As the rapid content authoring market continues to grow, new features and capabilities are equally growing.  For the most part, that is a great thing, but as you are about to read, some are not.

There are 124 authoring tools in my latest directory, of which 30 are SaaS or a combination of desktop and SaaS – which really what is the point of that?

Trend 1

Slow growth of SaaS

Even though more tools are adding the features of collaborative and peer review (more on that in a sec) they are still heavy geared towards a desktop solution.

  • Desktop: Software is installed on your hard drive of your computer and you work on your computer
  • SaaS:  Software is in the cloud, on the internet. You work online via the servers of your vendor. Everything is saved online

I had thought that this trend would be dying out, but it is amazing at the number of vendors who are entering the space and still focused on the desktop approach.

Let me make this very clear: you will lose market share, because if you look at consumer behavior and its favorably towards using apps in the cloud, the companies focused on having their solution in the “cloud” will win it. 

Adobe Photoshop Express – in the cloud and very popular. Google Docs – ever heard of em?  Microsoft Live – same thing.  The list goes on and on.

With the ever growing telecomm or working remote approach (and I am even talking about FT employees), globalization and the push to in the “cloud”, it makes strong business sense to follow suit.

Projection

Despite the overwhelmingly number of vendors who have a “desktop only” solution, based on what I am seeing- a result of new feature sets – this will change.  If you use the previous year numbers of vendors and the total who were in the cloud as a predicator, then at its current growth, expect by mid 2012, a minimum of 20 vendors switching to a “in the cloud” solution only. 

I believe though, that will be higher, especially with these tools meeting and honestly beating some major league competitors. Vendors who are already in the SaaS only space, should continue to offer features that maximize its power.

Trend 2

Collaboration and Peer Review

At the end of Dec. 2010, there was only a tiny few vendors who offered online collaborative and peer review features.  In just six months since then, the numbers have grown rapidly. Even one vendor who only offers desktop has a forum setup for collaborative and peer review services.

The collaboration – enabling instructional designers or every day folk to work on a course or courses together, is smart. The ability to offer the additional feature, so that SMEs or higher ups can review or take a glance at the courses whenever, is equally smart.  If you think about it – how often does this happen when it comes to reviewing courses?

It is a pain when you have to send them a copy of the course via your email or a link via the intranet.  Worse, printing it out and handing it off to be marked up by your SME or another staff person.

This eliminates that issue.

One vendor says people can work on the course remotely – in real time, rather then Susan working on it in Tel Aviv and Joe who is in Phoenix having to wait until she signs off, so he can begin working on it.

Projection

Continued growth. This feature set will become a standard for systems in the “cloud” because of the reasons stated above – everyone hates those options, at T&D departments at their businesses.  If anything because it delays rollout.

While there are SaaS tools that do not yet offer this feature, it will change.  Remember when only a few offered the PPT to Flash option in their tools? What happened? Everyone started to include it.  Same thing.

Trend 3

Mobile Learning

Let’s see – what is the fastest e-learning subset ever to garner audience interest for all solutions? Hmm, oh yeah mobile learning. It has blown past social learning, and continues to roll. Yet, surprisingly for content authoring tools, it is still in infant stage.  Now, some of you may say, well it takes a long time to add this feature.

The rapid increase in mobile learning is tied directly to tablets. I know, smartphone lovers will disagree, but if you go back into 2010, how many authoring tools or platforms were offering m-learning despite the extensive growth of smartphones (which has been increasing for years)?

Yet, today it is gaining fast adoption across all e-learning lines.

In the content authoring tool market, the number of vendors who offered either mobile learning build capabilities within their tool or offered a stand-alone mobile course authoring tool is 28, of which two are free open source solutions.

Going back into 2010, there were less than nine, of which there was one who could output to HTML5, although it wasn’t really true HTML5 output.

at the numbers in just 7 months. Solid, not great, but solid.

What I found interesting in 2010 and still a couple of vendors are following the approach today – their m-learning capabilites are only for the Blackberry smartphone. I’m not sure they follow the financials or business news of late, but RIM (who makes the Blackberry) laid off folks and is no longer the number one smartphone.  Another vendor accepts Palm, which just a few weeks ago, HP (who now owns Palm) announced it was dropping Palm OS from its plans.

A couple of vendors offer SDK development tools with their SaaS authoring tool. Genius.

Projection

Despite a few vendors who are living in 2009 in the mobile learning space, overall growth while solid, will continue to grow. The tablets will drive it. Keys to success will be based on the following offerings within the m-learning tool

 Self contained app on a tablet or I hate to say it – smartphones – bottom line everything can be done within the app, no need to click the app and go to the vendor’s online tool – after all, if that is the capability today, why would I even want the app, since I can just click my browser?

Online/Offline synch, Push capabilities – has to exist. Look at the consumer market as a whole and not just within the space, not everyone has access 24/7 via the net through 3G or higher. Most folks are using wi-fi only, and it continues to grow.

Output to HTML5 – HTML5 across the tech space is continuing to grow – at a strong clip. There recently was a big time company who announced they were going to develop their solution only in HTML5, not flash.  

 Who dominates market share in the tablet space? Apple. They output only to HTML5. The Xoom by Motorola still outputs only to HTML5, although they are waiting for a Flash feature.  Overall, all tablets, even those who accept Flash, accepts HTML5.

Trend 4

Built in assessment tool, inc. surveys

Becoming a standard in the industry. Whether it is a stand alone product that comes with the authoring tool or built in (which is increasing, rather than the stand alone), this is becoming the norm.  The goal of course, is a one stop shop, rather than going with an assessment tool vendor and then selecting a content authoring tool vendor.

Projection

Continued growth, not much more to say to that.

Trend 5

Gaming features and sims

I’m not talking output to WoW or a Medal of Honor, but the ability to create games – real gaming capabilities – not “activites” such as Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune type.

Sims – built in simulation tools targeting the rapid content authoring tool market and thus experience within that space, is expanding. Sim tools as standalones have always existed, but one negative has always existed – they are difficult to use and your tech skill sets really need to be intermediate or you are an elearning developer or have a background in instructional technology.

These tools are simple to use and offer some nice features. Their output can only go so far, so if you are expecting a sim tool that is the same as a very robust and thus higher tech skills required tool, it is not going to happen.

Projection

Gaming and sims are intertwined. At the end of the day, to have a great gaming course, you need to have a strong sim.

Trend 6

Hybrid systems

A hybrid system has the following features

  • Content Authoring Tool is its main component
  • Offers some reports, tracking, notifications, occasional assessment (but not the norm)
  • SaaS
  • Inability to accept 3rd party off the shelf courses or courses not build with their authoring tool

These systems have grown over the past several months, because there are people who are seeking a solution, that offers the bare minimums of a learning management platform.

I would argue that vendors such as Mindflash.com and Knoodle are hybrid solutions, after all their main feature is their content authoring tool. Although, I would state from Knoodle’s perspective the tool is equally a presentation solution.

Projection

On going growth. These systems are not going to disappear any time soon. The demand is there.

Vendors to Watch

In 2010, I listed a few vendors to watch in 2011.  All the vendors listed below offer a robust set of features and in a couple of cases, their tools are strong in UI and capabilities.

Rapid Intake – their launch of mLearning studio is another fine example of a vendor that is going places. Solution is easy to use and can output to not only Flash but also HTML5. They offer Unision, SaaS based and were the first to offer collaborative and peer review features.

Composica – Always strong in feature sets and was a vendor to watch in 2010. My opinion has not changed.

Courselab – The best free open source product on the market. Feature set is impressive and they are strong both for newbies and those with intermediate tech skill sets.

Kookaburra Studios – Their previous version of Professional Presenter was underwhelming in features, but their latest incarnation shows they are finally getting it and blowing past it.

Thinking Worlds – Ability to create 3D games and sims. Enough said.

Bottom Line

Most people assume that Articulate, Lectora and Captivate are the best tools out there, that is no longer the case. It can be said that for many folks they are unaware of the other 121 vendors in the market, some of which match and even blow by these vendors.

When you are seeking out a solution ask yourself, the following questions:

  1. It meets my needs today, but will it in one to two years?
  2. Are they constantly adding feature sets that follow the overall consumer market, as well as the e-learning industry?
  3. From a cost standpoint, do the features and capabilities match it or surpass it?
  4. What is my goal for my learners? Do you want full engagement and interactivity?

When you examine the content authoring tool market, some of these vendors are not sustainable, from a growth standpoint. In some cases they are already falling steps behind.

Thus, you need to ask yourself one more question.

Times are changing. Are they?

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