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The Best Course Authoring Tool You Never Heard Of…

February 19, 2009

The Best Course Authoring Tool You’ve Never Heard Of…

So you think you know all of the best authoring tools in the world of elearning — you know about Lectora; you know about Articulate; you know about Captivate; maybe you even know some of the higher end tools like Firefly or SimWriter.  But my guess is that you have never heard of Mzinga Publisher.  That’s too bad really because it’s easily two to three years ahead of the competition and so vastly superior to anything else out there right now that it’s a little embarrassing.

Ok, so why is it so good and why am I openly bragging about our tool?  Let’s take the second part of this question first:  the truth is that I reached the point where I’m just sick to death of hearing how Lectora is like the gold standard of authoring tools when I know with absolute certainty that we would crush them in any sort of real head-to-head feature comparison.  I’ve been in this space for over 12 years and I know every tool out there cold.  We’ve even partnered with and resold many of the tools I mentioned above including Lectora, Articulate and even EEDO’s ForceTen product.  Needless to say, I know these tools inside and out, and I know what I’m talking about.

So why would we crush them?  For one, assume that there is a 90% overlap in the basic feature set around authoring courseware: robust templates at the course and page level, complete WYSIWYG authoring with the option to edit tags and even HTML for more advanced authors, varied and deep interaction widgets, spell-check, international language support, SCORM compliance, PowerPoint import and manipulation, animations, question randomization, question pooling, question weighting, and on and on.  You get the idea.  Virtual parity on all the basics.  Of course, we’ve also just listed a huge percentage of Lectora’s basic features.  With Publisher, we’re just getting started…

So what else is there?

How about deep collaboration support that allows multiple authors to work on the same course at the same time?  No sharing of files or passing of whole projects back and forth.  Instead, you work on one page and I work on another.  Why is this possible?  Our entire tool is web-based which means we can each do our thing on the server without stepping on each other.

Now imagine that this basic model is further extended with an in-tool dashboard that includes individual and group chat, project-based blogging, tagging and tag clouds at any level of course hierarchy, object and page search, task assignment, shared links, shared notes, shared to dos, and on and on.

How about the simplicity of reusing any asset from any course to which you have access, including courses you didn’t author.  You want to use one of my pages?  Just open my project and import the page to your project as if you are adding a new page in yours.  Done.  You want to start by duplicating my whole project?  Then just copy the whole thing as the basis of your project.  You want to use one of my graphics, videos, animations, simulations, audio files, etc…?  Then do the same thing, but at the object level.  Oh wait, you want to use  assets and pages from multiple courses authored by different people — just rinse and repeat.  It takes as long to reuse existing content as it does to open the project and identify the page or asset which you can do by subject, by author, by tag, or through search.  Ridiculously easy.

Oh wait, you want to use the Flash file, but you need to edit it?  No problem.  If your colleague did the smart thing, he or she loaded the FLA into the project too.  If they did, you can download it from Publisher, edit it locally, and then upload your own output file back into the project.  Ditto for any source file, including audio, video, sims, graphics etc…  This is something that most LCMS don’t even do, let alone course authoring tools.

Ok, so what about review?  Now suppose you are ready for your first review cycle.  What do you do?  With virtually every tool in the market, you publish the course and somehow expose it to your SME’s, legal team, marketing team etc…  And then what?  You get emails, Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, etc… filled with sometimes conflicting, often confusing edits which you have to manage.  This often becomes a project unto itself.  In Publisher, you just give your reviewers a free Reviewer license and they provide their edits *in the tool*.  You get a complete audit trail of who logged a bug and when.  You also know who fixed it and when.  Reviewers can see each other’s bugs in real time during the review process which provides transparency in the process and makes their life easier.  Developers and reviewers can also communicate with each other through a comments widget built into the bug process.  Not impressed yet?  Ok, how about this?  All of this is reportable at any level of granularity, developers are notified when they are assigned tasks and they can even jump right to a particular page when they click on a task.  Again, miles and miles ahead of the competition.

What if your team has been downsized and you need to expand your team of developers out to SME’s and other folks who don’t “know” elearning?  You immediately think Articulate right?  What if I told you that Publisher has a Contributor licensing model that provides stripped down functionality for non-instructional designer or course developers?  Simple interface, limited functionality, but with complete control and extensibility for the rest of your team to polish it up or set up the base templates.  Cool right?  Yeah, pretty cool.

How about eLearning games?  You’ve heard about the need to incorporate gaming into the learning experience?  But how?  One approach is to go all high-end with virtual worlds and deep simulations.  And sometimes that’s the right approach and you’ll need to spend some real dough and some real time building them.  Other times though, what’s required is a lower-end game designed to make things more interesting and engaging for the learner.  If this is what you need, you’re still up a creek because there are few, if any, tools that do this.  Well, except ours of course.  We have five built-in gaming templates that you can layer into any sort of assessment model.  They are pre-baked but configurable, providing a good combination of professional quality in the output and flexibility in design.  And you need to know nothing about programming or games to use them well. 

Ok, so maybe elearning games aren’t right for your learner population.  What about Web 2.0?  Have you ever thought about incorporating social learning into a web-based training course?  No?  Well, we have.  Imagine if you could keep all of the benefits and cost savings of WBT, while also addressing it’s biggest weakness – the lack of social learning:  debrief, diversity of perspectives, sharing of ideas, creation of new best practices, and learner engagement.  In Publisher, you can include built-in blogs, RSS feeds, commenting, ratings, YouTube videos, Googe mashups and more.  Maybe you want to get learners to share their thoughts at the end of a chapter.  Just embed a comment widget and all of the learners can share their perspective with each other.  You decide whether it gets moderated or not.  Maybe you want to have learners share their perspective on new best practices.  You could embed an open blog where learners can post new articles, again moderated or not.  You want to keep them up-to-date on rapidly changing industry news?  Embed an RSS feed to industry-related blogs or blogs by your SME’s.  The options and new possibilities here are endless, and for this sort of technology, we are once again, the only game in town.

Ok, so you’re not into elearning games or social learning.  How about software simulations?  Publisher enables you to drop a Firefly sim into a course as a “launch and forget” or as a tracked assessment item.  You do this from a menu or right-click like any other object.  No need to spend days figuring how to incorporate a simulation assessment as part of your overall score.  No need to figure the technical aspects of where to put the sim files and how to launch them.  We do the heavy lifting for you.  You can also launch other sims of course and nearly as easily.

I could go on and on.  But here is the deal:  we have the best authoring tool in the market, hands down.  We have 90% overlap with Lectora on the basics and whole categories of features that they don’t — deep and seamless collaboration within and across projects; support for the “extended” authoring team, including reviewers and contributors; integrated and managed review processes; deep support for elearning games; deep support for web 2.0 and social learning; seamless integration points for simulation.  And in case you are thinking, “wow, that must be really expensive…” then think again; it’s basically the same price as any other authoring tool including Lectora.

Ok, I guess that’s enough shameless promotion for now.  Back to your regularly scheduled social learning topics…

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