In this article, we’ll explore the complex relationship between eLearning courses and the Intellum Platform. This includes some of the common types of issues that may arise, as well as steps one can take to avoid such issues, solve the pesky ones that creep up, and future-proof content that’s developed internally.
Course Authoring Tools
The creation and delivery of eLearning is a more complicated effort than most people realize. The ubiquity of rapid development eLearning tools (e.g., Articulate 360, Adobe Captivate, Camtasia Studio, Evolve, etc.) makes it easy to create professional-looking eLearning courses. Unfortunately, because of the functionality of these rapid development tools, a lot of what used to be accessible to the course author through the tool’s user interface is now hidden “behind the scenes.” Also, the means by which a course “talks” back to the platform is a very complicated business. There are technical guidelines to help ease this burden. However, these guidelines evolve, are somewhat open to interpretation, and, as mentioned earlier, are not visible to the course author.
Why is this communication process so challenging? Consider this example: If 5,000 learners wish to take a course – that means 5,000 individual conversations must occur between each learner’s browser and the platform. This poses a number of challenges such as browser compatibility issues, potential security vulnerabilities, and general problems with functionality. It’s not surprising that things can go wrong as course statuses may not be easily report, or may be getting reported incorrectly. Perhaps the course isn’t behaving as expected. Or, some people are encountering technical issues. Why is this happening? Furthermore, is there anything you can do about it??
To answer the first question, let’s explore the relationship between an eLearning course and the Intellum Platform by using an analogy.
The Best Metaphor I’ve Got
To think about how courses interact with the platform, we can use the relationship between roads and cars. Roads are built and maintained by local, state and federal governments. They are constructed of different materials (dirt/gravel/tar/concrete), have somewhat consistent signage (at least at the federal level), and support the driving of many different types of vehicles (automobiles, trucks, motorcycles, etc.). Auto manufacturers build cars that come in many different sizes and shapes, run on different types of fuel (unleaded/diesel/hybrid/electric) and can be driven on the majority of existing roads. However, incompatibilities can and do exist.
For example, if a car is broken down, or if it’s in an accident and isn’t drivable anymore, then the “road/car” relationship has failed. Likewise, if somebody builds a car that isn’t street legal (like a flying car or the original Yugo), then that is an incompatibility as well. Therefore, just because a road exists, it doesn’t necessarily mean that every vehicle will be able to drive on it.
However, we know that the vast majority of cars are able to run fine on most roads. And that’s analogous to courses created by authoring tools – the majority of eLearning courses created by the most popular authoring tools work fine on most LMS platforms. However, it’s important to understand that incompatibilities can exist, and most of the time the incompatibility exists on the car, or eLearning course, side.
Courseware Specifications - Yuck!
With that out of the way, it’s important to know that the vast majority of courses uploaded to the Intellum Platform will conform to the SCORM 1.2 specification. Ok, so what about AICC? If you have purchased content from a third-party, like Skillsoft for example, then you will most likely be uploading AICC files to Exceed that point to course content on the vendor’s server. Regardless, whether you’re using SCORM 1.2 or AICC course files, the issues we discuss in this document will apply.
Development/Delivery Challenges and How to Overcome Them
From a technical standpoint, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure the quality of your courseware is compatible with Exceed:
Use an industry-standard authoring tool - If you are building your own courses and want to ensure SCORM compatibility with Exceed, you will want to use the most recent version of one of the leading industry-standard tools available. Intellum highly recommends the following tools, each of which has been proven to “play nice” with the Intellum Platform (when used correctly, that is):
- Evolve - a pure HTML5 tool that creates great-looking, web-based training
- Articulate 360 - a suite of tools, from the simple, Powerpoint plug-in Studio, to the more advanced tool Storyline, to the pure HTML5 tool Rise.
- Camtasia Studio - if screencasts and videos are your thing, you need to check this one out.
Avoid obsolete technologies or ones that are deprecated – Flash used to be a popular technology to use in courseware. However, since Apple doesn’t support it, neither should you. Both Chrome and Firefox browsers have begun deprecating the use of Flash, and Adobe (the makers of Flash) have announced that they will completely end support of it in 2019! Instead, almost all popular authoring tools support HTML5, which works on all browsers and devices. Using an authoring tool that publishes output to native HTML5 is the single best step you can take to future-proofing your courses. And speaking of browsers, Chrome and Firefox offer the least headaches. If you must use a Microsoft browser, know that they’ve ended support for all versions of IE prior to IE11. If you are using IE10 or earlier, please make sure you upgrade as soon as possible (Articulate even warns of using Microsoft Edge with their older tools, and just try googling “IE11 SCORM issues”).
Use the correct publishing options from your Authoring Tool - most authoring tools give you the choice of reporting task? completion back to the platform via the number of page views on the file or in the form of a score obtained through an embedded quiz. It’s best to never select both methods of course completion since that could cause conflicting status updates based on the reporting statuses that the authoring tool offers. The typical reporting statuses are:
- Completed/Incomplete - Used for any unscored content where you are tracking completion based on slide views. If the minimum number of slides are viewed, then the user is marked as completed. If not, they are left as being in progress.
- Completed/Failed - Almost the same as Completed/Incomplete, except that if the user doesn't complete the content, they will be marked as Failed instead of "in progress." This option also reports only on completion status of the course with no score reported.
- Passed/Incomplete - Used for scored content (quiz) where you want the user to be left in progress if they do not achieve the minimum passing score. If the user achieves the minimum passing score, they are marked as completed/passed with score. If not, they remain in progress and no score is passed to the LMS, allowing them to try again.
- Passed/Failed - Used primarily for things like compliance or certification activities where you want to record a failed status. If the user achieves the minimum passing score on a quiz, they are marked as completed/passed with their score in display. If they do not attain such a score, they are marked as completed/failed with their score. This is especially useful if you want to limit the number of attempts on a learning activity for the purpose of assigning remedial training (in case someone fails).
Test, test, and test the course again in Exceed after it is uploaded! – Log in as a student, enroll in the course and launch it. Confirm that it tracks the course status correctly (e.g., Started vs. Passed vs. Complete vs. Incomplete, etc.). Test again using different browsers and different OS’s, then test again in the office and/or at home. Don’t forget -- you have a Staging account that contains the perfect platform to test your online courses in.
If you encounter any issues, test on SCORM Cloud – SCORM Cloud allows you to test your SCORM course in a free sandbox environment. This site is run by Rustici software, who maintains the SCORM specifications for SCORM 1.2. If you’ve run into any problems with how your course(s) behave, test them in SCORM Cloud to get detailed information about any potential issues that can be fixed. If a course doesn’t work in SCORM Cloud, then there’s a problem with the course. This article has a great overview on how to use SCORM Cloud.
Make Me Dangerous - What Should I Ask a Courseware Vendor?
After reading this document, you may have come to the conclusion that you need to “level up” your authoring tool or tools, or just get into the game. If you’re still not sure which tool to purchase, or you’re newly in the market for one, here’s a list of questions to ask authoring tool vendors:
- Will students need a separately installed plug-in on their computer to run your courses?
- What information has actually been sent using SCORM 1.2 output?
- How are templates, interactions and themes created and maintained in the product? How flexible are they (in terms of logos, colors, font types, images, etc.)? Does the tool come with pre-built themes, page types, and interactions?
- How active is the user community supporting the product?
- Can we move licenses between authors simply and easily?
- What browsers does your output support?
- Will the published content work effectively in a low bandwidth environment?
- Is published content suitable for all devices or do we need to select a target device when we publish?
- Is the published output responsive and can I see it on a mobile/tablet/laptop/desktop?
- How long does it take to publish and maintain courses?
- How easy is it to localize courses for overseas markets?
- Can you provide course samples?
- How much does the tool cost (subscription or one-time fee)?
While some courseware issues may indeed be tricky or complex to troubleshoot, there are a number of common problems which are “solvable” through the use of some fairly straightforward forensics. If you are building your courses via one of the popular authoring tools, once you master its use (especially the publishing settings), you’ll be able to produce courseware that communicates well with Exceed, providing value to your audience.