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Toolkit: News from the Tools Front

by Joe Ganci

February 21, 2012

Column

by Joe Ganci

February 21, 2012

“New tools are coming at a rapid pace. Plant your feet firmly on the ground, lift up your shield, and prepare for the onslaught. As each tool vendor marches forward with its two banners, Most Powerful and Easy to Use, the battle lines will be drawn.”

I have been spending so much time talking with eLearning development tool vendors lately that you would think I’ve become a bit obsessed. You would not be far off the mark. As I go to conference expos, as I receive daily e-mails from my subscriptions, as I evaluate tools, I find myself sometimes getting excited and sometimes scratching my head.

The trends

What is changing in the industry that causes tool vendors to have migraine headaches?

  1. The future of Flash. Apple declared that they would not allow the Flash player on iPods, iPads, and iPhones. Everyone was waiting for it to then follow up with, “Just kidding!” But no, it stamped its foot three times and yelled, “No, no, never!”

The result? In November, Adobe has capitulated to this trend and has declared it would no longer update the Flash player for mobile devices. Score: Apple 1, Adobe 0.

Then the rumormongers went to town: “Flash is dead!” they declared. As if… Did Adobe say they were stopping work on Flash? No, not at all. They are committed to continuing to develop Flash for desktops and laptops (including Apple products). Flash continues to run just fine on my MacBook Pro. Flash isn’t going to go away for years, but it will slowly, ever so slowly, begin to be supplanted by the not-yet-ratified HTML5.

  1. The future of HTML5. Speaking of HTML5, there is no question that it has caused all traditional tool vendors who have relied on Flash technology to wake up at night in a cold sweat. Suddenly, the writing was on the wall: continue to support Flash, sure, but you’d better also have your tool publish to HTML5.

Easier said than done. Flash is a lot more powerful than what is possible in HTML5. Vendors found out quickly it wasn’t going to be easy to publish all the features its tool previously allowed you to use in your eLearning in this new technology. Uh-oh. What to do? Cut features? That won’t sit well with developers. Create lite versions of the tools they have? That probably won’t work either.

Tool vendors always struggle with giving users power along with making their tools easy to use. A lot of tools are underpowered and ironically will make the transition to HTML5 easier. The more powerful tools are the ones that will be harder to change. However, once you give developers a sense of power, they won’t easily let you take it away. They will hold onto it with a death grip that is stronger than you can possibly imagine.

Every tool vendor with whom I’ve spoken, though, recognizes the need and each is working hard to make everyone happy. Let’s wish them all luck. Competition is good, and we want to see them all thrive.

  1.  SaaS. More and more products are SaaS, Software as a Service, meaning that you no longer install the software in your system but access it through a browser. With today’s Internet access speeds and newer technology, in most cases, you quickly forget that you’re not running the product locally. This also solves the problem for vendors to have to create both a Windows and a Macintosh version of their tools. It makes a lot of things easier for many of us, but it is causing some IT departments and secure locations conniptions.
  1. Less LMS. Big changes are starting to occur in the Learning Management System (LMS) world. The purpose of a LMS is to track student enrollment and progress. More and more tool vendors are including analytic modules, and in some cases providing free server space where you can store student progress and generate reports.

For instance, when you buy Adobe Captivate, you get two gigabytes of space on acrobat.com and have Captivate send student progress data there, after which you can generate reports, including item analyses. While not as powerful as most LMSs, most organizations don’t use all the power of LMSs anyway. As more and more of us start using the built-in analytic features of development tools, we may find ourselves needing LMSs less and less.

  1. Even less LCMS. I also see more and more people abandoning the idea of using the development tools included in LCMSs (Learning Content Management Systems). Those who sell LCMSs in most cases start with the LMS and then tack a development tool onto it. The tool is normally anemic, weak, limited, almost useless (am I being too subtle?) and is usually included to help the vendor’s marketing efforts. As more people have tried using LCMS development tools, and then become horrified at their limited and buggy capabilities, they have abandoned them for more traditional development tools and told all their neighbors and friends, uncles and aunts, to avoid using LCMSs.

The tools

New tools are coming at a rapid pace. Plant your feet firmly on the ground, lift up your shield, and prepare for the onslaught. As each tool vendor marches forward with its two banners, Most Powerful and Easy to Use, the battle lines will be drawn. Some will die, some will carve out large swathes of real estate for themselves, some will kneel and pay homage to its more powerful rivals, and some will stay on the fringes and occasionally find weaknesses in the fortress that only they have the talent to remedy.

First, the top-two to take to the field of battle:

  1. Allen Interactions has already released ZebraZapps Creator and very soon will release ZebraZapps Professional. (www.zebrazapps.com)
  2. Articulate is showing Storyline more and more. Though it’s still in Beta, you should very soon see it on the market.

Next, the newer players – younger, more energetic, ready to fight.

  1. Hand Multimedia has expanded beyond its New Zealand borders and is now finding success in North America and Europe with its very elegant tool called Roleplay, which has already won two Brandon Hall awards. Next to conquer: South America, Africa, the rest of Asia, and then our neighboring planets. (www.roleplaydesigner.com)
  2. Similarly, easygenerator is soon to release version 8.1. Popular in Europe, it has also now entered the U.S. market in a big way. Their new version includes a timeline and a much-improved video player, along with easier ways to create adaptive courses. (www.easygenerator.com)
  3. NexLearn is still going strong with its SimWriter tool. It has won two Brandon Hall awards as well. You can check them out at www.nexlearn.com.

You should also strongly consider these very interesting tools too:

  1.  Yukon Learning has a rather unique and attractive sales model with its RapidCourse tool. They create comprehensive source file templates in Articulate Studio on many different subjects, such as Sexual Harassment Prevention. You can use the course as is, or if you know Articulate, you have full access to the source file rather than being limited by wizards or forms. Their slogan is, “Buy the course, get the source.” (www.rapidcourse.com)
  2.  Oddcast has been around for a while, offering static and animated characters you can use in your lessons as mentors or in role-play scenarios. It has been loved by many and helped to enhance many courses. Now Storyline and other tools are starting to include their own characters in their tools directly. This may cut into Oddcast’s market. As I write this, it’s Valentine’s Day and I just received an e-mail from Oddcast containing its Winter Update, February 2012. The first item, accompanying an image of an Oddcast teddy bear in front of a Christmas tree, were the words, “This holiday season…” Umm, Hey, Oddcast? Christmas has come and gone. We’re in February! I can’t wait for their Valentine’s Day greetings in April. Great company, great product, odd e?mail.  (www.oddcast.com)
  3. One of Oddcast’s competitors, CodeBaby, is also well worth using. Heck, you may find yourself wanting to use both, as their characters differ and you’ll have a larger selection that way. (www.codebaby.com)

 


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Great rundown of the sector! For folks looking for more info on HTML5 I recommend reading Judy Unrein's product reviews and notes: http://onehundredfortywords.com/
Thanks!
Good info as always, Joe. I'm interested to see where SaaS and cloud-based technologies in general take the LMS/LCMS market, in addition to the development tools market. We're starting to venture into that territory with some of our customers right now.
Ehh.. more and more tools to learn:) Thank you for nice summary.
Great article and so helpful... Thanks Joe!
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