I loved Lucky Charms cereal. Not the cereal per se, but the marshmallows. I would often dig through the box just to score all the marshmallows and then leave the box with the crummy stuff left behind for my siblings. I always believed that if Lucky Charms came out with a Lucky Charms SE version and it only contained the marshmallows it would be the best selling cereal of all time. 

But sadly they didn’t.  They didn’t see the trend that people just ate the marshmallows and not the rest of the box.  Nor did they see the trend that the other cereals that never contained marshmallows – I’m talking to you Kix for Kids – wouldn’t rule the kid world of the 70’s. Remember Count Chocula? Marshmallows. Frankenberry? Marshmallows.

See, the trend? If you offered a kid a choice between marshmallows and Trix- I think you will know the winner (Sorry, rabbit, marshmallows are for kids/adults).

Trends and seeing them can boost sales and increase your market share. Of course missing them – Polaroid, can be catastrophic. . Here now are the latest authoring tool trends (excluding the ones I posted in last week’s blog).

1. Branding/Skinning/Custom branding

What is it?  Enables the course author to skin/brand their course with their own logo, colors,  etc. 

Why it is a good thing? Many authoring tools give you limited color options and may/may not enable you to add your own logo. This eliminates it and offers the course to have the custom design/skin that people like to see.

Any negatives to it? Not really. If you don’t want to use it, you don’t have to. 

2. Multilingual

What is it?  Allows courses that are being built in the authoring tool  to be in another language beyond what used to be the standard norm of just English.

Why is it a good thing?  It reaffirms that we live in a global society and recognizes that people want to see courses in their own language. It also offers the ability to build in that language, rather than have it be sent out for translation first or create the downer that people view their LMS in another language, but the courses are in English. 

Any negatives to it? Sadly, the number of languages are limited.  Some authoring tools offer as few as two, with English being one of them. Others offer several languages including right to left text (a huge win).  Hopefully as this trend continues the number of languages expands as well. 

3. Video (and no it did not kill the radio star. I don’t know why that always bounces into my head when I think of video. Darn you MTV!!!)

What is it? This is one of these funky terms that doesn’t mean what you think it means. Most of the time, the video is really screen recording with or without V/O (voice over). 

It is rarely you going out and shooting some video with your DV camera or camera enabled smartphone and extremely as in nearly nil with someone having a full production video house creating a video.

That said, it is utilized in the following ways:

  • Video streaming – off the vendor’s servers (not yours)
  • Video courses – no longer limited to creating a course and sticking a video in it
  • Video recording and editing – with audio and video tracks – with a timeline for you to move around the clips. Developed to be easy to use, albeit some are not.

Why is it a good thing? Video is hot, especially the ability to create 100% video courses and place them as such in a LMS. Best of all, it is SCORM compliant.

Any negatives?  So far only a couple of vendors enable you to shoot the video with a DV/HD camera and move the video into your authoring tool. Also, the ability to shoot video with a camera enabled smartphone or tablet, is nearly non-existent. Why? Because many vendors fail to see the consumer market as a whole (outside of e-learning), when it comes to video. (there is a reason Vine is so popular).

Another negative is even though you can move the video around a timeline and even create 100% pure video courses, you cannot enable bookmarking when you create a video course (unless you use a video learning platform).  I am only aware of a  couple of vendors (non VLP) that enable this capability, and it is via the LMS. 

4. Avatars/Animated characters/Scenario backgrounds

What is it? Instead of the days of lame photos or only clip art, you can now add avatars/animated characters to your courses and move them around, do a variety of things and even place them into various backgrounds – that can in many cases represent real world.   If you do not have this feature, get it.  It is super hot.

Why is it a good thing?  Besides it being fun, it creates engagement and interactivity that was missing with the rapid course authoring tools.  Personally, the best one out there to use is Go Animate – although it is not an authoring tool, rather you stick it into a course (or whatever) as a MP4.

Why do I love it? Because you can auto-synch your voice to match the character talking, so that their lip movements match your voice. There are only a couple of authoring tools that do this, and hopefully more will come soon.  To see an example, check this out.

Any negatives?  Cartoon backgrounds for the most part. I’d like to see actual real world image background, photo actually that can be utilized and not those darn still images that have a person standing in front of it, as though that is engaging. Here is a hint – its not.  

A cool approach would be using video as the background – engaging, adding the characters – positioning, blah blah, auto synch and enable branching all at the same time. That would rock.

5. CSS/Triggers/Layers/Actions/Objects

What is it? It is really geared towards instructional designers/e-learning developers or those folks who want a more powerful rapid course authoring tool than what previously existed. 

Why is it a good thing? Folks who know CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) they can change the course dynamics in a lot of ways. For folks who love triggers/actions/objects and layers, another level of design and capabilities that were lacking in the RCAT market.

Any negatives? Learning curve for people who do not know CSS and/or what to use the actions/variables/etc. It is unlikely that the masses will utilize this, especially CSS (which is not easy to learn). And for people who are not used to layers/actions/variables, etc. it can be daunting. 

6. HTML5 output

What is it?  After creating the course, you can output it to HTML5 which will be seen on any tablet/smartphone – but its power is with tablets. It is a great component to mobile learning. Plus all the browsers support it, although some do a better job than others.  It is the future of mobile learning.

Why is it a good thing? As HTML5 develops with its capabilities, so well the possibilities with the output.  Some big pluses with HTML5 over Flash for example are:

  • Can manipulate the code – it is open, flash is proprietary
  • Can add APIs to it
  • Can add geolocation to it

Want to see the power of it? Check out this video from Arcade Fire uses geolocation. I recommend using Chrome.  I did it with the house I grew up in and haven’t seen in over 30 years.

Any negatives?  It is still a work in progress – HTML5 that is, so somethings do not work well when outputting to HTML5.  Also you need to find a LMS that supports HTML5 to use it (besides placing it on your own servers, etc.). That said, if your system does not enable HTML5, the browser will switch to Flash.

Also there have been a few authoring tools whose HTML5 courses are not working on the tablets when it is pushed out via a LMS.  Deals with coding.  Big issues is data being pulled back into the LMS.  One of the biggest names in the authoring tool world is seeing this issue come up – based on feedback from their own users.

7. SaaS

What is it? The authoring tool is in the cloud. As long as you have an internet connection you can use the authoring tool, even via a tablet.

Why is it a good thing? No longer are you limited to your desktop. You can be anywhere with an internet connection and create a course. Heck, you even get real time collaboration, which will is available with some desktop authoring tools, really IMO isn’t as powerful as it good be. 

More and more vendors are going SaaS and I wouldn’t be surprised if Captivate goes that route in the next few years? Why do I say that? Because Adobe announced a while back that its very popular product CS would only be available in the cloud.

Lectora is SaaS based, which is great, but their desktop version has more options. Hopefully that will change.  The best SaaS authoring tool is dominKnow Claro.

Any negatives? Well, if you love desktop – you will not like it. Also you need an internet connection.

Fun Fact: I was talking with a few instructional designers who told me that they wished they could create courses on their tablets when they are in an airplane or not connected to the internet.  I thought that was very cool. To do this, you would need a native app – BTW.

8. Gamification

What is it? Misleading, that is what it is.  You will see authoring tools pitching it, but it is not the gamifaction you are seeing in the LMS space. Rather, it is games like “Pyramid” or “Wheel of Fortune”,  “Word Search” and others. 

I’ve seen “glossary” as a game. Yeah, typing in words to match the term is so fun – as fun as me mowing the yard (which I never do).

Why is it a good thing? It isn’t. It is boring and as noted above unless your target audience is K-6, no adult while be jumping for joy to play “these games”.

Any negatives? See above. One vendor (and they know who they are) have a lot of these game templates and are big in terms of selling them.  Even games that are HTML5.  Why can’t we have games that are fun and that people will want to play with interactivity and engagement?  I’d rather stand in line to go on a 30 second ride at Disneyland than play one of these games.

9. Windows 8 support/64 bit/ Mac OS

What is it? Windows 8 is now the OS in any new laptop, computer and yet the number of desktop authoring tools that support are extremely limited. 64 bit is widely being seen with laptops, computers in the last few years, yet many desktop authoring tool vendors do not support it as well.

Macs are very popular today, and the majority of desktop authoring tools do not support it.  This isn’t something new, rather it is a constant trend and problem. 

Why is it a good thing? It is not.  I am a beta tester for a well known authoring tool and although I can’t say a lot about it at this time, I can say that it does not support 64 bit. 

I also do not get the number of vendors who do not support Office 2013, which is standard in the latest computers/laptops.

The problem with that of course, is if you are using PowerPoint 2013 – it won’t work.  

I will say this – I did find one SaaS authoring tool that supports Office 365 (cloud based).  Now, that is cutting edge and I love it. 

Any negatives? See above. Let’s catch up with times, desktop authoring tools.

10. Spell checker

What is it? Enables you to verify that your spelling is correct before you publish.

Why is it a good thing? Because everyone misspells words all the time, and sometimes it is due to words sounding similar.

Any negatives?  The number of authoring tool vendors who offer it is really low. Without knowing the people creating the authoring tool, I am going to guess that the majority use MS Word or something similar and use the spell checker tool. 

Bottom Line

Well these are the latest trends. To hear about my forecasts for 2014, you will need to attend DevLearn and my wonderful presentation – which will  include the top 10 authoring tools for 2013. Yes, I know this is a shameless plug, but hey, if you come and mention “marshmallows”, you will get a wonderful surprise.

A box of Lucky Charms (j/k – you won’t get anything, except me thanking you for coming).

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