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.


Embedding Online Instruction into Learning Management Systems

Recently I was asked my thoughts on how to go about embedding library instruction into learning management systems (LMS). Questions ranged from is it doable to is it sustainable? The answer to these questions and more is yes!

Embedding library instruction into an LMS can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it.

Strategy: Create a library page within the LMS


At the very least, you should talk to your LMS administrator about creating a library page that is accessible in the system regardless of the course. It serves as a resource page that when clicked links students to library resources. Once the link is embedded into the LMS, the issue is one of webpage creation and maintenance. Often times this page is a general information page from the library’s website. The LMS administrator will just need the URL.

Strategy: Become a “TA” in a course


A library webpage accessible in an LMS system is great but it doesn’t really hit the mark when it comes to embedding yourself in terms of instruction. Another easy step, is to talk to your faculty about gaining TA access that would allow you to create a content page within an individual class. This content page could include basic contact information, maybe a few databases that would be specific to the course or an introduction to you and a link to your course guide. This type of content page within a course would need to be spot-checked every couple of years to ensure the information is accurate and relevant. Keep in mind that links to webpages are not as permanent as we would like. The more links that you include, the more maintenance you will need to do to ensure that the URLs are still working.

Strategy: Create a lesson in a course


With TA access, you can build upon the easy step above and actually create a lesson. This type of content creation is usually connected to or presented as a homework assignment and generally takes the form of “reading lectures”. You can make them more engaging by including links to videos and other multimedia. This type of content creation is usually connected to or presented as a homework assignment. It can include quizzes that are created inside the LMS itself which can be connected to the gradebook to provide credit/no credit or a grade for completing a homework assignment. If you are going to this level, you need to be sure that you are creating content in conjunction with the faculty. Remember you are a guest in their classroom and you would need to make sure that the content you create is meeting the learning objectives/goals of the faculty. Maintenance at this level is generally a yearly spot-check to make sure your content is still current, relevant and that links are still working.  Additionally you may be contacted at anytime if students run into technical problems when accessing your content.

Strategy: Create tutorials and embed them within the LMS to be captured in the gradebook


If you are tech savvy and have the time and resources, you can actually use rapid authoring tools to embed a library tutorial inside a learning management system and connect it to the gradebook. This may take the cooperation of your LMS administrator as well as TA access.   When thoughtfully designed, a tutorial could take the place of in-person instruction. This option is similar to the one above only the material presented in a tutorial can become interactive and engaging in a way that “reading lectures” do not. Generally a library tutorial will be connected to or presented as a homework assignment as well. These types of tutorials take time to develop and are done in partnership with the faculty. The workload is front-loaded and because the faculty is an active participant in the design, it is unlikely they will want to make changes to it regularly. Our online tutorials are on a 2 year review cycle.  Additionally you should plan on being the technical support contact in the event student runs into technical problems or user issues.

Whether you want to just get your feet wet by adding a contact page to a class with a link to your course guide or jump right in and create a tutorial, there are many ways in which you can become a part of the online classroom environment. The key is building a relationship with your faculty so that s/he is comfortable with you becoming a part of their online classroom much like you would do for the traditional classroom.

If one of the strategies interests you, feel free to contact us through the Learning Services Consultation form.

Using Padlet for Classroom Engagement

In this post, let’s take a breather from our Kirkpatrick series reflections and look at a fun free technology tool that you may choose to investigate and play with in your next instruction session that can be used to increase class engagement and provide a way for you to conduct formative assessment. I discovered this tool through LOEX Quarterly (Vol. 40: Iss. 4) in an article titled The Writing is on the Wall: Using Padlet for Whole-Class Engagement by Beth Fuchs.

Padlet is a free online multi-media “wall” that can be used collaboratively in your classroom instruction. This tool creates an online space that enables anyone with the URL to post text, images, and links to the online space anonymously. Learning Services recently test-drove Padlet during the MMW121library instruction sessions this past fall quarter to encourage participation in a collaborative class brainstorming session involving keywords. It was successful enough that I thought I would share it here with you all.

Here is how we used it. We created a Padlet wall and wrote a research question on the wall. We then asked students to go to the wall URL and as a group post to the wall keywords they may use in a search for the research question. These posts provided us with a sharable list of keywords that we could then discuss in terms of their search effectiveness.


In terms of enhancing classroom engagement, Padlet provided a way for the entire group of students to actively participate in developing search strategies and because the posts are anonymous, Padlet removes participation barriers associated with shyness or the fear of answering incorrectly. The class activity also allows instructors to check student understanding using formative assessment.

I encourage you to give Padlet a try, it just might be your new favorite tool in your instruction tool kit.