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Authoring Tools: Beyond the Hype


Silhouettes of men at a deskSo you’re thinking about buying an authoring tool… Bamboozled by the marketing hype? Confused by the panoply of options? Unsure about what to buy and then when you’ve bought, what to do with it? Stephen Walsh of Kineo outlines five questions to help you make the right selection.

With such a wide range of rapid e-learning authoring tools available on the market, maybe you need some help in choosing what’s right for your organisation.

We’ve been road testing many tools over the last six months and have put together a list of criteria that can help you decide which tool would work best for you and your organisation.

First consideration: what’s your budget?
If you’ve got limited funds (around £1,000 or less) you’ll have to consider one of the desktop tools available. These tend to use Word or PowerPoint as their base authoring environment. They add various functions around that depending on the package.

If you’ve got more funds or are looking to scale up your authoring across the organisation or have a dedicated team, it could be worth considering a collaborative server-based authoring tool. These tend to have more powerful capabilities and some are multi-purpose allowing for systems and non systems training.

Second consideration: what’s your skill base?
It’s all very well investing in the tool. But once you’ve bought it, can you use it? How easily can new authors be brought on to the team?

Desktop tools will have an immediate ring of familiarity by working with standard Office applications. This means there is a relatively simple learning curve. Server-based tools, while sharing some features of windows applications, will require a longer familiarisation period but can deliver more sophisticated results. You’ll need to weigh up the pain versus the gain, when making your choice.

Third consideration: what’s your ambition?
If you want to produce simple static content adorned with questions and quizzes, a desktop authoring tool will do you fine. It could, with a little imagination and skill, stretch a little further.

All market-leading tools accept audio, video and flash animation files. You can commission rich media or create it yourself for integration into your e-learning. But, generally, the more ambitious you are about how you present your learning, the higher end tool you need to aim for.

Fourth consideration: systems training and beyond?
If your aim is primarily or even exclusively to train in systems (e.g. SAP HR, call centre software etc) you should consider a specialist systems training authoring tool.

If you are planning to produce non systems training (e.g. Product knowledge, Induction training, Management skills etc) then a generalist tool will offer wider scope for content authoring, but it won’t lend itself well to systems training. Some tools can offer both systems and non systems capability, but these are the exception, not the rule.

Fifth consideration: what’s your business imperative?
If you are designing training that needs to be tracked and logged, your authoring tool will need to produce SCORM or AICC compliant training. This allows integration with most Learning Management Systems and will allow you to retrieve data about who did what and when.

Health warning: no tool builds e-learning by itself....
No matter what tool you choose, one truth remains constant: outputs are only as good as inputs. Focusing on engaging learning design, well-written content that gets to the heart of the issue, and intelligent use of graphics and media all make more of a difference to your e-learning than your choice of tool.

Making sense of it all
Of course the relative importance of each of these considerations will vary depending on what your starting point is (novice or expert), what scale of work you intend to produce (low, medium or high), the size and type of authoring team (solo, group, SME, instructional designer.)

* Kineo is an e-learning consultancy focused on accelerating performance through rapid e-learning.


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