Rapid Authoring Tools in Elearning: What Are They and How to Pick One

A lot of the work that I do as an Instructional Technologies Librarian is focused on creating eLearning objects, which refers to the collection of content or assessment items that are used in a virtual learning environment. This includes creating objects that support users in completing a specific task (i.e. performance support) like LibGuides, how-to screencasts, videos, and online tutorials. The most time consuming and robust objects that I create for eLearning are online tutorials that may be imbedded into a learning management system (LMS) or accessed via a link on a webpage. The tutorials are designed to offer students the ability to learn new content and then actively use their knowledge to perform tasks, play games, etc. In order to do this work as a non-computer program, I rely on rapid authoring tools.

A rapid authoring tool is software that helps a designer build self-containing tutorials, much like the online tools that help you create your own website. The software does the background programming for you and allows you as a designer to focus on applying sound instructional design principles to the content you are creating. The rapid authoring tools on the market tend to vary in degree of sophistication. Products like Articulate Storyline have a small learning curve as the framework for the software builds off of pre-existing PowerPoint skills. On the other end of the spectrum are  products like ZebraZapps, that enables the designer to do some amazing game-like simulations but has a much steeper learning curve. My comfortability with rapid authoring tools is somewhere in the middle. I want to be able to create engaging interactions and have the ability to make minor code adjustments but I don’t want to have to write my own java script to create a learning interaction.

Here are some things I look for when shopping for a rapid authoring tool.

Learning curve. I first look at the learning curve. I don’t necessarily need a short learning curve but I do need a product that offers tutorials, how-to instructions and a community of support. It is likely that your technology department will not support the rapid authoring tool you select so you’ll need to have access to external help.

Functionality. I need the tool to enable me to upload a package to a LMS or send out web links. I need it to work on all browsers and devices, flash or no flash, and ideally help me with 508 accessibility standards.

Compatibility. I also look at the tools compatibility with other software our department uses or built in functionalities like audio editing features. Captivate, Storyline Articulate (depending on version) and Lectora by Trivantis are examples of rapid authoring tools that are compatible with other software packages.

If you are thinking about adding active learning elements to your e-learning, a rapid authoring tool can make it possible for you to do so. Educational content becomes more engaging, students are able to apply what they learned and elements of assessment can be added through the use of quizzes and test scores. With some creativity the possibilities for engaged student learning are endless.

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