Monday, December 21, 2009

Elearning Course Development Tools

A couple weeks ago I read an article in the New York Times about how the Do-It-Yourself economy has silently crept into the business world. Since most of our clients are already doing these types of things (and HAVE been for quite some time) I thought to myself as I was reading the article, "we're already doing these types things and for quite some time!"

What we haven't done, though, is talked much about the various tools and available resources we actually use to develop a more engaging, "hands-on" interactive environment for our students.

So what tools do we use and what can you learn about low-cost (and often free) options for developing online distance education courses and exams.

Authoring Tools
To start off, it's been a few years since a many of our users discovered the wonders of Rapid E-learning Authoring Tools like Articulate Presenter, Adobe Presenter (yes they both have the same name), Adobe Captivate and Techsmith's Camtasia to name a few of the most popular. These programs are easy to learn, usually serve as great launching off points and main building blocks for developing online courses. And they work really well to enhance the capabilities of our existing system.

From there, depending on the requirements of the project, other programs and resources are usually introduced into the production process.

Audio Recording and Editing
With the recent up-tick in the introduction of multimedia in online courses the demand for cheap and easy ways to record and edit sound has increased as well. The good news is that audio is becoming much easier to implement in your online courses and most PCs ship with basic recording capabilities.

If you want a more advanced audio recording capability (like 'say'... editing) the free, open source program Audacity appears to be the hands-down winner in the functionality (more than you and I need) versus cost contest. Audicity has a huge community of users which means plenty of support if you run into problems or are looking for advise on how best to solve a particular challenge.

Movie Editing
Of course, in addition to audio, more and more course developers are starting to consider video. Although a little more daunting than recoring and editing sound, those with the right equipment and drive to develop this medium can bring moving pictures to their online course offerings for very little cost.

If you are ready to embark down this path, the movie making software that ships with your computer should be good enough to suit most of your needs without having to search for other low or no-cost options.

Windows and Macintosh computers both have movie editing programs (Movie Maker and iMovie) that allow you to edit digital video clips easily on your PC. I have to admit that I have not used either of these programs beyond the "poking around" stage but based on the reviews and the growing number of videos populating my computer I am tempted to try one of them out soon.

A couple of snippets of advise about video: before bounding down the path of video creation make sure you ask the hard questions about whether video is the right vehicle for delivering an instructional message. Inserting a recording of an instructor delivering a lecture is not a good use of video for your course, in my opinion. Oh, and keep the video clips short and accessible in a variety of ways. What do I mean by short? That's for you decide.

Clip Art and Royalty Free Stock Photography
While images have been a staple in online courses for much longer than audio and video, the number and quality of site offerings in this category seems to be growing. You'll have to check them out yourself depending on your needs but several, like iClipArt now offer stock video, audio, and animations in addition to photographs, art work and clip art. These sites usually charge site usage fees anywhere from a week to a year but the fees are reasonable and well worth it.

A couple other sites include:

The list of helpful tools is long and varied. If you want to do more research in this area and have a bunch of free times Google "elearning tools" or check out one of my favorite blogs "Jane's E-learning Pick of the Day."