Don’t convert… transform!

I’m sure you’ve had a colleague ask you a question that goes something like this:

We have this user guide here that we use for training – can you convert it into an online course for us?

Or perhaps more frequently:

We have these PowerPoint slides here that we use for presentations – can you convert them into an online course?

In such situations, I’m glad my colleague thinks so highly of e-learning that he or she is willing to pursue it as a mode of delivery.

However, I don’t see much point in converting a document or a slideshow into an online course. It’s simply a waste of time and effort to reinvent the wheel – sure, the new wheel looks bright and shiny, but does it offer any real advantages over the old one?

An old wagon wheel leaning against a farmhouse wall.

In my role as an e-learning consultant, I would advise my colleague to deliver the content as a PDF instead. The learner can then download it, read it, and (hopefully) learn something from it. In other words, the PDF does the same job as the proposed online course, but significantly quicker, cheaper and easier.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking… That’s not very engaging! And I agree with you. One of the wonderful things about e-learning is its ability to support engaging learning experiences. Multimedia, interactivity and non-linearity all promote the learner from sleepy page turner to active explorer.

So whenever you source content from a document or a slideshow for an online course, don’t merely convert it… transform it. Challenge every paragraph of text, every static picture. Can it be delivered in a different format? Perhaps a game? An animation? A quiz? A puzzle? Audio? Video? Should the content be split, rearranged, reorganised? Can something be cut and something else added?

My rule of thumb is to ask myself:

What will my courseware offer that a PDF won’t?

If the answer is “plenty”, then go for it. But if the answer is “not much”, then why bother?

4 thoughts on “Don’t convert… transform!

  1. You make a good point re tranformation. It is important to customise the learning to the delivery medium. Just copying to new format does not really work properly.

  2. Perhaps you could use the pdf, ppt, doc, xls, or whatever as a resource within your quality e-learning course. I would say though, the benefit of converting a powerpoint or slideshow into an e-learning course is that you could use it as the backbone of the course and add some interactive content to it. Why not try something like Udutu ( ) to “transform” your resources.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Kate and Rhys. Yes, we tend not to upload a PDF “as is”, but typically wrap it into a SCORM package with supporting content (eg background info) and a quiz. I see this as Phase 1 development, which meets the immediate learning need. Transforming the content can be done subsequently, if the TNA warrants it, which I call Phase 2 development. Note that I haven’t mentioned Web 2.0, which I am keen to discuss in later postings. BTW, I wasn’t familiar with Udutu – thanks for the link!

  4. Ryan, I have found Udutu to be really easy to get my head around in a short space of time. I am self taught in e-learning and am still a bit of a novice but I have built a trial course in Udutu and chucked it into Facebook already. You can have a look at it by joining the Udutu beta group on Facebook and loading the Apps. is the link if you are on Facebook.

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