The data is in, the results are interesting and the competition is growing.  What does it all mean?

The RCAT (rapid content authoring tool) market continues to be healthy with nothing to slow it down – uh, except maybe one thing (more on that later).

Early Signs for 2012

Yeah, I know we have just jumped into January, but in a review of the past several months, authoring tools continue to follow a similar path amongst themselves with certain feature sets. However, where you would expect some to move towards – they haven’t, which is disappointing on multiple tiers.

Jump on the Bandwagon

I am still surprised on how vendors who are offering assessment only tools are staying in the game. Perhaps their audience is unaware of LMSs who offer assessment tools. Perhaps they are unaware of online authoring systems offering assessment features. Perhaps they are unaware of the RCAT space as well.  Whatever the reason happens to be – they need not worry anymore – everyone is doing it.

Here are some other features that are RED HOT

  • Templates – growing at quick clip. This will become one of the biggest features in 2012 – especially with people wanting to create simulations without being an e-learning developer
  • Assessment/Survey/Polls – If your product doesn’t have it – you need it.  A scan across the market is clearly showing that this has become a required feature in an authoring tool. However, the ability to do real time via mobile – i.e. ask question, people in the room respond – real time polling – hasn’t caught on yet in this space. I hope it does – especially with SaaS products.
  • PowerPoint – Ability to integrate or use PPT in your courses. I absolutely hate this – as it has damaged the content authoring tool space. Some vendors push heavily on PPT, implying that a great WBT is really a PPT converted to Flash.  It isn’t.
  • Flash output – still red hot. Why?
  • Lack of easy to use – You would think, rapid content authoring tool – i.e. “rapid”, means you need it quickly – at least for some folks. Thus,  ease of use is a strong requirement. I’m still stunned at the number of products who feel this does not apply.  Listen, Authorware is dead, so why create a product that is trying to bring it back to life with your own product?
  • Peer Review – Gaining speed. If your product is SaaS based, push the pedal to the metal and make this a must. People want it.
  • Proprietary – Gaining traction. In this case, I hope this never gets over the hill.  It is one thing to have a product which offers multiple options incl. proprietary, along with SCORM, etc., but it is another to offer only proprietary.  The latter is slowly gaining speed, which is an advantage to LMS vendors who have a CAT in their own product – which is SCORM,PENS/IMS compliant.

Over 98% of the LMS/LCMS/learning platform have at least one compliance standard, so why use a RCAT that doesn’t?  If it is the latter, and your system accepts SCORM 2004 only (which thus accepts 1.2 and so on – backward compatibility), then ur RCAT won’t work – if it doesn’t support it.

  • Mobile with tablets – finally gaining ground. Still has a way to go. As in other e-learning markets, vendors seem bent on staying with smartphones for RCAT and not focusing nor utilizing the capabilities of tablets – especially iPad/iPad2 and to a latter degree Android. One vendor focuses only on Blackberry (not just Playbook but their smartphone like product). As a great quote from Batman Year 1 says, “Didn’t you get the memo”?  When the market data is validating that people are not using BBs even in the business world, why would you believe otherwise? The Playbook is a dud, don’t make your product one too.
  • Desktop. Still in the majority. It’s bizarre really, when SaaS is red hot in every other e-learning segment and yet in RCAT, desktop still rules. Please make it stop.

On the horizon

  • SaaS – while desktop still rules, SaaS is slowly gaining converts.  I believe SaaS is the way to go – the only way to go and consumers are showing that to be the case. While some of the big names are still clinging on to “desktop” only, some of their smart competitors are dumping it and focusing only on SaaS.  Smart, very smart. By the end of 2012, I’m forecasting that SaaS will finally overtake Desktop – but it won’t be by much.
  • Characters – images of real people. While RCATs never really offered a robust set of Clip Art for their customers (heck, most offered ZERO), they are now slowly offering images of people – not cartoon like, or an outline – but actual stock people images. eLearning Brothers offers such a product – and RCAT vendors are starting to add it into their own product. Makes sense.  Super slow. Will it attain mass adoption – I doubt it.

Potential is there, but you do not have to buy a third party product to integrate into your own. Lots of royalty free stock photo options here – you still have to buy the license mind you, but you can find truly “free” without giving credit to anyone and add it.

  • HTML5. In the latest podcast featuring Volkner Zimmerman who is on the executive board at IMC-AG, he explicitly states that HTML5 is necessary in any course output for mobile. The same statements are made by others in the space as well. I concur. Flash isn’t going anywhere, except maybe the route of leaded gasoline. HTML5 is the new “Green”. Get it now.
  • Screen capture, audio editing.  Still in the infant stage. Vendor adoption is slow. Again, why?
  • Avatars – moving them all over the screen, speaking (aligning to their lips moving).  Slow growth here. I believe once Articulate and some of the other big names truly launch products (such as Storyline), the market will wait. Which is too bad.

 If I’m a vendor and I want to make my product a “one stop shop” and dissuade people from purchasing Snag-It or downloading lots of freebies that do the same thing, wouldn’t I want this in my product? Seems logical, especially since it is a necessary tool in any content authoring toolkit for end users.

  • Output to Facebook. I guess some folks believe that everyone wants to take courses in Facebook. That this is going to catch on like wildfire. That everyone uses Facebook, you know the 20 something crowd.  Here is a news flash: It’s not true.

Reality:

  • StumbleUpon generated more traffic in the last two quarters then Facebook
  • Many companies ban access to social media sites, especially Facebook
  • Data shows that people tend to “read others posts” and information and not post themselves. Research from companies show that the majority of employees who have access to Facebook are “lurkers”. That is to say they go and check out to see if other employees are on FB, read their info and again, read their posts.
  • 60 to 70 year-olds is still the fastest growing audience on Facebook (from an overall year perspective)
  • The data in terms of how many people are using FB is misleading. The data is how many people have accounts. It doesn’t mean that they are actively or even barely using the product.
  • Privacy issues continue to plague Facebook
  • Not even in the education sector, are all students using the product. So, why force them to do so?

Barely moving (please change that)

  • eBook publishing capability – I see this as a real winner by 2014, but right now only a couple of vendors are offering it within their RCAT, heck even LMS.  The Kindle Fire, Barnes and Noble’s version are still heavy e-book driven. People are reading a lot of eBooks on tablets too.
  • Widgets/add-ons. Think marketplace – whether it is free – created by the vendor or links to widget directories to use in your product – i.e. open source or APIs or an exchange.  People like free. A couple of vendors are offering this as a feature. I would love to see it grow, but I just do not see it in the foreseeable future – heck not even in five years. 
  • ADA 508 compliant or the European version of ADA 508. Still shocking that this is not a standard feature in RCAT space.  Even in tools that are geared towards education, this isn’t a standard feature. More vendors seem interested in PPT, then having this as a spec in their product. Disgusting. 
  • Text to Speech – This feature has been around for several years and now it is slowly appearing in a few RCAT products. It has real potential, regardless if you offer a standalone RCAT or have a CAT built into your learning platform. You want to be innovative and still have customers? TTS and even STT (speech to text) is the right way to go. I’d offer both.  There is a reason Dragon software is hot. People like STT.
  • Works on Mac. For the desktop products it is still amazing at the number which do not work on Macs. This isn’t 1995 here. People are buying lots of Apple computers, especially laptops.  Interesting to note, that there are RCAT SaaS vendors who pitch working with Safari and thus all browsers, yet tell people in their own product – preference to IE.  I can’t tell you the number of SaaS RCAT vendors who pitch Safari, even Chrome and then their product looks funky in those browsers.  Funky doesn’t make people want to use your product.
  • HD output. People love to pitch YouTube output and now they are starting to embrace HD. 

If you are going to offer HD output and even push it – then you have to offer tablet capability – since the iPad for example offers the ability to have it seen in HD.  Think how many people at companies, even in education, have HD screens? Heck, they are lucky if they have audio cards connected to their computers or even are using Windows 2007. 

  • Gamification capabilities. This is going to be huge by 2013 in the consumer marketplace. Vendors who start offering this now in SaaS based products are ahead of the game. End users love gamification features. Should be a standard feature – not only in RCAT, but learning platforms in general (but, I digress). 

Bottom Line

The RCAT market better realize the obvious – they are being attacked on multiple fronts. From learning systems who have CAT built in, to online authoring systems to even mobile learning platforms.

Thus you need a new strategy, a new game plan. Even if you have never read Sun Tzu, the “Art of War“, you should know how to strategize and how to win.

Growing is what business is all about. There are lots of great products out there who have failed to grow and thus died because they failed to understand the market, especially where is it heading.

They ignored the obvious, believing that their product will always be great, so why change?

Change is invetiable. Winning is a necessity.

Losing is unacceptable, unless you like being in last place.

Note: Please take a moment and complete my new survey on LMSs and e-learning. The results will be published on this blog in mid February. As a thank you to those who fully complete the survey, you will be entered into a drawing for a chance to win a Blu-Ray player. The Blu-Ray will be region free, thus you can set it to either PAL or NTSC.

Take me to the survey

E-Learning 24/7 (please note: due to TK12, there will be no blog next week – however I will be tweeting live from the event and posting frequently in the E-Learning 24/7 Linkedin group. Including mini product reviews.)