4 Challenges my Current Course Authoring Tools Don’t Address (and Oustart Evolution might)

Over the past four years, I have developed e-learning courses for 5 different international development organizations.  During that time, my learning “toolbox” has been large, including over 8 course authoring applications:  Authorware, Flash, Captivate, Camtasia Studio, Qarbon Builder, Outstart Trainer, Articulate Presenter, Articulate Engage, and more.

Each of these applications has its relative strengths, and the goal of this post is not to compare them to each other.  Instead, I will outline four challenges that none of these tools has addressed satisfactorily.

Challenge 1:  Easily collaborating among a distributed course development team: Increasingly, I find that LINGOs agency learning teams are no longer working in the same physical location.  Some agencies have telecommuters dispersed across the region (or the world), others engage volunteers, and others contract consultants.   In each of these scenarios, the course authoring applications in my toolkit have failed to adequately address the challenge of managing team collaboration/communication and streamlining file management.  Since my traditional course authoring applications are physically resident on my hard drive, complex procedures have been established to manage version histories, share files and update document repositories.

Challenge 2:  Efficiently re-branding materials created by another agency.  Several LINGOs agencies have developed courses which they have generously agreed to allow other agencies to re-brand and/or contextualize.  Presently, the effort required to share the course source code is onerous and any time one of the 35 LINGOs agencies decides to repurpose a course, the file sharing and file changes must be done on a case by case basis.

Challenge 3:  Easily converting course formats from one medium to another.  Presently, I am developing a series of learning materials that employ the same source materials to generate face to face curricula, on-line course curricula, asynchronous e-leaning content and all the support materials for each of these formats.  With the tools I am using today, there is no easy way to convert a single source of content into multiple delivery formats.

Challenge 4:  Expanding the community of course developers to include field-based subject matter experts.  While each of the applications in my current toolbox is strong, the reality is that very few individuals in any given agency have access to a license for these tools.  As a result, the asynchronous course development community for any one NGO tends to be small – with only a handful of people in any agency actively engaging in course authoring.  Given that the vast majority of agency knowledge resides in field based SMEs, how do we ensure that the community of course developers includes these people?

One approach to addressing these challenges is to expand the course development toolkit to include a server-based course authoring tool.  Fortunately, one of the industry leaders, Outstart, has indicated that it would be willing to provide LINGOs member agencies access to the Outstart Evolution LCMS tool.  Our preliminary exploring indicates that Evolution has the potential to address all of the challenges listed above.

If you find that any of the challenges listed above resonate with your experience, I encourage you to join a LINGOs webinar on Thursday, July 31 2008 at 11:00AM EDT for an introduction to the Outstart Evolution LCMS.  The webinar will be led by Rose Jorgensen of OutStart and additional information is available at the following link.

Tips for Developing Courses in a Virtual Team Environment

One of the challenges when working with Rapid e-Learning Development Tools is collaborating with team members who are not physically co-located with you.  While virtual collaboration is difficult in any situation, it can be especially difficult when developing an e-learning course.  For example, it is not unusual for source filesto exceed 20MB in size – far exceeding the maximum allowable file size of most e-mail servers and are too large to share via intranets.  This posts identifies two ways virtual teams can address this challenge.

  

1.        YOU SEND IT  allows users to share files up to 100MB between members of a virtual team.  This free service places files (which must be zipped before loading) on their FTP server for two weeks, during which time you can send links to team members that will allow them to access the files via a download (rather than as e-mail attachments.)  When I collaborate with a co-developer on the look and feel of a course, or troubleshoot with an expert on the SCORM code in a course, the YouSendIt service allows me to share the files quickly and easily.

2.       On-line course development software programs like OutStart Evolution and Udutu allow course developers to share files, work on the same application, and publish courses regardless of where they are located in the world.  The Nature Conservancy has adopted this approach to course development over the past two years – largely reflecting the fact that their course developers are seldom located in the same office.  LINGOs is just starting to experiment with this approach and I will blog further on this topic over  the coming month.  If this is an area of particularly interest to your learning team, consider attending the July 31 webinar by Rose Jorgensen which will explore the features and functionality of OutStart Evolution.  More information on that webinar is available through this link.