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Antoine Poincaré

The Climate School

Vice President

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Learning technology: why do we make it so hard to create e-learning content?


The tools available for creating e-learning content are stuck in the dark ages, which means we’re not delivering the best possible user experience for learners. We need to stop neglecting the needs of e-learning content creators if this is going to change.

When online learning took off 20 years ago, part of the reason was adoption of a very useful standard, SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model), that enabled content to be interoperable across different systems.

It was certainly a useful innovation. The problem is that all these years later we have ended up with two major SCORM-related issues.

First, it’s an old standard (its last official update was in 2004), so what it offers is out of date, restrictive, and not suitable for the way we work with content today.  

The second problem is that along with the SCORM standard came software to build SCORM course content, which has been shaping the way we have been consuming e-learning ever since.

Death by PowerPoint

The first feature developed with this software was ‘import my PowerPoint deck’ – and too much of the market never progressed any further.

PowerPoint is an excellent tool for producing slides to support a face-to-face presentation, but it was never designed to be used in an online context. Despite this, all training materials were built using this one presentation media ever since.  

It’s easy to appreciate the thinking behind this: we use PowerPoint in the classroom training context, so let’s use what we know works there when moving that training online.

Think about it though: when Jeff Bezos started Amazon, he didn’t approach Walmart and ask ‘hey, how would you approach building an e-commerce website’? He started afresh.

Going beyond SCORM

In the e-learning world, we never got beyond the SCORM mindset. As a result, we’ve had a full generation of training learning and development professionals uploading PowerPoint decks into learning management systems and presenting that to learners.

It’s weak, unengaging – and deeply outdated. Luckily, there was a breakthrough in 2013, when the industry let the shackles slip and decided that not everything had to be SCORM-compliant.

It’s high time a WordPress or a Wix came through for learning content creation.

All at once, great new ed tech start-ups came along to address this major user pain point of poorly engaging content by promoting new, more stimulating delivery styles and UX, including mobile-first content.  

Along the way, though, a lot of these same new players in turn neglected the e-learning designers – who are now being challenged to produce new and engaging content for these new platforms, but with tools that were determinedly pre-WordPress.

Unrealistic expectations

A huge question mark still hangs over content creation and authoring.

At the same time, we are loading these same content creators and authors with big expectations around their skillsets.

Just look at the ideal list presented in the Learning & Performance Institute’s Capability Map – 25 skills across five categories, from strategy, to learning facilitation competency.  

I can’t see how we can expect to add great user interface, design, composition, audio video, platform and art skills – to name just some of what makes great content users will actually want to engage with – to this list.

We need a solution – a way that isn’t SCORM to help inspire and empower today’s e-learning content creator.

A lack of the right resources

In effect, it’s high time a WordPress or a Wix came through for learning content creation.

By this I mean that in the 2000s it became possible to build great websites using easy-to-use tools that allowed people to create them without the need to ever look at the Javascript and string exception handling.

That happened because creating a new website has previously been a pretty painful experience. There was lots of raw html hacking, the picture editing was challenging, and it involved a lot of effort to keep it even semi-updated.

Over time, we have expected the standard instructional designer to be both an expert in designing content as well as technically proficient in one or more rapid authoring tools.

No equivalent change has taken place in the world of e-learning: most e-learning designers are still stuck in that raw html hacking phase.

That’s pretty unacceptable, as e-learning designers need great, easy to use, drag and drop interfaces that hide complexity and promote creativity.

That way, they can devote their creative talents to developing the user interface, design, composition, audio video, platform and art skills with the right tools for the task.

We don’t want to ‘click next to continue’  

Noted influencer and senior learning transformation strategist Lori Niles-Hofmann, agrees.

“Over time, we have expected the standard instructional designer to be both an expert in designing content as well as technically proficient in one or more rapid authoring tools,” she said.  

“I have rarely met anyone good at both, however, and the fact is, rapid authoring tools deliver the weirdest digital learning experience, unlike anything else online, e.g. ‘click next to continue’ – where else do you see that these days?

“Likewise, you cannot get detailed analytics unless you know xAPI, which is again, another coding skill.

“You have to know how to break Storyline 360 code and add xAPI, but I want an e-learning tool which is exactly like SquareSpace, but can do tests.

“I do not want it to be PowerPoint, either - I want it to build digital experiences easily, and have the robust data behind it without me having to code one single thing.”  

Surely it’s high time a ‘Wix for e-learning’ arrived for learning content creation?

A few great ed tech innovators are making inroads, but it’s time for a concerted sector effort. We owe it to all the frustrated content builders out there, as well as to users in order to fulfil our user experience promise.

Interested in this topic? Read 7 things to consider before purchasing an eLearning course.

Author Profile Picture
Antoine Poincaré

Vice President

Read more from Antoine Poincaré

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