Choosing eLearning Development Tools – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series I talked about setting goals for eLearning. This time I talk about the evaluation criteria I used to evaluate eLearning development tools.

I looked into over 20 development tools ranging in price from free to thousands of dollars, so needed some way to cull through the list and narrow my choices. Additionally, not all tools are designed to serve all purposes. Flash and Photoshop produce distinctly different outputs and really can’t be compared to each other. They are both essential tools for online media developers and need to be compared to like tools. The same is true for eLearning tools. They don’t all meet the same needs and need to be evaluated based on their specific function. Generally, I stuck to course authoring or assembly tools and left media creation tools alone (for now).

Intended Outcome

Before establishing any criteria you need to define what it is you intend to create. Because the tools range in functionality, you to need to focus on the functionality that matters most to you. The training I’m developing will include:

  • Audio narration
  • Software simulations
  • Quizzes
  • Screen shots
  • Exercises in which learners need to complete complex software procedures
  • Glossary
  • Links to online help
  • Structure will be mostly linear
  • SCORM tracking is required

You could write volumes on defining course development standards, but to get started you really only need to describe basic functions. Before you begin development you must define your standards to ensure consistency within and across courses. This list is admittedly lacking in necessary detail, but provides a starting point for coming up with evaluation criteria.

You also need to consider the goal of your eLearning, and if training is really want you want to create. There are a lot of other learning/training/performance products you can create with these tools. I recommend taking a long look around Tony Karrer’s blog. He has a lot of create articles on different types of eLearning technologies.

Evaluation Criteria

After establishing general course standards, I came up with a simple, un-scientific, and completely subjective set of evaluation criteria:

General Criteria:

  • Ease of use – is it hard to do simple things? Is it easy to put courses together and does the process make sense?
  • Interface design – does it follow conventions, are buttons labeled using obvious terms, does it makes sense?
  • Ramp-up – how quickly can I get something out of tool that is useful?
  • Help – how good is the online help?
  • Support – does the tool have a support site, is it easy to use?
  • Customer Satisfaction – this I took from the Course Authoring Tools satisfaction survey. Not many tools are listed there, but I figured I should consider it for the ones that are.

Course Authoring criteria:

  • Customization – can the templates be customized, and how easily?
  • Integration – what other tools does it work with and what file formats does it support?
  • Quizzes – does it have a built in quiz tool and is it any good?
  • Publishing – is publishing easy and what are the options. Does it support SCORM 2004?
  • Output Quality – does the output look good, or is it over-compressed? Can you change the output quality?

I also decided to rate the tools on the type of course/presentation they produced or were targeted at:

  • Low = page turner or straight presentation with audio and no real tracking capability.
  • Medium = some interactivity like quizzes, or at least the ability to launch Flash files. Does support basic SCORM tracking for completion.
  • High = Full-blown tool with scripting, full SCORM tracking, supports non-linear paths, very flexible.

Finally, and most importantly, what was my overall impression of the tool and the company? This is were a company could impress me, or kill their chances of getting my business. If the process for downloading a trial version is hard, they get a lower score. If their web site is hard to navigate, uses offensive colors, or breaks in Firefox (my preferred browser) then they get a lower score. If the sales person calls me every five minutes and I start getting spam, that will definitely lower my impression.

Next Time…

In the next post I’ll give you my list of tools and how I categorized them. After that, I’ll get into reviews of some specific tools.

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