Using PowerPoint as the student workbook

January 16, 2012 by Katie O'Zey in IT Courseware

A lot of instructional courses we’ve been building lately have been switching it up by using PowerPoint as the student workbook instead of Word. The student benefits, because PowerPoint provides an organized, snapshot view of what the course is about and more graphic elements. There is room in the notes for all the information a student would typically find in a traditional workbook, with the added bonus of the presentation slide to give them an overview of every lesson and topic.

PowerPoint Layout Options
Use the master slide layout options to create a coherent deck of slides

Some of you may be wondering how do you take a prose-based traditional workbook course and make it into a PowerPoint presentation that is informational and easy to follow? Here are some tips.

Use a template

Just as with any instructional documentation, no matter the application used to create it, each presentation needs something to string it along to the next. If a course has 12 modules, all 12 modules need to look like they belong together. The best way to do that is to use a set of master slides – or a template. A template should consist of a title slide, agenda or lesson slides, and content slides for the writer or instructional designer (ID) to use when building each presentation.
Templates typically come with a preselected color scheme, but if they don’t, pick a few colors that work well with your template and stick to them. Unlike a Word template, where the formatting centers around margins, fonts, and tables, PowerPoint decks have a much wider scope. Not only are consistent margins and tables important, but graphic schemes, bullet point coloring, and animations need to be considered when working from one slide to the next. Unlike a Word template, where most formatting decisions can be made with Quick Parts and style sheets, PowerPoint only provides a master deck of slides to work from. As the creator, it is your job to remain thoughtful and diligent in the formatting decisions you make.

Slides vs. notes

When using PowerPoint to create a student workbook, you are limited dramatically by the amount of space you have. This limitation can be even more problematic when you have a lot of information to share. It’s important to remember that the Notes section can be used not only for speaker notes, but also for information pertinent to the student’s experience. Using the Notes section to its fullest potential leaves more room in the slide to create a visual aid, such as a diagram, process lists, or screenshots – and these visual aids are often critical elements in the course. Being able to combine visuals with the typical content will make the learning experience better for the students.

Slide with Notes
Extensive notes will give you all the aspects of a workbook that are important


Animations can be tricky when it comes to creating professional PowerPoint workbooks. The best policy when using them is ‘less is more.’ The best use for animations typically involves a diagram for the presenter to walk the students through, like the one in the figure. The slide could be animated to show only portions of the diagram in terms of its process.

Secondly, animations are a good way to break up information on a slide into talking points. The presenter has complete control over when each talking point shows up on the screen. When using these types of animations, subtlety is the key. If there is nothing to gain from having words whizzing and twirling around the slide (and there almost never is), then a simple Fade will get your point across just fine. Float In, Wipe, and Zoom are great choices too, depending on whether you are animating text or images. If you need to emphasize a particular item on the slide, Teeter, or Transparent (to use on the other parts of the slide you want to de-emphasize) are perfect choices. To take away aspects from the slide, I would use the reverse of the entry choices (for example, Float Out, Fade Out, and so on).

Transitions are another animation option you can use, although I tend to steer clear of them. The choice is completely up to you, and typically a subtle one, like Reveal, or even Blinds, will add a nice effect that can pull your whole presentation together. Whatever you decide, always stay consistent and know when enough is enough.

It’s all subjective

Creating instructional workbooks can be an arduous process, regardless of the medium used to create them. And we all know that despite your best efforts to create a course that ‘pops’ while still educating the masses, someone who makes these types of decisions might want it all changed. But don’t lose hope. With a little preparation, patience, and the right tools at hand, you can come out on the other side with a workbook that is functional, educational, and has the potential to be a great resource to your readers.