I recently participated in an ASTD event where the focus was on eLearning content development tools. All of the usual suspects – Captivate, Articulate, Camtasia, Lectora, PowerPoint, and Flash – were represented, and attendees rotated between discussions focused on specific tools. FULL DISCLOSURE: I anchored the discussion group on Flash, and we use Flash as our primary eLearning content development tool at bytes of knowledge.
One of the most surprising things I heard – and it came up in every discussion group in which I participated – was the idea that if you really wanted to take “take your training to the next level” you had to “step up to” Flash. Interestingly, this sort of statement was always followed by, “but Flash is so hard to learn.”
A coworker of mine also attended this event but spent her time participating in the other discussion groups. When we later compared notes, she said that the other groups spent a lot of time talking about how easy those tools were to learn. But, sooner or later, someone asked how to implement such and such a feature or interaction using the tools and the speaker would say, “Well, you’ll have to use Flash to do something like that.”
Does that mean the Flash is the best eLearning development tool? No, it’s not. We use Flash because it is what we have that can (with enough programming) do the job we need it to do. The learning curve was steep, and we have hundreds (if not thousands) of R&D hours invested in our current Flash + ActionScript production platform.
We had to make that investment because we’d be unable to meet our client’s functional requirements (especially Section 508 accessibility support) without an object oriented programming language under the hood. But, we also recognized that it would be cost-prohibitive if we had to program the function of a “Next” button from scratch for each customer. So, in effect, we’ve built our own tools – based on Flash – in an attempt to combine the rapid development characteristics of other tools with the power and flexibility of Flash.
While it’s tempting to say “Hooray, Us!” for tackling this challenge, the reality is that we only did so because we had to. We had to because companies in the web, multimedia, and eLearning tool business are not creating the kinds of tools that we ALL need. Why should you, or I, have to trade ease of use for power? Or rapid prototyping for source code control? Or … well, any other trade-off you’ve faced.
When the Internet “took off”, tool developers looked at the opportunities and selected eCommerce as their target. Middleware, business objects, n-tier architectures, and more were introduced, refined and have rapidly matured in the market place. eLearning tools – not so much. Of course, there were good business reasons why things took this course, and I’m not arguing things should have gone otherwise. I am suggesting there is a huge, untapped market opportunity for a suite of eLearning content development tools that have a short learning curve to get started, that support rapid prototyping in a team environment, AND that have an underlying technical architecture that allows programmers to implement anything their instructional designers can imagine.
Will HTML5 be the platform on which these tools will arrive? Absolutely, positively, maybe.
I’d like to hear from you. What sorts of trade-offs to you find yourself making between the content you want and the tools you’d need to author the content? Are you thinking about “stepping up” to Flash, or are other tools meeting your needs?