The future of digital learning development is in the cloud

The future of digital learning main

Most design and development of digital learning is collaborative, even if it’s just an individual subject matter expert working with a rapid development tool; you would still expect a peer and potential learners to be checking the learning experience at some stage during the development process. Cloud based digital learning tools are the perfect way to enable collaboration.

Cloud based digital learning tools are not new. Systems such as SHIFT, Elucidat, Gomo and Sprout Labs’ internal development tool, Glasshouse, have been around for a while. With the release of Articulate Rise it feels like cloud authoring has become mainstream.

I'm starting to see that digital learning is splitting into two streams: the group of technologies and practices that come from a ‘slide-based approach’, and the ‘web-page world’. While the slide-based approach is dominated by voiceovers and linear navigation, the web-page approach is based on scrolling pages like the rest of the internet.

With the web-page approach, learners are free to navigate. It is easier to make responsive and mobile-friendly resources. Digital learning development is moving closer to web design. Most web content is now being authored in content management systems, not with desktop applications. Working in the cloud is a natural, logical way to develop web content and digital learning.  

In the past, I've written about why we built our own authoring system, Glasshouse. One of the main reasons was so that when we build a resource we can give a client editing access with minimal involvement from us. They don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a licence for Articulate Storyline or come back to us about small changes.

Cloud based elearning authoring comes with many pros, and also some cons.


The pros of cloud based elearning authoring

Multiple people can work on a module at once

With desktop authoring, only one person can work on an actual file. Most cloud based authoring systems allow more than one person to work on a module at the same time. This rapidly increases the speed at which resources can be built. Also, version control is not a problem because everyone is working on the same version.

Cloud based authoring is faster

When you make a change it is instantly updated. If the cloud based authoring system is connected to your learning management system using something like the Learning Tools Technologies (LTI) standard then the change is live, instantly. The process of downloading and uploading SCORM files is not needed.

All your digital learning modules are in a central shared location

Most organisations have multiple people authoring content. We have seen times when source files get lost, resulting in expensive and time consuming rebuilds. With a cloud based system, all your learning assets are in a central shared location from the outset.

Review processes are easier

Most cloud based authoring systems have a built-in review system that makes it faster and easier to comment on the learning experiences and track the changes that are needed during the review. These systems are fast and easy to use.

commenting tool

At Sprout Labs, when we don’t use these comment tools we find it hard to find the exact place in the resource reviewers are talking about. The whole process is generally slower.

Working with remote clients, partners and teams is supported

Sprout Labs has ended up being a team of remote individuals, even if we didn’t plan it that way. Working with a cloud based authoring system is easier for our remote people than working with a remote file server. Most of our clients are remote as well, and cloud based authoring makes the collaboration process a lot easier.

Your visual and media assets are in a central repository

Your assets – images and videos – are instantly shared with other team members. When a change needs to be made to an icon this rapidly flows through to the rest of the site. If the site has multiple modules these are instantly updated.

Consistent visual styling of resources is easier

Cloud based systems mean you can set up visual styles that then flow across the rest of the resource. One frustration with Articulate Rise is that it doesn't allow for much control of the visual look and feel of learning experiences. Controlling the visual look and feel with style sheets makes it easier to build larger programs. Sprout Labs has worked on a number of programs that are 40-plus modules – I don't think they would have been achievable in many instances had we been using a desktop authoring tool.

It's more collaborative

Instructional designers and subject matter experts can see the work in progress. It offers a more open and collaborative process than traditional desktop authoring. Agile project methodology is all about increasing collaboration, and cloud based authoring is a perfect way to achieve it.  


The cons of cloud based elearning authoring

Cloud based digital learning authoring isn't all perfect.

File management is harder

While having a central repository of assets is useful, managing hundreds of files in a web browser is not ideal. The process of having to upload files often slows down development. To solve this we are looking at ways we could access the file assets in Glasshouse through a remote shared folder.

Concerns about portability

With cloud, services clients are often concerned about portability. When you work with a desktop application you have the source files, which means it seems like the files are more accessible and portable. This is false security. I still have the Macromedia Director files from my PhD (circa 2002) but I can't actually open and run them in the current version of Adobe Director.

Browser-based interfaces are not always fast

Not having things like keyboard shortcut keys can slow down the user.

While cloud based authoring isn’t perfect, it is a growing trend in digital learning that is accelerating authoring and making it more collaborative.