The Software Evolution for Bespoke E-learning Solutions

When I first started in the e-Learning industry, back when the earth was all volcanic and stegosaurus wandered around, we used a bit of software from Macromedia called Authorware, or as we used to refer to it as ‘Awfulware’, it was hard to learn, hard to navigate, looked and performed terribly for the end learner and was an overall negative experience.

But this was the thing; it was hard to learn, and it was a challenge to make a clunky bit of software look appealing for the learner. We made it work, though, to a certain point. Bespoke e-learning has come a long way since the mid to late 1990’s when software was being developed specifically for bespoke e-learning solutions. This was at a time before Flash was king, before ActionScript and before JavaScript.

 Awfulware is Done!

Thankfully, as I was finishing my masters in E-Learning and digital education Authorware was on its way out and Flash was showing its true potential. I remember spending hours learning Actionscript 2.0 and 3 when it was released and having dreams of creating amazing games like that of Orisinal, the combination of that style of illustration and sound blew me away. Go check it out!

Flash is King…For Now

When Flash finally took over it was like a breath of fresh air, it seemed to have endless potential especially with the powerful ActionScript language. I loved creating with Flash, I not only made e-learning courses but also games, and I really got into game making with Flash even creating some basic 3D games.

The main problem with Flash I remember is there were no real constraints in regards to screensize. CSS and the whole responsive design paradigm were in its infancy if around at all (correct me if I’m wrong) so it was a bit hit and miss as to what screensize we were targeting. Remember, monitors back then were all shapes and sizes with all different colour display capabilities, it was a difficult task but it was fun, because unlike Awfulware, we could do stuff and make that stuff flow and look great!

A Major Drawback

One major drawback to using Flash was it being a plugin. Initially this wasn’t an issue and people were more than happy to have plugins interacting with their machines. But slowly awareness was growing about the potential dangers this could lead to and after many years Flash started on its downward road to a faded death.

I used to love working with Flash, I was always amazed at the complexity of animations and motion graphics that could be developed. As Flash itself evolved more and more powerful tools emerged, onion skinning, shape tweens, interactive videos became possible and it was a real joy to use. It seemed like creating bespoke e-learning courses couldn’t get any better!

Silverlight, Hello and Goodbye!

Around the same time as Flash another competitor emerged on the scene, Microsoft Silverlight. It seemed Silverlight struggled from the very start and had an uphill journey given Flash’s popularity. Silverlight went away, somewhere….

Bespoke E-learning Solutions Have Arrived

One of the first ‘real’ authoring tools developed for bespoke e-learning was Lectora. For some reason, using this reminded me a lot of Authorware, personally, I just didn’t like it, it felt very restrictive in terms of creativity. Although Lectora does have its good points such as responsive development and native translation feature they are still limited and clunky feeling to use.

Building on Lectoras’ style came a flurry of tools, iSpring, Captivate, Elucidat and of course Storyline. Each of these has benefits and flaws the other does and doesn’t have. Each have different prices and have different update schedules and update plans.

So, What’s Next?

E-Learning tools have come a long way since the ‘tech boom’ of the late 1990’s. With the growing power and popularity of tools such as JavaScript and native HTML5 tools such as Websockets and CSS it will be interesting to see where we go as an E-learning industry.

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You can also get a download of Authoware 7 here, to see how bad it was!

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