E-Learning 101: Straightforward Answers to Fundamental Questions—Part 2

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

At the 2016 ATD TechKnowledge Conference, I hosted a session designed for people just getting started with e-learning. If you are just getting started yourself, you might be curious about many of the same issues.

In the first installment of this two-part series, we reviewed some basic e-learning terminology and concepts questions that were asked during the session. Now, let’s take a closer look at authoring tools, LMSs, and e-learning course design.

E-Learning Authoring Tools

What is the most common e-learning development software? What are the differences? What are the key differences between Captivate, Articulate Storyline, and Articulate Studio? How do you figure out what e-learning system is right for your company?

The most recent research on the subject of authoring tool popularity is several years old. In October 2013, an eLearning Guild report showed the most common authoring tools were Adobe Captivate, TechSmith Camtasia, Articulate Storyline, Articulate Studio, and Trivantis Lectora, and those tools are still leaders in this market.

There are a lot of opinions about which tool is the best, though. In the end, they are all very good tools, so it is just about finding the right match for you. That’s why the best think you can do is be clear about what you want—and then view all opinions through that lens. I periodically put out an authoring tools comparison that shares my personal opinion on the differences between several of the most common tools:

What else is there beside Captivate to create short videos?

Two other commonly used tools for video creation are Camtasia and Adobe Premiere. Camtasia has the advantage of having other e-learning features such as screen simulations for systems training.

Do you have a recommended software that meets or is less constraining in 508 compliance?

Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate, and Lectora are all excellent choices for creating Section 508 courses for people with disabilities using assistive technology.

Does Articulate have plans to offer their software for Apple devices? 

I am not aware of any plans for a Mac version. However, many Storyline developers (including several at Artisan) successfully use Storyline on a Mac using a Windows emulator, such as parallels. If you are looking for a Mac-specific authoring tool, then I would recommend Adobe Captivate.

What authoring tool works best with custom JavaScript to compliment your course?

Adobe Captivate, Articulate Storyline, and Lectora all let you add custom JavaScript. You can use JavaScript to add features to your courses that the authoring tool doesn’t do on its own.

Learning Management Systems

Besides learning, what other tools or features are beneficial to offer to users within your LMS to keep them engaged?

Much of what is needed to keep your learners engaged will center more around what is happening in the course. LMS features can still help, though. An LMS can have a rating system, a recommendation engine, and effective search capabilities to help your learners find the right content. Some LMSs allow users to generate and post their own content, allowing for peer-to-peer learning. And some LMSs offer social media and collaboration tools. You can learn more from The LMS Selection Checklist (book on Amazon).

What is the difference between an LMS and an LCMS?


A, LMS (learning management system) is about how the learners interact with the content. An LMS can serve as the course catalog, a way for courses to be assigned, and a way for managers to track completion. A learning content management system (LCMS) is more about how developers create and manage the content from the developer’s perspective. An LCMS can provide a collaborative authoring environment, a reusable asset library, review tools, and ways to output content in multiple formats (such as self-paced e-learning and classroom-based training).

Is there a preference or reason for choosing xAPI, AICC, SCORM over the other?

xAPI, AICC, and SCORM are all communication protocols about how learning events talk to tracking systems. All are still in use today. AICC was the first standard, developed specifically for the aviation industry when there were no standards. It was useful enough that people outside of the industry started using it. Then SCORM was developed as a broader standard for all industries. xAPI is the much newer version that allows for more flexibility, especially with newer technology.

At this point, AICC is rarely used, but is still a valid standard. SCORM is the most commonly used standard (based on no data other than my own observations), but it isn’t really future-proofed. xAPI is the most forward-looking, but it has not been widely adopted just yet.

Your first consideration is whether or not you already have an LMS. If you do, then you will be limited by what the LMS supports. Many LMSs do not support the xAPI standards, for example. Some LMSs support multiple standards, which means you do have a choice. SCORM would work well for traditional course completion and quiz tracking, and xAPI lets you track other types of experiences. If you are searching for an LMS, I would recommend one that either has or is actively working on adopting xAPI.

The second consideration is to be very clear on what you want. What do you need to track? What do you want to do with that data? What tools will you be creating the content in? Until you know this, you won’t know what option is right for you.

Course Design

What is a realistic amount of time and money to create a “decent” course?

Asking how long it takes to create e-learning is a lot like asking how much a car costs. It depends! And yet, you need to know to be able to plan effectively. I recommend Bryan Chapman’s research on the subject. His middle-of-the-road number is 180 hours to develop one hour of content. Here’s where you can find some guidance: How Long Does It Take to Create Learning?

What is the best format to create e-learning that can be used on mobile and desktops?

If you are designing for both mobile and desktop, you’ll want to make sure your course outputs to HTML5. If your desktop users are likely to be using older browsers, then they may have trouble with HTML5. If that’s the case, you may want to use a tool that offers both Flash and HTML5 output, like Adobe Captivate or Articulate Storyline. If you want your courses to work well on a phone, you probably want responsive design, which reconfigures the course based on the person’s device size. Adobe Captivate and Lectora offer responsive design. (Word on the street is that Articulate Storyline will offer it soon.) You don’t have to use an authoring tool, though. Some e-learning developers prefer to program directly in HTML5 (rather than use a tool that published to HTML5). For more guidance, check out Going Mobile: Six Key Questions to Help You Pick an Authoring Tool (requires eLearning Guild membership).

What is the recommended approach to fundamental content (factual) to create interactive e-learning?

The best tool I know of to keep any content interesting and interactive is Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping. It’s an easy-to-use process of gathering, organizing, and designing content that puts the practical application and practice of content in primary focus.

Is there a guideline for the percent of recommended amount of interactivity in e-learning? As in, how much should be video, reading, interactivity, quiz, and so forth?

There is no set formula. The content, the learning goal, and the needs of the audience all need to drive how interactivity, quizzing, and media are handled. The action mapping process mentioned earlier is a great tool for helping to map out interactions.

What are the best options for graphics? 

When working with graphics for e-learning, you need to make sure that you read the terms and agreements of whatever site you are working with. Be careful about assuming that you can use images from a Google search. You might instead want to consider fee-based sites like iStock, Shutterstock, or ThinkStock. Many of these sites have per-image and subscription plans. If you are likely to use a lot of characters in your courses, consider a subscription to the eLearning Brothers’ character library. If you want to save money and are willing to keep track of attribution information, consider looking for Creative Commons images. (See Part 1 for information on Creative Commons.) For more advice, check out “Blog Post: Do You Know the Terms and Conditions of Your Purchased Media?”

Bonus Question

Where/how can I get this game (How To Be a Billionaire) software? During the session at TechKnowledge, I presented the “Prepared Questions” above as a “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” style game. It’s from BRAVO! by C3 SoftWorks. It’s an extremely easy program to use—just fill out a form with your questions and configure a few settings. BRAVO! includes five game types.

About the Author

Diane Elkins is the president of Artisan E-Learning, a custom e-learning development company specializing in Articulate Studio, Storyline, Lectora, and Captivate. She has built a reputation as a national e-learning expert by being a frequent speaker at major industry events such as ATD's International Conference & Exposition, ATD TechKnowledge, DevLearn, and Learning Solutions. She is also the co-author of the popular E-Learning Uncovered book series as well as E-Learning Fundamentals: A Practical Guide from ATD Press. She is a past president of the Northeast Florida and Metro DC chapters of ATD.

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