Van Nice for sharing with me her transparent Storyline player to create this lesson, that was real time-saver!

Let Me Try – Creating Interactive Software Simulations

Most people will remember something they’ve actually done more readily than something they were just shown how to do. With programs like Storyline it’s possible to create
e-learning modules that offer the learner the opportunity to practice what they’ve learned. To demonstrate how this might work, I created a short sample module of how to use the Player in Pinnacle’s Studio 17 video editing program.

View of Entire Interface

View of Entire Interface

I started by giving the learner a view of the entire UI, then zoomed in on the Player itself.

Bubble appears with description of button

Bubble appears with description of button

By simply using hotspots, triggers and layers in Storyline, I created a second slide where learners could click on each of the controls of the player for a description of what they do. Then it was time for the learner to get their hands dirty and try out the controls themselves.

It’s just a simulation Jim!
Because this was just a simulation and not the actual program, I needed to be sure learners could only click one button at a time following my instructions. Otherwise, there would be no way to predict where in the video they would be when they hit the rewind button for example, unless you knew where they’d left off.

To accomplish this, I created individual images of all the player control buttons and used Storyline’s “Hidden” state to hide them when I didn’t want learners to click them. Underneath all those images, I still had a picture of the entire player including the controls, so learners would still see them – even when the “clickable” images of them (on top of the picture of the player) were hidden.

Trigger Happy?
I created the following Triggers for each of the clickable images of the control buttons:

  1. A trigger to either play a video or change the state of a picture (a still shot of where the video would be) from Hidden to Normal. I should mention here that I had to set the “initial state” of all the still shots to Hidden, so learners would not see them until they clicked the button with the trigger.
  2. A trigger to play the audio clip with the instructions on which button to click next.
  3. A trigger to change the state of that button from Hidden to Normal.
  4. A trigger to change the state of the button they just clicked from Normal to Hidden – remember, I don’t want users to be able to click any other buttons because I need to control the order in which they click them to make the simulation work properly.
  5. In one instance I had to set a trigger to take learners to the next slide. I only did this once, because I had a second video showing the looping effect and thought I might be pushing my luck placing a second video on top of the first one on the same slide with all the other triggers and things going on. I guess I’d say that was a “judgment call”.

So, do you want to see the finished product? Just click here.

As always, if you need any clarification on how to do this, feel free to comment below and I’ll get back to you. I hope you enjoy creating your own software simulations. I also welcome you to check out David Anderson’s Weekly Challenge blog at E-Learning Heroes. It was because of his latest challenge that I created this simulation.

Hiding the Quiz Until the End

You have an e-learning course where your client wants the Take Quiz box to appear on the main menu, but doesn’t want learners to be able to take the quiz until after they’ve visited all the sections in the course.

They also want learners to have the option to take the different sections in any order they wish. As learners complete each section, they’ll return to the main menu. After they’ve completed all the sections, the Take Quiz box will become active so they can take the final quiz. Does this sound tricky? Fortunately, I’ve been there and can show you how to make it happen.

Main Menu with Take Quiz box on right

Main Menu with Take Quiz box on right

1. Create Two Versions of the Take Quiz Box
I needed two versions of the Take Quiz box; one that was clickable and would take learners to the final quiz, and one that was not. I named one “TQ With Link” and the other “TQ No Link”. Learners will see the “TQ No Link” box until they complete all the sections, at which time the “TQ With Link” will appear.

I put the “With Link” version on top of the “No Link” version in the timeline. Both boxes look the same to the learner, with the exception of what they say if the learner rolls over them. Since this requires that the boxes be the same size and in the same position, you can either select them in the timeline, or have one of them off to the side and set its final position after you’re done working on them. Either way, it’s a good idea to name them in the timeline to keep them straight.

2. Add States to the Two Boxes
For the “TQ With Link” box I created four states: an initial state of Hidden, and three other states; Normal, Hover, and Visited. For “TQ No Link” I created two states: Normal and Hover.

3. Add Layers and Triggers to the Two Boxes
So learners would understand why and when the Take Quiz box would be active, I created a layer called “Quiz” that said “Not available until all other sections completed” and added a trigger to make the “Quiz” layer appear when learners rolled over “TQ No Link”.

Then I created another layer called “Quiz 2” that said “Ready for a final quiz?” and added a trigger to make the “Quiz 2” layer appear when learners rolled over “TQ With Link”. And of course, I added a trigger to “TQ With Link” to go to the Quiz when the user clicks on it!

Layers with additional text appear on rollover

Layers with additional text appear on rollover

4. Create Variables and Triggers for All the Other Sections
Next, I needed a way for Storyline to know when each of the sections were completed. To do this, I created a variable and a trigger for each section.

I gave each variable a unique name I’d easily associate with the particular section and had them all start with a value of False. Then I went to the last slide of each section and created a trigger that changes the value of that variable to True when the timeline for that slide starts. That way, Storyline would know when the learner got to the last slide of each section, that meant they had successfully completed that section.

Click X symbol on right to create/edit variables

Click X symbol on right to create/edit variables

Variable created with initial setting of "false"

Variable created with initial setting of “false”

5. Create Trigger on “TQ With Link”
Lastly, on the main menu slide I added a trigger that changed the state of “TQ With Link” to Normal when the timeline for the slide starts AND when all the variables for all the other sections changed to True. Because when all the variables for all the sections are True, we know that all the sections have been completed.

When setting up this trigger, click the + sign to add as many variable changes as you need. ONE CAUTIONARY NOTE: I initially tried to just have the trigger activate when all the variables changed, but learned that that wasn’t enough, you also need to tell it to do it when the timeline for the slide starts.

Select when "timeline starts" on current slide

Select when “timeline starts” on current slide

Click + sign to add variables to trigger

Click + sign to add variables to trigger

To see a stripped-down version of how the menu looks and works, click here.

As always, I know some of this can be a bit challenging. So feel free to contact me if you have any questions about any of these steps.

Creating a Custom Drag and Drop Activity Using Triggers, Variables, and States

Last week at Articulate’s E-Learning Heroes, David Anderson presented us with an interesting challenge to create a drag and drop activity that was not quiz-based. David gave us three options:

  1. Create a drag over that would reveal something.
  2. Create a drag and drop that would complete something.
  3. Create a drag and drop to trigger a response.

I actually created one in Storyline that was sort of a combination of numbers 2 and 3. Learners would drag and drop food items onto either a microwave or convection oven and get positive or negative feedback as to which was the best option. Then when they got all 4 food items in the right oven, they’d get a final confirmation saying they had successfully finished the job.

Drag and Drop Slide

Drag and Drop Slide

It was simple enough getting the positive and negative feedback slides to appear when learners dropped the food items on the 2 ovens. All I had to do there was add a trigger to say when the microwave popcorn gets dropped on the microwave oven, to jump to the positive feedback slide.

Positive Feedback Slide - Popcorn

Positive Feedback Slide – Popcorn

And when it gets dropped on the convection oven, to jump to the negative feedback slide. That was easy.

Negative Feedback Slide - Popcorn

Negative Feedback Slide – Popcorn

But, because there were 4 food items to drag and drop, I also wanted to take learners back to the drag and drop slide – and when they got back, to have the microwave popcorn disappear after they got it right. That way learners would only see the food items they hadn’t cooked properly yet, so they would know how far along they were in the exercise.

Microwave Popcorn Disappears

Microwave Popcorn Disappears

Create Variables
To make those items disappear at the right times, I had to create variables. In this case, the variables were named after the name of the food; pitabread, pizzarolls, chilidip, and popcorn. All 4 variables were true/false with an initial setting of false.

Create Triggers on the Four Positive Feedback Slides
Then on all the positive feedback slides for each of the 4 foods, I created a trigger. The trigger would say for example, that when the timeline starts on the positive feedback slide for the microwave popcorn, that the popcorn variable would change to a value of true. Because the only way the learner would have gotten to that slide would be if they had dropped the microwave popcorn onto the microwave oven, and so the popcorn was cooked properly.

Create “Invisible” States
So we now need the popcorn to disappear. To do it, I went back to the drag and drop slide and added a custom state to the popcorn picture called “Invisible” and just deleted the popcorn picture from that state.

Add Triggers to the Drag and Drop Slide
Then on the slide properties for that slide, I added a trigger. I set up the trigger so that when the timeline starts for that slide AND the value of the popcorn variable is true, that the state of the popcorn picture should change to the “Invisible” state.

I then set up the same combination of triggers and states to the pita bread, the chili dip, and the pizza roll pictures.

So to summarize this: I…

  1. Created the 4 variables with an initial value of false
  2. Added triggers to the 4 positive feedback slides to change the values of the variables to true once those slides were visited
  3. Created “Invisible” states for the 4 pictures of the foods on the drag and drop slide, and
  4. Created triggers on the drag and drop slide that said when the values of the variables change to true, to change the state of the food pictures to “Invisible”.

One Final Slide
And finally, after the learner got all 4 foods into the right ovens, I set up one more trigger to take them to a final slide showing the guys on the couch with all their munchies watching the Super Bowl – all smiles. Since I’d already created the triggers and variables for the 4 foods, I just added one more trigger to the drag and drop slide saying that when all 4 variables changed to true, to jump to this final slide.

Final Slide - Mission Accomplished!

Final Slide – Mission Accomplished!

To run the complete exercise for yourself, click here. I know this process was a bit complicated, so feel free to write me if you have any questions or comments.

Using Branching Scenarios

I just recently completed development on an ethics course for a non-profit organization that used branching scenarios. The client gave us a number of approved scenarios to illustrate how their code of conduct would apply in real life.

For one of them, they simply told us that one of the managers had invited a group of male managers to lunch, but did not invite the female manager. To determine whether this was something that should be reported or not, the client gave us a number of questions that needed to be answered first.

The Scenario in Pictures
To make the scenario more interesting and memorable, I showed our protagonist watching the male managers enter the restaurant.

Scenario is presented

Scenario is presented

The Primary Branch
I then presented the learners with three options of what our protagonist should do: 1. Report it, 2. Do nothing, or 3. Ask more questions.

Primary Branch - 3 Questions

Primary Branch – 3 Questions

When learners clicked on one of the three options, I had a layer appear with feedback either telling them they needed to rethink their answer and try again, or that they made the right choice and to continue on to ask more questions.

Learner prompted to ask more questions

Learner prompted to ask more questions

As they clicked on each question, they would get the answer they needed from one of the characters.

Learner gets more information

Learner gets more information

The Sub-branch
After they clicked on each question to get all the information they needed, two new options appeared; 1. Report it and 2. Don’t do anything.

Sub-branch with two final questions

Sub-branch with two final questions

After they clicked on each answer, a final feedback slide would tell them whether or not they made the right choice.

Final feedback at end

Final feedback at end

Final Answer Delayed
The idea behind all this is that the final answer is delayed. Just like in real life, sometimes we don’t have all the information we need to make the right choice.

To accomplish this, I used a combination of layers, states, triggers, and variables in Storyline. Here’s what the final product looked like:

Turning Rules & Regulations Into Stories


You’re in the unenviable position of having to create an e-learning course on regulatory requirements. How can you breathe life into Article 27 Subsection 42 so that learners won’t forget it five seconds after they exit the course? Just turn it into a story.

The previous training was in the form of a PowerPoint using those ubiquitous bullet points. It was drab and uninspired. 

Before - Slide with Bullets

Before – Slide with Bullets

“Now, how are you going to make that into a story?” you might ask. Well, think of it this way; ask yourself (or better yet, the SME) what would be the consequences if A27S42 were violated? Where there’s a rule, there are always consequences, and those consequences are…drum roll please, your story!

Consequences can be grouped into three basic categories:

  1. Direct – If you leave the bathtub running long enough, it’s going to overflow.
  2. Disciplinary – Maybe there is no good sensible reason you can think of for A27S42, but you know if you violate it, you could get fired or face disciplinary action.
  3. Legal or regulatory – Your organization could get fined for violating these, and those fines can sometimes compound daily until the issue is properly resolved.

I’ve only discussed the negative consequences here, but there may also be positive ones like rewards, recognition, bonuses, etc. for doing the right thing.

Once you have the positive and negative consequences, create characters in the course who go through their day encountering various scenarios where these rules come into play. Give the learner opportunities to explore what happens both when they obey the rules and when they don’t using simple branching, layers, or states. This is especially easy to do in Storyline, but is also possible in other programs. Here’s what the new, improved story version looks like:

Character is presented with real-life situation

Character is presented with real-life situation

Learner has to choose what to do next

Learner has to choose what to do next

Learner gets feedback based on their decision

Learner gets feedback based on their decision