Yesterday I listened to @jkunrein
's Authoring Tools
talk on the RelateCasts
youtube channel. But that's not really what this post is about. Listening to the tools discussion got me to thinking about who uses the tools. Most of the tools she discussed are used to develop elearning. But even that got me thinking more about who.
You go back a few years and I was all about tools: most of the Adobe Creative Suite, Apple Final Cut Pro and others. But around 2008 I got focused more the instructional design side of things and less on development. My primary authoring tool morphed from Adobe Flash to MS Word. Where I'd once used Flash and its programming language ActionScript to create immersive visual learning experiences I transitioned to Word as a storyboarding, storytelling and communication tool.
In the corporate learning and development environment, where I spent many years, it's about designing courses and learning experiences for class sizes on one: an individual learner sitting in front of an employer provided PC. Serving class sizes of 1 it makes sense to go right to the authoring tool and use rapid design to get the job done quickly.
In academia, designing interactive distance education is an entirely different thing in terms of approach and learner experience. Where in the corporate learning environment a learner reads, clicks or drags what they see on their computer screen in higher-education it's more about what a group of students will be doing together: Read the syllabus. Read this week's lesson. Now get up out of your chair and do it. Then discuss it online with your peers whilst the instructor facilitates.
Most of the instructional designers I've met since 2008 are Word (or other word processing tools) users. It's rare that I've encountered an instructional designer that touches HTML5 or uses Flash, Hype, Lectora, Edge or similar applications. I think it comes down to the target population the instructional designer serves.
In my present instructional design role it's a bit of mash-up, tools and learning experience-wise. The distance education platform is simple. My peers and I create content almost exclusively in Word. We storyboard in Word. We prototype in Word. We accept content from subject matter experts in Word. This is definitely not what I learned distance education production was like when I completed ASTD's Rapid eLearning Design workshop some years back.
So what's the point of all this? Sure, authoring tools are important. They're part of what first comes to mind when one thinks of educational technology. But what I think they really are, at least in so far as how @jkunrein was talking about them, is multimedia/web design tools that can be used to produce content and online learning experiences.
My favorite authoring tool of the last few years is the No. 2 pencil. It's an amazing example of educational technology. I think we as educators tend to take it for granted at times. And don't get me started about all the sticky notes I use: Writing concise notes in such a small space helps me focus on what's important. I guess I'd say the pencil and sticky notes are the Twitter of an earlier age.
If you're an educator, instructional designer or in some other role and interested in educational technology I think it's important that you have a clear idea on who you are designing for. This more than anything else determines what you'll be using to create with.
One more thing: One piece of ed-tech I hope to learn more about this year is the TinCan API. I basically know only one thing about it so far: It's not an LMS (Learning Management System). It's going to be challenging figuring out what it is and how I can use it since it's not something I'd use at work. I'm thinking my personal learning network, basically the people I follow on Twitter and whose blogs I read, will help get me where I think I need to be.
In closing: I think educational technology leverages learning: our own and the learning of the people and organizations we support. Set up your personal learning network, pick something to learn and share your experiences along the way.