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Most developers agree that e-learning product should conform to the standards of the web - HTML, JavaScript, perhaps a little Flash or Java - and not require users to download enormous plug-ins just so they can view the output of legacy authoring systems. On the other hand, not all e-learning developers have access to programming support and will not want to be restricted to simple HTML. They need something more than generalist web tools.

A number of new, specialist e-learning authoring tools have arrived to fill the space. Each provides the functionality of a full-blown authoring system, yet delivers its output as standard web files. Several of these have attracted a strong reputation, not least Trainersoft, with more than 4000 users.

So as not to be left behind, Click2Learn has adapted Toolbook, so authors now have the option of outputting directly to HTML and JavaScript. Unfortunately, similar functionality is not available for Authorware or Director.

And, of course, with the enormous projected growth of e-learning, there will be many new entrants to the market, exploiting new technologies and new approaches to development. Amongst these is Edugen, from Webtechx, which is based on XML, to provide platform independence and the flexible deployment of a learning object-based approach.

Specialist e-learning authoring systems do have their advantages. They should protect the developer from the need for specialist programming expertise. They should make it easy for the developer to employ a wide range of interactive techniques and to have their content communicate with a learning management system. If there is a price to pay, it is some loss of flexibility: the easier the tool is to use, the less you can do with it. But given that the real worth of e-learning content is in the design and the writing and not the bells and whistles, many developers will be prepared to sacrifice a little flexibility if it means a sensible budget and timetable.


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