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Web-Based Authoring Tools for Scalable eLearning Development: The Time Has Come

The era of web-based authoring systems is here. As more organizations and associations embrace rapid eLearning development to keep pace with new products and services, evolving business needs, and industry and government regulations, the need for distributed authoring solutions that enable collaborative, team-based development continues to grow.

Web-based products such as Claro and Composica promise to solve collaborative dilemmas and enable development teams to create engaging and interactive learning content with ease. There are other solutions available as well. We’ve been using our own collaborative web-based development tool, CourseCreate, at Web Courseworks for the past 15 years. We recently decided to test drive Claro and Composica, and here’s some of what we’ve learned in our exploration of these tools.

Web-Based Authoring: The Rise of Collaborative Content Creation

Why should firms care about web-based authoring tools? It comes down to dealing with the realities of scalability and rapid eLearning development. Truly scalable development requires an authoring tool capable of effectively leveraging the collective skill and expertise of large, dispersed teams. It is no small task to unite a diverse group of instructional designers, subject matter experts (SMEs), graphic artists, reviewers, project managers, legal staff, and other key stakeholders in an intuitive and streamlined online environment.

A white paper on the Composica website titled “The Goldilocks Dilemma of Authoring” provides a convincing argument for why firms should invest in a collaborative authoring tool over competing individual authoring tools and learning content management system (LCMS) solutions. Here’s a quick summary of the argument:

  • The modern eLearning model calls for rapid, collaborative team-based development.
  • Individual authoring tools (e.g., Articulate Storyline and Adobe Captivate) offer robust design features but fail to provide an environment for collaborative development and review. These tools are often “too small” to accommodate simultaneous, parallel development or in-context collaboration with SMEs.
  • LCMS authoring tools nail the collaborative elements but strike out on rapid development features and design flexibility. These tools are often “too big” and too complicated to enable rapid course development through use of course templates or reusable objects and activities.
  • Quality web-based authoring tools represent the “just right” solution for collaborative eLearning development. Integrated content creation and review tools streamline workflow processes and empower team members to engage in simultaneous, parallel development.

The give and take between different features and functionalities described above should look familiar to anyone who has weighed the costs and benefits of investing in a new authoring tool.  That same crowd should also respond to the claim that a new perfect solution has arrived with a bit of skepticism.  Every industry is constantly in search of a “just right” solution, and in the end it always comes down to weighing the costs and benefits of different products. In this case, it brings us to a showdown between Claro and Composica.

Choosing the Right Tool: Comparing Claro to Composica

What should firms look for in a collaborative web-based authoring tool? Such a tool must deliver, at a minimum:

  • social authoring capabilities;
  • a collaborative review environment;
  • interactive design elements;
  • asset repositories;
  • course template flexibility and reusability;
  • version control; and
  • superior workflow management.

Members of the Web Courseworks team who researched pros and cons and built test courses in Claro and Composica found that each tool delivers these essential requirements. With that in mind, the decision will come down to specific organizational needs, value added from unique features, and cost. Here’s a quick comparison chart that summarizes some of our team’s findings:

Feature

Claro

Composica

Social authoring

Yes, but no blogs or chat.

·        User and role management used
to assign admins, authors, and reviewers.

·        Ability to “check out” individual objects, allowing multiple team members to work on a course at the same time.

Yes.

·        Community dashboards allow team
members to see who’s online and what people are working on.

·        Project blogs, comments, and RSS feeds used to connect authors.

Collaborative review

Yes.

·        Capability to review and provide feedback on smartphone, tablet or desktop.

·        In-context comments with
workflow for tracking resolution.

·        Review functionality is simple
and intuitive.

Yes, but task-based system isn’t quite an
in-context commenting system.

·        Tasks system with comments and audit trails (seems similar to JIRA).

·        Tasks can be attached to a page, chapter, or other resource in the course, and can be assigned to anyone on the team.

Interactive design elements

Yes.

·        Layers, actions, triggers, buttons.

·        Hotspot, drag-and-drop, MC, T/F, fill in the blank.

Yes, but limited access to
layers, hotspots, triggers, and buttons for page-specific interactivities.

·        Hotspot, drag-and-drop, MC, T/F, fill in the blank.

Asset repository

Yes.

·        Upload .zip files to media library.

·        Tagged files are searchable.

·        Media library tracks files used across different courses.

·        Support for reusable citations.

Yes.

·        Any resource can be tagged (course, documents, tasks, media files, etc.).

·        Asset tags can be searched, filtered, and sorted.

Reusability/

Course template flexibility

Yes, but questions remain
regarding fully custom themes.

·        Copy pages and questions.

·        Share learning objects with other projects to synchronize updates.

·        Use or customize existing templates, but unclear whether completely custom templates can be created. (UPDATE: Claro states that “anything you can do on a page can be a template.”)

Yes.

·        Separate content, appearance and behavior of objects for reuse.

·        System keeps styles, navigation rules, and persistent graphics in distinct layers and objects, so look-and-feel of each course can be swapped out even after the content has been organized.

Version control

Yes.

·        Pages have a history, but no automatic versions are created.

·        Rollback feature is apparently “in the works.”

Yes.

·        Ability to restore previous versions.

Workflow management tools

Yes.

·        Capability to create “life cycle” (workflow stages, alpha beta etc.)

Yes.

Browser/

Platform neutrality

Publishes for any browser or platform.

·        Authoring requires Flash and Java. (EDIT: Most authoring functionality works without browser plugins. Flash is only required for image editing and audio/video recording, and Java is only required for the screen snap and screen record functionality.)

Publishes for any browser or platform.

·        Authoring and reviewing requires Internet Explorer or a desktop app.

·        No Mac solution for authoring.

Multi-format publishing

·        Web

·        SCORM 1.1, 1.2, 2004 (EDIT: SCORM 1.1 support was dropped due to lack of interest.)

·        xAPI

·        AICC

·        LMS, Inc. PENS

·        Publish to Word document and edit Word output. PDF is coming.

·        Mobile package.

·        Offline mobile player connected
to SCORM 1.2 – allows offline interaction of SCORM packages – would have to integrate with Claro’s API. 8 to 40 hours.

·        SCORM 1.2 and 2004

·        PDF

·        PENS

Quick Impressions from our Team

colin_skinner

Colin Skinner, Instructional Designer

 “Composica gave me more control over the visual appearance of the course, with more formatting options for shapes, images, and buttons. On the other hand, Claro seemed better for creating interactivity, with a more robust trigger system and a larger library of built-in interactions. Claro’s reviewing functionality also seemed slightly more intuitive and streamlined.”

 

will_edwardsWill Edwards, Senior Media Artist

“The number of base model ‘Check on Learning’ activities is impressive in Claro, and the overall package seems robust, but I don’t see a great way to build custom themes from scratch. There may be a workaround for this process, but my vote will always go to the tool with better creative interface and graphical feature set.”

 

dawn_raminDawn Ramin, Instructional Designer

“Claro seemed a little bit more intuitive than Composica to me. Its course development features are solid: a big selection of editable templates for page layouts and interactivities, a decent library of clip art and characters, and slide-layering capability with actions and triggers. Claro’s central content library makes it convenient to track assets across different courses, and its Check-in/Check-out feature allows multiple authors to be in the course at one time.”

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking into a web-based authoring tool, Claro and Composica both offer the core set of essential features that will enable effective, scalable, and collaborative rapid eLearning development. The decision between the two tools will ultimately come down to more granular preferences regarding features for social authoring (project blogs and chat features in Composica), collaborative review (in-context commenting in Claro vs. task-based system in Composica), interactivity (layers, triggers, and buttons in Claro), template flexibility (fully custom themes in Composica)*, browser and platform neutrality (Mac support in Claro), desired publishing formats, etc. For us, the unique features and Mac support offered by Claro were enough to seal the deal. I hope this quick overview helps you arrive at the “just right” solution for your business or organization.

 

* One more update: Claro does offer a way to do custom themes, but it requires some coding and coordinating with Claro’s support team to ensure that the theme is not deprecated in upgrades.

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