Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Choosing Authoring tools

Regardless of what you choose, when you are reviewing tools, be weary of
the really slick 2-minute demos. Some tools look really easy and slick.

Watch the course 4 or 5 times to see how it holds up to repetition.
Will your learners be able to use the content as reference material
during their daily tasks? Think about what makes Google usable- if
animation was useful, wouldn't Google have the found links fly in?
Choose tools where the content delivers quickly (ie. the end user
doesn't have to wait for a download before the content starts) and the
student can skip over material they already know.

I see authoring tools fall into several categories:
1. PowerPoint Converters: Articulate, Breeze, etc. Authoring is done in
PPT, and these "tools" just convert it into a slide show, perhaps adding
a test at the end. Breeze is more of a synchronous delivery mechanism
(like WebEx, Citrix GoTo, etc.). Instructional design is pretty much
non-existent. Why does this matter? If all you care about is
completing the author's task, it doesn't matter. If you want ROI, and
to get learners to actually use the content, you need to make a good
experience for the learners. I recommend using these tools only if your
presentation is 2-5 minutes. Beyond that, the learners will drift away.
You can actually use just PPT 2003 or later without resorting to other
tools if this is your objective.
2. Animated Screen-capture movies/Simulation: Captivate, Qarbon Viewlet
Builder, Camtasia: These tools create elements that you can add to
your course. They make good components to put on sub-pages so that
those students interested in further details can drill down to them.
These tools are a little more difficult to use (properly).
3. WYSIWYG tools ("PowerPoint on Steroids"): ToolBook, Lectora,
Authorware: These tools present you a pretty much blank screen and let
you set up the instructional design from scratch (or from an
pre-existing template). Generally, you should story-board before using
these tools. I've seen that these tools have a print-paradigm
assumption. This means that courses they produce only display correctly
on certain size monitors, and can't be re-sized. One way the tools get
around this limitation is to take over the entire screen, so that the
student can't really use the course as a guide to an application they
are learning.
4. Web-paradigm tools: DreamWeaver, ReadyGo: These tools produce web
content that delivers properly on multiple browsers regardless of screen
size/resolution. Multi-level navigation is easy to build (so that the
user isn't locked into a linear course flow - they can choose what is of
interest to them). DreamWeaver is probably too difficult for most
occasional course developers to use.

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