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Thursday, January 24, 2008

eLearning Authoring Tool

Looking back at my post about eLearning Authoring Tools - and particularly whether custom or off-the-shelf is the way to go, I've been interested in seeing the varied response.

Paraphrasing justifications for custom eLearning Authoring Tool approaches:
  • A templated approach provides speed and consistency for repetitive tasks, freeing up time and budget for customizing demonstrations and adding in video and other engaging elements.
  • HTML and JavaScript are likely here to stay.
  • HTML and JavaScript are better from an accessibility standpoint. Note: this is more a question of what the tool produces (Flash vs. HTML and how clean the resulting HTML is - there are some complaints about Lectora produced HTML).
  • Lectora has a long way to go before it reaches the flexibility and efficiency of a courseware framework (XML > core media > engine).
  • Most eLearning tools do not promote the creation of effective courses, do not promote web standards, and do not promote accessibility; they merely make cookie-cutter course development easier for technically inexperienced course developers.
Paraphrasing reasons to use an off-the-shelf eLearning Authoring Tool approach:
  • Finished projects built with custom eLearning Authoring Tools become almost impossible for the clients to modify and update.
  • An eLearning authoring tool will provide consistent sustainability for courseware output.
  • You’ll be more likely to find someone with training/elearning expertise who knows the elearning authoring tools.
Looking at other posts and comments suggest some things to consider:
  • Team size (large vs. small) and composition (skills).
  • Which tool will still be in business in 5 years? Which tool will convert to something else when it does go away?
Some additional thoughts before choosing your eLearning Authoring Tool...
  • The comment - "Most eLearning tools do not promote the creation of effective courses" is flat out misleading. A book and a video can be really great learning tools for some content, but creativity is required. A painter needs to be creative with the medium they are using. So too for instructional designers / course authors. There's a lot you can do with off-the-shelf tools and especially if you are capable of dropping in more sophisticated interactions as needed.
  • You need to build what is good for the client (internal or external) (see What Clients Really Want). Maintenance is important in most all cases. In many cases, it is best for the client to be able to do quick maintenance themselves. Some choices make this much harder or even impossible. That said, maintaining some template driven systems can be the easiest for clients (if the system is built for it). However, it is almost always a bad choice to build something that requires significant, specialized knowledge to maintain.
At least, this all should be a topic of conversation with the client to make sure that what you are doing is in their best interest.

Maybe this topic should have been about maintenance of eLearning courses rather than about eLearning Authoring Tools.

3 comments:

Chris @ eQuixotic said...

"The comment - "Most eLearning tools do not promote the creation of effective courses" is flat out misleading. A book and a video can be really great learning tools for some content, but creativity is required."

Tony, I agree with you, yet disagree. I think the key word here is "promote." And in that regard, I agree with the original premise that many (most?) of these tools don't "promote" creativity, thus they don't "promote" the creation of effective courses.

Do they "allow" the creation of effective courses? Sure. If you want to swim upstream. The development tool we are forced to use in my organization (as well as the previous tool we had), with its rigid templates ("Insert text (500 characters) here. Insert stock photo (X pixels x Y pixels) here.") does a pretty good job at discouraging you from thinking outside the box.

You have to make a real effort to deviate from that generic formula. And many developers will simply follow the path of least resistance. It's unfortunate, but true.

I have to agree that the way many of the development tools out there are structured is a significant factor in the amount of tired and trite eLearning we see (and loathe) today.

I purposely avoid our "mandated" development tool and use Articulate stuff for this very reason - it allows me more creative flexibility with less effort.

philip said...

Thank you, Chris, I was about to make a similar point. I'm certainly not misleading people; when I wrote "Most eLearning tools do not promote the creation of effective courses" I also specifically stated "Let me be clear: I am NOT saying that eLearning tools cannot create effective courses."

(Tony, I won't take your "flat-out misleading" comment personally, although you're making me feel like I'm selling snake oil or something!) :P

My general point was that having PowerPoint won't make you a great presenter. Having FrontPage won't make you a great web designer. Matter-of-fact, using the built-in templates that come with those programs will almost certainly keep you second-rate for a long time.

Using one of your own analogies, having paint and a blank canvas won't make you a great painter; but at least in this instance the outcome is completely up to you... the canvas won't tell you what style you should paint and pat you on the back for being such a good painter.

What it comes down to is YOU. Only YOU can make something great, and it often has less to do with the tools you're using than with your determination, abilities, and -- most of all -- awareness of your craft.

We all know good tools make things easier for amateurs and pros alike; I just happen to think that the elearning tools industry is too focused on entry-level products that usually don't help reinforce good instructional design principles. Is that really such a scandalous notion?

I've stated before and I'll state again that ThinkingCap is an excellent exception to the rule, if only because their focus is instructional design pedagogy first, with web standards a close second.

Tony Karrer said...

I think we are pretty much in agreement that YOU is the most important factor in whether the courseware hits the mark.

I would also agree that some tools will make certain kinds of interactions harder / easier. However, it's pretty rare that you can't figure out a way to achieve the effect you are going for if you get creative.

And even in the extreme case of pure template-driven tools, you can still achieve some of the effect of things like a branching simulation - it's just requires more from the learner. But still ask the question. Make them think about it. Show the different answers.

And that's the extreme, most tools allow for much more than that.

Phillip - part of the reason that I came down hard on the comment (and I know that you didn't mean it as strongly as what was implied) is that you copied just that portion into a comment block where it said "most tools ..." if you don't include the rest or change the wording, then it is misleading. The choice of tool relative to kinds of interactions is often secondary to many other considerations.