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Online Learning Authoring Tools


Online Education & E-learning Software


A Survey and list of potential questions to consider in evaluating Learning Management or Authoring Systems that I developed. In practice, only a subset of the survey is used, and one can actually send this directly to the vendor you are interested in.


Simple LMS (Learning Management Systems) & Rapid Authoring Tools


Many free tools are now available for educators and education researchers to author pedagogically powerful content in a WYSIWYG interface without programming experience, host it in the cloud for free to make it directly available to students, share materials with collaborators and a community for easy copying and editing, and integrate with other LMS and Rapid Authoring Tools.

Diverting some of the time one would spend in developing materials to searching out higher quality tools can save a great deal of time and improve the quality of the resources. 

Although there are advantages to programming an ed-tech product or e-learning materials from scratch, there has been an explosion of higher level content management systems in recent years with an impressive amount of pedagogical sophistication, and much lower technical barrier. 

Everything listed here has a WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) interface that does not require programming (although several do allow programming if you want to add code).
  • Assistments: Authoring Tool. Free sign-up after approval. 
    • Allows authoring materials with both video, text, and multiple choice & free responses questions.
    • Allows scoring of responses, targeted feedback, and adaptive learning & sequencing of interactions.
    • Can provide your materials to students who sign up, and view their data.
    • Can view a database of existing exercises, can easily share materials you create with collaborators who sign up to do authoring, make copies of them to edit, and then re-share.
    • Created by Neil Heffernan, computer science researcher.
  • Zaption: Authoring Tool. Instant signup is free for 30 days.
    • Allows authoring materials with both video, text, and multiple choice, free response, and discussion/forum questions. 
    • Can easily pull in and "crop" or "edit" video from youtube and other libraries. 
    • Co-founded by Jim Stigler, a UCLA math education & psychology professor who led the TIMSS video studies.
  • Qualtrics: Authoring Tool. Free sign-up with limited features. Most universities have free accounts if you inquire. 
    • Designed for surveys, but extremely powerful for e-learning (and unlike many authoring tools, it is explicitly designed for university/corporate research – has easy-to-use functionality for data-collection, and data organization)
    • Allows authoring materials with both video, text, and multiple choice & free responses questions.
    • Allows scoring of responses, targeted feedback, and adaptive learning & sequencing of interactions.
    • Can provide your materials to anyone with the hyperlink (no sign up required), you can immediately view their data.
    • Can easily share materials you create with collaborators who have Qualtrics, allowing them make copies of them to edit, and then re-share.
    • Coding Customizability with CSS, Javascript, HTML, calls to external scripts.
    • Email mailer to contact participants.
  • WISE Web-Based-Inquiry in Science: Authoring Tool & some LMS functionality. 
    • Immediate free sign-up.
    • Has a navigation pane in between exercises/modules.
    • Allows authoring materials with both video, text, and multiple choice & free responses questions.
    • Allows scoring of responses.
    • Can provide your materials to students who sign up, and view their data.
    • Can view a database of existing exercises, can easily share materials you create with collaborators who sign up to do authoring, make copies of them to edit, and then re-share.
    • Created by Marcia Linn at UC Berkeley who directs the NSF TELS Technology Enhanced Learning in Science center, used mostly but not exclusively for Science Inquiry in K-12 classrooms, by over 7000 teachers and 60 000 students.
  • Oppia
  • Adaptations of Google Forms, Spreadsheets, and Google Apps Scripts (along with communities of educator users). [Free & any Google Account is already signed up.]
  • Adaptations of Google Sites, Google Docs and Google Groups for use in courses [Free & any Google Account is already signed up.]
  • The EdSurge EdTech Index is an extensive catalogue of many of the Ed-Tech products, events, companies in K-12 (and several in higher ed), and sections like their authoring tools suggest technology that can be used for K-12, higher education, corporate training, or just teaching another person everyday information.
  • The Software Expos and Demonstrations that are part of the E-Learning Guild (See DevLearn) and the American Society for Training & Development give a comprehensive overview of many of the platforms out there. Especially, they cover software that academics or people in the school-oriented K-12 community are less aware of.
  • Moodle [LMS, Authoring: Some, WYSIWYG & Coding: Okay, Free & Open-Source, Freemium hosting, Large Community & 2tor uses Commercial version]
  • thisCourse [LMS & Some Authoring, WYSIWYG, Web-based, Free. Developed at UCSD]

Further Information

EdSurge is a website that comes impressively close to aggregating all the Ed-Tech products, events, companies. In addition to a newsletter, they have an extensive wiki, and entries like their authoring tools are efficient overviews.
The Software Expos and Demonstrations that are part of the E-Learning Guild (See DevLearn) and the American Society for Training & Development give a comprehensive overview of many of the platforms out there. Especially, they cover software that academics or people in the school-oriented K-12 community are less aware of.

This article on Seven Top Authoring Tools is from 2011, but gives a flavor of what is there in the corporate training & workforce e learning space, and the author Joe Ganci writes and presents regularly at conferences on Rapid Authoring/Development Tools.

Using Existing Tools vs Developing from Scratch

Underusing these tools because of concerns with older generations of mediocre "off-the-shelf" solutions is especially risky for startups who invest heavily in programmers & development sufficient customer development and a proven business model, and because it inserts a barrier between educators and creators of educational content, and programmers who implement it.