Tag: e-learning features

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Creating Customized Moodle Functionality

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I have a client who put this on his Moodle wish list last fall: some way for the participants to keep track of where they are in the course.  You see, this client (a big company) has a few hundred students in a completely self-paced course.  These are working adults, involved in a training program designed to span weeks or months.  There are no graded assignments, but there are dozens of tasks to be completed.  There are a number of pages to read and videos to watch.  It’s easy to lose one’s place. 

I found a couple of modules in the list of third-party contributed code that might fit the bill.   The client’s Moodle site is hosted and supported by ClassroomRevolution, so I asked Thom Caswell for a “background check” on these modules.  One, called Checklist, came up “clean”.  We decided to give it a try.  

The client was very happy with our initial testing of Checklist, but it still wasn’t quite what he wanted.  I said I’d see if the developer was willing to do some customizations. It couldn’t hurt to ask! 

I sent Davo Smith (the contributor of Checklist) a message through Moodle; I heard back from him within a few hours.  A few emails back and forth were all it took to explain what additional functionality we wanted and for him to begin working on it.  He had the first iteration to me in about a week.  With each iteration, ClassroomRevolution installed the module (which required some code knowledge), the client and I tested it, and Davo made the necessary tweaks. 

Despite the time of year (holiday season), it took only six weeks to have a fully functional Checklist installed on the live Moodle site.  It automatically brings in all resources and activities in the course, automatically checks off those resources and activities that the student has viewed, displays a list and a progress bar to both student and teacher, and gives the student control over several features.  Very cool.

To make a great story have an even better ending, this customization was not exclusive to the client.  It is available to the Moodle community, in versions compatible to Moodle 1.9x and 2.0.

I encourage all small businesses (and big ones, too) using Moodle to take this approach to customization.  It is a much faster and cost-effective way to add functionality than to hire a programmer to start from scratch to make something that is one-of-a-kind and proprietary.  (Unless selling software is your business, there’s no competitive advantage in having secret Moodle code all for yourself).  Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Search through the third party modules. If you can’t find exactly what you want, find something close. If you have engaged a Moodle Partner and/or a Moodle expert course designer, you can ask for help in the search.  Very often, they’ll already know about something that does whatever and you won’t have to search at all. 
  2. Read the reviews and comments made by other Moodlers.  I avoid the ones where users have posted comments such as “I installed this and now my pages are blank”. Yikes!  If you’re going this alone, make sure you are able to install the module yourself.  Some require code tweaking.
  3. Even if you are a brave soul and can install a module on your own, if you took my advice on hosting, ask for help.  Most Partners offer services that include installation of third party modules and other integrations.  They make sure you have compatible versions and that the installation is done properly (it works and doesn’t break your site!)
  4. Work with the module developer to modify it to your needs if necessary.  Don’t let time zone differences scare you but don’t expect overnight results, either. Many (most?) of these people have “day jobs” so consider that when setting expectations for turn-around time.   
  5. Be collaborative.  Allow the developer to post the modified version back to the third party contributed code.   

For a relatively small amount of money, you’ll have all the functionality you ever dreamed of and you can give back to the Moodle community by contributing that modification.  Everyone benefits!

If you’d like to contact Davo, his email address is moodle@davosmith.co.uk.  To learn more about Moodle hosting and support, visit ClassroomRevolution.com.

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Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

In the News: Moodle 2.0

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From the June 2010 issue of Penny For Your Thoughts newsletter…

in the news

Moodle 2.0 (scheduled for release next month) is a big change from version 1.9x. I’ve had a chance to play around with it for a couple of weeks now, and the one thing that strikes me hardest is this: a lot of what I thought would be easier, isn’t. I thought it would be more “intuitive” or easier for a novice to create content. It isn’t. I think this is a good thing. Over the past 30 years I’ve seen some really great software applications die because some easier (albeit mediocre) version came out. Easy is usually at odds with powerful; it might be easier to create charts in that oh-so-popular spreadsheet program, but most of what comes out is junk. What we want is an LMS application that is powerful in its ability to produce high quality output, yet easy for the student to use. So far it seems that Moodle is more powerful… on the creation side and easier on the student side.

One of the best new features of 2.0 is the ability to create conditions for every page or activity created. It is possible to build a complex relationship amongst pages and activities within a course, such that each appears only when other conditions (grades) have been achieved. While this is a very cool thing to do, and truly an enhancement to the instructional design capabilities of Moodle, it is certainly not easier. To use this feature effectively will require even more planning and an even deeper understanding of how people learn.

A new block, Private Files, promises to make the students’ lives a lot easier. It provides a place for storage and retrieval of one’s own personal files within any Moodle course (or site). I can see this as being huge for on-the-go learning, especially for mobile devices without the storage capacity of laptops and desktops. The students will be able to access their work from anywhere and have a super reliable storage medium.

I am continuing to work through the “new Moodle” with a fine tooth comb and will be regularly posting reviews of each feature (new and lost) over the next few weeks. I had been waiting for the new release to do some long-overdue upgrading of my existing courses (first written in 1.6). That was really just an excuse to procrastinate because I never upgrade to anything new when it first comes out! It will be awhile before we know which modules and plug-ins will work with 2.0, what new ones will be released, and just how to use them all to our advantage. Keep up to date on my Moodle 2.0 reviews by following me.

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Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Moodle 2.0: Is it good for business?

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I’ve had the chance to evaluate the “new Moodle” for about two weeks now. I don’t know what I was expecting, but as is so often the case with new stuff (like CDs and Windows®), I’m not sure I like it. My emotional side usually lets my analytical side take over in times like these, so over the next few days I’ll be posting my analysis of each of the new (or changed) Moodle features, as they apply to business uses.

Each feature will be evaluated on how well it:

  • Solves a Moodle for business problem, as defined by various posts, questions, and my own experience.
  • Focuses on the needs of students in a business training curriculum, (which are very different than those of students in an academic institution).
  • Improves the ease with which a small to medium business can create or edit content and administer the site (enrollments, payments, registrations, roles) without a dedicated IT department or Moodle expert.

I also plan to assess what functionality is missing; modules and plug-ins that will not be upgraded, core features that are no longer available, and changes of core features that affect the functionality. I am holding my breath in hopes that those wonderful people who contribute the code for these awesome add-ons have the time and energy to upgrade them for 2.0. Some, I just can’t live without!

Stay tuned and please send me your thoughts, impressions, and questions on Moodle 2.0 for business uses.

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Monday, June 7th, 2010

As it turns out, you can have too many tarps.

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Last month, my husband and I took our two (very large) dogs camping.  Not just camping, but tent camping on the beach in the Florida Keys.  I had no idea what to expect (other than the obvious mosquitoes, no-see-ums, sand, intense humidity, and blistering heat).  I carefully planned for months what to take.  Living in a hurricane zone, we have plenty of emergency supplies that would be good for camping – such as tarps.  At the last minute, I tossed a pile of tarps in the car, saying “you can’t have too many tarps”.

When we broke camp, it was pouring rain.  It was one of those Florida spring rains that are accompanied by gusting wind and lightning.  Needless to say, we didn’t pack the car as tightly as we did at the beginning of our journey, so things weren’t fitting as nicely as they had.  Plus, they were wet and covered with sand.  As it turns out, a pile of tarps takes up a lot of space!

Even though one tarp is highly valuable if you need emergency shelter from rain, several tarps have diminishing returns.  At some point, they become a liability rather than an asset.

As always, I see analogies between life and learning and on the long (rainy) ride home, I got to thinking about how information is like a tarp.  And how too much stuff – in training – can become a liability, just like too many tarps.  Just like with camping, too much stuff can detract from the experience.  So this brings us full circle (at least the way my mind works) to earlier posts:

  • Who is our audience and what do they want out of this experience?  The camping audience was two people and two dogs.  What we wanted was to relax and spend time together.  We did get plenty of the latter… In an eLearning course, the audience most likely wants to learn something.  They don’t want to be subjected to overload.  One tarp is good; five is too many.
  • Why are we doing this?  What do we want to get out of it?  If we’re planning a camping trip or an eLearning curriculum, our goals are similar:  we want the campers – or the students – to have a positive experience worth remembering.
  • What can we reasonably accomplish without undo risk or hardship?  What are our constraints?  Is it possible to have a really fun camping trip with just one tarp as a back-up?  Yes.  Is it possible to deliver a really great eLearning course without including every imaginable detail, idea, point of view, or feature?  Yes.

If you need help in deciding how many tarps to bring or how to design your eLearning so that it is a good balance of features and content for your situation, hire a course designer.  It will be worth it when you’re standing in the rain, wondering how you’re going to fit it all in.

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Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Choosing a Course Designer

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I was recently asked how I chose which Moodle Partner to use.  I had to think about that for a minute…presumably, they’re all competent.  They all have state of the art server farms and they all know Moodle inside and out.  The real reason that I chose “my guys” is that I like them.  I can work with them.  They have the same perspective that I have, at least when it comes to what e-Learning should be.  It’s the same reason I chose Moodle.  It suits me.  

Just like when you choose a doctor, an architect, or even a roommate, you want someone who shares your vision and who complements your style.  You want someone who makes you feel at ease.  This is also how you should choose an eLearning course designer.  You want someone who, together with you, will have the full range of skills needed to build great eLearning. The skills and expertise needed to pull together GREAT eLearning include: 

  • Instructional design knowledge and experience
  • Performance measurement creation and analysis
  • Graphic arts and graphic design applications
  • Audio and video use and production
  • Familiarity with web technology (things like FTP, cPanel, PHP, HTML, CSS, database) and hosting
  • Familiarity (deep) with the LMS you’ve chosen (Moodle or another)
  • Familiarity with file types, when they should be used, and how
  • Writing and editing skill
  • Ability to target a message to a particular audience
  • Ability to translate content to another language

I don’t know a single soul who possesses expertise in all of these areas.  Most of us are really good at some things and well, not so good at others. To find someone who can do what you can’t – or don’t want to – do, make a simple list [like this one]:

  1. What am I good at?
  2. What would I like to learn to do or be involved in?
  3. What do I not want to do at all?

Find someone who can take complete control of everything you put in #3, is skilled at all the #2 items but will allow you to meddle with them, and will leave you alone with your items in #1.  Once you find someone whose skills complement your own, make sure that you and that person “click”.  I might even go so far as to say that you should click first, match skills second.  If you can communicate well, you can work through who is going to do what and how much it’s going to cost.  If you don’t click, you’re setting yourself up for tense decisions and uncertainty.  You have to feel like you’re partnered with your course designer, not at odds with her. 

I hope this helps you make this very important decision.  Converting your content to eLearning should be fun and exciting.  Good luck!

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Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Web Considerations for Small Businesses Marketing and Selling eLearning Content

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Is it the packaging or the suds inside? This was a question raised in one of my marketing classes last century. I assume that it is still a topic of discussion today. My experience tells me that packaging sells a product for awhile, but if the soap doesn’t clean the laundry, it won’t be on the market for long.

So, what’s more important to you as you launch your eLearning site? Is it the website look? Is it the functionality (how many bells and whistles it has)? Or, is it your content, which is the product you’re really selling?

The answer to this dilemma is no different than any other consumer product or service: focus on what your customer wants and you’ll be fine. Generically, customers of eLearning want, in no particular order:

  • Easy access to the content
  • A reliable platform that won’t crash or eat work
  • Engaging content
  • Useful content
  • Validation of knowledge in the form of feedback (grades) and proof for others (a certificate for instance)
  • Interaction with others

Of all of the inquiries I receive from small business owners and entrepreneurs who want to put their content online, 9 out of 10 confuse the marketing of the product (eLearning) with the product itself. The best web solution for delivering an eLearning product is probably not the same as the best web solution for marketing that product. It is simply coincidence that they are both -along with selling of the product – hugely dependent on Internet applications. The distinction was more obvious 30 years ago when laundry soap was in a box, marketed on TV, and sold in a store.

I have two Moodle sites, one WordPress blog, and one Drupal site with 14 sub-domains (powered by WordPress). To set up all 18 URLs cost a fraction of what custom PHP coding to make Moodle work “seamlessly” with WordPress would’ve cost. My annual costs are minimal and each site can be upgraded without breaking any interfaces. I have the extra flexibility of having vastly different themes and copy on each one, different plug-ins installed, and targeting each one specifically to a market segment rather than having everyone search for what she needs on one “integrated” site. I don’t sell “products”, so I don’t need a shopping cart, but if I did, I would have a separate site with a shopping cart plug-in, or I’d have a sub-domain with something like Zen Cart installed. For the few products I have sold, I have used Amazon.com and eBay.

In future posts, I’ll discuss in more detail…

  • Platforms
  • Functionality
  • Content

…as they apply to teaching (eLearning), selling (shopping carts), and marketing.

My advice to all of you trying to “design” your eLearning and marketing sites:

Go the easiest route to please your customers. Avoid custom coding for anything except your theme (as long as it is upgradeable). Make the best “laundry soap” you can and package it in a convenient, pleasant, “paper box”. Concentrate on what you do best and you’ll do well!

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Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Protecting your eLearning content – Is this something to worry about?

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I get a lot of questions about how to keep eLearning content safe from being copied, stolen, and/or plagiarized. My response is always “the only way to stop people from using your ideas is to keep them to yourself“. Both copyright and patent laws protect the owners of ideas, concepts, and designs from being copied outright in their original format. But you can’t stop someone from taking your ideas and making them better or combining them with the ideas of others for yet another way to look at things. Having others build on your ideas (and even copy some of them) is a true measure of how good your ideas really are.

Let’s be honest, how many of us have created some new process, program, or graphical layout that is totally from scratch? I haven’t. Everything I have ever taught, written, and/or created is a compilation of what I read in text books, what my teachers taught me, and what I’ve seen and otherwise experienced. What makes my training, coaching, and consulting valuable is ME. My training content is really an example of my skill as a teacher and subject matter expert. Yours should be, too.

Ask yourself:

  • Can anyone else do a better job teaching my content than I can?
  • Have I been able to capture everything I know on paper? Is that all there is to it?
  • Of all the text books, magazine articles, online copy, examples, etc., that I’ve ever written, read, or taught, how much of it was “stolen”? Isn’t it true that almost everything is built upon something else?

Throughout my 25 year consulting career, I watched in amazement as my training material – and that of my mentors and colleagues – showed up in the “work of others”, sometimes as part of very large training programs. Plagiarism is one thing; it’s illegal and unethical, but it’s hard to stop. When I was less wise than I am today, I was enraged by this. Then I realized that even though my chart might be in someone else’s course content, I was still the one getting the rave teacher reviews. “They were coming to see ME”.

The only thing you can do is to stay ahead of those who would steal your content to sell it as their own. While they’re peddling last month’s idea, you’re launching this month’s better idea. And you’re doing it better because you’re the one who can teach it best.

If you’re concerned about one person printing off your eLearning content and giving it to everyone else – thus cutting into your revenues, this can be easily prevented by making your online version worth spending the money on and harder than blazes to copy. Make people want the original recording…not a scratchy copy with background noise (metaphorically speaking). (Click here to read my previous post on what makes eLearning GREAT).

If you have the best jelly recipe on the planet, give away peanut butter to entice people to buy the jelly. Even better, give away the jelly recipe to prove that the real secret is the way it’s made! If you are a wonderful teacher with an effective way of teaching, let everyone know how good you are; let them know this content is yours and that if they want to learn more, they’ll have to come to YOU. Let others try to copy it! Michael Port gives away a book chapter to show people how good the book is. Williams-Sonoma gives away recipes (both in stores and online) to show how much they know about cooking (and to get you to buy the equipment). In The Martha Rules, Ms. Stewart tells readers to “Profit by giving information away”. These people are onto something…

If you want to teach something or you want to sell your ideas, you have to be willing to accept that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. [Charles Caleb Colton] However, no one is as good as the original – YOU. Spend your time, energy, and money making your content great and leave the worrying about theft to diamond dealers and fine art museums.

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Thursday, March 25th, 2010

eLearning Tests and Surveys – What Tools Do You Need?

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Sometimes, you just get lucky.  I could not figure out how to write this post in fewer than 5000 words, many of which would be red, bold, and in uppercase letters.  Then I came across this post by Connie Malamed at  The eLearning Coach.  So, now I don’t have to write about how to write a good question!  Everyone should heed her advice before even considering what tool to build the questions in.  All the beautiful technology in the world won’t matter if the questions suck.  And, unlike an ugly graphic or a boring video, a bad test question can harm the learner.  A poor test that is used to judge an employee’s job-worthiness is never going to be a good thing.

So, I’ll assume you have some great assessment questions – for quizzes, tests, and surveys – that are reliable and valid and that you want to use them in your elearning courses.  Let’s look at them in terms of the Five Basic Things to consider about authoring tools:

Will assessments add value to my training design? Yes. Every eLearning course needs some assessment method.  At a minimum, you’ll want to know if your students perceived that they got something out of it.  That’s a feedback survey, not a test, but the question development and delivery are the same.  You’ll also probably want to know if the students learned anything and/or demonstrate some level of competency.  This tells you not only just that – what they learned – but also how good your course was at teaching them. 

Do I have the skill? This is a two-parter.  The skill to write questions is one thing.  It’s the main thing. The skill to build questions in an online application is another.  Luckily, the latter is remarkably simple because of some of the fantastic options available. 

 What are the options?  I build all of my tests in Moodle so I don’t use many of the available tools.  But, I also use Engage as a “pop-quiz” maker. If I don’t care what the answers are and I just want to reinforce a concept, I think this is a better option than a “flat test”.  Moodle has a Choice activity that captures the data but doesn’t look as snazzy.  Articulate also offers QuizMaker, which is about twice the price of Engage and does quite a bit more.  Joomla QuizForce is similar to QuizMaker and comes with the LMS.  At a hefty $800, Adobe Captivate does many things, including flash-based quizzes. If you don’t have a good assessment feature in your LMS or you want something customized that is in HTML and not flash, try Drupal Webform.  I have an example here.  Or, you can code one from scratch! (Yeah, right). Be creative.  You can use a quiz as a survey and vice versa. 

How much functionality do you need from this tool? The answer to this depends on what your objective is.  If you want to wake up your students with a flash presentation in full color and sound, you’ll want to opt for one of the flash applications.  If you want some serious data collection that dumps to a file that you can do statistical analysis on, pay more attention to the results than the delivery methods.  That usually means not using flash.  If you need to prove competency or that the student took the test herself, you’ll need to make sure that you can verify log in and track time spent, as well as grades.

Will this tool work within my LMS? To be assured that it will work, use the one that is built into your LMS (Moodle, Joomla, Blackboard, etc.)  That will ensure that you can track all the vital student statistics.  Check to make sure that your LMS will accept flash applications and/or allow you to open external websites before using those tools.

I believe that all instructors should want feedback on their courses and use tests to judge themselves as well as students in a constant effort to improve.  But, it if you own a business that offers eLearning to clients or employees, there is a financial reason to have good test and survey questions.  Knowing what level of competency your employees have, which training works and which doesn’t, and having the ability to get feedback on the experience is critical to long term success.  Remember, what matters most is that you start with good questions.  Good information, good questions, lots of variety…GREAT eLearning.

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Monday, March 15th, 2010

eLearning Audio, Video, and Screencasts: What Tools Do You Need?

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As I write this post, I realize that it’s hard – as a viewer – to draw clear distinctions amongst these eLearning features: audio, video, and screen casts (depicting mouse movement, with or without audio).  For the sake of brevity (which is not one of my strengths), I’ll refer to them collectively as “moving media”.   Some will involve using graphics (including screen prints), which are covered in a previous post, and many will output to a variety of formats, including flash. 

Five Things to consider when choosing tools to create or edit “moving media” for your eLearning courses:

Will “moving media” add value to my training design? Yes, if it reinforces the lesson and isn’t used simply to showcase the technology.  Most of the time, some simple versions will add a lot of value; in some cases, studio quality versions are called for.  To make eLearning GREAT, many types of media should be used to present the same message.  For each major learning point, I write the message (plain old text) and depict it graphically, I paraphrase what I wrote in an audio recording, and I combine all three in an Articulate Engage animation. Sometimes, I add a video or screencast. This provides something for both auditory and visual learners, for slow and fast connections, new and older technology, and reinforces the lesson. 

Do I have the skill? For “moving media”, I do not.  I have a tiny microphone that came with a computer – three computers ago.  I don’t even have audio recording software (that I know of) and I don’t have a video camera!  I use the Engage audio editor, which has features I am not talented enough to use.  The biggest issue with most novice-recording is that it sounds s-l-o-w.  To make a good recording, you almost need to talk too fast.  If the audio or video is of an actual event, careful editing is probably required, which also takes skills I don’t have.  Creating screencasts is a whole lot harder than one would think. You’ve watched them: “Uhm”…”Ahh”, [typing that goes on forever]… If you think you have the skill and want to learn more, check out Lynda.com for tutorials.

What are the options? The options range from desktop audio recording and cell phone videos to productions with actors and a script.  The biggest source of videos for me is YouTube (which I always embed so that my students aren’t bombarded with the rest of it).  If your training material warrants it, such as safety training for an electrical worker, you can hire a video production company like Creative Works at quite reasonable rates.  A short, well-produced video could add a lot more value than several amateur ones.  For high end screencasts and audio try Captivate, Camtasia, or Screenflow.  I tried several, but I found Articulate Screenr to be all that I could handle. When I wanted something special to promote eLearning, I hired Flexigroup to create an eWheel flash. You could use this in an eLearning course, too.  If you don’t have the time or the money to spend on any of these, you might try using PowerPoint if you already have it. You can save your presentation (with or without audio and animation) as a PowerPoint Show and upload it to your LMS/VLE like any other file. 

How much functionality do I need from this tool?  Most of the time, I get by with my simple mic, graphics, and SPX Instant Screen Capture, which I combine in Engage as alternatives to screencast tutorials.   Because I don’t have the skill to edit audio or piece together video, I don’t need much functionality.  If you do have the skill or need to produce really professional screencasts with studio-quality audio, you’ll need the high-end applications and good equipment as well.  If you’re like me and have dogs that bark at all the wrong times, you’ll need a sound room, too.  Again, the amount of functionality you need depends on what your training calls for and what you are capable of doing.  For most small businesses, the authoring tools should be simple and inexpensive unless media is your business; otherwise, your good information will go a long way in the simpler formats.  If you’re teaching how to use a software application, you must have good quality screencasts.  If your course is on good public speaking you must have high quality video.  If your course is in statistics, low tech cartoons might be better to ease the pain.

Will this tool work within my LMS? This is a good question to ask before spending any time or money on the authoring tool or the media itself.  Matt Bury just released a media player module for Moodle that adds both form and function to audio and video in a course.  I embed or link to most of this type of media; rarely do I upload it to a Moodle course.  If your LMS will allow you to open external links, but has strict limitations on what can be uploaded to your servers, this is probably your best option.  If you have restrictions on opening external sites, you’ll have to make sure the specific application is supported by your LMS.

For giggles, check out the history of sound recording at Wikipedia.  Until next time, Penny

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Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

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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