Important Factors to Consider While Choosing Content Authoring Tool

authoring tools

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Nandakishore Kumar

With so many web & desktop based content authoring tools available in the market, it is not easy to choose the right tool for your requirement. Choosing the right tool requires comparing & evaluating multiple factors.
In this article, we try to list some of the important factors to consider when searching for a good content authoring tool.
  • Allows use of a wide variety of instructional strategies and learning technologies. Examples Social media, Mobile learning and Immersive technologies which Simulations, Serious games, Virtual world.
  • Supports the new ADL Training and Learning Architecture (TLA), allowing tracking of learning experiences in a wide variety of learning technology contexts.
  • Supports addition of game elements, like points, rewards, leaderboards, etc.
  • Allows branching and sequencing depending on user responses to assessments and interaction results.
  • Allows custom learning paths based on user profile.
  • Allows setting of global or default control modes for navigation between course elements—screens as well as units of content structure.
  • Allows setting of bookmarks to preserve course location between sessions, either automatically upon exiting the course or through user action.
The standard types of eLearning assessments that you should look for are:
  • Questions include the ability to display a graphic or reference associated with the question and answer choices.
  • Assessments can be randomized. Options include:
    – Questions are dynamically pulled from randomized bank of questions
    – Randomized bank pulls preset number of questions per objective
    – Order of questions is randomized
    – Order of question answer choices is randomized
  • Includes built-in remediation features for assessments. There are two flavors of this feature: custom remediation for individual assessment items and remedial navigation to review existing content on appropriate course screen(s). Options include:
    – Custom remediation for questions (regardless of wrong answer)
    – Custom remediation keyed to individual answer choices
    – Navigation to specific content screen(s) to review in preparation of retaking an assessment.
    – Remediation can be configured as on or off
  • Provides capability to include hints for incorrect answers.
  • Allows you to configure the number of tries allowed for assessments.
  • Can configure certain questions in an assessment to be required to be answered and others not required, and scoring based on weightings.
  • Can configure assessments according to different types, such as pre-tests (where students can “test out” of the course), post-tests (required for passing the course), and self-assessments. Course behaviors can be set to be conditional on the results of these different types of assessments.
  • Allows options for handling of test results
    – Questions linked to objectives
    – Questions and possibly assessments are assigned weights
    – Passing threshold can be configured
    – Assessment questions can receive partial credit
    – Assessments can be timed, with option to time out learners who take too long
  • Allows importing of external sets of questions in a standard format such as QTI.
  • Provides a high level of support for standards such as SCORM, xAPI, Section 508, and AICC, among others.
  • Supports many media file formats, as well as configuration of the media files within the tool.
  • Uses the multitouch technology embedded in modern user interfaces to allow learners to tap, scroll, pinch, and swipe within eLearning.
  • Produces output supported by a wide variety of platforms, browsers and screen sizes.
  • Supports High DPI displays, like Apple’s retina display.
  • Enables detection of device and delivers the appropriate course version.
  • Supports responsive design. This allows you to create a single project, content dynamically adapts itself to tablets, mobile phones, and desktop computers.
  • Includes pre-built modules/scripts that can easily be inserted to check learner systems for necessary plug-ins, etc.
  • Allows insertion of web pages and other web content into containers (such as Webobjects) that can be displayed within authored content.
  • Imports native HTML5 animations without requiring any plug-ins.
  • Supports output to mobile devices. Some tools offer this as an output option, though they may not be designed specifically for this type of learning.
  • Requires a minimum of players and plug-ins, especially proprietary ones that are not automatically installed with the browser.
  • Supports foreign character sets.
  • Supports creation of a desktop executable file that can run on CDs or DVDs or run on the desktop after being downloaded from the intranet when there is limited bandwidth.
  • Supports integration of content with mobile device capabilities such as geolocation
  • Output files can be packaged as hybrid mobile apps and distributed through Apple Store, Google Play, etc.
  • Output works well with Section 508 accessibility technologies like screen readers.
  • Includes templates for authoring of Glossaries.
  • Allows templates for authoring of course FAQs.
  • Includes templates for authoring of course tutorial and Help pages.
  • Includes templates for reference and resource pages.
  • Provides support for creating student surveys, certificates, and course evaluations.
  • Is easy to learn and use, ideally with the ability for users to choose from tiers of features according to the knowledge and expertise of the user. This allows users to start using the program quickly and gradually progress to more complex authoring tiers/feature sets as their skills mature.
  • Displays interfaces that are consistent and standardized throughout all screens.
  • Allows customizing of workspaces and saving them.
  • Includes grids that allow convenient layout out of objects, and snapping to the grid and other objects.
  • Has robust panel management features (docking, stacking, etc.)
  • Provides user interface customization, so that users can optimize for their particular needs.
  • Is easy to install and configure.
  • Includes spell check and grammar check features.
  • Provides clear, specific error messages and diagnostics that aid in troubleshooting.
  • Has robust support documentation in a wide variety of forms including tutorials, help, examples, references, and user manuals.
  • Has a variety of Help Desk support options for administrators and learners (telephone, chat, email, etc.).
  • Has a Help Desk system that is structured and process-driven via trouble call tracking and reporting.
  • Has Help Desk support that coordinates problem resolution with the appropriate parties: vendors, SME’s, etc. for problem resolution.
  • Has knowledgeable, experienced support personnel.
  • Is available as close to 24/7 and world-wide as possible.
  • Offers extensive training options: eLearning, video tutorials, ILT sessions, webinars, etc..
  • Has onsite training options. If training is at vendor site, the location(s) are a reasonable distance.
  • Includes an orientation tutorial for new users.
  • Has free online forums for support.
  • Has an established user community to turn to for help.
  • Has a low average turn-around time for help-desk support.
  • Has a feedback function for suggestions on improving the product.
  • Provides technical consulting services options for customizations, implementation, configuration, architecture design, needs analysis, change management services, etc.
  • Does not arbitrarily limit the number of levels, objects, or sizes of items included in the course.
  • Supports a wide variety of delivery architectures. For instance, if you have an eLearning architecture involving a dedicated content repository, the tool supports configuring the eLearning for this.
  • Has reasonable system requirements that are attainable within your organization.
  • Has the ability to call external applications and code objects, and set up interfaces to read and write from databases.
  • Uses an open architecture that allows additional functionality to be added from external sources.
  • Is interoperable with other authoring tools, based on input and output file formats, etc.
  • Has a licensing agreement that is flexible and easily scalable to reflect changing number of users.
  • Costs less than competing authoring systems with the same or similar feature set. This includes all TCO (total cost of ownership) costs.
  • Costs less for recurring and ongoing support compared to the cost of other similar systems.
  • Is projected to cost less for required customizations compared to the cost of customizations for other similar systems.
  • Costs less for add-ons such as APIs to external applications compared to the cost of other similar systems.
  • Offers a subscription pricing model that is reasonably priced without requiring an excessively long-term commitment/contract up front in order to subscribe.
  • Includes a convenient mechanism for adding metadata or descriptive labeling to course components.
  • Integrates the storyboarding process into the tool. Some tools integrate storyboarding with the authoring process, so that most files can be output. Some tools support using PowerPoint to create storyboards, which can be imported, edited, and turned into eLearning.
  • Allows searching within individual courses, and across course libraries, both while authoring and after it is published.
  • Includes options for automating the creation of course navigation functions from the content.
  • Stores links in an externalized database file so they can be updated from a master instance.
  • Allows importing content in other file formats (especially Microsoft Office).
  • Allows importing of content packages such that they are fully editable (for SCORM content).
  • Includes a spelling and grammar checker.
  • Has robust support for building tables and diagrams.
  • Has global find and replace function.
  • Is optimized for reusability in general. Some tools have their own internal content repository so they are reusable across courses.
  • Includes a wide variety and numbers of templates or skins that you can use out of the box with little or no modification, and supports easy creation and application of new templates and skins. It should allow templates and skins to be applied to any level of course structure.
  • If the elements in this library are updated or changed, these changes should propagate throughout the course. And they should be sharable across courses, not just within the same course.
  • Incorporates some degree of ability to edit raw material assets at a low application level.
  • Has a high degree of traceability for the impact of all changes across all courses and objects (mostly to LCMSs)
  • Audio – Allows embedding, linking, native editing, set audio clips based on user action, closed captioning of audio files.
  • Graphics – Allows native editing of images, setting Interactivity, automatically converting to standard type that the authoring tool is using, supports wide variety of media file formats.
  • Animation
    – Includes a library of animation objects, including characters/avatars.
    – Has the ability to build and/or incorporate HTML 5 animations.
  • Video
    – Allows embedding or linking to video files.
    – Allows native setting parameters of video files “in place,” including setting compression type and amount, and video quality.
    – Allows author to record screen video (i.e., for system simulations).
    – Enables set audio clips to launch based on user actions.
    – Enables annotating videos with timed overlays.
    – Allows providing closed captioning.
  • Provides browser emulation that allows quick previewing of screens and objects exactly as they appear and function in the target browser.
  • Includes revision tracking to audit changes and roll back to earlier versions.
  • Runs validation checks of HTML code.
  • Incorporates “round-trip” editing of code, meaning that changes made while in code editing mode are immediately reflected in WYSIWYG editing mode, and vice versa.
  • If the tool incorporates use of XML as the core internal format, it has an XML editor that allows programmers to edit the XML directly.
  • Provides the ability to launch source object editing applications from within the tool.
  • Allows authors to establish and control course file directory structures without rigid constraints.
  • Offers a scripting language (such as Adobe Flash, ActionScript, or Javascript) to extend the tool’s functionality, with the ability to create and manipulate variables that control a wide variety of functions and behavior.
  • Offers convenient features related to media handling, including: Cropping of graphics, not just resizing, Adding alt-tag data for Section 508 compliance and Vector graphic creation tools.
*applicable only to web-based tools
  • Offers “organization aware” features that allow collaborative server-based authoring based on organization roles and permissions. Permissions should be able to be assigned not just by organization or role, but course or project as well.
  • Includes project management features, to help project managers plan and track progress on individual screens and other components.
  • Manages the production process efficiently.
  • Includes configuration management and version control features such as checking files in and out to prevent accidental overwriting.
  • Allows adding of media-empty placeholders with properties and tasks associated with them.
  • Provides the ability to annotate and communicate actions taken, approvals, errors, etc.
  • Provides a means to assign tasks that are tracked and managed in the system.
  • When reviewers make comments they can make edits directly in the content.
*applicable only to web-based tools
  • Uses robust security architecture to maintain system access.
  • Allows users to self-register or create a request for an account.
  • Provides a single sign-on, so that users who have logged in to the enterprise intranet can get into the tool without additional login.
  • Requires user logon only once per tool session.
  • Uses Common Access Card (CAC) access (for high-security government installations).
  • Incorporates appropriate security certifications and standards, and features.
*applicable only to web-based tools
  • Performs with minimal latency under a variety of use case scenarios and load conditions.
  • Handles reasonably large numbers of concurrent users.
  • Handles user load efficiently, provisioning and scaling resources to smoothly accommodate fluctuations (especially spikes) in numbers of concurrent users.
  • Works equally well on all standard Internet browsers.
*applicable only to web-based tools
  • Defines a wide variety of permission and role levels.
  • Uses administration templates to easily set group permissions.
  • Restricts access to authoring functions for individual or groups of courses.
  • Allows delegating permissions for users at a lower level of permission than what one is logged in as.
  • Allows creation of subgroups that inherit permissions of parent groups.
  • Allows administration based on external data feeds concerning organization roles and permissions.
  • Manages the administration process efficiently with built-in workflows.
  • Provides features that allow administrators to view role structures in a graphical representation.

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