With the growth of tablet devices, authoring tools are having to re-invent themselves, yet again. It’s nothing new —just another step in the continual evolution we’ve seen since the early 1990s, when authoring tools were first introduced to help eLearning professionals create and deliver learning. Over the years, these tools have had to balance ease-of-use with the ability to create a robust learning experience.
For this post, I’d like to recap the evolution of authoring tools and talk about how Direct-to-WEB (D2W), Digitec’s cloud-based rapid eLearning authoring tool, has been designed to address these needs. Also, since projections currently show that the web will be accessed by more mobile devices than desktops by 2014, this post will also explain how D2W has been designed to help authors create and distribute engaging eLearning anywhere… well, almost anywhere.
Since the beginning of eLearning, there’s been a struggle to maintain a balance between ease-of-use and learner engagement, and authoring tools have had to evolve to maintain this balance, as well. In the early 1990s, the industry was largely dominated by PC-based applications that required programming to “author” computer-based training (CBT). Applications like TenCORE and WISE were popular choices. These command-line style authoring tools let a programmer create “screens” of content that could be “packaged” into an installer for PCs to play back. While powerful for their time, these tools were not easy to use, requiring complex programming skills.
In response to the demand for more accessible authoring tools, Authorware was born. Using Authorware, learning professionals could create learning programs with hyper-simplistic designs, primarily through dragging and dropping icons. Although this made eLearning infinitely more user-friendly to create, it came at a price. More extensive interactions required using the “authoring language.” While not as difficult to master as more sophisticated programming languages, authoring still required a certain amount of programming savvy. To avoid this complexity, Authorware courses often followed a more simplistic “Click Next to Continue” style of eLearning design. So, simplicity was there for the author, but at the cost of effective learner engagement.
To combat “boring” eLearning experiences, programs like Adobe Flash and Director came on the scene with an animated bang (anyone else remember the bird crash vector animation from the early Flash demos?) eLearning created with these tools became engaging again, and though these applications did not require the kind of command-line coding expertise that TenCORE did, Actionscript (for Flash) and Lingo (for Director) could not be described as “simple” to use.
Perhaps as a response to the demands of learning professionals who were becoming dependent upon programmers and these complex tools to produce their eLearning, there has been a movement towards “rapid eLearning” tools, using Microsoft® PowerPoint®. Here, we return to simplicity, with tools that offer learning professionals who know PowerPoint the ability to create their own eLearning, without the assistance of programmers or coders. PowerPoint driven applications like Articulate Presenter and iSpring certainly make eLearning easier to create.
At Digitec, we began development of Direct-to-WEB as a rapid eLearning PowerPoint add-in back in the early 2000s. Back then, users could transform a standard PowerPoint into a game-based learning module by inserting template-driven learning games right into their slide sequence. This simple tool also allowed them to automatically create SCORM and 508-compliant modules that could be delivered on CD-ROM, web or iPod (yes, iPod – the audio automatically extracted into a download into iTunes). But these modules were still largely linear, and like other authoring tools, Direct-to-Web associated the file with the author’s desktop. If someone else needed to edit the module, but didn’t have the source file, that was a problem.
With the latest version of Digitec’s Knowledge Direct® learning management system, we’ve integrated Direct-to-WEB into the platform. Now, to author eLearning, you can simply upload the source PPTx file to the cloud, and then insert pre-built templates to create games and activities where ever you want them to appear in the sequence of slides. Admins can log in and collaborate on modules, with access to the same files.
To provide more functionality, Direct-to-WEB also enables the author to insert “Do-It Doc” free-form document creation during the module. So now, if you’re authoring a module on how to write a performance review, you can allow the learner to respond to prompts within the module and create the document! At the end of the learning, they’ve created a document that can be saved as a Word, RTF or PDF document. To accommodate mobile learning, Direct-to-WEB detects the user’s browser or device and automatically delivers either Flash or an HTML5 version of the module.
Today, there are new products being released everyday that combine the simplicity of PowerPoint and provide more robust interactions. As technology evolves, authoring tools will continue to attempt to close the gap between simplicity for the author and engagement for the learner, benefiting both. The challenge for the next generation of authoring tools will be to provide this robustness to every possible device. But that’s a topic for another day.
Dr. Pam is a serial student, having earned more degrees than everyone at Digitec, combined. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Miami, an M.B.A. from the Crummer Graduate School of Rollins College (go Tars!), an MME from Winthrop University, a B.A. from Pfeiffer University and engaged in post graduate studies at the University of Central Florida for good measure. Pam also served her time on the other end of the classroom, having taught K-12 and at the university level prior to joining Digitec in 2003. In her 10 year tenure as Digitec's Instructional Design Director, Pam has designed dozens of eLearning courses for organizations including The Walt Disney Company, Yum! Brands, FINRA, Council for Economic Education, and the North Carolina Community College BioNetwork.
Spirit animal: Dog
Diet-breaker: Hand-cut fries
Comfort object: iPad mini
Personal vice: Reality TV
Useless talent: Can flip eyelids inside out
Unreasonable paranoia: Anything that slithers
Wishes more people cared about: em dashes