PowerPoint How-tos

Enhance Your PowerPoint-based Course with 11 Free Plugins

e-Learning owes a lot to good old PowerPoint. Commercial vendors and the community offer a great deal of add-ins to extend its functionality for particular needs. Enjoy 11 free tools on top of PowerPoint and see which one can enrich your course.

Have you ever considered the immense role PowerPoint plays in e-Learning? Someone might argue it’s not even a professional authoring tool. However, if you take a closer look into third-party courseware, you’ll realize it’s all either based on PowerPoint, or emulates its interface, or ensures full support of the product. The PowerPoint deck has become a de-facto industry standard in content delivery – be it business, education or any other software-enabled vertical.

A plethora of add-ons to PowerPoint cover pretty much any multimedia content type, use case and area of application. Some of these extensions bring its basic e-Learning functionality to the next level, others provide multi-purpose tools that can be part of an engaging course.

Let’s dive into a brief roundup of PowerPoint plugins that benefit instructional designers one way or another.

Comparative chart
Product Name Features A good fit for
1. Office MixOffice Mix A free extension to PowerPoint that lets you make video/audio narrations.
  • Make simulations, polls and other types of interactive content
  • Easily publish to HTML5, video and other formats
  • Share on social networks, as a website code, etc.
  • Monitor view stats and course performance.
Professionals looking to create engaging and entertaining content, instructional designers
2. PickitPickit
  • Dive into a large photo collection
  • Leverage multiple image categories for presentations, e-Learning courses, business agendas, etc.
  • Look up text with the Abracadabra tool.
A broad audience looking for nice pics, course authors in search of suitable imagery
3. PexelsPexels
  • Access free stock photos from a single source
  • Search for images with the use of filters
  • Highlight and save favorite pictures for fast availability.
Designers who want to spark attention with fresh photos; instructors, content makers from all walks of life
4. iSpring Free SuiteiSpring Free Suite
  • Create e-Learning content right in PowerPoint at no cost
  • Convert PowerPoint to Flash, HTML5 and SCORM with no quality loss
  • Generate basic polls and surveys with multiple graded and non-graded question types.
e-Learning professionals looking for rich authoring functionality at no cost
5. Office Timeline
  • Create free project visuals and professional timelines at no cost
  • Use Timeline Wizard for easy data input
  • Track task duration and completion
  • Adjust charts and timelines to your liking
Teachers and students authoring evolutionary/historic/business papers or other content with embedded timelines.
6. Maurizio La Cava’s Plugin
  • Swap shapes in PowerPoint
  • Align all shapes with the size of the one selected
  • Distribute shapes in a grid
  • Get rid of crooked lines – quickly rectify line shapes
PowerPoint users who need more control of standard and non-standard shapes; course authors
7. LiveWeb
  • Embed web pages into a PowerPoint deck and view them in real time in the course of a presentation.
  • Sync up pages as if they were displayed in a standard browser
  • Put together a list of multiple desired web sites to be added
A broad user audience looking for neat and easy inclusion of web links into their presentations.
8. PPT LabsPPT Labs
  • Highlight bullets or light up your slides
  • Easily migrate from object A to object B
  • Use in-slide animations
  • Create audio narrations right from your speaker notes
Presenters, public speakers, teachers and students needing to highlight a particular point in a slide deck
9. FusionCharts’ OomfoFusionCharts’ Oomfo
  • Build sophisticated stylish charts in PowerPoint
  • Pull live charts from several Excel files simultaneously
  • Use pie rotation, interactive legend, number formatting and other frills
Course authors, instructional designers and other ‘chart geeks’
10. Symbols and CharactersSymbols and Characters
  • Optimize the use of diacritics, special characters and symbols in PowerPoint
  • Search by a simple letter (e.g., a, b, c, d)
  • Locate a needed symbol by entering a short phrase
A broad audience of PowerPoint users, linguists, mathematicians, etc.
11. PhET Sims – Science/MathPhET Sims – Science/Math
  • Leverage the collection of interactive simulations
  • Use measurement tools and highlight real-life connections
  • Add worksheets, use for group work and instructions
Researchers, mathematicians, scientists, teachers and students looking to add simulations.

1. Office Mix

Supported PowerPoint versions: From 2013 Service Pack 1 onwards

Office Mix

Office Mix greatly extends the PowerPoint slide show features and allows you to make nice video and audio lectures, and use animations, transitions and other interactive functionality free of charge. Plus, Office Mix offers quizzes, polls, basic performance tracking and other bells and whistles for e-Learning. It’s free, and it gives third-party professional authoring vendors a really hard time.

Features:

  • Video/audio narrations
  • Rights management
  • Simulations, polls and other types of interactive content
  • Easy publishing to HTML5, video and other formats
  • Easy sharing on social networks, as a website code, etc.
  • Monitoring of view stats and course performance.

2. Pickit

Supported PowerPoint versions: PowerPoint 2013 Service Pack 1 or higher, PowerPoint 2016 for Mac, PowerPoint 2016 or higher, PowerPoint Online.

Pickit

Pickit is a nice alternative to the somewhat discredited and obsolete Clip Art concept. Pickit is not that hackneyed, and does provide a fresh perspective. Free high-quality pics and icons – static and dynamic – are available from PowerPoint and Word. If you need a great complementary source to bolster your creativity, this is a godsend.

Features:

  • Agile search in a large photo collection
  • Multiple categories of pics useful for presentations, e-Learning courses, business agendas, etc.
  • Easy text look up with the Abracadabra tool: just select the text and right click to initiate the search
  • Custom photos are available upon request from the user community: Pickit boasts many devotees and aficionados, feel free to ask for help and assistance.

3. Pexels – Free Stock Photos

Supported PowerPoint versions: PowerPoint 2013 Service Pack 1 or higher, PowerPoint 2016 for Mac, PowerPoint 2016 or higher, PowerPoint Online

Pexels

Pexels is another add-on that provides access to free stock photos from a single source. Instructional designers can use this tool to craft great-looking presentations with professional images – no cost, no strings attached.

Features:

  • Convenient search for images
  • Popular image filter
  • Highlight and save favorite pictures for fast availability.

4. iSpring Free Suite

Supported PowerPoint versions: PowerPoint 2007/2010/2013/2016 (32- and 64-bit editions).

iSpring Free Suite

iSpring Free Suite is a free version of the company’s authoring suite. It allows users to create e-Learning content and quizzes right in PowerPoint at no cost. iSpring is highly acclaimed for its output quality; try the tool and judge for yourself.

iSpring Free Suite

Features:

  • Convert PowerPoint to Flash, HTML5 and SCORM with no quality loss, all animations and triggers will remain intact
  • Create basic polls and surveys with multiple graded and non-graded question types, multimedia and other interactive elements.

5. Office Timeline

Supported PowerPoint versions: PowerPoint 2007, 2010, and 2013.

Office Timeline

Office Timeline is a PowerPoint-based timeline maker and Gantt chart tool. This software enables course authors to include pertinent visuals into their materials. Elaborate on evolutionary processes in any field of science, mark progress on current edu, technical or any other projects using the Gantt chart.

Features:

  • Free project visuals and professional timelines at no cost
  • Handy project management tool included
  • Timeline Wizard for easy data input and fast results
  • Task duration and completion markers
  • Customizable charts and timelines (changeable colors, data format, text position, etc.)
  • Familiar ribbon for easy controls and hands-on experience.

6. Maurizio La Cava’s Plugin

Supported PowerPoint versions: From PowerPoint 2013 onwards

Maurizio La Cava’s Plugin

An invigorating contribution from a solo developer, MLC PowerPoint Add-in by Maurizio La Cava helps swap shapes in PowerPoint and ensures neat content alignment. No need to do extra design work. Just encapsulate your ideas in shapes and get your visuals arranged.

Features:

  • Swap shape positions
  • Easy resizing: Align all shapes with the size of the selected
  • Distribute shapes in a grid
  • Get rid of crooked lines – quickly rectify line shapes
  • Mass copy a selected item to all slides
  • Align shapes to match selected items
  • Align height/width or color in a single click
  • Selective export into PowerPoint – just the slides you need
  • Split tables into shapes.


7. LiveWeb

Supported PowerPoint versions: PowerPoint 2007/2010/2013/2016 (32bit/64-bit).

LiveWeb allows users to embed web pages into a PowerPoint deck and view them in real time in the course of a presentation. Pages are updated and synced up as if they were displayed in a standard browser. Thus, instructional designers may refer to useful web sources right from the deck and rest assured the content in question remains up to date.

Features:

  • Allows a list of multiple desired web sites to be added
  • Pages refresh automatically on every slide visit
  • The user can set a zoom level on the browser page
  • Relative paths can be specified.

8. PPT Labs

Supported PowerPoint versions: PowerPoint 2010, 2013 and 2016 for Windows. (Alas, Apple fans – Mac OS X is not supported.).

PPT Labs

PowerPointLabs revises the boring idea of text and bullets and helps highlight every significant point in a new fashion. It also allows you to add animations and tweak your slides easily with enhanced controls so you don’t have to invest in extra software or resources.

Features:

  • Highlight bullets or light up your slides
  • Easily migrate from object A to object B. Just show where items start and where they should be
  • Use in-slide animations
  • Create audio narration right from your speaker notes
  • Add subtitles or captions in a single click
  • Drill down to details, or move back to see the big picture
  • Build or update roadmaps in your project or e-Learning course.


9. FusionCharts’ Oomfo

Supported PowerPoint versions: From PowerPoint 2007 Service Pack 2 onwards.

FusionCharts’ Oomfo

Oomfo is an intelligent plugin to build sophisticated stylish charts. It adds a lot on top of the standard PowerPoint functionality and enables course authors to render complex ideas in an improved chart form.

Features:

  • Pull live charts from several Excel files simultaneously
  • Use data from cloud applications to create new charts
  • Pie rotation, interactive legend, number formatting, advanced styling and other extended features
  • Conversion of current charts into the Oomfo format in a single click.

10. Symbols and Characters

Supported PowerPoint versions: PowerPoint 2013 Service Pack 1 or later, PowerPoint 2016 for Mac, PowerPoint for iPad

Symbols and Characters

The Symbols and Characters tool available from the Office Store facilitates the use of diacritics, special characters and symbols in PowerPoint slides. All you have to do is locate a desired character by a simple lookup, or narrow down the search by language or character subset.

Features:

  • Search by a simple letter (e.g., a, b, c, d)
  • Locate a needed symbol by entering a short phrase
  • Lookup in a specific language table or subset
  • Just click on a symbol to insert it – and there you go.

11. PhET Sims – Science/Math

Supported PowerPoint versions: PowerPoint 2013 Service Pack 1 or later, PowerPoint Online

PhET Sims - Science/Math

PhET is a collection of interactive simulations for science designed and provided by PhET Interactive Simulations at the University of Colorado at Boulder. All simulations build on education research and real cases so academic course authors may translate their ideas into simulations with no distortion.

Features:

  • Includes models and representations
  • Provides measurement tools and highlights real-life connections.
  • Support numerous instructional uses – labs, lecture demos, academic tasks, etc.
  • May go hand-in-hand with worksheets, group work, instructions
  • Support for inquiry-based instruction, compliance with NGSS or CCSS.

In conclusion

I hope this gives you an idea of some nifty PowerPoint add ins. As you can see, it’s a kaleidoscope of features and use scenarios. In any case, make sure to employ these tools responsibly without overdoing your message and sticking to the e-Learning objectives. You got any ideas of great plugins that could make fellow course authors happy? Give me a shout.

Survey

Now, here comes the question. Which of these tools you think are really useful for creating e-Learning courses?

Many thanks for the feedback!

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