Web-based course development tools are software programs that facilitate the creation of online instructional material. These tools have become increasingly important in recent years; advances in technology have made e-learning more popular, but have done so without a parallel rise in the technological proficiency of educators attempting to design online courses. The conveniences of many web-based course development tools remove this problem, and the many types of applications currently in use have broadened the range of functions available to designers. This entry will discuss the major online course development tool innovations that have occurred in the recent years, the types of tools that are in common use among developers today, and the ways in which these tools may be utilized.
Challenges of Online Instructional Development
Some years ago, e-learning was a new term for many people. Yet in recent years, distance education has changed dramatically from being non-technological to technology-supported and, finally, to technology-based. Numerous applications facilitating the development of e-learning now exist; estimates suggest that more than 250 commercial Learning Management Systems (LMS) are currently available (Carabaneanu, Trandafir, & Mierlus-Mazilu, 2006). Although the rapid development of technology has promoted the diversification of e-learning applications, it has also created new challenges for educators and instructional designers.
The lack of pedagogical consideration of early web-based instructional tools inspired much criticism of these products (Bonk & Dennen, 2003). Some scholars (Gregory & Glenda, 1998) point out that the educational experiences of most higher education instructors did not include discussions of learning theories, thus jeopardizing the effectiveness of the web-based lessons these instructors develop. Moreover, even if instructors are familiar with learning theories, they often lack the technological skills necessary to create effective web-based instructional materials (Chou & Tsai, 2002; Koehler, Mishr, Hershey, & Peruski, 2004). Caplan (2001) argues that an online course development team should have the ability to fill five major roles: subject matter expert, graphic designer, instructional designer, web developer, and programmer. The difficulty of addressing such new challenges gave rise to online course development tools, which helps instructors lacking technical expertise to create web-based courses.
Researchers recognize that instructors may have to expend significantly more time and effort to adapt their traditional classroom teaching styles to an online environment. Compared with traditional course instructors, online instructors must spend more time designing and developing new courses (Haugen, LaBarre, & Melrose, 2001), though they require less time to prepare for courses that have already been developed (Conceicao, 2006). DiBiase (2000) contends that the effectiveness and efficiency of an online course is related to “the amount, and the quality, of the instructional design and development effort that produced it” (p.19), thus emphasizing the need for more convenient e-learning development tools to facilitate this process.
In addition to the above challenges, those who wish to use these tools must consider whether systems produced by different vendors are compatible in terms of supporting web-based materials, and they must also be knowledgeable about the storage and accessibility of content in older formats.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Learning Management System: Learning management systems (LMS) are web-based software application platforms used for planning, delivering, and managing learning activities, as well as monitoring and assessing learning performance within an organization. LMS also allows instructors to use a variety of communication methods such as synchronous and asynchronous discussions.
Learning Object: A learning object is any reusable standardized digital educational resource that can be readily adapted and reused to suit a single instructional objective in a variety of contexts. There is no specific form for learning objects; they can be based on an electronic text, graphic image, animated movie, or other resource.
Multimedia Authoring Application: Multimedia authoring applications are software packages that allow users to present interactive information through different media. They usually allow the integration of diverse elements such as text, audio, video, and animated graphics, as well as the distribution of these elements in a variety of formats.
Learning Object Metadata: Learning object metadata (LOM) provide brief information regarding the content of each learning object. LOM descriptive information includes content, ownership, expense, technical requirements, and educational objectives, and helps individuals retrieve, reuse and collect learning objects to form lessons and courses.
HTML Editor: HTML editors allow users to create web sites easily and quickly. There are two common forms of HTML editors: text and WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). Text editors offer users a convenient way to code web pages. WYSIWYG editing tools, however, generate HTML code automatically as users edit web pages.
Rapid e-Learning Software: Rapid e-learning software requires little programming knowledge and allows users to design instructional materials in a short amount of time. Examples of these applications include screencasting tools, PowerPoint converters, and template-based programs.
SCORM: Sharable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM) serves as a model for producing small and reusable learning objects for online courses. It validates the incorporation of specifications in different contexts. After mature specifications have been tested, official standard-setting bodies such as IEEE will accredit those standards.