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C2C Digital Magazine (Fall 2015 / Winter 2016)

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Cover, page 17 of 28


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Creating a Digital Learning Object with Articulate Storyline 2

By Shalin Hai-Jew, Kansas State University

Digital learning objects (DLOs) are a mainstay of online learning. Such objects tend to be smaller stand-alone objects like video lectures, short games, maps, short simulations, timelines, photo albums, slideshows, audio podcasts, microsites, and other objects that provide short units of learning. These may illustrate concepts, tell stories, convey information, enable interactions, enable practice, and create opportunities to learn. These DLOs are often sequenced to create a larger unit of learning or to complement an existing sequence of learning. There are DLOs that are included in learning cases, online lab simulations, and whole courses.

General Development Sequences in Instructional Design

To contextualize the role of authoring tools in the creation of learning objects, it may help to describe the general development sequence in instructional design. Generally, there is a definition of the project requirements. A “project” may involve the creation of any number of things:
  • wholesale creation of a course with an emergent topic (and no official textbook),
  • the design of an automated policy compliance training,
  • a methodology for data analysis (and also the data analysis), a pre-course refresher,
  • the design of assessments,
  • an ungraded public training,
  • a website,
  • a digital lab,
  • an online game,
  • a simulation in a virtual world, and others.
To be successful, digital learning objects have to be successful on a number of levels. They have to fit the needs of the instructors and the learners in the learning context (and based around the particular study contents). Technologically, they have to work with a number of technology systems—sufficiently lightweight to be delivered via the Web from the website or learning management system (LMS) or e-books; they have to size correctly as images or as objects in iframes. The elements should all adhere to Section 508 accessibility standards, with alt-texted images, transcribed audio and video, clearly labeled data tables, no use of strobe, no use of color alone to convey information, and so on; the English should be simply and clearly written. Legally, they have to pass muster.

The guidelines for a project are initially embedded in the authorizing documents (such as grants); more importantly, the guidelines are also in the minds of the principal investigators (PIs) of the respective grants. These standards are documented in a project stylebook, so that everyone working on the project is working from the same baseline understandings. These understandings include project goals (learning objectives), respective team roles and team member contact information, project deadlines and decision-junctures, quality standards, file formats, intellectual property guidelines, accessibility guidelines, aesthetic guidelines, interface design elements, how to handle research citations, and so on.

A design team is usually brought together to design and develop the requested digital products. Subject matter experts (SMEs) often play a critical oversight role—if not a direct content creation one. A lot of effort is paid to the design and prototypes early on, before any serious development is done because of the prohibitive costs in the design. Initial prototyping may be tested with live learners to test the efficacy of the work. When the digital learning objects are created, they are beta-tested and revised again (often multiple times) before the final launch.

Figure 1:  A (Rough) Instructional Design Timeline 

In terms of instructional design curriculums, there are usually a few core models mentioned. One of the most common is the so-called ADDIE (for “Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation”) model. This model may be understood as a somewhat recursive process even though there is a general linear direction. Underlying the above figure is the shadow of ADDIE because the same sequential dynamics apply.

Technology in Instructional Design

The digital authoring toolset. A typical digital authoring toolset may include the basic software programs: the Microsoft Office suite (text editing, slideshows, data worksheets), the Adobe Creative Suite (image editing, video editing, website building, and animation creation), Microsoft Visio (diagrams), Sony Vegas (video editing), Audacity (audio-editing), and mapping tools. There are a number of specialty tools used, too, for data handling and analysis. Clearly, it helps to keep software tools up-to-date and patched. During any down time available, it makes sense to acquire new tech skills.

For decades now, the affordances of various digital authoring tools have been enhanced to enable greater design capabilities. One of the current authoring tools that is state-of-the-art is Articulate Storyline 2. It is considered one of the go-to tools because it integrates a range of functionalities that enhance the entire digital authoring sequence. The authoring tool is brought into play once the design has been created, the raw objects created and collected, and the actual building about to begin. All authoring tools have a certain “niche” focus for the creation of particular types of digital objects and contents.

For instructional designers, acquiring capabilities in using new authoring tools is a part of the skill set. Learning a new tool requires an understanding of its purpose and capabilities, how the interface is structured, the unique terminology used, and other factors. For some, it is enough to peruse the tool, view a few YouTube videos, and they can just start building contents. For others, it helps to shoulder-surf and see how others engage the tool. Still others read the manual from digital-cover to digital-cover before feeling sufficiently confident to start. This article is about learning Articulate Storyline 2 and using some of its more advanced features.

Articulate Storyline 2, with Articulate Replay and Character Bundle

The purchase of Articulate Storyline 2’s educational license (half-off at the time of the campus purchase) includes a license key for Articulate Replay and one for a Character bundle. Articulate Replay is a screen recording software, and the character bundle involves drawn images or photos of characters for use in still images. For each character, there are expression-based close-ups and full and partial body poses. The main software is Articulate Storyline 2, from which any of the other resources may be accessed.

Figure 2:  Articulate Storyline 2 Opening Screen Design Space 

Most designs begin with a basic “storyboard” which shows a sequence of text and imagery to aid in the actual development work. In the terminology of Articulate Storyline 2, a “scene” is a sequence of slides. A learning object may range from one linear scene (like a linearly sequence slideshow) or a number of interconnected branching scenes. What this means is that a learning object may be branched based on different self-identifying factors or on performance.

Each slide may accommodate a wide range of multimedia: images, audio, video, and simple interactions. There are unique elements that may be employed in a sequence, such as a "lightbox" to focus attention.  There are pre-built quiz elements that may be brought into play to emphasize learning points or to assess learning (in formative or summative ways). Articulate Storyline 2 enables the layering on of animations and visual effects on each slide. (This is mostly done by making certain slide layers visible or invisible.) There are built-in motion-transitions that may be applied per slide transition, over parts of a project, or across the entire project. Also, too, there are a range of diverse depictions of people--in a range of poses and expressions--to create messaging and conversations. 

Figure 3:  Illustrated and Photographic Characters in Various Stances 

Templating slides, sequences, and / or scenes.  If a slide template is desirable, a slide may be set up with all the requisite text, imagery, variables, and triggers, and this modified slide may be treated as a template.  Any number of such template slides (or sequences) may be built to standards and used in an instructional design project. 

Deploying triggers.  For more unique ways to advance along a learning or experiential sequence, “triggers” may be used to enable different types of conditional transitions between slides. A trigger is an object with defined behaviors linked to it. The trigger wizard offers a broad overview of choices that, on the surface, seem pretty basic, but when designed thoughtfully can evoke some complex effects: show / hide layers, jump to a particular slide or scene, play media, change a variable, launch a quiz, execute JavaScript, send an email, bring the user to a web page, and so on. It is very rare for an authoring tool to offer such a range of enablements.

Figure 4:  Setting Triggers in Articulate Storyline 2 

Creating variables.  There is the ability to set a variable from the Triggers Pane. A simple variable is an object who can take on various values (of a consistent data type—such as text string or integer or other).

For example, one use case is to use a user input of their name as a variable and to re-use that variable (%variablename%) in a certificate when they have earned it. Or another variable may be a user’s email which is then used as a way to contact a learner with information once he or she completes a section of the learning or different information once he or she has completed the entire learning sequence. There are three types of variables: text, scores, and Boolean logic (T/F).

Figure 5:  Three Types of Custom Variables 

Indeed, there are some pre-built variables in Articulate Storyline 2 already, such as summarizing and reporting percentages, points, score percentages, and score points. These variables enable the creation of Results slides in assessment sequences. 

Figure 6:  Pre-Built Variables in Articulate Storyline 2 

Storyline Player

The learning contents are deployed in a Web-accessible player. It is possible to define the navigation menu in the player.  Also, instructional designers and SMEs may add linked resources and a glossary of term.  The player may also be 're-skinned" based on design or branding considerations.  

Figure 7:  Articulate Storyline 2 Player Properties 

Types of Publishable Files

Another importance affordance of Articulate Storyline 2 is that it enables file outputs in Flash, HTML 5, Android, and iOS (for mobile-friendly contents)--to enable consumption of the contents across the Web and various mobile devices' operating systems. 

In terms of DLO wrappers, the output may be published out to LMSes using SCORM 1.2, SCORM 2004, AICC, or Tin Can API standards, to enable the wider recordability of grades and sequencing of the learning objects (for SCORM 2004). Currently, the most common players seem to have integrated SCORM 2004, so most learning objects are built-out with that output standard. SCORM stands for "Sharable Content Object Reference Model," and it was created by Advanced Distributed Learning. Some years ago, SCORM split off into a publicly developed and open-access version and another modified for use with sensitive data.  SCORM was first created in order to promote a range of "ilities"--now condensed to accessibility, inter-operability, durability, and reusability.  

Articulate Virtual Communities

Articulate has a range of community endeavors. They regularly share templates and tips through Twitter. They sponsor a Word of Mouth blog; maintain a Facebook fan page; share glitzy digital learning object examples, and laud e-learning heroes. The communities seem mutually supportive and generous.


In a way, Articulate Storyline 2 offers just enough complexity to offer a challenge to learn, but it is also somewhat intuitive to allow intrepid subject matter experts (SMEs) themselves to be able to build their own learning objects. The affordances of triggers, variables, and conditional branching are myriad.  What individuals may create depends in large part on their own creativity and the ambitions of the project.

Indeed, many will find plenty of online support for their work as well, given a vibrant online presence and plenty of generous sharing of ideas and sample learning objects. 

An Example

Figure 8:  A Mock Digital Learning Object "OwnTechnoPlatform" 

Articulate Storyline 2 enables the visualization of the actual navigational sequence in an internal storyboard in the .story (proprietary) design file.  

Figure 9:  An Internal Storyboard in Articulate Storyline 2

A simple digital learning object, displayed within the Articulate Storyline 2 player, is shown here.  While very simple, this object does showcase some of the tool features:  branching logic, the use of a variable, the application of slide triggers, illustrated characters, and the Articulate Storyline 2 player.  

About the Author

Shalin Hai-Jew works as an instructional designer at K-State. 

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