Before getting started with using eLearning tools for your education or certification programs, it is important to know the difference between the different tools used to create, develop, and deliver eLearning content. There are a multitude of different tools available to instructional designers and eLearning developers, and it is important to consider which tools will help you to achieve the desired learning objectives and outcomes for your courses.
Joe Ganci writes the Toolkit column for Learning Solutions Magazine, which reviews all the different tools available for creating eLearning content. He describes the differences between the most commonly used tools as follows:
- A learning management system (LMS) is an administrative and registration tool. It is software that sits on an organization’s server or in the cloud, allows managers to enroll employees in courses (or lets employees self-register), and presents the learner with a menu of lessons from which to choose. Once a learner chooses an item, it then launches that lesson. The lesson is usually not created in the LMS.
- An authoring tool, also called an eLearning development tool, is used to create the lessons themselves. Once you have created a lesson by combining the proper amounts of media, interactivity, and other elements, you publish the lesson into a set of files that allow a learner to see and interact with the lesson. The set of files is normally zipped, and the zipped file is then uploaded to the LMS, where a menu entry is made to let the registered learners take the lesson.
- A Learning Content Management System (LCMS) typically is an LMS to which the LMS vendor has added an authoring tool.
Which eLearning Tool is Right for You?
There are several things to consider when choosing the right eLearning development tools for your education program, especially if you are delivering the content through an LMS. If you are using tools such as webinars or virtual classrooms, you will need to ensure that the LMS supports delivery of these. Make sure to check the whether the LMS has a verified integration bridge to your webinar tool during the selection process. Multimedia content, especially interactive content created using content authoring tools, must conform to eLearning Content Standards, and you will need to check that your LMS supports the relevant standards for your content.
The LMS can also include other useful eLearning tools that can be used to enhance the content you have created. For example, discussion forums can be used to encourage debate and collaborative learning when tied to a particular course or module. Social learning and gamification features, such as digital badges, can help to increase engagement with education programs and participation in community discussions. Certain learning management systems, like TopClass LMS, will include a testing and question pool to enable you to enhance your content and increase learner engagement with quizzes, assessments, and pre- or post-learning surveys. Even your course catalog can be a useful tool for learners to research and plan their next learning experiences, to build on the content they have just completed.
The authoring tool in an LCMS can be used to create content and courses, but has limited functionality compared to a multimedia content authoring tool. The LCMS functionality included in a learning management system is more normally used to collate, organize, and structure content into eLearning modules and courses, and can be very useful if you have curated a large library of content to be used and re-purposed. The LCMS can be used to incorporate and structure content from all sources into courses, as long as the type of content is supported by the LMS. A small selection of some of the different content types you may wish to use for eLearning could include:
- Documents - Microsoft Word, PDF, ebooks
- PowerPoint Slide Presentations
- Video - You Tube, Vimeo, uploaded files
- Webinars - Live streaming or recorded
- Multimedia content
If you decide to create more interactive, multimedia content there are several different types of tools that you can choose from. Some of the most popular are Adobe Captivate, Articulate Storyline, and Trivantis Lectora. These would provide the most functionality to develop interactive SCORM or TinCan API compliant multimedia content. There are also other tools that are used widely, such as the iSpring Suite, which is described as a PowerPoint add-on tool, enabling you to develop courses in PowerPoint and then convert them into online courses, or TechSmith Camtasia, which is a popular video editing tool.
The Importance of eLearning Content Standards
When creating eLearning content using content authoring tools, it is best to ensure you make sure that the LMS supports both SCORM and AICC standards for eLearning content, at a minimum. The most commonly used SCORM standard is 1.2 and the AICC standard is ARG 010. In addition to these two, there is a newer eLearning content standard that is starting to be deployed and that is known as Experience API, xAPI, or Tin Can. Experience API is becoming the new gold standard for eLearning content delivery as it makes it possible to collect data about the wide range of experiences a person has (online and offline), and to effectively track and record these within an LMS. If you are planning to offer online course delivery through an LMS, these eLearning content standards should be the first items you should consider when making your LMS selection.
Another thing to consider is that if you are using any of these tools now to create content and you wish to change your LMS in future, your new LMS must be able to support the common eLearning content standards, or you will not be able to migrate your educational content into your new system. Confirming that your LMS supports these standards ensures that your time and resources have been invested wisely in creating engaging content and selecting the best learning management system to deliver it to your learners.
TopClass Learning Management System supports all eLearning content standards, including SCORM, AICC, and Experience or TinCan API. TopClass also incorporates an authoring tool for the collation and structuring of eLearning content, and integrates with the most popular eLearning content authoring tools and webinar platforms, to ensure that your organization can deliver world-class learning solutions to your learners. To learn more about the eLearning tools that are supported by TopClass LMS, download our integration datasheet.