I’ll just say it right now, the industry as a whole isn’t doing much.  There I said it and honestly I can’t believe I said it.  Yes there are vendors doing some new stuff, okay many, but a few items are not new, rather they have been around for a long time.

The industry as a whole continues to miss the opportunities that are laid out before them. The new and cool.  The “WOW”.  They have failed to grasp the power of mobile content, beyond “responsive”; understood gamification (a few have, the rest “nope”) and see the real power and value of a video course with all the trimmings, not a video embedded in a course.

Personally, I don’t understand.

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  • SaaS boost – Finally more vendors are on the appropriate path for their consumers; but the big folks are not – why?
  • Mobile Friendly – It has taken a bit of time, but go anywhere and you will see “Responsive” and “HTML5”
  • xAPI –  Another why wasn’t this done a year ago for many vendors? But hey, better late than never – a shout out to the vendor who added the ability for a statement to go to a LRS
  • Simultaneous developing of courses, etc. –  This means that multiple people can work at the same time on the same course and same page – it is really an awesome feature, especially with SaaS authoring tools.  One vendor offers the ability to lockdown so that not everyone can work on the same page/course at the same time.  I’m not a fan of that option, because at that point, what is the point of simultaneous building?
  • Themes and customized templates- Many have it including the ability to do a custom skin of your own colors and branding. The downside for customers?  With an exception of a couple, the others require you to purchase their “Enterprise” or top tier package to have it.
  • Multilingual –  A huge increase for the ability to do so, now you can have courses in other languages.  I should add that not every language is available.
  • Objects, Triggers, Conditions, Layers and more – For authoring folks who either have the skill set, or have hit the top of their product and want to push forward – more authoring tools are embracing those feature sets. A few have gone beyond that, thus if you are an ID person, there is hope.
  • Increase of authoring tool vendors –  More are in, less are out, but there still is a gap between good and average – a huge gap.
  • Typography, greater number of fonts –  This is really cool. No longer are you stuck with the fonts the vendor has included – now you can add Google fonts or other font sets.  It should exist in every authoring tool.

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  • Collaboration, Peer Review, leave comments, track comments –  Yeah, it has increased with many more vendors offering it, but it should have existed at this level two years ago.  Want a stunner?  Rapid Intake (now Litmos Author) had this ability more than four years ago.
  • Avatars/Actors/Characters – Yipee!  This was so yesterday, actually yesteryear.  One vendor pushes that the characters are human – good to know, I thought they were dragons.
  • Ability to publish to .exe, web – this has always been around, but one vendor spins it with “Offline SCORM”, then you find out this means you can download the course in its SCORM wrapper and either have it as an .exe, use it on the web (without a LMS) or publish it to a LMS.  The marketing is slick, the ability has been around for ages (okay, quite a few years).

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  • Analytics capability – You see it with some SaaS authoring tool vendors.  In a sense they are saying, here you can take the courses and we provide analytics, thus you do not need a LMS.

I understand the approach, but what I don’t understand is why the focus is here, rather than focusing on, uh, well the authoring features itself.  If you are an authoring tool, regardless if you identify yourself as “mobile learning authoring tool” or not, you should be one – and not try to be many things.  Many things never works well.

  • While I am thrilled to see more templates, what I am not thrilled about is the number of templates. Some are really lame and I would be unimpressed if I was a learner taking a course with that template.

Many of the templates follow a structure approach – which thus is based on whoever built that template – their learning approach design – I mean are they truly instructional designers who built those templates for you to use; or some person who knows computers and graphics and built those templates?

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Trends

 

 

Responsive 

It’s everywhere and anywhere. Responsive means that it (the product – in this case the course) will adapt to the screen size of the mobile device.  BUT

  • Because there are now so many different screen sizes it is becoming difficult to truly achieve that objective, thus some products’ courses do not fully adapt to the device size leaving some white space or black space (often this) around the edges.  Best way to describe it – watching a show on TV that isn’t tweaked up for HD, you get black bars around the show.

Thus always ask if the product’s responsive means that the course will fully adapt to ALL screen sizes or not.  Have them show you in a demo or via the phone via a web conference if it need be. 

Publish Once Publish to All

Where is the ring? I mean do I get the ring to rule all?  What? No ring?

The latest trend is to let everyone know that once you publish a course with that vendor’s authoring tool – it will auto publish to all of the devices (assuming it is more than one like a desktop) without you having to publish to a smartphone and then publish to a laptop and so forth.

BUT

This does not mean that you will get content versioning with it.  Always ask.  I should note that the publish once to all is usually seen with the SaaS authoring tools.

One vendor duly noted that their product retains versioning, but due to time constraints, I was unable to verify it. 

If you are wondering if the “publish once to all” means the vendor is using PENS, the answer is no, they are not using PENS.  

However, I think every SaaS authoring tool vendor should use PENS. 

Daily Backups

Many SaaS AT vendors are already mentioning this feature as a key benefit to their product, along with security.  I’d say I have only seen a couple of SaaS vendors not push it.  Which from a marketing standpoint makes zero sense.

Pricing

SaaS vendors rule! SaaS vendors rule!  That is what is going to be written in virtual graffiti in years to come.  In the meantime you are just going to have to understand the pricing model that is happening in the space.

Go Monthly or go home!

Monthly pricing is hitting in high gear.  It is one of the common threads with SaaS authoring tool vendors.  Is it universal? No, but more than majority have it – and if your product doesn’t (and is in the cloud), time to move to it.

BUT

There is always a Gotcha isn’t there?

Here is where the pricing thing can get really confusing on how it works:

a.  Several vendors list on their site all this great stuff you can get including custom themes/templates (with your own company’s brand/logo colors) – and you think WOW.  But, you can only get it if you buy the top tier package that the vendor sells or the “Enterprise” version.  

b. Reviewers including SMEs who will review and make comments etc. are FREE – that is for every vendor mind you.  So the cost you are paying is not for those folks, it is only for the AUTHORS (i.e. the people who are building the course)

c. The higher price packages (depending on the vendor it may be one package with additional features/specs for more authors) comes with more authors.  For whatever reason, four seems to be the next tier, past one.  Why? I have no idea.  Unlimited is always top tier or “Enterprise”

d. There are vendors who will add the number of courses you can build and storage space you can have with that package.  Simply speaking, you are paying for the storage space, which really is kind of a crummy way to operate. 

e.  As with anything, okay in the e-learning industry, several SaaS authoring tool vendors allow you to send course links to folks, so they can take the course(s), complete the assessment(s) and you see analytics on it. 

Oh and within that subset group, I have seen the adding of administration and user management functionality among other items.   Here is an idea – build a better authoring tool!

Funky Things that will Amaze You

I really can’t put into an actual area, but I am seeing an increase in the number of authoring tool vendors mentioning that among the objects you can add, one is Google Maps.    I have to say, why would you want your self-paced course (aka asynchronous) include an object for a location on Google Maps?

Other interesting items being seen on an upswing

  • Resources, sometimes called libraries or assets which consists of lots of well, objects,  templates, themes, characters and so forth – I’ve seen vendors push the 23,000+ resources.  I should note that many vendors use eLearning Brothers which offers really cool stuff – so if your product doesn’t have the cool stuff that eLB does, get it there and you can use it in your product.  Problem solved!
  • MOOC – I love this one – kidding of course.  Vendors who mention it give off an appearance that this is something totally unique, like having Sasquatch over to your house for dinner.  Guess what though? Every product can do it.   Publish it to the web – which means you can stick it on any server, sans LMS and whalla MOOC city!  Oh, you can publish to web and keep it on your own servers and then yada yada – MOOC.   What it does show though..

More Funky Things

  • UI enhancements are few and far in-between –  You can still have robust ID course design with a modern look and feature functionality that goes beyond 2005;  and does not use a “ribbon” look to do it.  Drag n Drop with lots of objects, add the ability to API from Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive right into your SaaS Authoring Tool, allow other API possibilities as well (that make sense)
  • Desktop survives – Why, oh why is this still around?  I get it you have an important client or clients who are afraid of the big ol scary net; but the security is strong (heck plenty of vendors use a 3rd party server site like Rackspace or Amazon S3) and the big hot trend of “daily backups” exists.  As aforementioned with LMSs in the cloud, I have never heard of one AT SaaS being hacked – EVER.
  • Learning games in the authoring tool product.  You know the ones where you can create an actual game add your own content OR the game exists as a template and you add your own content BUT it is not a game template like Parcheesi.  One vendor has it live – the Genie authoring tool from Growth Engineering; and two other vendors have it in beta mode.  I should state that Elucidat has it too – sorry, forgot.   I’m talking real games here BTW, not static slammers, that want me to slam my fist through the paper airplane I was just making.  “Look, it’s an airplane game!”
  • Where is the mobile content specific for mobile devices?  There are plenty of us, mobile learning purists who believe that an authoring tool should be able to create a course that looks great on a mobile device, but looks horrible on a desktop, laptop, anything else but mobile.  

Thus it is truly mobile learning content err course.  Many vendors say they can do it, but mention it looks good on a laptop, well then, you can’t do it.   As some one once said, “they will come from miles Ray..”  I don’t know who Ray is, but that is what someone once said.

Video

Talk to consumers in our space and many will mention video. I know people who have hundreds of video courses (screen recordings really) and they have ZERO options out there (well, ScoTube is available, but generally zero).  They would want the ability to have a TOC for the video, which then leads to chapters and pages and then bookmarks and so forth.  

And they don’t want to embed it in the AT or upload it to YouTube or Vimeo, they want to upload it into their learning system will full tracking and maybe just maybe have video encoding to make it HD quality.

Where or where is that product?  Camtastia Studio is still the best for video on the market. 

Vendors to Watch

Think of it as a giant race track, one of these vendors will be named #1 in November. 

In no particular order

Genie by Growth Engineering – It has the makings of being an out of this world, okay earth, product will four built-in games you can add your own content too, SaaS, SCORM, responsive, collaborative, comes with assets and oh, how about this one – the course builders can acquire points for their own gamification possibility – yes, rewarding the people who build the courses with a fun and cool way to do it!  The product is available as a standalone (which means you do not have to buy their LMS)

Storyline2 by Articulate -The product has some pluses, but while it did a few nice things, I was wanting more. Still strong solution in the space.  Read my Storyline2 Review, then decide.

Opus Pro 9.6 Score one for video overlay fans!  This is quite a robust little product and it is cheap too.  I do love the overlay on video option, because it saves people time and money to find products that offer it.  HTML5, lots of actions/scripts capabilities, still has that “retro” look of past days of authoring tools (pre-rapid take off).  

 Doceo – They are the only other vendor besides Camtasia (no less) that offers a product for capturing video, then video/audio editing and next pushing it as a course. On a mobile device that is, it is an app.  The app is called SkillCatch

They pitch it as the ability to use for MOOCs, but think that is too limiting. I’d use it for courses in general for my LMS/learning platform too.  

For some reason they seem to think that the authoring tool for LCMS wouldn’t be used by the LMS (you have to see their product line).  Who ever thought that, really needs to go back and understand where the market on the LMS/LP side is.  

Anyway, you want the e-doceo content manager, regardless if you are using a LCMS or a LMS or LP or a web server or just like to buy things and keep them for a rainy day.

Gomo Learning – Wonderful product, but I still hate the analytics part.  Thankfully you do not have to get that part of their product. My recommendation? Go with Gomo Authoring. This a product ideal for mobile IMO. 

Continues to improve which considering how solid it is.. is only a gain.

The Rest of the Crowd

Elucidat – I really liked what they were trying to achieve when they rolled out, but as of late they seem to be in the thick of the weeds as in just part of the crowd. 

Claro by dominKnow – Strong player, who IMO got sidetracked for a bit. 

Recently added the ability to publish a storyboard in Microsoft Word.  They were one of the early players to collaborative/peer review and still offer the best of breed for that specific feature including date/time stamp.

First vendor to allow multiple people work on the same course and same page at the same time (SaaS).  First AT vendor to use PENS.  First vendor to offer real time previews for various mobile devices before publishing. 

The point is they did a lot of things first.  So let’s get back out there and win one for Milo! (another one of my dogs)

Captivate by Adobe –  Always a strong player. #1 in 2014, will they be #1 in 2015? Really robust, but they always have an issue with mobile OS specifically Apple.  I don’t really get it honestly.  But they seem late to the game when it comes to updating to the latest OS by Apple.   My gripe with them is that it can be overly complicated to use the product. 

Feature wise it is top tier, but I see them in a confusion window – do we go for the beginners like Articulate or do we co intermediate/advanced or mix it all together? (like what current version of Storyline did)

My second biggest gripe is that for a vendor whose product line included a start of the art video product built in the 90’s, why isn’t more ooomph being done with video?  It is not like they didn’t have the technology.   Oh, don’t get me started with Captivate..

Articulate Studio –  Not in my top 10, but clearly a top 20. 

I’m still waiting for the day that Microsoft decides to create a “Studio like product”, since the SDK in Studio is Microsoft, and Microsoft created Office Mix (add-in for PPT 2013, which is FREE), which can publish to SCORM, xAPI and is as good if not better than Presenter IMO.   I have no idea what Microsoft is waiting for – but did I mention that someone told Ray, that people will come?

Camtasia Studio by TechSmith – Best video quasi authoring tool out there. Some folks do not use it as an authoring tool, which always places me on the fence of whether it is truly a standalone authoring tool or a product (e-learning tool) better suited as a compliment to another tool.   Anyway, if you want video – use this product.  I still really like it.  On a side note, TechSmith has way too many product lines.  Sometimes more is not better!! 

Sitting outside the fence

Lectora.  Let me just say that the ReviewLink product is outstanding.  Lectora Online is solid but really not anywhere near the Inspire (desktop product) which is a real shame.  And then they have Publisher which is what not as robust as Inspire?  I get a headache just thinking about it.

Lectora needs a change, a new attitude if you will, and with a new CEO on board, I think it is going to happen. 

Their products need some serious re-tooling, which is why they are sitting outside the fence looking in.

 Last Thought

There is a product on the market called Adapt Learning which is an open source authoring tool.  Here is the link for Adapt Learning Tool . 

Bottom Line

There you have it. The state of the Authoring Tool Industry for 2015.

Between now and November, who knows a new authoring tool could show up and shock the industry with rich features, robust capabilities, amazing UI and scenario simulations that you will drool over and want. 

a. It will happen

b. It could happen.

c. It might happen.

d. It won’t happen.

One of the above is correct.

Pick.

I just did.

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