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A Quick Guide to Rapid Authoring Tools

Rapid authoring tools are one of the many buzzwords doing the rounds in the eLearning industry today. But what are rapid authoring tools and what purpose do they serve?

You might be having many questions and apprehensions about using them. This article tries to answer those questions while providing you a guide to rapid authoring tools. Let’s take a bird’s eye view of authoring tools and swoop in on the five creating a lot of buzz in 2020.

Explore our one-stop guide on rapid authoring tools.

What is a Rapid Authoring Tool?

As most of us know, a rapid authoring tool is a software that is used to design and develop eLearning courses – anything from self-running to highly-interactive ones. However, a rapid authoring tool is also used to create and include other digital training assets, including audios, videos, images, animations and interactivities.

What’s even better, they don’t need high technical skillsets or huge budgets. Unlike course development using Flash which needed a lot of coding, authoring tools can be used by developers with varying skillsets – from a beginner to an expert.

What do Rapid Authoring Tools Offer?

Authoring tools enable:

Rapid Creation of Courses

Thanks to authoring tools being pre-programmed and packed with a mammoth library of in-built templates, you don’t need to script lines of codes. Import templates, different screens, interactivities, and media elements, and half your work is done!

Authoring tools also make the eLearning translation process much quicker and simpler.

Easy Conversion of Legacy Courses

Authoring tools make converting those outdated legacy Flash courses to HTML5 a much simpler process. The 4 ‘R’ strategies of Flash to HTML5 conversion come in really handy.

Record – For courses with no source files, you can record the presentations through screencast and publish them in the MP4 format.

Republish – Courses published in an older version of an authoring tool can be republished with a newer version of the same tool.

Rebuild – Courses developed with now obsolete software, but with relevant content and media elements, can be rebuilt using a new authoring tool, repurposing the content and media elements.

Redesign – Courses with outdated content or instructional design can be redesigned with a new authoring tool. 

No matter the strategy, authoring tools play a crucial role, from recording existing courses to MP4 format to using the latest templates to refurbish the look and feel of legacy courses! 

Anytime, Anywhere Learning

Authoring tools provide a wide array of benefits, but the one that stands out is responsive design. This is the feature that enables courses to play seamlessly on different screen sizes, aspect ratios, and orientations. Because of this, learners can access learning anywhere, anytime, on any mobile device, with any operating system – Android, Windows, or iOS. 

Speedy Development through Quick Reviews

eLearning course development requires reviews from various stakeholders and collaboration between Instructional Designers, Subject Matter Experts, Project Leads, as well as your internal review team. 

Rapid eLearning development mandates the review of the eLearning course at different milestones as part of the agile process. Authoring tools help make the entire eLearning review process much simpler by offering online access of courses (without the need for download), in-context feedback, progress tracking (whether feedback addressed or resolved), etc. 

Publishing to Latest eLearning Technical Standards 

SCORM 1.2, SCORM 2004, AICC, xAPI, and cmi5 are eLearning technical standards that online courses have to comply with. Compliance with these standards is what makes publishing and viewing courses on an LMS possible. Thanks to rapid authoring tools, you can publish courses to these eLearning standards and let your courses run seamlessly on all new-age LMSs.

Which Authoring Tools to Look Out For ?

Now that you have an idea of what you can do with an authoring tool, let’s get familiar with the five authoring tools that are dominating the industry today.

Articulate 360 (Storyline and Rise)

The Articulate 360 suite offers a vast repertoire of tools for authoring, asset sourcing, training, and review.

All of these tools work in a unified ecosystem. That means you can download and use assets from Content Library 360, build the course on Storyline, and get it reviewed using Review 360, all of it without even moving the project from one computer to another.

Let’s take a sneak peek at what Articulate’s authoring tools have to offer:

Articulate Storyline 360 is the latest flagship standalone tool from Articulate, best suited for building highly interactive and engaging courses. Storyline 360 stands out from the crowd because of its:

  • Customized Interactivities: Articulate Storyline 360 lets you customize interactivities by embedding clickable buttons, dials, and sliders. Plus, its intuitive triggers allow you to make any object move based on your action.
  • Conditional Seek-bar: Storyline 360 features a seek-bar that can be locked for first-time learners so they do not skip to the lesson ahead.
  • Media Library: Storyline 360’s new media library makes course asset management a cakewalk, allowing course developers to save or import all project assets to one location.

Articulate Rise is a cloud based (collaborative) authoring tool that does not require a dedicated application. It can be accessed on a browser by anyone with login details. Unlike Storyline 360, Rise is best suited for text-heavy courses and those required to be fully responsive.

Compliance and regulatory courses are best designed and built on Rise 360. Its key features include:

  • The ability to add both basic and advanced content blocks, including texts, statements, lists, images, galleries (multiple pictures in grids), as well as blocks for interactivities and multimedia, thus making large blocks of text easy to understand.
  • Focus on mobile learning and self-paced learning on different devices. The responsive design feature of Rise 360 makes courses seamlessly adapt to different screen sizes and aspect ratios.

Apart from authoring tools, the Articulate 360 suite also offers a robust review tool ‘Review 360’, which makes authoring simpler and faster. It helps keep all collaborators in the loop, thus speeding up the review and feedback process.

Adobe Captivate

Adobe Captivate is one of the best standalone authoring tools for creating simulation-based eLearning courses. Captivate allows the creation of software simulations in three different modes:

Demo – Records and annotates your actions as you use a software, then publishes it as a software simulation that does not require user input.

Training – Trains learners by prompting them to perform tasks on the screen and providing guidance hints.

Assessment – Tests learners by prompting them to perform tasks on screen, with no hints or guidance. 

The latest version (2019) of Adobe Captivate provides learners with a more immersive learning experience by enabling course creation with Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR).  Immersive simulated environments can be very effective for employee onboarding or for training on a new product using augmented reality. Captivate makes this possible by:

  • Allowing AR content generation in the tool itself
  • Using GPS for real time coordinates

Never again will your virtual walkthroughs and product demos look unrealistic. But that’s not all! Here are two features that makes Captivate stand out from the crowd:

  • Captivate’s HTML5 tracker feature helps identify objects that are not supported in the HTML5 output, making Flash to HTML5 conversion easy.
  • The Fluid Box feature makes the displayed content expand or contract as per the screen size and orientation.

Lectora (Inspire and Online)

The entire Lectora suite by Trivantis is a perfect amalgamation of both offline (Lectora Inspire) and collaborative (Lectora Online) course development. Lectora has more than 50,000 images or characters with multiple expressions in its template library.

It allows you to:

  • Track and respond to learner behavior with conditional branching, actions, and triggers
  • Develop more personalized experiences by designing custom, digital scenario driven stories with the integrated BranchTrack tool
  • Anchor positions of objects (logos, headers and footers, control, and media elements) to maintain their location on the screen even on scrolling 

Let’s take a quick look at the three products from Trivantis:

Lectora Inspire: A powerful desktop based offline authoring tool, Lectora Inspire has most of the must-have features of an authoring tool in 2020 along with ‘Responsive Course Design’. So, all you have to do is build a course once, and it will be automatically rendered suitable for all screen sizes.

Lectora Online: A collaborative authoring tool, Lectora Online gives you access to online permissions, cloud sharing options, as well as an online image editor. It is noteworthy that courses developed with Lectora are cross-compatible, meaning that you can import desktop courses in Lectora Online and vice versa.

Lectora ReviewLink: A strong review tool that facilitates quick collaboration and review by experts, Lectora ReviewLink simplifies communication between SMEs, IDs and project leads, and makes the review process much less of a headache. Note that the ReviewLink is a tool strictly for review, and not authoring.

iSpring Suite 

This authoring tool can be included in the specialized domain as it can be used only for converting PPTs to eLearning modules. While it does share certain features with other authoring tools, iSpring has certain unique features. It:

  • Embeds within MS PowerPoint, appearing as a toolkit on the top ribbon.
  • Supports the conversion of more than 180 PPT elements (including animations, transitions, hyperlinks, and even SmartArt objects).
  • Offers a mammoth library of templates, characters (about 67,000), and visual assets (more than 2000).
  • Allows the conversion of existing Word and PDF files into eBooks with customizable realistic page flip animations (with the Flip Book design) which can be shared on the LMS
  • Allows the easy design of interactive quizzes, surveys, and assessments using the ‘QuizMaker’ which comes with 14 different question types to make quizzes more engaging

iSpring also has a video studio that lets you create amazing video tutorials, role play simulators, and superb interactions. Here are a few details.

  • iSpring’s video studio lets you record full or partial screens. So you can chose what to record and what to ignore.
  • iSpring detects cursor movements and key taps, based on which it provides visual hints in the recorded video/screencast.
  • iSpring’s interactive role play simulator features editable branching scenarios so you can simulate and change the scenario as you go.
  • iSpring comes with 14 pre-designed templates for creating interactivities with the option to adjust the color scheme of the overlay items (buttons, controls, etc.)
  • iSpring also lets you add voiceovers and audio narrations in role play simulations and interactivities, either by importing from the computer or recording within the suite. 

dominKnow | ONE (Claro, Flow, and Capture)

With two authoring tools and a capture tool for creating software simulations, dominKnow | ONE provides a fitting end to this list.  It is best suited for building rapid eLearning courses. Not only does it help build both scalable and responsive courses, being collaborative, it offers a lot of advantages in review and feedback. 

 Let’s now look at the main tools provided by dominKnow | ONE: 

Claro is the flagship authoring tool by dominKnow preferred for creating traditional eLearning courses. Its UI is as simple as a PowerPoint, and it even allows importing PowerPoint files to start working. It primarily features a fixed layout and fixed pixel approach to design. That means objects designed on Claro will have a fixed dimension.

Flow is a more robust responsive eLearning authoring tool that helps create truly responsive eLearning courses. Unlike Claro, objects designed on Flow will adapt to the screen size and resolution of the device being used. Flow works best for mobile learning, allowing the on-screen content to adjust to the dimension and orientation of the device being used.

Capture is a dominKnow | ONE feature that is used to create software simulations to be then added in a Flow or Claro project. It creates an HTML package with a screen capture image for every step or action performed. Apart from that, it can also create animated GIFs.

Wrapping it Up!

Designing an eLearning course has never been easier. Thanks to the vast library of templates, tools, overlays, designs and features, you can design an eLearning course whenever required and in whatever way you wish. It’s difficult to say what corporate training will look like once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, but I can assure you that the golden days of eLearning have already begun. So why wait further?

Since we have explored the popular rapid authoring tools and how they enable rapid development, would you like to explore more about rapid eLearning? If yes, here’s a free eBook that will take you through best practices to enable quick rollout in rapid eLearning.

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