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Engaging eLearning Design Tips with Tim Slade

This week on the Train Like You Listen podcast, Brian sits down with Tim Slade of to discuss eLearning. During this conversation, Brian and Tim discuss how to create engaging eLearning, share tips on how to manage expectations with clients who want amazing eLearning developed quickly and cheaply, and discuss where to find new inspiration for creative eLearning approaches.

If a 10-minute conversation with Tim isn’t enough for you, you can also check out his book: The eLearning Designer’s Handbook: A Practical Guide to the eLearning Development Process for New eLearning Designers.

Listen using the player below. Please leave us your thoughts in the comment section or on twitter @train_champion.

Conversation With Tim Slade

Brian Washburn: Welcome to the Train Like You Listen podcast, a weekly podcast for learning professionals about a variety of topics. I’m Brian Washburn and today I’m here with Tim Slade, e-learning designer extraordinaire. How are you doing Tim? 

Tim Slade: Good. How are you doing Brian? 

6-Word Introduction

Brian Washburn: I am excellent. Tim, one of the things that we always start out with to keep things short is just a six-word memoir to explain who we are, what we do. Mine, today is “realized e-learning’s potential from Michael Allen”. How would you describe yourself in six words? 

Tim Slade: Gosh, I don’t know. I’m going to say one of my favorite sayings is “never storyboard anything you can’t visually communicate”. I’ll go with that. 

Brian Washburn: Nice. As I mentioned, we’re here talking to e-learning extraordinaire, Tim Slade. So we’ll be talking about e-learning today. And you know, Tim, when it comes to designing e-learning, what’s the first thing that you think or do when you have a client that says “we don’t have a lot of money, but we’d like to roll out an e-learning program that people get excited about and it’s highly interactive”? 

How Do You Communicate When Clients Have Big Expectations and Small Budgets?

Tim Slade: Yeah. You know, one of the biggest challenges is especially with clients who– they want everything, but they don’t have the money to spend it on creating it. The first thing that comes into mind is how I’m going to manage those expectations. Anything’s possible, even with the craziest restraints, it’s just a matter of negotiating. What are they going to sacrifice in terms of quality or speed or how much time it’s going to take to build it? So the first thing that goes through my mind is how I’m going to navigate and negotiate that situation so that they still end up happy. 

Brian Washburn: Any tips for pushback that you might find when you’re negotiating that?

The Effectiveness of the “Yes, and…” Method of Communication

Tim Slade: My go-to strategy is using something called “yes, and”. So one of the things that I’m not really good at is saying “no” to people. So I don’t say “no” anymore. I say “yes, and”. I say– when they say, can we have it done in a week? I say, “yes, we can do it in a week and it’s not going to be as good if we had a month” or “yes, we can incorporate live-action video and that this is how much that costs”. And so it makes it their problem. 

Brian Washburn: I love that. And I’m laughing because my coworkers always laugh when I, when I get into “yes, and”. Here he goes, “yes, and”. But I think it’s super effective way to talk with people.

Tim Slade: Sure. 

Brian Washburn: When it comes to actually the development what are some of the lowest hanging fruit things that e-learning designers should keep in mind when they’re sitting down to design e-learning that’s engaging?

Easy and Quick Tips for E-Learning Design

Tim Slade: Like I said with the six-word memoir, one of the things that’s really important for me when I’m creating e-learning is how am I helping my learners see what it is I’m trying to say? And so one of the things that I think a lot of new e-learning designers realize is that e-learning is really a lot of different forms of design coming together to create this multimedia experience. And so it’s not good enough to just put bullet points on a screen and add an X button. You have to think about how do I, literally, help people see what I’m saying? And how do you visually communicate that content? And then the other thing we oftentimes are told to make e-learning interactive for the purpose of making it engaging, but not all interactivity is equal. And so you have to ask yourself what critical thinking skills are my learners applying when they click something on the screen? And if they click to reveal something, and they’re just revealing text, they’re not using any critical thinking skills in that interaction, versus where they might be making some sort of decision-based interaction that relates back to job performance.

Brian Washburn: How about actual– a concrete example? What is the coolest e-learning project you’ve ever worked on? 

What Is the Coolest E-Learning Project You Have Ever Worked On?

Tim Slade: Oh gosh. Actually the coolest e-learning project I ever worked on was the first e-learning project I ever worked on. So when I got– when I first got hired into e-learning I was working in retail loss prevention. I got the job of a training coordinator in loss prevention, and I had to create this five-series course on how to catch a shoplifter. I had no idea what I was doing from an instructional design standpoint or an e-learning standpoint. There’s a lot of things I would’ve done differently, but what was most– what made that project so cool for me and still stands out as an amazing experience. 

We went out to our stores and we had a really amazing video production team that we partnered with internally. We hired all these actors and we filmed all these different scenarios of different shoplifters shoplifting. And there’s a whole bunch of steps and procedures that goes into catching a shoplifter. 

And what I didn’t realize at the time was the e-learning course I was creating was really– it was interactive video before interactive video was a term. And so in this course, there was all these video scenarios, and the learner had to click and identify when a certain thing that they observed happened. And it was– it ended up being a really, really amazing course, despite the fact that I really had no clue what I was doing. 

Brian Washburn: I love that example. I was just talking with somebody yesterday about the use of virtual reality and, kind of, how that’s kind of the next generation to interactive video. But interactive video is something that I think is really kind of an overlooked art form for just e-learning, right? 

Tim Slade: Yeah. 

Brian Washburn: So it’s, it’s different between– you know, when you’re using the storyline character packs versus the facial expressions you get from an actual video and response.

Tim Slade: Totally.

Brian Washburn: So that’s really neat. When it comes to your projects, where do you draw inspiration from when you want to come up with new ideas? 

If you look hard enough, you’ll find inspiration everywhere. 

E-Learning Inspiration Can Be Found Everywhere 

Tim Slade: I get inspiration from the most bizarre– from everywhere. One of the places I get inspiration, just to give an example of these strange sources of inspiration, is I’ll be in an airport or in a hotel or at a store. And I remember this one time I was at a hotel. I was walking by some computer kiosks that they had for signing up for the rewards program. And they had a– what I would call like a screensaver and it had all these cool, real motion graphics and all this really interesting movement on the screen. And then when you interacted with it, the way the different panels and buttons flew in, it inspired me for how I could, you know, apply that to an e-learning context.

I get a lot of inspiration also from, and this is very common, but where– from marketing. So there’s a huge intersection that I think oftentimes gets overlooked between how marketers affect people’s behaviors and how we can use those techniques to affect the behaviors of our learners. Literally everywhere. If you look hard enough, you’ll find inspiration everywhere. 

Brian Washburn: I love that. And so especially the marketing piece. Do you know Mike Taylor? 

Tim Slade: Mm-hmm.

Brian Washburn: So he always talks about that. 

Tim Slade: Yeah.

Brian Washburn: You know, what, what can L&D learn from marketing? 

Tim Slade: Sure. 

Brian Washburn: But looking around, just opening your eyes and, and finding inspiration from everywhere. Cause it’s there, if you’re looking for it. 

Tim Slade: Yeah.

Get to Know Tim Slade

Brian Washburn: Alright. We have our speed round that we’re going to close out with here.   

Tim Slade: Ok.

Brian Washburn: So when it comes– you do a ton of presentations. When it comes to prior to a presentation, prior to delivering a presentation, what’s your go-to food? 

Tim Slade: Nothing. I do not. I have made the mistake in the past of eating before I speak and I can’t do it. So if I’m speaking on a day, I don’t eat until after I’ve spoken. 

Brian Washburn: I’m with you. I– maybe some  fruit, but something that’s light. 

What’s a book that people interested in e-learning design should be reading?   

Tim Slade: Yeah. So going off of the theme of, you know, visual design and getting inspiration from unique sources, if you will. One of the first books that I read when I first got into the world of e-learning had nothing to do with e-learning, but it was the book Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte. And the reason why I always recommend that book is for many folks, the techniques of graphic design can be a challenge for some. And so everything I learned about how to make my courses look beautiful and aesthetically pleasing and how I communicate my information on the screen, I learned from that book Slide:ology from Nancy Duarte. Everyone should read that book.

Brian Washburn: Yeah. That’s a great book for visual design. 

Tim Slade: Yep. 

Brian Washburn: What’s one piece of training tech that you can’t live without?

Tim Slade: Ooh, my, my presentation clicker. I have a really expensive Logitech clicker that if I didn’t have, I don’t know, I’d be lost. 

Brian Washburn: And those are very personal things. I remember I was doing a training session with other trainers and we had, at one point, I just– I noticed everybody had their own clicker. And so everybody put them on a table and I took a picture of it. It was kind of fun to see all the different clickers.

Tim Slade: It is a very personal thing, yeah. 

Brian Washburn: Any shameless plugs before we end?

Tim Slade: Sure. Yeah, I would encourage people to check out my book, The E-learning Designers Handbook, which you can get on Amazon and anything else that I’m doing at

Brian Washburn: Awesome. Thank you so much, Tim, for giving some time. 

Tim Slade: Thank you. 

Brian Washburn: That’s been the Train Like You Listen podcast for this week. You can find our podcast on Spotify, on iTunes and anywhere where you get your podcasting.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox.  Sign up today for a free demo at

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