E-Learning PowerPoint

How to make icons change color in PowerPoint

When it’s time to develop videos for your training library, you don’t have to shell out big bucks for an e-learning authoring tool. Chances are, you already have one on your computer.

I’m talking about Microsoft PowerPoint. It may not be the first program you think of when you think of e-learning tools, but it has the capability to create effective, engaging online videos.

Of course, we’ve all had the misfortune of suffering through uninspired presentations that barrage us with bullet points while a narrator drones on in the background. There are several steps you can take to avoid “Death by PowerPoint” in your training videos. One of the easiest and most effective methods is to use attention-grabbing animations that reinforce key concepts.

In this post, I’ll show you how to use the color fade technique for adding emphasis and interest to an icon. This technique uses a little sleight of hand to create the illusion that the icon changes color or lights up when a corresponding word or phrase is mentioned in the narration. Play the video below to see an example of this technique in action.

This slide from my High Reliability Organizing video shows how the color fade technique can add emphasis to an onscreen icon. In this slide, each icon lights up as the corresponding characteristic is mentioned in the narration.

Intrigued? Read on for step-by-step instructions for incorporating this technique into your PowerPoint videos.

Life Lessons

How high reliability organizations avoid failure during a crisis

Life is change — and, sometimes, change is disruptive. It requires us to interpret an ongoing flow of signals and events into an accurate understanding of what’s happening at the moment. It demands that we adapt to new realities before we’re fully equipped to deal with them. Unfortunately, our minds are programmed to seek certainty, reassurance, simplicity and the familiar, which can get us into trouble when facing an crisis.

So, what can firefighting units, oil refineries and commercial airliners teach us about responding successfully to a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic? Quite a lot, actually. These and other high reliability organizations (HROs) operate complex and high-risk systems that have a high potential for catastrophic failure. Yet, when they’re successful, they can go for years without a single incident.

Whether we recognize it or not, daily life is a complex system — a network of unseen dependencies, all of which have the potential to interact with each other in unpredictable ways. High reliability living is about being aware of those complexities and adopting mindsets that make you better equipped to respond to them.

Organizations and individuals can reach this goal by adopting the five key principles of high reliability organizations:

  • Actively looking for signs that somethings’s wrong (Preoccupation with failure)
  • Being slow to put labels on a situation (Reluctance to simplify)
  • Being mindful of what’s happening right now (Sensitivity to operations)
  • Absorbing stress without being flattened by it (Commitment to resilience)
  • Recognizing that experts don’t always have rank or seniority (Deference to expertise)
Employee training

5 principles for effective employee training

When it comes to employee training, andragogy is one of the most effective frameworks for designing effective learning experiences. The term was popularized by American educator Malcolm Knowles (1913-1997) to describe how adults learn differently than children do. And, although some of Knowles’ conclusions are up for debate, his five assumptions about adult learners are a useful starting point for creating authentic learning experiences that translate well to a corporate setting.

In this post, you’ll discover Knowles’ five assumptions about adult learners and how you can apply them to your employee training program.

Malcolm Knowles’ five assumptions about adult learners:

  1. Self-concept: Adult learners need to be recognized as independent, self-directed agents in their own lives.
  2. Experience: Adults amass experience as they progress through life, and this experience can be a rich resource for learning.
  3. Readiness to learn: An adult’s willingness to learn something new is determined largely by whether it applies to their roles at work, at home and in the community.
  4. Orientation to learning: Adult learners are more oriented to learning information that can be immediately applied to a specific problem.
  5. Motivation: Adults are intrinsically motivated and rely less on external rewards than children do.
Life Lessons

5 Business Travel Tips for the Untraveled

Advice from one infrequent flier to another

If you’re a seasoned business traveler with thousands of points accrued on your airline rewards program, and if you can pack an overnight bag in less time than it takes you to make toast, then, dear sir or madame, I raise a glass to you.

I also recommend that you read something else. This post will do absolutely nothing for you. Browsing through an issue of your favorite in-flight magazine will be a much better investment of your time.

If, however, the thought of airport security gives you an allergic reaction and you have no idea what the 3-1-1 rule is, then you’re in the right place. I’ve been there, brother, and let me tell you, business travel is tough if you’re not prepared for it.

Life Lessons

Stop Expecting to Feel Confident

I’ve recently started a new full-time job in the learning and development department of a rapidly expanding company based in Denver. It’s a wonderful job. I get to write quizzes and exams, align them with learning objectives, and convert technical manuals into training modules. I’m reading about adult learning theory and immediately applying that knowledge to real-life situations. It’s a blast.

Still, I keep expecting to feel … different. Confident. Brave. Assured. Or at least, feeling like I know what the hell I’m doing. Instead, as I encounter more situations that require me to reach beyond my comfort zone, I feel unsure, hesitant, even derpy. Well-intentioned and earnest, sure, but a little goofy.

In reflecting on this experience, I’ve realized this: Confidence is the reward for bold action, not its prerequisite.

You don’t have to feel confident to extend yourself beyond your perceived limitations. In fact, you can expect to not feel confident in these situations. Confidence isn’t some magical gift. Confidence is earned by making small but courageous choices every day — to show up, to be vulnerable, to admit what you don’t know, to embrace uncertainty.

If you wait until you feel confident before you do the thing that beckons to you, then you’ll waste your whole life waiting. Don’t wait. Just do the thing, whatever it is. The confidence will come later.

Life Lessons

My 9 Orienting Thoughts

For the last few years, I’ve been compiling a list of insights that I’ve found particularly useful. I call them my orienting thoughts because they keep me pointed in the direction I want my life to go. Some are direct quotes from books I’ve read, but most are ideas that have come to me through experience. They’re all principles that I’ve tested in the laboratory of daily life and found to be true.

Life Lessons

4 Life Lessons I Learned in 2018

This year was a challenging year, but it was also a good year.

After saving money for nearly two years, my husband and I finally moved back to Laramie. This was a major achievement for us. Now that we’re not inhaling fumes from a nearby oil refinery or trying to avoid the negative influence of a prison town, our health and our outlook on life have improved significantly.

I made some gains professionally. I had some challenging projects that taught me new skills and equipped me with valuable knowledge.


How to Act Like a Normal Person: A Freelancer’s Guide

I recently went to an educational and networking event here in town. It was the first time I’d been to a public event in quite a while — maybe a year.

I soon became painfully aware of how much my social skills had atrophied. Performing simple customs like introducing myself and asking relevant questions in conversation took conscious effort.

Am I acting weird? I thought to myself. I probably look awkward.

Reflecting on this experience helped me realize two truths.

Solitude can be a clarifying experience, but only in moderation.

Solitude challenges you to confront yourself, and it teaches you to be content in your own company. But, in the absence of any outside input, self-reflection degenerates into anxious self-absorption.

Social skills tend toward entropy.

Unless you make an effort to use your social niceties, you’ll lose them.

Social Engagement is a Discipline

When you become a full-time freelancer, social connections cease to be a natural byproduct of your daily life. Maintaining them becomes a discipline that demands commitment and dedicated practice. And, like any other discipline — yoga, meditation, jogging, whatever — it’s hard.

Staying social takes planning, intention, and follow-through. In short, it starts to feel a lot like work. On any given day, I can make a list of activities that feel more productive than socializing. But, really, that’s just an excuse. The real problem is that solitude feels comfortable to me whereas social engagement does not. I use my work commitments as an excuse to weasel out of more important obligations to rebuilding my social life.

I knew that staying engaged would be difficult when I started freelancing. But I’m still surprised at how much effort it takes. It’s like waking up one morning and discovering that an automatic bodily function, like breathing, now works only under your conscious control.

I used to work for a guy who often said a person’s greatest strength was also their greatest weakness. I think this is true. Working alone is one of my greatest strengths as a freelancer. I can stay focused for long periods of time, and I rarely get lonely. My love of solitude often gets in the way of life-enriching relationships, which in turn threatens my long-term success as a freelancer.

Why Easy is Good

I quit nearly all social media two years ago. As I explained in a previous post, my social media feeds had filled my head with so many voices that I couldn’t think straight. Part of my problem with social media may well have been my disordered way of engaging with it. (That’s a post for another day.)

Maybe social media isn’t the best way to connect with people. But, it’s a step in the right direction, not least because it’s easy. I’m a big fan of easy, particularly when it comes to long-term behavior change. It also yields instant rewards and instant feedback, which increases the chances that I’ll use it. (Now, to learn how to use it correctly, not impulsively. Again, a post for another day.)

After I became active again on Instagram, I realized how much I’d missed my friends’ presence in my life. Sure, seeing an Instagram post isn’t the same as talking with someone face-to-face. But, it’s still something. Every picture is like a brief conversation. Every “like” is like a nod, and a wave from an old friend glimpsed in passing on the street.

Photo credit: Gratisography

Teaching ESL Online: How to Set Healthy Boundaries for Parents

Correcting student behavior is essential for success in the online ESL classroom. But modifying unproductive parental behavior is just as important.

It’s also a lot more challenging. Although we can appreciate the good intentions that motivate them, over-involved parents and angry parents impede students’ learning and squash their confidence. Learning how to set healthy boundaries for parents is a critical skill for your long-term success as an online ESL teacher.

First, we’ll explore some common behaviors of over-involved parents. Then, we’ll dig into some research to learn why these behaviors are problematic. Finally, we’ll explore some options for tactfully correcting parent behavior without offending your regulars or getting a barrage of poor ratings.

Onward, then.

The Helicopter Parent

If you’ve taught ESL online for any amount of time, you’ve likely encountered parents who:

  • Frequently interrupt class to correct the student’s pronunciation,
  • Answer questions for their child on the unit assessment,
  • Interrupt the student mid-sentence when they misread a word, or
  • Repeat everything the teacher says before their child has a chance to say the word or phrase themselves.

Source: Pexels

Most of the time, the parent only wants to be helpful. They’re eager for their child to do well, and they want them to succeed. Nevertheless, parental overinvolvement often harms, not helps, student performance.

For starters, they impede your ability to assess your students’ abilities accurately. They also make it nearly impossible to finish the class on time. Most importantly, however, parental interference damages students’ self-efficacy, which is their belief that they can competently accomplish a task.

When a parent interrupts class to give the student answers or prompt response, they’re inadvertently sending a message that says, “You can’t do this on your own.” Helicopter parenting is a significant problem both for the student’s academic achievement and psychological development.

Self-Efficacy and Learning

In a literature review titled “Self-efficacy in Second/Foreign Language Learning Contexts,” Raoofi, Tan, and Chan point to the critical role that self-efficacy plays in the ESL classroom. “Learners’ beliefs in their capabilities affect performance tremendously,” they write. “Learners’ beliefs can predict performance better than their real ability.”

To borrow a quote attributed to Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.”

If you’re teaching students between the ages of 6 and 12, self-efficacy is even more critical. According to Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, students in this age range compare themselves to their peers. They’re eager to show that they can accomplish tasks independently, just like other students. Helicopter parenting undermines students’ ability to prove themselves as competent learners. It’s no wonder, then, that Bao Bao loses her cool when mom hovers over her during class.

The Angry or Abusive Parent

Occasionally, you’ll meet parents who get visibly upset when their child doesn’t magically master the material automatically. Instead of merely offering hints or correcting pronunciation, they yell at their children or even hit them.

Why would a parent get so upset over a minor pronunciation error? The answer lies in the immense pressure Chinese culture places on academic achievement.

Source: Pexels

As Foreign Policy magazine reports, students aggressively compete for top performance on the gaokao or the country’s equivalent of our ACT or SAT. The test results often determine the trajectory of the rest of the student’s life, and top performers are awarded instant celebrity. But, the competition is fierce. As one Chinese saying goes, “Gain one point, surpass a thousand people.” No wonder, then, that parents are anxious for their child to excel academically.

But when parental anxiety morphs into anger, all hope for meaningful learning flies out the window. Here’s why.

This is Your Brain. This is Your Brain on Rage.

Some parents think that children learn best under intense pressure. The opposite is true. While a small amount of performance anxiety can improve learning, too much anxiety triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response.

The fight-or-flight response is great if you’re trying to escape a predator on the Serengeti, but not so great if you’re trying to learn CVC blending. That’s because the fight-or-flight response interferes with the brain’s ability to process and store information.

Source: Pexels

When you feel extremely angry or scared, the cortex — which includes the area of your brain that regulates your emotions — goes offline, and your fight-or-flight response takes over. This phenomenon is what psychiatry professor Dr. Daniel Siegel calls “flipping your lid.” (His hand model of the brain is incredibly helpful for understanding this process.)

When a parent flips their lid, their angry outburst often prompts a similar flipped-lid response in their child, who feels threatened, or even the teacher, who can feel scared, angry, or both.

Learning is nearly impossible when the student is in flipped-lid mode. For this reason, verbal or physical abuse has no place in the online ESL classroom.

What You Can Do

The first step to tactfully and effectively dealing with unproductive parental behaviors is to know your company’s policies and follow them faithfully.

Look for guidance on:

  • The approved method for communicating concerns about parental over-involvement,
  • How to politely ask parents to let children take lessons unaided,
  • What means they have, if any, to contact the child’s learning partner, and
  • What to do when a parent shouts at or strikes a child

Knowing this information beforehand will make it easier to handle a challenging situation. Beyond that, here are some strategies that I’ve found to be helpful:

Be discreet. Few things are more embarrassing than being corrected by a teacher in front of your child. To spare parents the shame, I prefer to write the parent a quick note in the chat box that says something like, “Please let Bao Bao answer on his own. Thank you!” Then, I quickly divert the student’s attention to the next activity to ensure they don’t get curious about what I just wrote in the chat box. That way, mom gets a friendly reminder to let the student take the class independently, and the child is none the wiser.

Be persistent. Every time the parent interrupts, write them a quick note. Better yet, keep a template handy that you can copy and paste as many times as needed.

Speak through the child. When dad starts getting frustrated, a quick aside addressed to the child but meant for the parent can be helpful. Something like, “Wow! That was hard. We will practice this more, but you did a great job.” This phrase, coupled with expressive TPR and lots of high-fives, is a subtle cue for dad to chill out.

Teach students how to ask for help. When a child can’t answer a question, a parent’s first instinct is often to jump in and give them the answer. However, this doesn’t help improve the child’s comprehension or retention. Instead of accepting the answer and moving on, you can say something like, “Bao Bao, you can say, ‘I don’t know.’” Help them practice the phrase, then reward them for asking for help. This strategy accomplishes two goals. First, it disincentivizes parents from giving their children the answers. What’s the use of giving your child the answer if the teacher won’t acknowledge it? Second, it helps students take ownership for their learning by empowering them to ask for help.

Call for help when you need it. If you’re concerned about the child’s welfare, or if the parent is behaving in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, call the technician who handles classroom issues. Maintain a polite smile and speak to the child in a quiet, soothing tone. Do everything you can to help the child regain emotional equilibrium while you wait for help.

What About My Ratings?

If you’re teaching from a platform that uses parental ratings for awarding bookings, raises and contract renewals, you may feel reluctant to correct unproductive parental behavior.

Here’s my advice: Don’t worry about the ratings. If you teach to the child’s needs and make decisions with their best interests in mind, the scores will follow. You’ll probably encounter a parent at some point who will shoot you down for gently correcting them. But, remember: It’s better to be a good teacher who gets the occasional poor review for doing the job correctly than to be a lousy teacher who earns high reviews by placating the parents.

The Bottom Line

Setting healthy boundaries for parents is key to creating a welcoming and productive online class environment. Use these strategies to ensure your students get the most out of every lesson.

Main photo credit: Pexels


Bank Like a Boss: 4 Essential Money Management Skills for Online ESL Teachers

Freelance is the future of work. One study reports that the freelance workforce has grown three times faster than the overall U.S. workforce. If that growth rate holds steady, more than half of the U.S. workforce will be freelancing by 2027.

This is good news if you’re an online ESL teacher. Chances are, you’re an independent contractor eager to take advantage of the booming gig economy. But beware: Financial security can be elusive even for the most well-paid educators. Here’s why.

Freelancers and independent contractors make 17 percent more per hour than full-time employees in non-freelance jobs. Still, freelancers earn 28 percent less over the course of their careers, mainly because they work fewer hours than their traditionally employed peers. They also pay for everything from health benefits to office supplies, which takes a chunk out of their take-home pay.

Dismal earnings don’t have to become a part of your financial future. Today, we’ll explore these four money management skills that will help you maximize your earning potential:

  • Creating a household budget
  • Budgeting for taxes and business expenses
  • Keeping records of your income
  • Tracking unbillable hours

By applying these simple but powerful financial tips, you can start skillfully managing your income in a way that will yield long-term rewards. Ready to become master of your financial future? Read on.

Essential Money Management Skills for Online ESL Teachers NEW

1. Creating a household budget

Unlike traditional employees, independent contractors can increase their earnings at will. If you want to earn more money teaching ESL online, you can open more bookings and attract more students. Unfortunately, that added income will quickly go to waste unless you already have a solid grip on your personal spending. A household budget, then, is an essential first step to becoming a financially savvy freelancer.

First, calculate your monthly expenses. Be sure to include fixed expenses, like debt service and utilities, as well as variable expenses, including groceries, clothing and entertainment. Add a 15 percent buffer to your monthly expenses to cover any unexpected expenditures.

Next, find the balance. Subtract your average monthly expenses from your total monthly income. If you’re operating in the red, use the next step to identify areas where you can cut back.

Set spending limits. Start by differentiating between essential and non-essential expenses. You can’t eliminate your water bill, but you can cut the cord and save a significant chunk of cash. You can also save money on your variable expenses by making frugal choices. If personal debt is weighing you down, consider debt consolidation, which can roll all your debt payments into a single monthly payment.

Finally, track your spending and adjust accordingly. You may find that you’ve overbudgeted in one area and underbudgeted in another. Make necessary adjustments to ensure your budget remains an accurate picture of your household’s income and expenses.

Budgeting can be a time-consuming and cumbersome process. Fortunately, high-tech tools like Mint or Goodbudget can make it easier. Spreadsheet programs like Excel, on the other hand, can be powerful tools for building a budget from scratch.

Once you have your personal finances under control, you can focus on your business expenses.

2. Budgeting for taxes and business expenses

Being your own boss is great, but there is one glaring downside. You have to withhold your own taxes and pay for your own equipment. If this sounds intimidating, take heart. A few easy strategies will help you stay in control of your business finances.

First, though, a brief primer on gross and net income.

Gross income, or pre-tax income, represents your total earnings. This total does not have taxes or other expenses withheld. As a result, your gross income is not an accurate representation of how much money you really have. For that, you need to look at your net income, or the amount of money left over after you subtract taxes and other withholdings.

Separating your withholdings from your income is essential to keeping your business in good shape. This keeps you constantly focused on your net income and gives you an accurate picture of how much money you have to spend.



Setting aside your own taxes may seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be if you follow a few simple rules.

Rule 1: Be prepared to set aside at least 25 to 30 percent of your pay for taxes. This covers both income tax and self-employment tax. The latter is considered your FICA tax, which includes Medicare and Social Security. If you’re employed by someone else, your employer withholds these taxes from your paycheck, and they also pay half. Independent contractors, by contrast, are solely responsible for paying the entire amount.

Thirty percent sounds like a lot. But, you’ll appreciate the peace of mind it will buy. Plus, by putting aside more than you think you’ll need to pay taxes, you essentially give yourself a hefty tax return at the end of the year. Vacation, anyone?

Rule 2: Withdraw your tax withholdings from each paycheck, and keep them separate from your personal and business accounts. This eliminates the chances that you’ll accidentally spend your tax savings on this week’s groceries. Keep a record of your tax savings to date, but be careful to exclude your tax withholdings from your operating budget.

Rule 3: Whatever you do, do not dip into your tax savings for any reason, or you risk shortchanging Uncle Sam. You may be tempted to “borrow” from taxes and pay back the money later. But, what if you lose your job? You’re still legally obligated to pay taxes for the income you’ve already earned. Don’t risk it. Leave that money untouched until tax time.


Online ESL teachers rely on a suite of high-tech tools to do their jobs. Yet laptops, headphones, cameras and other equipment can be costly to replace. The solution: Set aside an additional 8 to 10 percent of your income to cover equipment expenses. This eliminates the headache of frantically scrounging for funds when your computer goes kaput.

You should keep this money separate from your household spending, and you should also exclude it from your household budget. But, unlike your tax savings, your equipment savings can be a bit more flexible. Let’s say you need to buy a new iPad, but you don’t have enough money in your equipment account to cover it. You can make the purchase anyway and pay yourself back over time. Best of all, because your equipment budget is separate from your household budget, you won’t have to scrimp on groceries to make up the difference.

3. Tracking your earnings

Tracking outgoing expenses is a critical part of sound financial management. Keeping tabs on your income is important, too. Even if your teaching platform includes a “payment” tab that tracks your earnings, you should still keep your own records. Here’s why.

Late-paying and non-paying clients are a regrettable fact of life in the freelance world, so successful freelancers keep meticulous records and promptly follow up on any late or incorrect payments. Getting into the habit of tracking your own income puts you at an advantage, particularly if you’re looking to expand into other lines of contract work. Plus, it helps you quickly detect billing errors you or your client company may have made.

Track your income on a class-by-class basis. For each class, be sure to include:

  • The class date and time
  • Your base pay
  • Any additional pay incentives
  • The finish type assigned to the class

You should also track the total number of classes taught, especially if you get paid more for teaching a certain number of classes per month. Reconcile your records with your company’s records regularly to swiftly find and resolve any discrepancies.

4. Tracking unbillable hours

How much do you actually earn per hour?

To answer that seemingly simple question, you first need to pinpoint how many unbillable hours you accumulate every week. This is the time you spend on activities that cannot be billed to the client. For online ESL teachers, unbillable activities include preparing for lessons and creating learning aids. Almost all independent contractors have unbillable hours, and unpaid time is often essential to the quality of the billable service. But, if left unchecked, unbillable hours can essentially lower your per-hourly earnings. Let’s look at an example.

Suppose you teach 96 hours a month at $20 per hour. That amounts to $1,920 per month before taxes. Sounds pretty good, right? But, now subtract 30 percent of your earnings for taxes and another 8 percent for equipment. Your net income is $1,190.40 per month, or just $12.40 per hour.

Now, let’s factor in your unbillable hours. If you have six hours of unbillable time per week, you’re now spending 120 hours a month on your classes. But, because only a portion of those hours are billable, this lowers your net hourly wage to $9.92 per hour.

Some contractors spend a sizeable chunk of their time on unbillable tasks. But, they also charge much higher per hourly rates. This is why some freelancers charge $70 or more.

For those of us who can’t set our own hourly rates, it’s critical to use our unbillable hours wisely. This time should be devoted primarily to activities that directly affect the quality of the billable service. This includes:

  • Lesson planning
  • Writing feedback to parents, if required
  • Professional development opportunities, like webinars and training

Bookkeeping and business planning don’t directly impact the quality of your work. However, they contribute to the long-term viability of your enterprise, so you should make time for these activities, too.

Other unbillable activities, by contrast, don’t improve either your service or your business. Think carefully before investing time in these activities. If possible, eliminate them completely.

Providing unpaid expertise, especially on a billable product

You may be happy that your company is asking for your input on the lesson you just taught. But, this is really a solicitation for unpaid work. If they use your feedback to improve their curriculum and then charge their clients for it — or, worse, if they hike the price because it’s an “improved product” — consider yourself stiffed. A good rule of thumb: Never offer your expertise unless the company intends to pay you for it.

Creating extravagant props, reward systems and classroom decorations

We get it. That handmade reward system you found on Pinterest would be oh-so-perfect for your next class about land animals. But, before you go nuts with the Tacky Glue, stop and think how much that time will cost you, literally.

Let’s say the project will take three hours, and you earn $18 per hour. That’s $54 worth of your time you’re spending. You can probably buy something similar at more affordable price.

Same goes with your classroom décor. A well-lit and well-designed classroom space is essential to retaining clients. But, do you really need to redecorate every three months? Probably not.

The future belongs to freelancers. Make the most of it. If you learn how to manage your finances, you can gain better leverage over your earnings and build a business that stays strong in the long-term.

What money management strategies do you use? Is there anything I forgot? Leave your thoughts in the comments. And, if you like what you see, please subscribe.