Tools Vs Design: The Tug of War in eLearning Design and Development

Tools Vs Design: The Tug of War in eLearning Design and Development

Tools Vs Design: The Tug of War in eLearning Design and Development

Anyone who has been involved in instructional design for any length of time will very quickly run into that workplace reality called Rapid Development tools. Often, the most common complaint from the tools team is that the instructional design team wants the tools team to develop the eLearning equivalent of rocket science. While the designers complain that the tools team is forever forcing them to put a lid on creativity and making them think of limitations before they even begin to design anything innovative. And so the tug of war continues, and the course gets pulled in various directions.

Here are a few questions you can ask yourself to avoid falling into the ‘tools trap’.

What is the starting point of the discussion – the development tool or the design of the learning?

I’m convinced that even the most creative course designer can develop tunnel vision if the starting point for the discussion is the tool rather than the design of the learning experience. Sure your customer might have a strong preference for a given tool. But in their best interests, you need to drill down to identify what they really want (they actually don’t care which tool you use, as long as it gives them the desired interactivity/functionality) and then recommend which tool best serves the purpose.

Does your developed course give away the tool used?

That’s pretty much the acid test. Can other instructional designers or courseware developers predict the tool used for development just by looking at the finished output or course? If the answer to that is yes, I’m guessing it’s time to get out of the tools framework and get the design element back into your eLearning course.

Are you letting the choice of a storyboarding tool drive the selection of the development tool?

Here’s a not-so-surprising fact – if your source content is in PowerPoint format and if you are not on your guard, you will most likely end up thinking of PowerPoint conversions – and settle for tools that allow you to do just that. And then before you know it, you end up doing what you swore you’d never do- create page turners. If the only difference between your PowerPoint file and your course is the navigation buttons, you clearly haven’t looked much beyond the storyboarding tool.

Are there possibilities for mix and match?

One way of getting around the limitations of a certain tool is to mix and match various outputs from a selection of tools. We’ve often enhanced our courses by creating custom pieces in Flash and using them in courses developed with regular rapid authoring tools such as Lectora, Articulate, and Captivate.

Are you thinking of modifying templates and tweaking styles?

Templates may be a good starting point for most tools. But what next? Customers may be quite happy if you go with existing pre-built pages and styles. But if your aim is customer delight and not just meeting the customer’s expectations, you might want to go an extra mile or two to give them a couple of customized options for styles and templates. The results will be worth it.

Is a little tool-sensitivity in order?

While we as instructional designers cannot allow ourselves to be boxed in by the limitations of a tool, I think a healthy appreciation of a tool’s limitations and the time that goes into creating workarounds can help us crystallize our own design ideas better. When we are hard pressed for time, we will sometimes have to go with the best that any tool can offer out-of-the-box.

To conclude, though tools do play a critical role in course development, eLearning is more about design and less about tools. What do you think?

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  • Fantastic discussion of a very important subject. I’m currently evaluating rapid development platforms and quickly discovered a back-of-the-mind notion that content could change dramatically depending on chosen platform. I’m curious, why use three different rapid development tools? Are there unique aspects of each that warrant using different tools?

  • Shalini Merugu

    Thanks Kim! Glad you found it useful.

    You are right in your notion that content could change dramatically depending on the platform you choose or rather, I would base the selection of my tool depending on the kind of course I need to develop (For instance, for a software simulation course, Captivate would be my first choice). Here is a useful link that will help answer your questions on why we chose the three tools that we did and what are the distinct advantages of each of them.