Brandon-Hall.com, a leading e-learning consulting firm, released an online subscription service entitled “Authoring Tool Knowledgebase” which provides in-depth comparisons of 89 authoring tools for e-learning.
Among the introductory materials is the section “Tips for Choosing an Authoring Tool,” written by Brandon-hall.com analyst Richard Nantel. It offers practical tips for individuals responsible for evaluating and purchasing authoring tools for use in e-learning.
We thought it would be useful to look at StudyMate Author using the four criteria discussed in Richard Nantel’s article, including: Ease of Use, Level of Engagement, Interoperability & E-learning Specifications, and Content longevity. With Brandon-hall.com’s permission, we include brief excerpts at the beginning of each section.
Ease of Use
“Authoring tools are now available that can make a new developer look like he or she has been developing content for years. Many tools come with pre-built course templates that simply require the developer to populate fields or frames with the appropriate text, images, animations and video segments. Once that’s done, all that remains is to publish the content.”1
Sound familiar? The StudyMate authoring tool provides educators and course designers an easy way to create interactive activities and games. Three templates are used to create up to ten games and activities, ranging from simple flash cards, to crossword puzzles, to “game shows.” StudyMate requires no knowledge of Flash programming or graphic design. In fact, a typical user doesn’t have to know anything about HTML, .swf files, or web design because StudyMate will publish the Flash object directly to a learning management system. StudyMate Author also provides a link to the activities that can be used anywhere – even on mobile devices.
Level of Engagement
“In the early days of e-learning, learners were often impressed with the novelty of taking courses online…those days are over. Students have been taking online courses for a number of years now, and the delivery has lost its novelty. To keep students engaged, especially for topics that require a greater time investment, the content and presentation needs to be stimulating… [C]onsider acquiring authoring tools that will allow you to create content that will keep their interest levels up. Simulations that allow them to learn while doing, instructional games such as crossword puzzles, even branching, text-based scenarios can help keep students engaged.”
Interactive learning is at the heart of activities created with StudyMate. Self-assessments and feedback help students learn from both correct responses and mistakes. Many StudyMate activities challenge students to acquire “points” and even to spell words correctly. For example, if a word is misspelled in the “Fill in the Blank” activity, StudyMate will highlight the incorrect letters, allow the spelling to be corrected, and deduct a point for each incorrect attempt.
The examples below illustrate the types of interactive activities that can be created with StudyMate. (Note: If you forget to return to this article, you’ll at least know that it was StudyMate’s “level of engagement” that sidetracked you!)
Interoperability and E-learning Specifications
“Integration of authoring tool content with learning management systems raises the issues of interoperability… The e-learning world follows a number of standards, including AICC (Aviation Industry CBT Committee), SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model), IMS (IMS Global Learning Consortium), and DCMI (Dublin Core Metadata Initiative).”
There are two sides of the interoperability equation: getting content in (importing), and getting content out (exporting). StudyMate offers flexibility when it comes to both tasks.
Existing questions and content can be imported in such formats as MS Word, rich-text, and IMS’s Question and Test Interoperability (QTI) standard. Respondus files can also be imported by StudyMate, which opens the gateway to hundreds of Respondus-formatted test banks that are available from the leading textbook publishers. In addition, Respondus can be used to download existing assessments from Blackboard, Desire2Learn, eCollege, Moodle, and other e-learning systems, after which they can then be imported with StudyMate.
In terms of exporting, StudyMate can output files in Adobe’s popular Flash (.swf) format. SCORM 1.2 packages can also be exported, which allows elapsed time and quiz scores to be passed back to the e-learning platform. StudyMate additionally allows the exporting of the questions and items themselves (without the Flash templates) to popular formats such as MS Word.
“The “shelf-life” of e-learning content should be a consideration in selecting appropriate authoring tools. Some organizations produce a lot of content that is quickly out of date… On the other hand, some organizations require that their e-learning content be developed and updated for many years to come.”
This was probably written with corporate training in mind, but it’s equally applicable to instructors in K-12 and post-secondary education where some online materials can go unchanged for years, while others are modified weekly, even daily.
At the heart of this issue is the time and cost required to author the student activities. If the cost is minimal, the concern about shelf-life often becomes less important. That’s our approach with StudyMate — reduce the time, cost, and skill-level required for authoring. First, we wanted a tool that could be used by any instructor or subject-matter expert, regardless of their technological or design skills. Second, we wanted to make it easy for instructors to create interactive games and activities from existing course materials and assessments. Third, we wanted all of this to happen in a matter of minutes, not hours or days. Fourth, and most importantly, we wanted the activities and games to truly help students learn. If the activities don’t engage students and help them learn the materials, the shelf-life becomes a non-issue!
StudyMate is just one of dozens of authoring tools that are available for e-learning. Hopefully these tips will help you select tools that meet both short-term and long-term goals. Visit our website for more information on StudyMate, including a 30-day free trial.
1 Brandon-hall.com is a research and advisory firm that specializes in e-learning technology. Excerpts are from brandon-hall.com’s online subscription-based service,“Authoring Tool KnowledgeBase: A Buyer’s Guide to the Best E-Learning Content Development Applications.” All excerpts are used by permission and are copyrighted by brandon-hall.com. Brandon-hall.com is an objective, independent consulting firm and does not endorse or recommend StudyMate, Respondus, or any Respondus, Inc. product.