Thursday, August 30, 2012

Discovering Adobe InDesign for eLearning

By Dean Hawkinson

If you have been developing eLearning for any period of time, you have probably used several of Adobe’s applications to create engaging and interactive courses. With Adobe Captivate, you can create some great system simulations. With Adobe Flash, you can create interactive elements that take your courses to the next level of engagement and even create entire courses. You can create and edit images for your eLearning using Adobe PhotoShop and Illustrator. Recently, however, I stumbled across another great tool in the Adobe family – Adobe InDesign.

What Is InDesign?

Adobe InDesign is a tool for creating those things that partner with your eLearning courses, such as resource guides or job aids.You can make them interactive for web deployment and include elements such as Flash files, iPad or any other Apple product.

If you are simply creating a PDF document for printing, you would select Adobe PDF (Print) as your option. Your design of the document would be much simpler, so the end user could easily print it for future reference.

Other Export options for InDesign include the following:

  • EPS
  • Flash Professional (FLA)
  • Flash Player (SWF)
  • InDesign Markup (IDML)
  • XML

What InDesign Cannot Do

InDesign is not for creating eLearning or SCORM-compliant standalone courses. It will not interact with an LMS for scoring. However, it can easily be incorporated into an eLearning course using one of the several export options mentioned above.

Tips for Using InDesign

In the brief time I have been using Adobe InDesign, I have found it very useful for creating an online resource guide or job aid to partner with other eLearning elements. For example, in two recent projects, we created eLearning courses for deployment via the LMS. However, squeezing too much information into a web-based course can be overwhelming for the learner and impact retention of the information. So, we created resource guides with an interactive web-based feel to be available via an online tool to partner with the eLearning courses. These resource guides are accessible at any time and include more detail and information than the web-based courses.

I like to create a menu of links to each section within the document that appears on each page, so that the learner can click the links to jump to each section. When you use the Interactive PDF option, the learner can select “Full Screen” as an option, which provides the document with a complete web page look and feel. As with PowerPoint’s master slide functionality, you can easily create master pages and apply each one to different pages throughout the document. This makes it easy to include interactive menu items, copyright information that needs to be on each page, or other elements that would be the same throughout a series of pages.

One problem that I did run into with InDesign was using Flash (SWF) files imbedded into the document. For some PCs, the Flash elements worked fine. However, for others, strange things would happen, such as a black background showing up behind text or moving images in the Flash element, making it very hard to read or view. I could never determine a pattern or reason for this, so I ended up not using the Flash elements at all.

Consider the size of your document as well when deciding what elements to use. It might be a better end-user experience if you link out to videos and other items rather than imbedding them if they are large in size. You don’t want learners getting frustrated at long load times with your document.


Overall, I am very excited about learning more about this tool and using it in my eLearning “arsenal” of tools. Have you had any experience using InDesign or any tips you would like to share?


  1. I have grown to LOVE InDesign in my world of Marketing and print-document creation. I've also grown to hate anything with Flash! In a world where mobile devices rule and flash doesn't cooperate with anything Apple, this causes extreme challenges. InDesign is FULL of excellent tools and powerful enough for just about any print document out there. Keep using it and thanks for sharing the knowledge of it!

  2. I am hoping the eLearning will move towards InDesign. I am a beginner of InDesign and am liking it very much. There are so many programs it can be exported to.

    With all of the Adobe products for eLearning, it would be nice if one program was the hub. Hopefully InDesign will be.

  3. PS A good point about creating master pages.


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