PowerPoint vs. Storyline (aka: Telling vs. Experiencing)

I imagine most training professionals and instructional designers are quite familiar with the old proverb: “Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand.” Why, then, do so many elearning modules continue to tell content at the learners?

I recently posed this question to several training program managers from large, Seattle-area tech companies. Their answers made a lot of business sense: with so many training modules that need to be created in such a short amount of time, it’s faster and easier to put the content into a PowerPoint presentation, convert it to a click-through elearning module and make the content available to the intended audience. And the program managers report that they’re generally content with the results.

Still, I wonder: just because you can tell your content to thousands of employees around the world  via a PowerPoint-based elearning module, is that what training departments should do?

I decided to conduct my own, not-so-scientific test of this theory.  While I was in an airport on a layover, I gave myself 45 minutes to create a PowerPoint-based elearning module, and then I gave myself 45 minutes to create an elearning module using Articulate Storyline.

The Results


I put together the PowerPoint module in less than 45 minutes.  I probably could have spent a little more time on the actual graphic design of the module, but you’ll get the point.  Slideshare is my make-shift LMS for this…


I took just over 45 minutes to put this together.  I’m not an expert at Storyline by any means, but I’ve found it incredibly easy to transfer my PowerPoint knowledge into Storyline proficiency.  Here are several screen captures of the module:




Exit Question

It doesn’t take much more technical savvy to use Storyline than it does to use PowerPoint. It doesn’t have to take much more time to create something in Storyline than in PowerPoint. And while you can tell and show people using PowerPoint, Storyline adds a dimension allowing learners to be involved.

Going back to the old proverb: would you rather have your learners forget by telling?  Would you rather have your learners remember by showing? Or would you rather have your learners understand by involving?

12 thoughts on “PowerPoint vs. Storyline (aka: Telling vs. Experiencing)

  1. Great topic Brian! I used to create e-learning in PowerPoint, so I know it has several suitable “hidden” features. And I’ve just started using Storyline, so this topic’s right up my street.

    You’re right about most e-learning just trying to tell learners. Sadly though, Storyline’s not going to solve that – even though it could.

    Like with awful slide decks, the problem’s not the tool, it’s the time-challenged, self-“taught” user of the tool.

    In fact I began writing so much in this comment that I decided to write my own post to address the issues you raised!

    Would love to get your opinion on it. It even lists 6 steps you can use to make software simulations in PowerPoint, which most developers think can only be done in Storyline or Captivate etc:

    • Thanks Craig! Eerily enough, I hot “Submit” on my comment to your post at the exact same time that your comment came through on my blog!

      I love your post and the suggestions you offer. My big question is: have you found success in not only leading the horse to water (things people can do to be better in their use of these tools) but *also* making them want to drink (ie: wanting to get better at the use of the tool enough that they take action to improve)?

  2. Excellent post Brian. I’m an upcoming instructional designer/trainer for my organization and we were talking about how ineffective the powerpoints have become. They’ve especially become ineffective in an ever changing industry such as distance learning. in our discussion, we’ve covered that your learner will retain information more when they can experience (or be involved) with what’s being taught as opposed to the “read, reflect, take notes and do” method.

    This also is a trait of a leader. Trainers are leaders. They are subject matter experts, (or at least should be perceived as such). How can one expect buy-in from their learners if there isn’t an opportunity to ask questions and be involved with the true learning process with the trainer/leader? That’s my take on it. Great article, I’ll be sure to imply this theory.

    • Thanks for reading and thanks for the great comments!

      PPT is definitely an over-used (abused?) tool. Though there are some presenters I’ve seen who know how to use it really well – it’s a really powerful tool. Unfortunately, too many instructional designers mistake PPT for the actual presentation.

      Getting learners, as you note, truly is key. Afterall, who is a training really for – the presenter? Or the learners?

  3. Great post Brian! I love your idea for the “build-off” comparing PowerPoint and Storyline. One other nice thing is that Storyline can import existing PowerPoint content so you can take advantage of the best of both.

    Thanks for sharing and have a great weekend.

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