If you’re looking to develop interactive learning materials then you’ll need to find an authoring tool that suits your purpose. It’s important to take some care in choosing this tool or you could easily find yourself with all sorts of frustrations and a lot of wasted effort. Your tool will have to meet all of the following criteria:
It has the functionality required for you to produce the type of content you need
You might expect this to be a given, but in fact different tools tend to be geared to different types of content. While some tools, such as Adobe Captivate, Lectora and Articulate Studio, are relative all-rounders, some are more specialist. For example, Camtasia is a great tool for producing screencasts, Caspian Learning’s Thinking Worlds lets you develop immersive, 3D learning environments, and the new Articulate Storyline is geared to the development of learning scenarios. There are many other tools to choose from, all with their particular strengths.
It works the way you want to work
Most of the tools mentioned above are desktop applications, licensed for use on individual computers and these are by far the most commonly used. However, other tools, such as Rapid Intake’s Unison and Edvantage’s CourseBuilder, that run online in the cloud, are geared towards a team approach to authoring. These are more likely to be licensed on an enterprise-wide basis, so that all members of a content development team, from project managers to designers, subject experts to graphics specialists, can work together collaboratively.
With an online authoring tool, all project data is stored in a central database, accessible from any web browser on any device; components, from images to complete learning modules, can be easily shared between projects; reviews and tests can be conducted online and comments stored alongside the content for auctioning by other members of the team; versions for different devices and languages can be exported from the same core material. You can expect to see a wide range of new online authoring tools appearing in the coming years, as more and more of our computing switches to the cloud. For large teams working on building substantial content libraries, the benefits will be obvious.
It has legs
There is nothing more frustrating than having to re-develop a whole load of material because the tool you used to originally develop the content is no longer supported or available. If you go out on a limb and purchase an esoteric tool from a little-known vendor, you are taking a real risk. That risk is even greater if you’re working in the cloud: at least with a desktop tool, you can still make changes because the app and your data are sitting there on your computer; when an online tool is closed down, your work vanishes without trace. There is no kudos to be gained by using the same tools as everyone else, but you will sleep better.
It outputs in the right formats for you
Before choosing a tool, you need to be aware of all of the devices that might be used to access your content and the formats that are supported on these devices. If your tool outputs in Flash and this is not supported on your users’ PCs, or you want to deliver on iPhones and iPads, then you’ve got the wrong tool.
Coming in part 3: Tools for special occasions
First published in Inside Learning Technologies, January 2012