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teaching & training

teaching & training



Choosing the Proper Authoring Tool


Senior Member Silicon Valley Chapter

I f you’re an instructional designer, you design, develop, and produce training in a number of media and methods. While training was once developed only for instructors teaching in a traditional classroom, today we have to learn new skills and tools to keep up with the increas- ing popularity of e-learning. According to the American Society for

Training and Development (ASTD), “e-lear ning covers a wide set of appli- cations and processes, such as Web-based lear ning, computer-based lear n- ing, virtual classrooms, and digital collaboration. It includes the delivery of content via Internet, intranet/extranet (LAN/WAN), audio and videotape, satellite broadcast, interactive TV, and CD-ROM.” With such a broad scope to cover, the number of available e-learning tools is extensive. Whatever kind of e-learning and content delivery your organization prefers, you’ll need to sort through those tools to find the right one for your training.

organization prefers, you’ll need to sort through those tools to find the right one for your


organization prefers, you’ll need to sort through those tools to find the right one for your

November 2004

Bear in mind that not all tools are appropriate for all training methods. Buying a tool without doing the research can be a costly mistake. Author- ing and development tools are, gener- ally speaking, not cheap. Some of them have extensive learning curves. You may find that one tool will not be sufficient. Today, many designers or design teams use a combination of tools such as Flash, Dreamweaver, and HTML. Whichever tool or combination of tools you choose, remember that the right tool can make you efficient and productive. The wrong tool could cost you countless hours on a project and leave you with little or nothing to show for your effort. So how do you choose the right tools? By carefully considering your available resources and the goals of your specific learning event, and by educating your-

self on the software packages appropri- ate for that training. And as you gather information, be sure to keep this in mind: As long as you base your e-learn- ing on good instructional design, the interactivity that authoring tools are capable of producing can enhance the learner’s experience.

Defining Yo ur Conte xt

Even before you begin evaluating the available tools, you should consider the context of your training—why, how, and in what circumstances will it be provided? Some tools will match this context bet- ter than others. Before shelling out the money for an expensive training tool, consider the factors presented in Table 1. Once you have reviewed your require- ments in detail, you should be able to analyze the type of tool(s) you need. Dif- ferent tools work best for different types

Ta ble 1. Consider ations for Purchasing E-learning To ols

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of training. We can categorize instruc- tion into four main categories: software and IT application courseware, soft skill (human resources) courseware, non-sys- tems technical training, and knowledge- based training.

Ty pes of To ols

The tools typically used for these types of instruction include software applica- tion simulation tools, full-service author- ing tools, Web-based distance learning tools (virtual classrooms), or PowerPoint conversion tools that allow additional e- learning interactivity (such as Macro- media’s Breeze). This article will focus on the most widely used types of e-learning applications: simulation programs and full-service authoring tools.

Simulation Programs According to Bryan Chapman, who hosts the “Ask Bryan” column on the Web site, “About 75

Tr aining Purpose

What training are you providing? If you are teaching people how to use a software program such as Excel or Photoshop, hands-on training would be appropriate.

Media Requirements

What type of media do you intend to use? What file types will you use? Will the tool support the files?

Available Resources

Do you have access to graphic artists, writers, subject matter experts, videographers, and narrators? If not, how will you obtain the media content for your project?


How much money do you have for the project? If you don’t have a team, will you be able to outsource video, narration, and graphics? What is your budget allocation for the tool?


How much time do you have to complete the project? Some of the tools have a steep learning curve. Do you have the time to become proficient in the tool?


How interactive do you need the training to be? There are times when simple “page-turners” may suffice, but true e-learning includes interactivity as part of the learning process. How much interactivity does the tool provide?

Delivery Method

Do you intend to provide the training on a CD-ROM or over the Web? Although most tools today will pro- vide training either way, some are better than others at providing Web-based training.


Some tools require plug-ins.This can become an issue: If your customers are unaware of how to download the plug-ins or are unable to do so, they may not be able to view the training.


Will the training be delivered on PC, MAC, UNIX, or some other platform or combination of platforms? Will the tool work across platforms?

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PC , MAC, U NIX, or some other platform or combination of platforms? Will the tool


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percent of all e-learning content covers IT or software application topics.” Such training is best served by simulation pro- grams, which can capture screenshots and then play them back to replicate the behaviors of particular software. Most of these programs enable you to set up simulated practice with learner feedback. Typically, simulation tools are inexpensive and easy to learn. Table 2 breaks down the features of three of the most popular programs used for soft- ware simulation programs: Camtasia, FireFly, and RoboDemo.

Authoring Programs Full-service authoring programs pro- duce truly interactive e-learning for all types of training. Unlike most simulation tools, many authoring programs can cost thousands of dollars and require a steep learning curve. But if the interactivity will help your students learn, authoring pro- grams can be well worth the money:

With these tools, you can create pro- grams that provide realistic scenarios that allow students to learn as they make

scenarios that allow students to learn as they make decisions and receive instantaneous feed- back about

decisions and receive instantaneous feed- back about their choices. For example, if you need to teach someone how to work with chemicals, the program can be designed to allow the learner to virtually add, mix, or store chemicals. Different scenarios can play out depending on the learner’s deci- sions. The learner can see what will hap- pen if the wrong chemicals are mixed together or if chemicals are stored inap- propriately. This learning happens in a safe environment, where the learner can fail without disastrous results.

Ta ble 2. Softwar e Application Sim ulation Pr og ra ms

As much as these tools can enhance the learning environment, most have high learning curves, and some of them require programming knowledge. Table 3 gives an overview of some of the best- known programs for full-service author- ing: Authorware, Director, Dreamweaver with Coursebuilder, Flash, Lectora, and Toolbook.


Which tool will best fit your needs depends entirely on your situation. You must look at each tool and each e-learn- ing event analytically. What does the tool do? What are its capabilities and fea- tures? How will it fit into your e-learning program? Take the time to do the research. In the long run, it will save you time, energy, and money. As technology advances, it becomes more difficult to keep up with all the available tools. One of the best methods of keeping abreast of the changes is to log on to Web sites or chat rooms where discussions about tools occur. For your reference, the Suggested Readings includes several Web sites.








Camtasia con sis ts of three too ls: Player, Recorder, and Producer. You can record, edit, and share video and audio clips.The applica- tion can record both the activity on your screen and narration. You can modify videos created by Camtasia with other AVI (Audio-Video Interleaved) video editors and use AVI files from any source.You can also edit audio with the software’s Dub-It module. No multimedia experience is necessar y. Camtasia supports Flash,Windows Media, QuickTime, and RealMedia. It now comes bundled with SnagIt, a screen capture program.



Knowledge Impact

No price given; sold as single licenses. One source states that a license can cost as much as $10,000

FireFly was designed to generate scenario-based simulations with active components, multi-path support, and progressive feedback without requiring plug-ins or client software. No knowledge of programming is necessar y. This program captures the programming “behind the scenes” and enables learners to explore in a robust simulation environment that allows multiple correct paths for accomplishing the task.The learning curve is moderate.




From $999

RoboDemo records your actions in any application and creates a Flash simulation. RoboDemo is SCORM/AICC compliant and has quizzing capabilities with scoring, interactivity, and branching features.The Flash simulations are contained in small files with high resolution.This program has an easy learning curve and offers a lot of features to increase interactivity.



an easy learning curve and offers a lot of features to increase interactivity . ( 26

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Ta ble 3. Full-ser vice Authoring Pr og ra ms

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Authorware is an icon-based authoring system that uses a flow line for display types and programming commands.This very powerful program includes a lot of built-in interactivity. Authorware sup- ports character-styled text and has an extensive navigation struc- ture. It is optimal for computer-based training and rapid proto- typing, and it can also deliver content to the Web. This program has a high learning curve. Unless you accept the defaults, you may need some programming know-how to get all the interactions to function as you want them to.





This program, like Authorware, has a high learning curve. However, you can easily lay out movies visually and drop the clips onto the timeline.You can incorporate many media formats, including DVD-video,Windows Media, RealMedia, QuickTime, and Flash.





This program was built for Web-based learning interaction. Because Dreamweaver uses a tab wizard to help you build, create, and edit basic interactions, it is an excellent starter tool.When you use it with Flash and Coursebuilder, you can build interactive e-learning.The learning curve of this program is moderate. It offers free extensions and the capability to create animations.






From $999

Flash enables you to create animations with small file sizes for deliver y over the Web. It is good for animations and simulations. You can build robust drag-and-drop, true/false, multiple choice, and other questions.You can also develop content for delivery over personal digital assistants.This program requires scripting and coding knowledge and has a steep learning curve.



Tr ivantis


With Lectora, you can create media-rich e-learning sources for Internet, intranet, CD-ROM, or DVD deliver y. Since Lectora uses drag-and-drop interactions, no programming skill is necessar y. The learning curve is easy to moderate.The user guide contains a checklist on analysis, design, and development preliminaries.


To olbook


$2,999 and $1,495

With To olbook, you place multimedia objects onto sequential pages.You can also create multi-faceted simulations.You can create interactive content using a catalog of smart objects (virtual objects that help the learner interact with the program).The learning curve is medium to high. (Instructor requires programming skills; Assistant does not.)



and Assistant


This work was supported in part by the U.S. Department of Energy under con- tract number DE-AC02-76SF00515.


Books Allen, Michael. Guide to e-Learning. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003.

Hall, Brandon. Web-Based Training Cookbook. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003.

Online Resources




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e-Learning Centre. www.e-learningcentre.

E-learning Products. www.e-learningsite. com/links/products.htm

Multimedia Authoring Systems FAQs.


Multimedia Authoring Tools. lorien

Nantel, Richard, et. al. “Authoring Tools 2004: A Buyer’s Guide to the Best E-Learning Content Development

A Buyer’s Guide to the Best E-Learning Content Development Applications.”



University of South Florida Instructional Technology Program’s Resources and Links Design Links. inst_tech/resources/design.html

STC’s Instructional Design and Learn- ing (IDL) Special Interest Group.

Vance’s ESL_Home Authoring Tools.