5 e-learning development tools

MSc eLearning: Essay Wordle

Once upon a time, developing media-rich e-learning required expertise in a multimedia authoring tool like Adobe Flash. That’s no longer the case, as several products now make it easy to develop highly interactive, visually pleasing computer-based learning systems without heavy code lifting. In fact, if you know how to use PowerPoint, you may be well on your way. Here is a brief look at five software packages that can help turn a typical PowerPoint slide stack into a self-paced learning module for students.

1. Adobe Captivate

Captivate allows instructors to create highly interactive, branching learning materials. It is geared toward simulations and decision-making activities, as opposed to lecture-style instruction–instructors can hand over the flow of content to the learner, making Captivate excellent for self-directed learning activities. It probably has a higher learning curve than Presenter, but a lower learning curve than an authoring tool like Flash. Content can be exported to a variety of formats and used online, on CDs, or as downloads. I have also read that it’s technically possible to convert Captivate materials to iPhone and iPads–I expect this to become more straightforward in the future.

2. Adobe Presenter

Presenter is better-suited for instructors who want to add interactivity to existing PowerPoint presentations–in fact, you’ll do much of your slide editing and preparation from within PowerPoint. Unlike Captivate, Presenter content is highly linear, and thus is well-suited for lecture-type materials. There is tight integration with Adobe Connect webinar software, which allows instructors to track usage in virtual classroom settings. Basic interactivity, audio, video, and quizzes may be added.

3. Articulate Studio

Articulate’s key feature is tight integration with PowerPoint. In terms of output it is similar to Presenter. An instructional designer can build materials using PowerPoint, then make them interactive using the Articulate tools. Like Presenter, the Articulate tools are used from within PowerPoint. Content is exported in Flash format and can be used on a website or via CD or download. A search on Articulate’s support forums indicates many users are interested in their stance on support for iPads; however, the company has not indicated if or when iPad-friendly output will be made possible.

4. SimWriter

SimWriter offers complex branching options for instructional designers. It is intended for simulations as opposed to lecture-formatted instruction. Take a look at the demonstration video to get a sense of its powerful branching tools. Output is rendered in Flash format. No iPad support indicated.

5. mLearning Studio

mLearning Studio is likely nowhere near ready for prime time, but I’m including it because it promises HTML5 compatibility and is targeted toward modern web browsers, handheld devices, and tablets. You can view a short demonstration and click through a few examples on the product website.

Image: Tess Watson on Flickr

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Aaron Sumner

Aaron Sumner is the Director of Technology for Research and Development at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning. He has worked in web development and instructional technology since 1994.