Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My Favorite e-Learning Development tools

I get asked this question all the time, "What e-Learning tools do you use to develop your pieces?" So it's time to countdown my top 10 favorite tools!

1. Adobe Captivate 4

I've been working with Captivate since it was originally FlashCam (that's a long time ago). As it's grown and evolved from a simple tool to a full-fledged e-Learning authoring tool, it's hard not to love its Flash output, ease of use and growing power and capability. In the old days it was buggy and not good for large projects. Today? It's my tool of choice. Captivate is also the most used tool in the industry with over 250,000 licenses in the corporate and government use.  It is also heavily used in colleges around the world.

2. Adobe Photoshop CS4

I can't think of any tool I spend more time in to create, edit and publish content.  Aside from being near magical in nature, Photoshop provides an incredibly productive work environment and tool set.  While we use Adobe Fireworks occasionally, Photoshop is my number one choice for image processing. And with Adobe's new eLearning Suite, the integration between Photoshop and Captivate really speeds up development time. Two thumbs up and then some!

3. Adobe Flash CS4

Flash is another extremely useful tool. Easy to learn? No, it has a steep learning curve to get good with it. But, it is extremely powerful and when you start adding ActionScript to your pieces, the power is literally unlimitted. While I'm not a Flash expert, I know it well enough to be dangerous and yet do some pretty cool things with it. To learn Flash, I would recommend you take the Lynda.comhttp://www.lynda.com courses. They have the best training in the industry for Flash.

4. SwishMax 3

And you thought there would only be Adobe products here... Nope, the right tool for the right job. SwishMax 3 is a Flash development tool that combines ease of use with power. Our good friends from Australia at Swishzone.com have done an extraordinary job of creating a great tool that outputs Flash SWF and AVI files. I use SwishMax for many of the animations I use in Adobe Captivate and other tools.  In fact, take a look at our website and all the banner pages and animations were done using SwishMax 3: RELATE,com, Swish Max 3 has a full ActionScript-like programming language that is easier than Flash for the non-technical types.

5. SnagIt 9

This almost made the number one position! SnagIt is simply the best screen capture and documentation tool available on the market. It's fast, works well, not buggy and outperforms whatever is asked of it. Not only do we use it for many of our Captivate projects to capture screens remotely from while in collaboration sessions with clients, it also has great features for documentation, graphics, call-outs, etc. We use this heavily with our Microsoft Word instructional design templates.  A great tool from TechSmith.com.

6. Sony Vegas Pro 9

I have been a Vegas user since Sound Forge released the first version. It is the most object-oriented, fastest, most stable and most powerful video editing tool on the market. Sure, the Final Cut Pro and Avid guys will argue that, but they'd be wrong. :)   We can edit video with Vegas faster than just about anything out there and with no compromise on power. Things that took us three weeks in FCP took us 3-4 days in Vegas. That's a huge time-saver. We use Vegas to render out our AVI, MPG-2 or QuickTime files and then off to Sorenson Squeeze for final processing into FLV and h264...

7. Sorenson Squeeze Pro 5

Sorenson makes the best video compression software in the industry. It literally has no equals! The air is nice and fresh in Utah and these engineers have put together a great package with just about every kind of video conversion format you could want. We use Squeeze for our Captivating! podcast to convert our AVIs into FLVs for YouTube and h264 for iTunes. The files are small, pristine and very sharp.  An invaluable tool well worth the hefty price.

8. Adobe Audition 3

There is no excuse for having bad sound in your pieces nowadays. Technology and costs have gone down and the days of highly compressed and distorted audio are over. Adobe Audition 3 is a great sound recording, editing and multi-track digital audio workstation software. I use Audition 3 and it's great set of audio effects to record, either single or multi-track, and process our audio for e-Learning, videos, podcasts and Marketing. There are many good digital audio tools, but this is one of the best!

9. Sony Sound Forge 10

"Wait a minute!" you say. "Didn't you just say Adobe Audition 3 was the best?" That I did. And Audition 3 is what we use to record and process. But editing voice-overs is unparalled with Sony Sound Forge 10! Sound Forge has the leanest, easiest and most powerful system of markers, regions and editing out there. Editing narration is a snap and the batch converter that's included is divine. We record with Audition 3 and we edit with Sound Forge 10. It's a great workflow and it works for us. Now you can record quite well in Sound Forge 10 as well, but I like the ability to the see wave form as I'm recording and that makes Audition 3 better... If you do a lot of audio like us, both are needed!

10. Adobe eLearning Suite

This could have been number one because many of the products we use are in this suite. And what a suite it is!!!!!

The eLearningSuite pretty much has everything you need to create high impact, compelling, professional and powerful e-Learning. The integration between the tools is superb and the time savings... well, ENORMOUS!!!

With Captivate as it's hub, integration with Photoshop, Bridge, Dreamweaver, Flash, SoundBooth, Device Central, etc. just makes life a lot better. I have it installed on my machine and use it daily. At first I thought this was a bad idea of a product. But now? I LOVE IT!!!

Honorable Mentions

Following is a list of other tools we use that didn't make the top 10:

  1. Trivantis Lectora Professional 2009. Powerful development environment that is easy to use. If only it output to Flash...
  2. TechSmith Camtasia Studio 6. A major part of our podcasting and a great screen recorder and editing software.
  3. Bluff Titler from OuterSpaceSoftware.com. This $50 program is magic!!! It is a simple version of AfterEffects with an amazing amount of power. We use this often to create great effects and sequences for our videos and eLearning. And $50!!!!!
  4. Microsoft Office PowerPoint and Word. We use these all the time. They work well and are great for writing and animations.
  5. Adobe Presenter 7. Part of the eLearning Suite or standalone, a great tool for creating compelling training in Flash from your PowerPoint content.
  6. Adobe Connect Pro. The best collaboration tool in the industry. Maybe it doesn't have the best screen sharing on earch (we'll see if it's better in the new version out in a couple of weeks), but it has more features and functionality than the competition without sacrificing ease of use.

There you have them, my top 10 choices for software development tools used in eLearning.  We use other tools as well but these are the main ones. In future blogs I'll discuss some of our workflows and provide examples to you.

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