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Friday, January 18, 2008

eLearning Course Development

BJ Schone asks a good question in his post - How do you build eLearning courses?
I have built our courses using a custom template created using HTML and JavaScript. They couldn’t believe I wasn’t using Lectora or another similar authoring product. They stressed that my courses would be difficult to maintain over time (in case I leave the company). My point of view was a little different: I chose this method because I have greater ability to customize courses as I please, and I can control every little detail of the course. I can easily embed Captivate movies, Flash movies, and anything else I please. I have a background in web development, so it was very easy for me to lean in this direction, too. And I think it’ll be just as easy to find somebody with HTML and JavaScript experience compared to Lectora or other authoring tools. But that’s just my opinion - I could be wrong.

So, here’s my question: How do you build your eLearning courses? Do you build them from scratch (ex. HTML, JavaScript, etc.)? Do you use an authoring tool for the whole course structure? I’m anxious to hear your response!

A long time ago we used to build our courses / eLearning from scratch as well, and we sometimes still do on some occasions, but generally it is better for everyone if you use an eLearning course authoring tool. Lectora gives quite a bit of flexibility and acts somewhat like an HTML / JavaScript course shell. You can still add custom HTML / JavaScript. You can embed Flash interactions. Unless you are trying to do something where you are automatically generating the pages based off of a CMS or database, then I'm not sure I get why you would use a standard tool.

My conclusion - without additional knowledge - the consultants in this case are right. It likely would be better for your company and your clients to use an authoring tool.


JackSlash said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JackSlash said...

We use a proprietary process in most of our courses. The menu and assessment are generated using XML files and we use a Flash template for core content. This combination gives us speed and consistency for repetitive tasks, freeing up time and budget for customizing demonstrations and adding in video and other engaging elements.

B.J. Schone said...

Thanks for responding, Tony. I definitely see your point, and I agree with the general arguments for using a tool like Lectora. Our solution has worked really well for us, but I’m not going to say it is better than every other possible solution. Live and learn, right?

One other thing I didn’t mention: I also leaned toward a homegrown solution in the beginning because of budget limitations. I figured, “Hey, I can build that - we don’t need to spend an extra $xxxx.” Maybe Lectora will be in next year’s budget?

John Larkin said...

Hi Tony

I agree, a tool such as Lectora is ideal. It is quite a powerful full featured tool actually.

Several years back I was working for a comapny developing eLearning material for clients such as Singapore Airlines, Visa, Nokia, Shell and JP Morgan Bank. The teams developed the projects using tools such as Dreamweaver and Flash. Some of the projects were later embedded in the Docent and Saba LMS platforms for example.

I found that some of those finished projects became almost impossible for the clients to modify and update. I felt that was inappropriate personally.

With a tool such as Lectora you could construct the eLearning project, publish the site and pass both the site and the Lectora Project files to the client if they also had a license for the software.

If it was possible, and if your company was generous if you get my drift, you would then train the client in the use of Lectora so that they could manage the site.


John Larkin

Profv said...

I am going to date myself here, but I learned word processing on Edix and Wordix. Like html code (which I only know in a very basic way), each line, the set up the formats, etc... had to be coded at the beginning of each line. Within a year, wordperfect came out making it much easier for anyone to use. However, for the first few versions I longed for the control I had over format on Wordix. It wasn't long before most software developers looked at the Mac's and developed user friendly wordprocessing programs, and then the next generation that allowed (for the most part) interface between programs and machines. It took a while to develop, but I would never want to go back to the days of Wordix and Edix as the software gives me the control I used to have in the first programs, but in such an easier format. I can do so much more now than I ever could with those word processing programs.

This is how I feel with webbased programs. There have been so many advances that make the software user friendly, but also allows the developer much more choice, I think going beyond what html alone (especially for those with only a basic knowledge) could do.

What I would like to see from these tool designers is to keep features that were very useful, but are dropped from advanced versions. I have yet to see the syllabus function that Prometheus (developed by the University of Washington) had. This feature was totally dropped when blackboard bought the LMS.

philip said...

i, too, wrote a post in response to BJ's question. i think the answer depends on the situation, but generally speaking, i'm not a fan of elearning authoring tools.

i'd love to hear your take on my journal entry.

cheers :)
- philip

Philip said...

I use Dreamweaver, Flash, Hot Potatoes/ Texttoys, edit the source code for some JavaScript games like wordsearches and hangman and also used the studymate software that ties in with Respondus when working with WebCT.

Mike Becvar said...


I put a comment in BJ's blog. Like BJ, I have been creating courses with HTML and JavaScript. I have also successfully made changes / adapted courses developed by other companies using HTML and JavaScript. I try to make clean, standard's compliant HTML whenever possible. As we have seen with products like Authorware, even the big guys will change with time. HTML and JavaScript are likely here to stay.

Another advantage to using HTML and JavaScript is the fact that the content will be more accessible to users of adaptive technology such as JAWS. JAWS can read the HTML content better than it can do for Flash content generated by other tools. This is an issue for my clients since they are the Federal Government.

When needed, I will use other tools, but I feel that I can deliver the same quality and sometimes a more customized set of features with HTML and JavaScript.

Steve Flowers said...

Depending on the size of your development staff and the sophistication / maturity of your development staff an authoring tool will provide a consistent sustainability for courseware output.

I can't recommend Lectora personally (though I know it well) if an organization has outgrown this beginner stage.

Lectora, for example, generates bloated output, is more difficult to run repetetive tasks, crashes often, and makes it next to impossible to abstract content from a common source other than the awt file.

Advantages of tools like Lectora - easy to build content packages that will more often than not run on your LMS. Disadvantages, it's built for a specific customer base and has been much the same tool and output type for several versions. The output doesn't take advantage of central content abstraction (grabbing content from a central file), pushes many repeated functions into each published page (inefficient), and is fairly inflexible with many of its built in functions (question feedback for example).

Lectora could be a very powerful tool for sophisticated users, and it is getting better. But in my opinion, it has a long way to go before it reaches the flexibility and efficiency of a courseware framework (XML > core media > engine).

RaffDaddy48 said...

I have started using SCATE Technologies ignite 4 product. A friend at Chrysler told me about it. They were using it internally.
I can import PowerPoint, image files, videos including from Captivate (SWF) audio and voice. It is a media stitcher. Extremely easy to use and I can get the content from SMEs that use ignite 4 Standard and I can import that into ignite 4 Professional which does full course content with quiz, table of contents etc. The other part that I like is that I can publish to web, media, SCORM LMS and they offer a public media sharing site for posting samples or content.

Here is a link to a lesson that was part of a full course.

They promote it as a product for any user and I guess I am proof of that.

Gareth said...

While working for a global consultancy firm in the UK, I developed a shell application in Flash that would read instructions and content from XML files.

The company's sales team failed to really do anything with the tool, though at least two projects were won because of the flexibility it offered above what our competitors were offering.

Having seen how people did actually like the idea of having Flash courses (along with video, animations, audio, quizzes, drag and drops etc.) but also wanted to retain the ability to update and modify the course themselves, I then developed Mercury. It follows the same concepts as the tool I developed at my work-place, but is much more streamlined and much easier to work with - it's geared towards a consumer rather than as a tool that a developer would use.

A demo of the tool is available to view at and I'll be happy to take any questions.