Let us take a trip back to the late 90s and 2000. After all, making one stop won’t be enough. For those of us who were there the first time around, we saw quite a bit with e-learning and the world for online corporate learning. Dinosaurs roamed. Dot.com was in full bloom. WebVan would go to a store, get you an ice cream bar and drop it off. Who knew this was not a good business plan?
Instructional designers were getting ready to be in high demand, especially in the corporate world. Many companies hired them, not just large enterprises, but smaller size places too. The instructional technologist was a term, many folks had heard of. E-Learning developers – again, common term.
Boutique shops for custom course development were springing up faster than you could say Sock Puppet (Pets.com). Many a company, even associations went this route. Generally speaking, pricing was high depending on something called “levels”. Numerous Training execs, and those in L&D who embraced e-learning (and it was small), went elsewhere, primarily in India, which offered course development and thus courses at a significantly lower cost.
The idea of rapid content authoring was non-existent. The dominating authoring tool by far was Authorware. The folks who used it overwhelmingly were instructional designers/e-learning developers and yes a few of us, who said “We can do this too,” only to find it so difficult and challenging, we had to look elsewhere.
Think of today and Articulate Storyline fan base. It’s large. Now, go back to the late 90s into the early 2000s, with instructional designers developing WBT courses (Web-Based Training) and e-learning developers. Authorware usage and fan base made Storyline supporters and usage look like a rock stage at a state fair.
There are even fans today of Authorware, who if it was still around, would bounce right into it. The idea of a rapid content authoring tool, where anyone could build a course quickly was appalling to everyone who built courses.
Other course authoring tools started to appear right after Authorware. I used DazzlerMax. A product called Macromedia Flash (being used with websites) became a go-to for course development.
A hierarchy approach – Chapter – Page – Lesson/Assignment/Scenario was the terminology used and design structure. You added “objects”. ADDIE (developed for everything but e-learning) was tapped. I went with a Hybrid form of ADDIE.
If you didn’t know Flash nor have an instructional design background, options were limited. Many of us, searched sites, such as this little-known one called Amazon.com, which sold only books. I bought one that was quite good, and from there, I was ready.
We all remember the Java fight, between Netscape and Microsoft. As a result, you have to have really two versions of the same course with a browser sniffer, so those using IE as a browser went to the version without Java, and those using Netscape went to the version with Java.
Yes, it was a fun time, if fun is using a stress ball.
Did I mention that going with a 3rd party custom dev shop to create a Level 1 or 2 course might take six months? Storyboards were common.
Then it happened.
Macromedia Dreamweaver came out with templates. Dreamweaver was the tool to use for web design and development. The product eventually added templates (for web dev), and for WBT with the corporate side, folks who disliked using Authorware, DazzlerMax, and similar (the UI/UX was brutal and time to create was not quick), jumped over.
The moment I saw how many of my contemporaries were using Dreamweaver Templates to build courses, I knew the end for the complex tools was coming. I was aghast and even said to myself, “There is no way I am using a template” (a philosophy that has never changed).
Templates meant that anyone without an ID background, regardless if self-taught via a book, or with an extensive background in it, could create a WBT course..
You still needed to know how to use Dreamweaver, so it limited usage, but it started the use of course templates. Which led to..
Rapid Content Authoring Tools
The premise is was simple. That anyone, without any knowledge around ID or e-learning development, could create a course quickly. It was designed to be simple. It was developed to tap into Flash (a huge plus). Output was AICC (boo) and SCORM.
Did I mention the RCATs were heavy into templates? And that anyone could build a course? If you had PowerPoint, you already were ahead of the game.
There were other offerings, such as Adobe Presenter, but Studio was the preferred tool for corporate – internally speaking (not out sourced).
RCATs from that moment changed the e-learning course development, some say for the better, others not so much. All thereafter were designed for anyone can build. Terms such as Chapter-Page and so on, left the lexicon for the beginners, with terms such as Slide taking over.
Instructional designers, Instructional Technologists, and e-learning developers who worked at a company, association, firm, and other business entities, saw a solution called Captivate, that offered a more nuanced course build that allowed complexity if so chosen.
Beginners – Studio. Advanced – Captivate and Lectora.
It was not common to see someone in marketing or HR or sales with no training background or knowledge around e-learning, being the key folks for building a course. Yes, there were some, but it was a tiny fraction. SMEs who built courses existed (sadly).
However, ID hiring was near its peak. E-Learning (then an umbrella term) and WBT (Web-based training – refers to the courses) the driver.
The writing though, not yet seen to everyone, was starting to appear.
The Depression of 2008-2012
Anyone in Training or L&D knows that the first departments to get scaled-down or cut is training and L&D. Scaling or cutting back resources – meaning people, reality.
RCATs continued their growth, rapidly (no pun intended).
Why hired or have an ID person or e-learning developer or Instructional Technologist, when Jen who is a trainer, can build a course with these tools? If Training is cut, no worries, Steve in HR or Carolyn in sales can build a course.
For Large Enterprises though, as a whole, the above scenario was not at the same level. Internal IDs still reigned. Even mid-size enterprises had more than enough. Scaling existed, and RCATs were being widely adopted. As a whole, the notion that course development should be done by someone with zero knowledge around ID, or L&D or Training, wasn’t realistic.
However, this product called Storyline was launched.
It was 2012.
It was not an easy authoring tool. It was not designed for those without any ID, or e-learning development experience. It had a steep learning curve (admitted by Articulate to me). Things called Layers existed – a common term used in Adobe Photoshop, but for WBT? Not so much.
Then the change
Storyline really did it.
Here is my review of the product, all those years ago.
In 2014, Storyline 2, made such a change, that, if you were watching the space, you knew, where this was going and what impact it would make to the internal ID side of the house. I wrote about it then. And experienced a wonderful backlash from Articulate supporters – which included a thread on their community board around my review (A reader tipped me off).
I remember talking to Articulate soon thereafter at a trade show. Not about the post rather that I saw that down the road, Studio would not be needed. Articulate denied this.
But the combo said otherwise.
Storyline 2 impacted the internal e-learning development space, at a stealth level, that nobody was paying attention.
IDs were still being hired. Studio was still being used by anyone – beginners. All was rosy.
To understand how the storm came about, we have to go back to the mid-2000’s.
With RCATs taking off, LMSs got into the act. They started offering a built-in authoring tool. Designed for anyone to build a course, with zero knowledge around instructional design techniques. Simple. If you had a basic understanding of PowerPoint and heard the term WSYWYG, congrats – you could create a course.
The first half of the decade saw a drop in the number of vendors offering a built-in authoring, but by the end of the decade, the numbers were starting up again. By mid-2021, more vendors in the learning system space, offer a built-in authoring tool, whether it is included as part of the system, or an additional cost.
The authoring tool is an RCAT. Build quickly. Build easily. Templates available (for most)
A Perfect Storm is never made up of just one component, it is made up of many, and as a result, is leading directly to the demise of Corporate – internal instructional designers/technologists and e-learning developers.
Eight components created the Perfect Storm
- RCATs – Expansive growth in the last decade – Anyone can build. Template heavy. Quick and Easy
- Built-in authoring tool with a learning system – or API connected with a SaaS authoring tool (fee and no fee)
- COVID-19 – Companies that did not have a learning system, now need one, because their employees are working from home, customers too (although most customers accessed out of the workplace). Many learning system vendors saw big upticks in sales, whereas they were projecting a poor year.
COVID-19 – more learning systems, more folks needing courses, someone has to build them – and do it from their residence
- The term courses is disappearing, in comes “Content” out goes “Courses” (Exception 3rd party course aggregators and 3rd party off the shelf course providers. Even now, some use the term interchangeably)
- A few learning system vendors (it will increase) refer to a content editor (it’s a RCAT authoring tool stripped down to the basics).
- Learners build their own content – They are recording videos, adding audio files, capturing web pages, creating some form of combo
- Hybrid workplace model tied into COVID-19 impact for business. Hybrid model kicks-off, will expand going forward. For Corporate learning, everything changes. Going back is not an option.
- Cutting of resources – Why do I need an instructional designer or e-learning developer, when Adam can build content? We can always buy 3rd party courses (off the shelf)? Heck, some 3rd party off the shelf, allows you to edit it and put our own info in there.
It has already begun. Large Enterprises still have instructional designers/technologists/developers, but the number in say a department (as a whole) has dropped.
Plenty more folks than IDs, are building courses and content. They have no knowledge about ADDIE or Kirkpatrick. They do not have the fundamentals around effective course design. They lack the basics of sound training and learning development. They rely heavily on the authoring tool, in this case a RCAT 3rd party or built-in learning system.
Some rely on PowerPoint.
What they do not rely on, are in-house instructional designers, because, at their association or company or non-profit or business firm, they do not exist.
Where does this lead?
In five years, more folks with no background in ID, creating content (courses, etc.). More L&D and HR folks purchasing 3rd party off the shelf courses/content. Training if external customer base, and software training, leveraging videos, especially self-created via screen webcam recorders, which some learning systems include in their system.
The hybrid workplace model will stay. Plenty of companies will allow a full remote office workforce.
Custom Development shops. 3rd party off-the-shelf course and content providers. Freelance. Large Enterprises that still use in-house instructional designers.
This is inevitable.
It’s not going to make a lot of folks – especially IDs, instructional technologists or e-learning developers happy.
It’s going to irritate a lot of people.
Some will never admit to seeing it on the wall.
Some companies and businesses will continue to hire IDs and use them.
You can’t force folks.
But the Perfect Storm
Isn’t giving them an option.
Because it’s already