Course Authoring: Overview
Category: Course Authoring
by Logan Smith
I have been wanting to do a series of articles related to course authoring for quite a while. My hope is that I can share a lot of fun tips and techniques over the coming year that will help you make good decisions when it comes to course development.
Since we are talking about course authoring as it relates to e-learning I am assuming many of you have some type of course delivery system or are in the process of looking for one. If you are unhappy with your current system or are in the market looking for your first delivery platform. May I suggest the SimplyDigi learning management system, as it is an affordable and powerful enterprise e-learning system. (Shameless Plug)
Let's talk about course delivery as this will effect the types of courses you will be creating. When creating courses the first thing to consider is your audience.
Audience Consideration - Technical Aspects
If I am going to be creating video or media rich content I want to first consider data bandwidth requirements and my audiences hardware. Bandwidth is a measurement of bit-rate available expressed in bits per second or multiples of it (bits, kilobits, Megabits, Gigabits). Think of bandwidth as a watering hose, the bigger the hose the more data you can push though the pipe. Larger pipes cost more money so if you are a non-profit and are looking to deliver content that benefits poor inner city youth, then courses that are predominantly video or media rich may not be the best option. In this case perhaps a PowerPoint slide type course with smaller video clips embedded may work better. Remember the more "Media Rich" the content the longer the students download time will be. If they have limited bandwidth they may be quite a while downloading your media rich content.
Terminal Workstation Users:
I have worked with a number of organizations today that run virtual machines such as VMWare, MS Terminal Services and hardware terminals. This is a great way to save money and support a large infrastructure of people that require PC's to do their jobs. It is not so great for viewing online videos or media rich content. Even on a high speed local network streaming video in a terminal environment is a challenge. The video will be very choppy and unwatchable in many cases. This is not the fault of your Learning Management System (LMS) or course authoring tools,
it is a limitation of terminal device hardware in general. Do not be fooled by salesman that tell you can stream media rich content with no issues in a typical terminal environments. If you do not believe me then make them prove it to you before you buy their terminal software sales pitch. That said you can still deliver wonderful online course content in a terminal environment that is not rich media based.
Technology is always evolving, in 2013 Nvidia announced that they were working in partnership with VMWare to support Graphics Processing over the internet. The technology is called Nvidia GRID and it is pretty amazing. I do not want to get into a long discussion about this technology but if you are interested you can learn more about it here. Nvidia stated at the time of this writing that grid technology is currently only supported in a PC environment.
Buying courses and and selecting a LMS are two different things. Picking an LMS because the vendor offers courses is like buying a car from a car lot because it is next to a gas station, it's a silly sales gimmick many shoppers fall for. The two are not related and it is a good way to get stuck with an expensive lemon. Once I purchase a car I can obtain gas from any one of a thousand gas stations. The same can be said for a Learning Management System, once i have carefully selected a platform I can choose courses from hundreds of course providers around the world or create them myself.
When shopping for a LMS pick a LMS that meets your needs. Ask yourself, what are we trying to accomplish and then select your LMS based on those needs not on the fact that Vendor B offers courses.
I am often amazed at are the number of companies that put a great deal of consideration and budget into their LMS but very little thought or budget into course content or content development tools. An LMS is not a course authoring tool so keep in mind.
Most good e-learning environments will have a mix of in house developed content and commercially purchased content.
Let me get into some of the reasons why I think this is not a best practice to follow.
Not all courses that a vendor sells are going to be relevant to your company. The fact that a vendor offers 10,000 courses is irrelevant as most of that content will not apply to your company needs.
Another dirty secret is that many of these content vendors are really just content mills. They are royalty sharing with independent contractors that they recruit to put courses in their library.
The question then becomes, who is monitoring or ensuring that the person or persons writing those courses are competent and qualified to be offering advice on that topic? Who is monitoring the courses for accuracy, state and federal compliance guidelines and requirements, and who is monitoring to ensure the information is up to date. What if I offer content to my employees that is out dated, inaccurate or wrong and it results in injury or litigation who will the blame fall on?
I am very suspect of any vendor that offers hundreds or thousands of courses for several reasons. How do you maintain a high level of quality and up to date accuracy with a library that large. I use to work in the medical profession and often state or federal guidelines and mandates changed several times in one year on certain topics. Every state has different regulations, requirements, mandates on safety, sexual harassment, reimbursement and tax policies etc. so how does one course cover all of that.
Let's say I need to look at something like a CPR course. There is the OSHA method of CPR and the Red Cross method. If our company uses the Red Cross method but the course in my library is the OSHA method than I am faced with two options. Find another vendor that offers a course in the Red Cross method or create it myself. So just how great was that library of 1,000 courses I paid a fortune for?
Personally I would rather have the option of picking smaller groups of courses from several vendors that are relevant to my needs or create them myself. I also love working with smaller content vendors that really care about the quality of their work and the content they provide. It is much easier for me to ascertain the authors competency on a subject in smaller organization. There is something to be said for working with and supporting small business. I do not want to beat up on the big boys in content sales but I do want consumers to be aware before they buy and remember bigger is not always better and quantity does not always equal quality.
Let me know your thoughts on the subject I would love to hear from some of you.
In my next blog I will discuss Course Authoring Tools and Methods.