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Choosing the Right Content-Authoring Tool For Your e-Learning Needs

There are several hundred e-Learning tools out in the marketplace today. Selecting the proper course-authoring tool for developing your company’s online training content is no small undertaking. Today we are going to look at some solid strategies to help you select the course-authoring tool that is right for you and for your company’s e-Learning / Learning Management Systems initiative. First we will start with some basic concepts.

What is a Content-authoring Tool?

According to Wikipedia.org, “a content-authoring tool is a software application used to create multimedia content typically for delivery on the World Wide Web. Content-authoring tools may also create content in other file formats so the training can be delivered on a CD (compact disc) or in other formats for various different uses. The category of content-authoring tools includes HTML, Flash, and various types of e-Learning authoring tools.”

Course-authoring tools can create online courses, while content-authoring tools create subject specific online content. Subject Specific Online Content more than likely has less features and functionality than an online course created with a course-authoring tool, but, this depends upon the software used to create the content. In the e-Learning industry, we generally use the two phrases interchangeably, and in this article, I will do so also.

What is a Learning Management System?

Learning Management Systems (LMSs) are web-based software application platforms used to plan, implement, and assess learning processes related to online and offline training administration and performance management. LMSs provide an instructor a way in which to create and deliver content, monitor learners’ participation, and assess student performance. LMSs also provide learners with interactive features, such as threaded discussions, web conferencing, discussion forums, and other methods of communication.

Generally, a Learning Management System has its own online content-authoring tool as part of the overall system. There are content-authoring tools / systems out there in the market that call themselves “Learning Management Systems”, but really are just front-end and / or presentation-authoring tools, with little or almost no LMS functionality. A good Learning Management System should work with many types of content-authoring tools.

In fact, many companies may start out using one or two content-authoring tools along with their Learning Management System. As their e-Learning initiative grows and changes over time, they use different types of content-authoring tools to achieve the various effects needed. This is often due to business changes and the fact that in many corporate training scenarios, a Learning Management System or other larger, more complex enterprise software systems use content-authoring tools to develop the online training content that is managed.

What does SCORM/AICC compliant mean?

SCORM stands for Sharable Courseware Object Reference Model (SCORM), which is a set of specifications that, when applied to course content, produces small, reusable e-Learning objects. A result of the Department of Defense's Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) initiative, SCORM-compliant courseware elements are easily merged with other compliant elements to produce a highly modular repository of training materials.

AICC standards apply to the development, delivery, and evaluation of training courses that are delivered via technology. AICC stands for the Aviation Industry CBT [Computer-Based Training] Committee (AICC), which is an international association of technology-based training professionals that develops training guidelines for the aviation industry.

Many e-Learning content-authoring tools are SCORM/AICC compliant. A rule of thumb is, as long as the content-authoring tool is SCORM/AICC compliant (creates SCORM/AICC compliant courses) and the Learning Management System is SCORM/AICC compliant (works with SCORM/AICC courses), they will work together.

Factors to Consider When Evaluating Content-authoring Tools

Situational Parameters

Remember that not all tools are appropriate for all training delivery methods. It’s important to consider the context in which course-authoring tools will be used. As you gather information, keep in mind that as long as your online training is founded on good instructional design principles, the interactivity produced by the authoring tool you choose will strengthen the learner’s experience.

Training Objectives & Delivery Methods

What type of training are you providing? Is it a blended learning experience? Will some training be online and some in classrooms? This will help determine which course authoring tools and LMSs you can use. Will you provide training on a CD Rom? Are your learners certifying on a product, service, or procedure? Are you teaching someone to use a certain software program?

Media Needs

What types of media will you use? Does the content-authoring tool of your choice support those file types?

Resources and Ongoing Support

Do you have the resources to support the types of online training you wish to develop? Graphic designers? Appropriate subject matter experts? Voice talent? Video producers? Models? Production Designers? Outside user testing? Etc.

What about after the training is developed? Does the training need to be refreshed periodically, anywhere from in 6 months to a year or beyond? Will any tests associated with the training change on a regular basis? Will you have the right resources and support in place for any ongoing e-Learning content development needs?

Funds & Timing

How much is budgeted for the project? Will you have a team of people to develop the training? Should you outsource? What things are specific to the type of training you will be developing that may be compromised by outsourcing? How steep is the learning curve associated with the tools you are thinking of using for the project?

Interactivity

What level of interactivity is required for the training? Simulations and other dynamic learning activities are great to have, but are they really appropriate or needed for the type of online training you will be developing? Flash has become the standard tool used for many interactive learning activities. If your authoring tool works with Flash, how much more do you need?

Plug-ins

Some course-authoring tools may need plug-ins, but this has become much less of a problem in e-Learning today than it was just a few years ago. Obviously, if you are dealing with a group of learners who are not technically savvy, have older browsers (IE 4.0 or below; Netscape 4.0 or below), or mostly use slow dial up connections, plug-ins become a real liability in regards for delivering online courses.

Platforms

What platforms will the training be delivered on? Does the online training you develop have to work across a combination of platforms such as PC, MAC, UNIX or others? Does it have to work across a variety of operating systems and / or browsers?

Total Cost of Ownership

It’s always best to evaluate any software or systems acquisition by looking at the total cost of ownership (TCO). TCO is a financial metric designed to help assess direct and indirect costs related to the purchase of any capital investment, such as (but not limited to) computer software or hardware. In this case, the TCO would include the cost of the application, training, upgrades, maintenance, and any other costs associated with the company owning the product over its lifetime.

Conclusion

The course-authoring tool that best meets your needs will depend entirely upon your situation. In the long run, applying due diligence during the evaluation process will save you time and money.

Submitted by:

Dana Fine

Dana Fine is a Senior Instructional Designer at SyberWorks, Inc. http://www.syberworks.com. SyberWorks is a custom e-Learning solutions company that specializes in Learning Management Systems, e-Learning solutions, and custom online course development. Dana is also a frequent contributor to the Online Training Content Journal http://www.boggse-learningchronicle.typepad.com/the_online_training_conte/.





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