Online courses are increasingly supplementing traditional instructor-led courses both in educational institutions and business organizations because they help to reduce administrative costs and classroom rentals. Also, they allow learners to proceed at their own pace, set their own schedule and learn anywhere and anytime. These courses, can, therefore, help organizations save money, time and resources when training new recruits, improving compliance or implementing employee skill upgradation programs. However, these savings come at an initial cost – the cost of investing in an eLearning development tool, which is used to develop and implement these online courses; and train staff in course creation and administration.
These eLearning development tools make course creation and implementation efficient and user-friendly. It is important to understand your online course requirements and a few things about eLearning development tools, what they are, what they do and how they interact with other programs. Accordingly, you can make an informed choice while selecting an appropriate eLearning development tool for your online courses.
What is an eLearning development tool?
Typically, an eLearning development tool is a software program designed to manipulate files and other raw materials and convert them into online courses in specific file formats that can be consumed by end-users using an LMS platform. Some eLearning development tools are difficult to use but are extremely versatile in creating simulations and game elements to make training more immersive and engaging. Then there are other tools that are easy to use, but their use is limited to the display of information. Some eLearning development tools are specifically designed to create online courses and eLearning modules for training and education purposes.
Things to know before investing in an eLearning development tool
There are some things you must know before investing in an eLearning development tool. First, what is the course customization that you require within the confines of your training program? Which video elements will help you effectively narrate the story – audio/simulations/animations/graphics? How frequently will the information be updated? Do you require assessment and evaluation features? What file types would work best with your existing computer systems? In what format will the online course files be delivered and is the file type supported by commonly used browsers?
File format for course delivery: Course delivery and file formats are crucial factors to consider while choosing an eLearning development tool. Select a tool that outputs online course modules in file formats that can be read across all major Internet browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, Edge etc., and operating systems such as Windows and MAC. Flash (SWF files) created a revolution when it was first introduced in the use of graphics and interactive elements; however, it suffered a setback thanks to current trends in eLearning systems and gradually lost relevance. In fact, Flash will be outdated next year (2020) and no longer be supported on most web browsers and so it is advisable to avoid course output in this format. HTML5 is now the most popular file type for online course delivery because it supports a range of media types and is also compatible with mobile devices, which are now shaping the eLearning industry and how the viewers are accessing their content.
Now it may be that you already have some online courses in Flash. It is therefore important that you select an eLearning development tool that allows for output in HTML5 and/or convert Flash content to HTML5, thus, giving you the mobile-friendly features, you need for easy consumption of your content on smartphones and other device types.
Media elements: You can save money by investing in only those features that you need for your online course content development. For example, some content developers may require gamification and animations while for others storytelling using graphics/audio/video/spreadsheets files would suffice. Most eLearning development tools allow you to embed online video content and so you are saved the hassle of uploading and managing your own. However, in order to use it you must have clearly defined course objectives and your training content requirements. Knowing the level of employee interaction, your learning objectives and the features you need to achieve them will help you avoid needless investments.
Course Design and Templates: Layout design is equally important when it comes to online content development. A friendly user interface will certainly add to the learner’s experience. Again, knowing your content requirements and user experience will help you choose the right eLearning development tool for your organization. Templates make up the visual component of your online course and can greatly impact the way your trainees and staff view your organization. A development tool offering you a complete template library can help you save costs in developing your own template from scratch. Besides, some tools allow you to customize these templates to position and strengthen your brand.
Many eLearning development tools also provide advanced features for storytelling that allow content designers to sync audio and video. Backed by a strong narrative, these features help to achieve the desired learning experience.
Cost and Maintenance: Remember, more complex eLearning development tools require more purchase costs and also training and maintenance costs. While making a purchase, study tools by various vendors, the features they offer and the ones you actually need. Make an informed choice to avoid paying for features that are not relevant to your course delivery. Also, use product demos to determine the difficulty level of the tool as this will help you form a more accurate estimate of the time and staff investments you will have to make for its optimum utilization and maintenance. It is also a good idea to research how your course material will be consumed. While some eLearning development tools support mobile device display, they may not necessarily include responsive/scalable design, which would mean additional investment for you since most people today consume their content on mobile devices.
Finally, research your service provider. Does the company have an eLearning development tool that can do justice to your courseware? How many clients have they worked with and what is the level of customer satisfaction they have achieved? Do they have efficient customer support, or will you be left to your own devices should a problem arise? eLearning development tools are regularly updated to keep in step with emerging trends. Ensure that the company you partner with offers you a long-term solution, otherwise, you may end up with additional costs that may eat into your ROI. Consider all these factors and make a wise decision to create a sustainable content development plan that will stand the test of time.