Five Things to Consider When Choosing eLearning Authoring Tools

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If you have read my previous posts, you’ve figured out that I am fairly insistent that eLearning is a combination of many media, delivered (distributed) in a variety of formats.  That would imply that there could be many types of authoring tools, each with its own strength.  In this post, I want to share some of the things to consider when choosing the authoring tools to create those features.

First of all, you might want to know what an authoring tool is!  In the purest sense, it could be a pencil and a piece of paper.  Or, a knife and a tree large enough to carve something in the trunk.  An eLearning authoring tool is software that allows us to create and publish our material in electronic format.  Wikipedia says: “An authoring tool is a software package which developers use to create and package content deliverable to end users.”  It goes on further to discuss the distribution of that content.  I want to expand the definition of “authoring tool” for our discussion to include any and all applications that create or distribute content for e-Learning purposes.

 These are my Five Basic Things to consider when deciding which authoring tools to buy or use:

  1. Based on the training design for my audience, what features and functionality (see list below) do I need?  Which are nice to have?  Which are not relevant?
  2. What can I (or my employees) do and what should we contract out to others?  Do we have the skill to do it or the time to learn it?  Is this how we should be spending our time? 
  3. What are my options?  What applications are out there and what are the trade-offs regarding price, ease of use, and capability? Which is better:  Open Source or proprietary software?
  4. What do I need the application for?  To create, to edit, to view, all of that?  What will my students want it for and what is best for them?  What applications are highly specific and which are “multi-taskers” that I can get more value from?
  5. How will these applications work together in my eLearning environment?

The list of features that GREAT eLearning requires is ever-changing.  As I’ve said before, the eLearning features that you might need authoring (creation and/or editing) tools for includes: Graphics (pictures, illustrations, tables, etc.), Audio, Video, Flash animation, Screen captures, Assessments (quizzes, tests, surveys), News (forums, RSS, streaming), File sharing (students and teachers; uploading and downloading), Collaborative efforts (web meetings, chats, wikis), Student “records” (grades, participation, profiles), HTML (text, links, etc.) content, and of course, some way to package it all up together and deliver it to the students.

For each feature we use, we are going to need an “authoring tool” if we do it ourselves.  This could rapidly become very expensive, for software, training, and equipment.  It could consume all of our resources (time and energy) and cause us to lose focus on the real output: Good Information.  So, before we go out and buy lots of software tools, rent a recording studio, or hire a platoon of experts, let’s ask a few questions. 

For each of the above features, we need to determine:

  • Do I need to include it in my eLearning? Does it support my learning objectives or is it just “cool”?
  • What value does it bring to the lesson, the course, the student’s experience?
  • What quality level do my students expect or need? 
  • Where does it fall in my overall learning design?  Is it the most important, the least important – or somewhere in between - of all the features I could spend time and money on?
  • Do I currently have the skill, knowledge, and/or tools for it?  What is the gap between what I can do now and what I need to do?
  • How will I discover and test my options?

Over the next few posts, I’ll share with you my thoughts and experiences on how to answer these questions for each feature, starting with Graphics.  I will in no way do a “software review”; not only have I not tried many applications, but there are plenty of other places to find that information.  I will, however, share with you how a small business owner can afford GREAT eLearning with a little bit of planning and prioritizing.   See ya’ soon, Penny

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