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Innovative Learning Group Blog

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Memories… Reflecting on the History of E-Learning Authoring Tools

by Matt Kurtin November 1, 2013 09:42 AM

Wow, how times fly and technology changes! As an e-learning programmer and "tech enthusiast," I can't help but look back at the history of authoring tools and wonder where the future is taking us.

I recently read the Learning TRENDS #792 by Elliott Masie (@emasie), and he noted the contrast between the single-step upgrade to iOS7 and the 25-diskette upgrade to Windows '95. I know, exciting stuff! However, it got me reminiscing about some of the most important technology milestones that have impacted my career.

Major E-Learning Technology Milestones

  • HyperCard: It's amazing how much navigation functionality can be built by extending the idea of a "stack of virtual cards". Many of today's most recent authoring tools still leverage concepts that were present in HyperCard.
  • Authorware: This tool proved you don't have to have a degree in computer science to program e-learning. It was the predecessor of many other tools aimed at instructional designers. Interestingly, the "flowline" approach used in Authorware is fairly unique (perhaps reflecting a shift from procedural programming to event-driven object-oriented programming).
  • Mosaic: This browser was released as I was starting graduate school and shifting my focus from computer hardware to computer software. I'd been using tools such as FTP and gopher, and was amazed by the newfound power and usefulness of HTML. It took some time for web-based training to move from "just content presentation" to "engaging interactivity." I believe the distinction between these is often revisited by ISDs as they strive to create e-learning that truly produces business results.
  • FutureSplash Animator: This precursor to Flash had a huge impact on the transition from CD-ROM to the Internet. Scalable vector graphics were much better at conserving bandwidth than bitmaps and Flash ran great across multiple platforms. Though Flash is losing its luster during the move to mobile, there's no question that huge gains were made in e-learning authoring tools because of the ubiquity and reliability of the Flash platform.
  • SCORM: There's a lot of talk about when the Experience API (aka the TinCan API) will really take hold and surpass SCORM. Notably, the Experience API seems like it's adopted more quickly by authoring tool vendors than by learning management system vendors. Over time, it's expected to gain traction due to expanded support for mobile devices and better capability for tracking informal learning. SCORM standards (and also SCORM's predecessor, AICC standards) laid the groundwork for universally accepted e-learning standards. Without these, the authoring tool landscape would likely look considerably different.

 Today's Tools

Due to the amount of mobile programming these days, I mostly use Lectora®, Adobe® Captivate®, Articulate® Storyline, and HTML with mobile frameworks like Bootstrap.

I love their capabilities and ease of use, but I still look back on the old tools with considerable fondness. I won't forget their strengths as the world moves forward and technology hits new heights with phones that recognize fingerprints, smart watches, and augmented reality glasses. Only time will tell which of these advancements will have staying power and still be around, in some form, in 20 years.

What are your favorite e-learning technology milestones? What do you think are the most important advancements happening right now in e-learning technology? I'd love to hear your thoughts.