Organizing Content: PPT, Index Cards, Other Methods?

On one of my recent projects, I had a series of videos to intersperse throughout a course. I had an outline in the design document, but when I started actually developing it, I realized the structure wasn’t quite right. I was struggling a bit to figure out how to organize the pieces.

I ended up putting all the “chunks” of content into boxes on a PowerPoint slide and dragging and dropping until I was happy with it. The orange blocks are videos; the blue blocks are content pieces. The one white box was an optional piece I debated whether to cut. (Note that the specific content labels here are unlikely to make much sense, since I removed a number of identifying details for this post. Ignore the specific content and just think about the development process.)

PowerPoint Planning

This worked really well for me, and got me “un-stuck.” I could have done the same sort of organization with index cards, but PowerPoint was handy. It also has the advantage of being easily saved and edited at a later date. I suppose with index cards you could take a picture or just transcribe everything, but that seems like too much hassle to me. This was quick and dirty, but it got the job done. I have also found this technique useful when working remotely with SMEs. Bring up a PowerPoint slide in your web conferencing software and drag and drop live while you’re on the phone.

However, I know sometimes the tactile experience can be helpful. When I wrote the branching video at the end of the above plan, I ended up writing my first draft in a notebook instead of on the computer. I’m very comfortable composing at the keyboard, but sometimes for creative writing like that storyline, I still want that physical sensation of a pen in my hand. I know a local author who recently tried and then abandoned software for planning a novel. She has returned to organizing her work with sticky notes on a large storyboard. That tactile work is part of her process.

I’m curious what other instructional designers do to organize content. Do you just reorder the text in Word? Do you use something visual like PowerPoint or a mind map? Do you use something physical like index cards? Is there another method for this process that I haven’t thought of? Please take a few seconds and answer this one-question poll. (If you’re reading this in email or RSS, you may need to visit my site to answer the poll.) If you have another process, please share!

7 thoughts on “Organizing Content: PPT, Index Cards, Other Methods?

  1. I have used 3×5 cards and cork board before, but switched to sticky notes on panels of 20×30 foamcore board. These are portable and store easily. I like to code the sticky notes by color, tagged to the P.O.V. (Point-Of-View) character for each chapter or scene.

    I’m now in the process of porting this over to Scrivener to see how the virtual environment works for me. Since I tend to do my writing in coffee shops and libraries, I have a feeling the virtual cork board is going to be a better tool for me.

  2. Thank you for sharing Diane Chamberlain’s Web post about storyboards. I enjoyed seeing her work and share your opinion about the “hands on” approach. I have to have lists in front of me, when I plan things on an electrical device,, I often do not use them. Old habits die hard.

    1. For my standard to-do list, I use Remember the Milk. I’m much happier with an electronic list that I can access from any computer or my phone. I did the Franklin-Covey thing for a few years, and physical lists worked for me in that job. Now that I switch computers regularly and work from a coffee shop sometimes, I’d rather have an electronic version. It’s a different habit though, and it took a while to unlearn my old system and relearn a new method.

  3. I’m stuck in the same spot but as an overall system. I like mindmapping out the things I’m going to include in the course. I think you’re onto something with using powerpoint slides that can be moved around. But then… next steps what is the best management tool for collecting the bits for each “slide” or section. How do you organize the collection of bits for each “slide”?

    1. You could do something with PowerPoint for organizing the bits. PowerPoint lets you layer things and visually group them together, so you could start with a box for each “bit” and then start grouping them in ways that make sense.

  4. Hi Christy,

    What a coincidence! I recorded about an hour of video last week to be processed into 5 or 6 short clips of 1 to 3 minutes each. So here I am right now, editing and organising them to be incorporated into an online course that I am developing.

    Mindmapping is my favourite when the structure of the course is still unclear in my head. I have mindmapped on A3 sheets before to the amusement of some SMEs.

    When the course is almost complete, like now with the videos to be inserted, I prefer to print out each page of the course, place them on a surface and move them and the videos around.

    New Zealand Institute of Chartered Accountants

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