Navigating The Corporate eLearning Marketplace: Content Authoring (Part 1)

All About Learning Content Management Systems
Summary: Selecting a cost-effective training solution for your company can be a daunting task. This series of four articles is designed to make that process easier by helping you identify the features you need and the routes you can take to achieve that goal.

Content Authoring

A content authoring tool is software, locally or in the cloud, that allows a user with no programming experience to create, manipulate, and package multimedia content. These tools have various applications, however, in the context of eLearning they allow users to create files commonly uploaded as courses to other systems (e.g., LMSs or Learning Content Management Systems (LCMSs). (LCMSs are discussed at the end of this article.) Most courses produced by content authoring tools are compatible with mobile devices, however, some may only be viewable through an LMS, a phone’s web browser, or only on certain screen sizes. The importance of mobile compatibility is crucial as “mLearning (learning via a mobile device) is becoming the dominant paradigm for delivering eLearning. [1]"

Some of the features available in content authoring tools may include: assessments, gamification, video editing, screen recording, web conferencing, stock photo libraries, branding, course templates, document format converters (e.g., Powerpoint to SCORM), simulations, Virtual Reality (VR) environments, intelligent tutoring systems (ITS), and other interactive elements (e.g., drag and drop, buttons, markers, pop-ups, and sliders). It is important to note that some of these features (e.g., simulations, ITSs, and VR environments) may require some programming.

The functionality, ease of use, and appearance of authoring tools vary greatly from vendor to vendor. And while all of these factors play a role in selecting a solution, the selection criteria should be dependent on the use case. If you’re uncertain about the level of functionality your company needs, it may be helpful to know that one survey found “users generally prefer power [or functionality] (58.8%) over ease of use (36.6%)[1]."

If your company decides to build its own platform by choosing to piece together various types of eLearning technology, and your company also requires that your training is tracked, recorded, and auditable, then you will need to select a content authoring tool that can save and export your content into an AICC, SCORM, xAPI, or CMI-5 format.

In order to better understand what content authoring is, it will be helpful to know what it is not. Content authoring tools are not LMSs, analytic engines, or cloud computing infrastructures (although they can host some content). They do not have a method to deliver content to trainees. They do not have the ability to create and manage trainee profiles, which also means trainee activity cannot be tracked, stored, or reported on. They do not have curricula, pre-requisite validation methods, and auditable course certifications.

Learning Content Management System (LCMS)

LCMSs manage the content produced by authoring tools. This management includes: establishing a repository for courses, providing course templates, allowing for the creation of new templates, and providing a cloud-based collaboration environment.

LCMSs can also create and store learning objects. Learning objects are micro lessons usually comprised of three parts: a learning goal, necessary content for one to achieve that goal, and an evaluation of whether that goal was achieved. Learning objects can be reused and assembled in different ways to create new courses. They can also be used to create personalized courses based upon a trainee’s needs, preferences, and course activity.

Learning objects, however, require "a great deal of foresight, planning, and skill” to design effectively [2]. If they are poorly designed, they can leave out crucial information and/or cause confusion. And even when learning objects are designed effectively, they may not be sufficient for particular use-cases. For example, some regulatory requirements require content to be presented in a particular order; using learning objects to create personalized courses may not meet this requirement.

Personalized courses, based upon trainee activity, require LCMSs to either integrate an LMS or adopt certain features of an LMS and an analytic engine, namely: the delivery of content and the tracking and reporting of trainee activity.

An LCMS with delivery, tracking, and reporting capabilities can be categorized as a training solution; however, if it has not been integrated with an LMS, it is likely to lack certain LMS functionality. Some of the lacking LMS functionality in LCMSs may include: many of the “course administration and management features” (e.g., learning profile management, “registration, prerequisite screening, cancellation notification[s],” scheduling, progress mapping, and certifications), blended learning (e.g., mixing of synchronous and asynchronous learning and the ability to integrate other systems (e.g., HR, CRM, and ERP systems).

If an LCMS has tracking and reporting abilities it also requires the integration of an analytic: repository, engine, and dashboard. If the SCORM communication standard is used, then the analytic software is sometimes part of an LMS, however, if the xAPI standard is used it requires the addition of analytic software outside of the LMS. Many LCMS solutions have already performed these integrations. I mention them here, however, so that an understanding of the source of a system’s functionality may be obtained, which will allow for a more easy comparison of solutions.

From 2013 to 2016, the use of LCMSs in the corporate sector declined by more than half. There are many potential reasons for this. First, “the level of effort (LOE) for administration is higher [than LMSs] given the greater number of individual learning objects that need to be configured, version controlled, etc. [1]" Second, the implementation process requires reengineering of the organization culture to make use of the learning object model (i.e., the process of a single source returning multiple outputs. Third, an LCMS can be more costly, than a comparable LMS, if the LCMS’s capabilities are not utilized effectively. And fourth, “content generation is becoming ubiquitous [1]. " A user can now create and share instructional videos via a smartphone, which in many use cases can “outweigh [the] advantages of being able to author and manipulate video-based LOs [i.e., learning objects] in [a] LCMS [1]."

LCMSs and LMSs are both content management systems (CMS). The main difference between them is what they manage. LCMSs manage course content and LMSs manage learning events and users.

Please leave a comment below or reach out to the author for source citations. This article is Part 1 of a four-part series, read Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4


[1] Choosing Series

[2] LMS and LCMS: What's the Difference?