For all of you subject matter experts, trainers and performance consultants of every background, this one’s for you. Here’s eLearning 101: a guide to the tools of the trade to get you started building courses.
Before we begin with the tools, you need to learn one quick, key term: SCORM. The sharable content object reference model (or SCORM) is a software standard that governs how course files communicate or report information to learning management systems.
“Wait!”, you cry. “What is a learning management system?” A learning management system (more commonly known as an LMS) is a software platform that plays and tracks training content in an organizational environment.
“Do I need one?” is a logical next question. As a course developer, you don’t need an LMS. But it’s in your interest to make sure that your courses meet the SCORM standard so that they can be played in any customer’s LMS. Want to learn more? The folks at Rustici Software are the experts in SCORM and can tell you all you need to know.
So, in summary, if you’re going to make elearning courses, we recommend (heartily) that you make them SCORM compatible. This will ensure you can reuse assets with many different customers without customization in each environment.
eLearning Authoring Tools
There are tons of great tools that take care of SCORM compatibility for you. The two gorillas in the elearning room are Articulate and Captivate – both are tools that create animated, sequenced learning objects. If you’re starting from scratch, you can start with PowerPoint presentations and use these tools to create interactive objects, add audio and export to the SCORM standard.
These are by no means the only tools – many smaller companies offer tools, including Lectora, Zebra Zapps, Claro, Rapid Intake and Jackdaw. There are also simple free tools to export PowerPoint files to SCORM, including the iSpring plugin and AuthorPoint Lite. iSpring also offers a free SCORM quiz-making tool.
Many of these authoring tools offer a trial version, so we certainly recommend taking advantage of that opportunity to test and play with a product before making a purchase.
Video in eLearning
In addition, OpenSesame has developed a SCORM video player that converts any video files to SCORM trackable elearning courses. This has opened a whole new world of content to elearning developers!
This means simple videos can become elearning assets even in the most complex learning management system. Interested in creating video-based elearning courses? Simple cameras are affordable – and sometimes as common as the phone in your pocket.
Teaching from software tools? Interested in building screen capture like Sal Khan’s? There are lots of low-cost and free tools for screen capture and audio, including Camtasia, Quicktime and Screen Video Recorder. One of the best tools for creating screen capture with audio is Screenr – created by Articulate, this free, web-based tool will enable you to make up-to-five-minute screen capture videos.
Need to edit? Camtasia will do the trick, or on a Mac you can use iMovie (comes with your computer!) to edit together clips of video and add audio. Need to convert different video formats? Try the free, open-source Handbrake for all of your video file management needs.
Finally, many elearning developers face the no-time-no-resources challenge and need help identifying and using off-the-shelf and stock design assets to get things done quickly.
There are hundreds of templates and other stock resources available on sites targeted for both the elearning sector and design in general. Some favorites:
- Looking for stock images? Besides the classic Shutterstock and iStockPhoto, try MorgueFile, Pics4Learning, Fotopedia and cutoutpeople.com (thanks to Dawn Mahoney for suggestions!).
- Need elearning templates? If you use Articulate, try the E-Learning Heroes Forum for tons of great course templates. Tony Karrer has an excellent blog post directory of elearning course templates. The eLearning Brothers have course templates and Flash-based game templates and DIY eLearning offers customizable Flash interactions, too. Many authoring tools come with templates, so check with your authoring tool vendor to find out what resources are available!
- Fonts make your design fun. Try 1001 Fonts, Urban Fonts and dafont for beautiful lettering to make your elearning designs more interesting.
- Tools For Freelance Instructional Designers
- How to Create Great eLearning Courses
- Primer on SCORM Settings
More suggestions? Please share in the comments!
Image credit: twicepix on Flickr