Tony Karrer's eLearning Blog on e-Learning Trends eLearning 2.0 Personal Learning Informal Learning eLearning Design Authoring Tools Rapid e-Learning Tools Blended e-Learning e-Learning Tools Learning Management Systems (LMS) e-Learning ROI and Metrics

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Should I Use Dreamweaver to Build My Course?

I received a question that I've heard in many forms and I'd like to ask help on this.

I am looking for some advice about whether or not my choice to use Dreamweaver with learning extensions (CourseBuilder + Learning Site) is a good idea or not.  I understand that Dreamweaver is not SCORM compliant (or at least it wasn't).

The reason why I thought it would be good to use, is because I work for a small company, and I am the only Technical Writer / eLearning Developer, so needed something simple and straightforward to use, but that could also offer me flexibility to design my own modules.  My modules are going to take a previously written training guide and turn it into an online interactive format.  It will need to have Forward & Back buttons, interactive exercises, tests & quizzes integration.  We don't have an LMS at this point, but we may need to track it in the future.

Also, Dreamweaver is relatively cheap, so I could make a good case to my managers to buy it for me.  There's also good help material available online, and there is a good book written by Michael Doyle "Dreamweaver MX e-Learning Toolkit" (although it was written in 2003).

I do use Camtasia to create my training videos, but have heard that Adobe Captivate is a good product as well.

Dreamweaver appears harder to use than other eLearning tools I have seen out there, but I appreciate its flexibility.

So, first, let's admit that many people in our industry are pretty much solo developers of eLearning.  They have to do everything on their own.  And they also are not building that much eLearning day-to-day, so it's pretty common to have to go through figuring out what tool to use.  And because they are solo, there's no time to spend evaluating a bunch of different tools.  Yes, I could download the free trial version and try it out, but that would take a fair bit of time.  At the same time, if I don't make a good choice, I could be suffering a lot of unnecessary pain.  Sound familiar?

So can you help me (and the reader) out?

  1. Decision Process? If you were this person, how would you go about selecting the tool to use?  Given there are a lot of Rapid eLearning Tools and Software Simulation Tools out there, how do you choose which tools to consider?  How would you decide which to download and trial?  Anything else you would do to make this decision?
  2. In terms of the specific tools here, any suggestions?   Dreamweaver?  Camtasia?  Adobe Captivate?  Articulate?  What others jump to mind?

Thanks, in advance.


Anonymous said...

Sure, you get a lot of flexibility. Just like the people who use Adobe Flash get a lot of flexibility. However, there is a cost, or costs. First, there is a lot more work. Unless you program a template to work within - and even then, there is a lot of additional programming that would not be needed if you chose a rapid development tool. Second, it doesn't build a system within your training area. What happens when you leave. You have potentially corned the company into finding a programmer who can train or vice versa.

There is no easy answer here. A lot of it comes down to personal preference, so I guess... really there is no right answer.

In many ways PowerPoint is one of the most powerful elearning development tools. Pair PowerPoint with Adobe Presenter, Adobe Captivate, or Articulate and you have a one-two punch, with some drawbacks and restrictions too.

Again, it all comes down to personal preference. If you don't need to worry about SCORM, you have a wide open playing field. Again, I would encourage you to ask -- "what happens when I leave?"

Not enough people ask that.

Hilarie Sellers said...

This post is so apropos to my current situation. I just recently landed a new job and the first thing the employer wanted was for me to select a good authoring tool to create CBT (not web-based) lessons for a military project. I was tasked to select a tool that would work for our task, but also work for other projects down the road that the department would be creating (some would be web-based, some SCORM conformant, etc.. all varieties).

So what I've done is to create a spreadsheet listing all the features I wanted to have available by the tool (such as file types it supported for import, cost, output file types like .exe, html, etc., ease of use, support - online, in person, over phone, etc.). I also looked at the company's strength. How long have they been in the business? When was the product first released? What version of the product are they currently selling? etc... (I did this mostly because I come from an Authorware background and didn't want to face another scenario where the company stops supporting the product).

But then I also did one other thing,... I created a sample lesson in powerpoint (A storyboard - based on the content of my first lesson in our course) that would best mimic the way I anticipated many of the lessons will work (activity types, assessments, interactions, etc.) and then got my artist to start working on the graphics, video, etc... so I had all the elements in place.

After using my spreadsheet comparison, I downloaded the trial versions for the 3 top tools and tried to create the sample lesson using those tools. I had a goal to focus on (my sample lesson). That helped me see how easy they were to use, how much support there really was out there, and quite simply, figure out which one I liked best.

We're not quite done with this process, and for us, we've narrowed it down to Captivate and Lectora, and I'm not sure which way we'll end up... BUT, I feel pretty good about the way we went about selecting a tool.

As for the title of this post, I felt that Dreamweaver had too steep a learning curve and I didn't think it would easily create .exes for my project.

Lastly, I found incredibly helpful information about available tools on many websites, including Brandon Hall's website.

I sure hope this helps you and I hope it makes sense.

Good luck...

Richard Bradshaw said...

I'm not sure that Dreamweaver is a relevant tool for this - it's for writing HTML/CSS and Javascript.

John said...

Unfortunately, I think the answer to your reader is, well, it depends.

Tool selection, at least for me, is very organizationally specific. The answer is based on many factors, as Hilarie demonstrates in her response.

These factors include things like level of tracking (does not have to be SCORM), sophistication of interactions, types of media to be integrated, required delivery format, need for content management, etc.

Many of these factors speak to an organizations level of maturity in terms of eLearning - are they primarily focused on information dissemination and knowledge development, or something more complex like skill building or behavior change?

My own personal opinion is that it rapid tools, out of the box, are good for lower level solutions. As your need for more complex solutions increases you need other tools or deeper levels of skill to accomplish your task. Your organization should be prepared to invest in multiple tools (or change them) over time. Many organizations get trapped into the mindset that they must find the one perfect tool for every type of learning solution they may need. This is like saying that you only need a hammer to build a house. As a wise friend of mine (@mrch0mp3rs) once said, view technology investment as a subscription, not capital investments.

I also tend to have a good chuckle when people equate rapid tools with the idea that 'no programming is required.' This tends to only be true with low level solutions. Yes, you can build some very nice looking products out of the box, but the solutions almost always target lower levels of learning. Elegant solutions for complex learning problems will require you to use different tools, or use existing tools in ways not intended by the publisher (meaning you will have to truly understand the technical complexity of the tools you use). Your organization should be prepared to invest in your development by giving you the skills you need as your learning solutions evolve. You must have technical skills in order to build a wide range of online learning solutions.

So, back to your reader's question ... it depends. If this is your first step into eLearning, do yourself a favor and begin by building simple products with easy to use rapid tools. Just don’t allow your organization to think that all eLearning must look/behave this way. Once you've got a sense of what those products create, and what it takes to maintain them, take the next step and look for tools that give you greater flexibility in how you separate content from layout (for re-purposing of content) or in the types of interactions you can build.

Cammy Bean has posted a collaborative Mindmap on her site that lists various tools, when they are used, and what people think is good or bad about them. Might be a good resource to check.

At some point you (and your organization) will be interested in tracking delivery and using robust assessment tools. Find tools that let you capture detailed sets of data - because as your capability level matures you will find that your ability to analyze the data becomes as important, if not more so, than the content.

eQuixotic said...

You'll have a much easier time developing a *compelling* course using a tool like Articulate (with PowerPoint) than you will with Dreamweaver.

And the *compelling* factor should be a primary concern, not secondary (which you find far too often in eLearning development).

Mark S said...

Pure HTML/CSS is a bad choice if your goal is to put together .exe files.

As others have suggested, I would consider a PowerPoint-based tool. That will satisfy the eventual move to a SCORM-conformant LMS or tracking system, while at the same time provide you the ability to pretty quickly put together courseware. There will still be a learning curve but it won't be anywhere near what you'd need if you went the HTML/CSS route or, even more, the pure custom Flash route.

If you are doing a lot of software training then I'd recommend Captivate. If not, then I'd recommend Articulate. Your best bet, even though I think Articulate is much better than Adobe Presenter, would be to talk your organization into buying the Adobe Elearning Suite for you, that way you'll have the easy tools to start with (Captivate, Presenter) while also having the powerful graphics editor (PhotoShop), while also giving you the tools to make anything you wish once you learn them (which can take some serious time), such as Flash.

Dreamweaver/pure HTML-based courseware doesn't really have a place in this day and age, unless you are building pure page-turners, or simply need to put together a page template to house your flash-based content (and for that, the PPT-to-Flash converter tools mentioned, and Flash itself, will do that for you).

That said...I feel that anyone who doesn't know HTML/CSS, and ActionScript 2.0 and at least is working towards learning 3.0, is not worthy of being referred to as an Elearning "Developer".

Unknown said...

I am in exactly the same situation (small company, I am the only Technical Writer / eLearning Developer, creating an elearning course from existing training manual). I was able to get my company spring for the whole Adobe Creative Suite plus Captivate. So I used Dreamweaver to create the framework for the course (structure, navigation, etc.) using HTML, CSS and Javascript. I am using a combination of PowerPoint and Captivate to create the individual modules in video format, and am using a lot of Photoshop and Fireorks (which I already had) for image editing.
Dreamweaver has it's role in the development process but doesn't add anything to the development of elearning that any web authoring tool couldn't do. I really like using DW, and have been for years. That said, it is a great and easy program if you know your HTML and CSS. If you don't, then the learning curve is steep because you are not just learning DW, you are learning the core languages that you are using it to write.

vilu said...

My two-cents worth: We are a small presentation and CBT company. After a lot of experimentation we believe the best overall choice for creating practically any type of training is the Adobe suite. You have to deal with only one UI (realatively shallow learning curve), the products are solid, complementary, very powerful and flexible, and have great user support. Moreover, you can find a full spectrum (from novice to advanced) of self-learning video and printed material at reasonable cost from over a dozen training and publishing firms. Dreamweaver, although a fine product, alone won't fill the bill for a pro setup.

Jeff goldman said...

I would suggest buying a DHTML Authoring tool (e.g. OutStart Trainer). It will provide you with all you need to make a SCORM compliant course. Coupled with Flash and Captivate you can do quite a bit (complex interactives, games, simulations, etc.). FYI: Steer clear of ToolBook it has a very steep learning curve and is not very user-friendly.

Becareful not to just buy Captivate and rely on that for making courses. It is great for creating simulations, but for making a full WBT you will find it not as flexible as you would probably like. Especially if you want to access and customize the code or set up more complex, non-linear navigation.

Jana Schiff said...

I agree with several other posters, Dreamweaver may not be the best tool. Especially if you haven't used it before. It does tend to have quite a steep learning curve. If you have the time to try out some different products, I would encourage you to do that.

I did something similar to what Hilarie Sellers (she posted earlier) did. The company I work for needed a decent authoring tool. There are about 6-8 IDs with varying skill levels but no one, other than me, knows Dreamweaver and no one has the time to learn it. I read the eLearning Guild's latest review of elearning development tools and found that very helpful and then i went ahead and did my own research and downloaded free trial versions of software I was interested in.

In the end, we had to get another company to develop something that would suit some of our very specific needs.

I also found that no one tool would do it all and we still use Captivate and other tools.

I hope this helps...

Phil said...

Sounds like the wrong question. Dreamweaver is a tool. What you need to be thinking about is how your content and interactions are organized, used and re-used. What your learners expect from the materials, how they communicate with each other and with mentors and instructors. It's easy to pick the wrong tool and lock yourself into a single learning design.

Once you've done that start looking at tools.

Take a look at things like Elgg, Moodle, MediaWiki and Google Sites.

If you have any scripting experience have a look at Flex, OpenLaszlo or JQuery et al for building interactions.

And look at QuestionMark's hosted service for your assessments - it will save having to set up and manage your own system.

JFDragon said...

Happy to know we are many in the solo style of developing...

Well I use the Adobe eLearning Suite and I'm happy with it. If you ask me wich software is the most important for me in it... I think I will say Captivate 4. I've try Captivate 3 and 4 and the last version propose many great features and fix many bugs...

But I apologise, it's nessary to take time to test, try and retest the software before bying. For Cp4 I was on the betaTester rank and it help me to be more in touch with the possibilies of the software. But as I say to my boss, my geek hours in the middle of the nights have made the majority of the job in the selection of the tools I use...

Good luck in your research...

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora e Tony!

I have used DreamWeaver for a number of years now. Indeed it is excellent for creating all that you've summarised - Forward & Back buttons, interactive exercises, tests & quizzes integration. But . . .

I agree with Richard. It is wonderful for html, java scripts etc, and of course, the created end products must sit on a web server if the resource is Net based, or can be put on CD and used from the disk.

One common misconception is that the images and other design features can be done in DreamWeaver too.

IF images are part of the design specification and the resources are built in DreamWeaver, the designer must also have an image creating tool. PhotoShop (Image Ready for animations) or Flash, among other apps, can be used to provide these. Paint.NET for instance is a good Web2.0 freebie for images.

More or less all of this site was built in DreamWeaver, but the images were built with other apps, among them PhotoShop and ImageReady and a bit of Flash.

Catchya later

Shameer Ayyappan said...

I want to point out that you can generate SCORM compatible content using the version of Dreamweaver that ships with the Adobe eLearning Suite. You can find more details of this version here:

Cheryl at Take Charge America said...

If your goal to just disseminate information or knowledge, I’d recommend against creating a formal elearning course. It is better to provide this information just-in-time as a job-aid or some other form of performance support. Making learners sit through a tell-and-test data dump will not lead to recall, skill-building or organizational improvement. For this type of just-in-time knowledge dissemination, rapid authoring tools (articulate, breeze) are a good option as are a number of web 2.0 technologies.

On the other hand, if your goal is to impact learner behaviors (what they DO vs. what they KNOW), and your learners aren’t already experts in the field, then it is essential to include meaningful interactivity in the e-learning.
Let's look at the difference:

Meaningful interactivity is NOT:

*Clicking a glossy button to reveal more text
*Flavors of multiple choice quizzes whether built with radio buttons, hot spots, or check boxes
*Trivia games

Meaningful interactivity IS:
Based on an understanding of what you want to the learners to DO.

Scenarios/environments that are contextually relevant to the (authentic). E.g. a hospital ward, a factory floor, a desk with a client on the phone

Challenging, often including multi-step tasks

Intrinsic feedback, such as a frowning customer, a commissions earned indicator, or a repaired widget.

Branching scenarios that engage and help one to simulate a process, conversation, or mental model.

The above elements almost always require persistent elements (e.g. tasks completed, performance indicators, etc.) and multiple layers of content that change dynamically based on learner actions. These are very difficult or impossible to create with Dreamweaver or any other HTML technology. On the other hand, Flash does provide this capability and lots more, as does SmartBuilder which I’ve use on nearly all my elearning projects. It is much easier to use than Flash. Bottom line, if you wish to create effective e-learning, that is, e-learning that impacts behavior and organizational performance, then consider Flash or SmartBuilder.

Unknown said...

Try SmartBuilder! I am a one person eLearning team as well. I have used Articulate and Captivate but quickly got frustrated with the lack of flexibility. I am so impressed with the SmartBuilder tool and with the support the company provides.

DrBob said...

This is like studying atomic physics with a view to baking a cake.

Get a shared host. Install a Moodle and play with it. All the solutions are there and it will look professional.

Total cost = $4.99/month (includes deployment). This sort of approach can easily cope with 400 full time students..

Hillel Awaskar said...

Yes as a starsted you should consider using the Rapid Development but in long run; if you want to make serious elearn products- consider Flash
see also

Tony Karrer said...

This is great feedback! Thanks so much for contributing. I know that it's been helpful already.

One thing that seems to jump out at me is that tools are going to get trialed - and thus need to have very short learning curve, good initial support materials, likely based on something like PowerPoint conversion. They need to make you proficient with them in a few hours or days.

That likely is a limiting factor in the design and choice of a tool.

Am I wrong on that?

John said...


While it would be nice, I don't see things happening quite as simply within an organization.

The tool is only half (or less) of the problem. I think the bigger issue is a general lack of vision regarding design options (i.e. what the learning solution should be) - or even the ability to think of new ways to use tools to design products that have impact (the MS Word is more than a typewriter scenario).

Because of this, organizations seem to develop a form of tunnel vision - they focus on tools (or requirements for tools) that do things that are familiar to them. They don't think about the 'what if' scenarios, or how things should evolve over time.

So even if the tools become easier to try, the scope of the investigation will be rather limited. This generally leads to situations where an organization buys a set of tools that quickly become too restrictive (because they didn't know what else to think about), or they overspend on complex tools 'just in case' without any real idea of how they might use these other features.

This is one reason why I would advocate that an organization that is just beginning to develop elearning first buy a simple tool - doesn't even matter which one. The point is just to begin developing something. Start small; don’t spend thousands of dollars buying software for your department if they’ve never created something before, and don’t make your first foray into elearning a business critical initiative that requires 40 hours of elearning. Take on a small project, talk it through, experiment with different ways to design it. Based on that experience document the design issues you faced - why did some solutions work well and not others? What are the maintenance implications? What delivery issues where encountered? What data is important to track? The answers to these questions will informa your learning strategy and lead you towards a set of tools that fit your organizational needs.

I don't think an organization can develop an effective learning strategy without having had this type of experience. And, as a result, will find themselves chasing the latest new tools without regard to how they can be applied effectively within their organization. Ultimately they end up with a hodge podge of learning products that don’t fit together and are impossible to maintain.

I realize that business is changing and that we don’t generally have the luxury of taking a thoughtful approach to bringing elearning into an organization. The business has a need, they want it solved now, and we try to make that happen. But we have to find a way out of this hole, otherwise I fear we will continue to see little innovation in the way we approach online educational needs.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora e Tony!

I think you are spot on.

The trouble is that, like learning to fly, learning to create resources that go places takes more than just a few days.

Who in their right mind would attempt to fly an aircraft after only a few days training?

Building resources is safer, and that's the problem for the learners. Often what should have buried it's wings in the soil is launched time after time to learners who go nowhere fast, if you catch my metaphor.


Unknown said...

I really like Dreamweaver to create Webpages. To build courses, I think PowerPoint and Articulate products are great parter. As quizzes are good learning material for courses, intergrating quizzes to course is really a good way to engage learners. There are 12 free online quiz makers to use.

ayu said...

Hi Tony ..

I also use Dreamweaver to create webpages .. but I think Dreamweaver is less suitable to be used to create a course ..
my opinion use powerpoint,adobe captivate or moodle captivate is the right choice ..
but it all depends on you where tools are easier to use ..

kreator.Rakesh said...

Hi everyone,

Instead of using Dream weaver for to develop E-LEARNING products. Use Powerpoint and then articulate. It is very easy process to create e-learning modules and it is of very low cost.