Tuesday, April 12, 2005

e-Learning Authoring Tools

Now that we've talked about some of the planning stuff, I'd like to share some of my experiences with authoring tools. Where possible, I'll also offer some pros & cons about tools that I'm using and also to tell you what I'm using them for. (I know, I know...sentence-ending preposition...)

Content Prototyping:

PowerPoint. Nothing really beats PowerPoint for basic prototyping and some proof-of-concept work. We have a very specific look and feel that is applied to all of our publications and online presence, so I don't have to worry too much about re-designing navigation elements and suitable colour schemes. The ability to quickly add elements like audio and other multimedia are also a plus. The disadvantage for PPT is that I can't easily add any tracking code for an LMS. Not that its impossible, just very, very difficult to do on my own.


The tool I am currently using is called KnowledgePresenter. The current version is a vast improvement over the last (2004) edition. I like KP2005 for a couple of reasons: its somewhat similar to PowerPoint in that you can work on a slide by slide (screen by screen) basis for developing the content. It also lets you make use of a library for frequently-used items (headings, graphics, text boxes, etc.) For people who like granular control, there's an impressive properties sheet to play with. The Professional edition (the one I purchased) also ships with a simple LMS, as well as tools for screen capture and simulation-building as well as an assessment/quiz builder.

The folks at Knowledge Presenter also offer a great list of lessons, tutorials, whitepapers and other documents to assist you in flattening the learning curve.

The downside to KP is that it doesn't offer a big array of templates for pro-programming your learning. It also doesn't have any kind of "Outline" creator so that you can quickly lay out your major step/screen/slide headings. It's not as well documented as I'd like, but the user support forums are quite good and you can learn a lot from both the user community and the support staff who actively monitor the questions posted.

TrainerSoft is another tool I evaluated before moving to my current employer. Its similar in approach to KnowledgePresenter. However, it's a bit more expensive for the authoring tool. The vendor does offer an excellent simulation builder, but at $8000 USD it's quite pricy. It did offer a "tree" view of your Learning Object and the associated screens, which I liked, but I ultimately chose KP at my current exployer because of the bundled features and better cost per license. Having said that, their sales follow-up and customer service were excellent.

DazzlerMax was the third tool I looked at. I couldn't really relate it to any other application I've used. It presents a very interesting "timeline" view and a unique way of seeing the relationship between the various elements on a slide. However, I found this approach to be incredibly granular and it was tough to see a completed Learning Object when faced with a dizzying array of objects and properties.

Other tools like Saba and Authorware were either too expensive for my considerations, or they had an extremely steep learning curve, so they didn't make the cut.

Tools aside, I still tend to storyboard with pen & paper. Shades of my old graphics background, I guess. Old habits are hard to break.

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