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Toolkit: Five More Lesser-known eLearning Tools

by Joe Ganci

April 22, 2014

Review

by Joe Ganci

April 22, 2014

These five tools provide a wide range of combinations of ease of use and power, and each one has its particular strength and its peculiar weaknesses. There are open-source and proprietary tools, cloud-based and desktop authoring environments, and offerings that you have not seen the likes of anywhere else.

Thank you to all who responded to my survey asking about lesser-known eLearning development tools. My survey explicitly stated that it was geared towards tools I have not reviewed before, but several respondents requested that I review products like Articulate Storyline and Allen Interactions’ ZebraZapps. Once again, you’ll find all my previous reviews here: http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/authors/4/joe-ganci.

Last month, I covered these tools, which were your top five at the time:

  1. Articulate Online by Articulate
  2. e-Learning Authoring Tool by e-Learning Consulting
  3. nimbleAuthor (was eLearning Course Builder) by eLearning247
  4. FlexAuthoring by FlexTraining
  5. Udutu Online Course Authoring by Udutu Online Learning Solutions

This month, the top five (not counting those above) are:

  1. Versal by Versal Group
  2. LearningStone (Open Source)
  3. BRAVO! Response by C3 Softworks
  4. uPerform by Ancile
  5. Toolbook by SumTotal

Versal by Versal Group

First, it should be noted that Versal is an open and ongoing beta application, and you can join the beta free of charge. It is one of the new crop of cloud-based tools, meaning you create all of your courses online. There are two versions, one of which is currently free. The paid version, called Versal for Teams, upgrades you to professional services, such as author and learner management. The Teams version allows a free 60-day trial and 100 learners, and after that the cost ranges from $250 a month for 250 learners up to $5,000 a month for 100,000 learners.

Using Versal is pretty straightforward. The stage area is called the canvas and the tools you use to assemble a course are called gadgets. All of the gadgets currently available can be seen in Figure 1, though the service may add others from time to time. Each gadget is different, and it is possible to customize each one in various ways.

Figure 1: Versal Gadgets

This tool is unlike any I’ve ever seen. The number and variety of gadgets is fascinating. Some seem most appropriate for academic courses. For instance, the R0 (Figure 2) and the SIR gadgets refer to epidemic models, used in studies of how populations grow and how infectious diseases spread.

Figure 2: The R0 gadget

The 3-D Anatomy gadget lets you rotate and manipulate a skull, with and without skin, in many different ways. While this is not a common need in, say, an accounting course, it would obviously be useful in an anatomy course. See Figure 3.

Figure 3: The 3-D Anatomy gadget

There are also a number of gadgets that are useful in modeling principles in mathematics, physics, computability, biology, and other sciences. These gadgets include Cellular Automaton, Principle of Superposition, Highlightr, 2-D Vector, Sine Wave, Fournier Series, Sketchfab, and Snell’s-law Simulation. Other gadgets allow for the inclusion of audio and video files, quizzes, and one uses an on-screen piano to assist in music lessons. There are also gadgets that allow links to Google Docs and Microsoft OneDrive. As you can see, that’s quite a variety of gadgets. You can even create your own gadgets using JavaScript if you’re so inclined and if you get in touch with Versal.

Drawbacks? Of course, every tool has them. In this case, the biggest one I see is that when you insert a gadget, you place it above or below another gadget. In other words, each gadget stacks on the next vertically and each takes the full width of the screen horizontally, so you can’t, for instance, place two images side by side (unless a gadget is eventually created to allow that). You may not notice that limitation if you’re used to creating top-down websites rather than using a tool that allows for freeform placement of objects on an open stage.

You may find Versal useful to your needs or very limiting, depending on the kinds of courses you need to create. Take a look, though, at https://versal.com/ and in just a few minutes you can get a good feel for the tool and decide for yourself.

LearningStone

Another cloud-based tool, LearningStone is also open-source. It lets you set up a learning site that also acts as a means of communicating with those you invite. Training pros use it in meetings, classrooms, and in blended-learning situations. LearningStone uses the concept of workspaces. Within each workspace, an instructor creates groups and within each group the instructor can invite participants. The instructor sets up a course timeline within the workspace, connected to a calendar, so that participants can see what is expected of them.

The workspace site also has a social timeline that allows participants to communicate with each other and their instructor by commenting, uploading files of various types and more. The social timeline can continue to operate even after a course has ended. See Figure 4. As you can see, participants can access the site on mobile devices as well as desktop computers.

Figure 4: An example of LearningStone’s appearance

You can use LearningStone free. This grants you one concurrent course with full functionality, with up to 20 members in the group and two gigabytes of web space. The Pro version ranges from $165 a month for five concurrent groups to $866 a month for up to 35 concurrent groups. Each group in the Pro version can include up to 50 members and Pro comes with 20 gigabytes of web space and additional benefits. Finally, there is an Enterprise version that allows for up to 60 groups for $1,294 a month, 100 concurrent groups, with 200 members per group, and 100 gigabytes of web space. See more at https://www.learningstone.com/.

BRAVO! Response by C3 Softworks

Not strictly an authoring tool, Bravo! Response lets you create eLearning games that you use in classroom and meeting situations. Attendees are then separated into teams and each team member is able to answer questions using wireless keypads from Turning Technologies, or alternatively an app installed on cell phones, or online virtual keypads. There are also wireless “slammers” that are like those on TV game shows, letting you know who chimes in first. See Figure 5.

Figure 5: An example of BRAVO!’s appearance 

You can install BRAVO! Response in Windows or in MacOS 10.6 or later. Games include QuizShow, Billionaire, and SpinOff. Answers can include multiple-choice, true/false, and be open ended. You can create your own avatars, using a built-in avatar editor, as on-screen players, and choose to embed your own images, videos (SWF and FLV), and audio as well.

You can use BRAVO Response free for 30 days. Pricing is not listed so you’ll need to request a price quote from the site. Learn more at http://c3softworks.com/products/classroom/bravo-response/.

In this case, I base Power on the fact that this tool is limited to what it does and is not a full-fledged authoring tool.

uPerform by Ancile

uPerform is cloud-based and includes several tools, which together make for quite a bit of power.

You can record software simulations and publish them in several different formats simultaneously. For instance, you can save the simulation as a Watch It, a Try It, a Practice Test, and an Assessment in HTML format. A feature I really like during playback mode is a step-by-step guide that flows down as each step is shown or completed. In addition, you can also save to several PDF file formats, including a step guide, an exercise sheet, and more.

If you wish to create a course, you start by choosing one of several templates, called stencils, after which you insert lessons, pages, assessments, and hotspots. You can also import PowerPoint files or import from courses you have already created. Each page can have a separate stencil.

In addition, you can create context-sensitive help, eLearning assessments, and you can provide collaboration tools for subject-matter experts and others. uPerform also lets you translate all of the standard menus and dialogs into over 30 languages. A project management section also allows you to track and report all the content you’ve created. You can choose to use Google Analytics, Dashboard Reporting, and third-party applications. An admin dashboard, part of which you’ll see in Figure 6, is included.

Figure 6: The uPerform admin dashboard

Learn more at http://ancile.com/index.php/products. Contact Ancile for pricing.

ToolBook by SumTotal

ToolBook has been around since 1990, so it is certainly no spring chicken, especially when compared to the other tools mentioned here. It was originally the brainchild of Paul Allen (of Microsoft fame) when he helmed Asymetrix. It is a Windows product loosely based on Apple’s HyperCard. It has its own programing language, OpenScript, based originally on Apple’s HyperTalk. You can say it was Windows’s response to Apple in providing an eLearning platform, though of course both Macintosh and Windows already had other tools at the time, the most famous of which was Authorware. Currently, it is in version 11.5, which was released last year.

As indicated by its title, ToolBook uses the metaphor of a book and of pages. The interface uses palettes of tools, which you can move or hide. In addition, you access properties for different objects through dialog boxes. It has built-in templates and it makes a catalog of objects available to you. See Figure 7.


Figure 7:
The Toolbook catalog 

ToolBook is all about power, and while it has some features that are easy to use, if you want to take advantage of its power, you will need to take some time to learn its Action Editor and its OpenScript programming language. However, depending on how you will use ToolBook, you will want to focus on some features and avoid others. For instance, if you publish to the Web or for mobile, the result will be DHTML, which is a combination of HTML, JavaScript, and CSS, and you will need to avoid OpenScript and use the Actions Editor instead.

ToolBook has seen a decline in popularity over the years, not surprising for a tool that is now 24 years old, though it still has its die-hard fans and is still in production, so there’s no reason not to consider it. ToolBook costs about $2,795. Check out http://tb.sumtotalsystems.com/index.html for more information.

I hope you’ve enjoyed last month’s and this month’s overview of ten not-as-well-known eLearning development tools. If you find yourself falling in love with one of these tools, write below which one and how it has helped you. Thank you!


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I've used both TooBook and uPerform and ToolBook is far more powerful than uPerform on any day. uPerform is very limited in what it can do especially in a simulation. ToolBook will allow you to do just about anything you can think of. I would have rated ToolBook at least as an 8 for power and uPerform closer to a 4.
How is LearningStone "open-source". From what I've been able to see it's based on an open-source CMS called Zotonic but I don't see LearningStone itself having a "community" edition or similar.
Benjamin, fair enough. I believe I misread the literature concerning LearningStone and open source. It's true that they use and contribute to open source, but you're right that the product itself is not considered open source. https://www.learningstone.com/en/blog/16299/when-not-to-use-moodle-or-learningstone
Regarding Toolbook, as an older tool, it never got to the point where it could deliver its full power to the web, Neuron notwithstanding. To safely create web-based learning with Toolbook, you best stick with its preprogrammed objects. I love Toolbook's OpenScript but not being able to use it for web delivery seriously docks its claim to power in my book, only because creating EXE files for eLearning is no longer a common practice.

As for uPerform, I think it includes several powerful features that are lacking in most other authoring tools, including its assistance in transaltion and its project management section.

At any rate, power and ease of use is open to interpretation as it's very true that some features may be important to some developers and not to others. I respect your opinion.
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