Both mature and new tools can help you deliver e-learning
that works across devices—whether tablets or traditional
Chances are, if you design and develop e-learning, you've at least
heard of HTML5 within the last year. It's taking the web world by
storm and is starting to light fires in the world of both
e-learning and m-learning. This has been largely helped by Apples
refusal to allow Flash on its iOS devices (iPhone, iPod Touch, and
When I first presented on HTML5 at TechKnowledge 2011, there weren't
many authoring tools available. But over the last nine months,
several more have come onto the scene or increased their
capabilities. In this article, well look at the authoring tools
available now for HTML5 publishing.
But first, what is HTML5, and what are its advantages for
HTML5 refers to the latest version of the Hypertext Markup Language
that has been used to create web content for the last couple of
decades, but it also has come to include, at least in casual
speech, assorted technologies that have become common on the web,
provide a powerful, app-like experience similar to what you might
see built by Flash, but with no need for plug-ins.
This is an advantage for m-learning as well as e-learning,
particularly if you want your content to play on iOS devices. Some
of the features that will matter most in e-learning development are
inline video and audio, the Canvas element (which allows for
Flash-like animations), drag and drop within the browser,
geolocation, and video that can be synchronized with events
happening on the rest of the page (such as text changes for closed
On the flip side, learners do need a modern browser to support some
of the elements available in the HTML5 specification, and browsers
may interpret some elements differently. However, an even bigger
concern right now is that there are few e-learning authoring tools
that utilize new HTML5 features, even in the larger web and
multimedia development market. Today's HTML5 authoring tools are
largely about the tide shifting to offer HTML publishing rather
than (or in addition to) Flash publishing, so that courses are
playable on mobile devices.
As of this writing, tools for full course authoring fall into one
of two categories, each with benefits and limitations:
- HTML publishing tools that have been around for years, even
decades, that are slowly starting to incorporate new HTML5 features
- emerging tools built for modern and mobile browsers that aren't
as feature-rich and powerful as their more mature counterparts.
HTML5 publishing from mature software
The major players are Trivantis's Lectora and SumTotal's Toolbook.
Both have been on the e-learning development market for more than a
decade. Both publish to versions of HTML and have the ability to
include images, video, and audio. More impressively, both tools
include the ability to embed web objects.
This is an often-overlooked feature in the rapid development world,
but in today's environment of cobbling together output from
different software to create something as impressive as Flash-based
output, this allows you to integrate output from HTML5-based
animation tools. Notably, both Lectora and ToolBook also have the
ability to use variables and variable-based actions, giving them
tremendous power over presentation-based tools.
Lectora. This is a very easy-to-learn tool considering the power it
packs. Using a template to present content is turnkey. It's also
very easy to use object-oriented learning development to level up
the interactivity. You create the actions, store pretty much
anything you want in variables, and all of the scripting is done
for you on the back end.
On the downside, Trivantis hasnt done much yet to take advantage of
the new parts of the HTML5 specification. One element that
Trivantis has taken advantage of is video, which can now be
published to play in HMTL5-friendly formats or Flash player,
depending on the learner's browser.
However, to be a more complete tool, Lectora needs to add
animation, fades, and the ability to sync actions with non-Flash
video. Lectora works only on Windows operating systems, though
Trivantis also offers Lectora Online—a comparable online,
subscription-based version of Lectora.
ToolBook. I haven't tried ToolBook for a few years, but with a
returning interest in HTML publishing, I thought it was time to
give it another look. Recent additions include the ability to
integrate drag and drop and geolocation (for mobile courses and
performance support) that works on iOS devices (such as the iPad),
and browser-specific publishing. ToolBook also has some advantages
in animation and higher-end scripting.
One disadvantage is that there is very little online community
compared to most software today, and none that I could find that
was driven by the publisher.
It was difficult to get SumTotal to answer questions about the
software for this review, which is something to take into
consideration if you're more interested in getting up and running
quickly than designing advanced interactivity. The operating system
for ToolBook is also Windows only.
New players on the HTML5 scene
The second category of software has seen launches this year from
dominKnow and Rapid Intake: Claro and mLearning Studio,
respectively. Both of these tools are web-based and require
subscriptions. Though authoring over the Internet is not my
preference, it has allowed both mLearning Studio and Claro to build
in easy reviewing systems in addition to enabling multiple
developers to work on a course at once.
Both tend to follow a mostly linear model of e-learning; they make
it easy to do the most e-learning-ish things we want to do in
PowerPoint and publish to HTML5. Both include templates for easy
course creation and allow you to upload images, video, and audio.
Now let's examine some differences.
Claro. Claro is very easy to use. Anyone who uses PowerPoint will
almost certainly have a fast learning curve. It also includes a few
very distinctive and even surprising features, such as the ability
to take and upload screen captures (both still images and videos),
a charting tool, embedding of external webpages, assignable actions
that can make objects appear and disappear, and the ability to link
to other locations within the course, files, URLs, and email
True to its presentation-based structure, Claro allows PowerPoint
import. However, since it doesn't have the same object-drawing
capability as PowerPoint, many effects in PowerPoint aren't carried
over, and users might end up with some objects (such as charts)
converted to uneditable graphics, while others (such as rectangles
with text in them) are converted to two separate objects. Embedded
audio and video must be removed and imported separately.
The navigation is not editable at this time, making anything other
than a linear course somewhat unrealistic, but dominKnow does
customize the navigation for clients. Claro works on all operating
mLearning Studio. Essentially a new edition of Rapid Intakes Unison
authoring software, mLearning Studio adds the ability to publish to
HTML5 as well as course templates sized for mobile devices and
previewing modes for tablets and smartphones.
Creating pages in mLearning Studio is extremely template-based,
which will be a boon to some and too restrictive to others. The
templates provide for mobile versions of the pages for the users
who access courses on their mobile devices. Rapid Intake is working
on making HTML5 versions of all of its existing Flash-based
templates; happily for m-learning designers, the ones that are
available to date tend to be geared toward performance support as
well as courses.
Another distinctive feature is the ability to edit courses using
XML integration. While not necessarily for the beginner, this
method of storing the course data provides a powerful way to make
changes without having to go back into the authoring tool.
mLearning Studio also works on all operating systems.
While all of these tools have their strengths, there is plenty of
room for an authoring tool (or two or three) that takes advantage
of new HTML5 elements, is built for modern and mobile browsers, and
also has the power of variables and actions. I expect the landscape
to change rapidly, so stay tuned to the Learning Circuits blog on
astd.org for more reviews in late 2011.