When it comes to producing rich, interactive eLearning there are many authoring tools to choose from. We sat down with Christopher Allen, ZebraZapps Product Manager, to discuss cloud-based authoring tools, the importance of meeting customer needs, and why ZebraZapps was named of one of the top training tools.
What was the inspiration for developing ZebraZapps?
Over thirty years ago, Michael Allen and a brilliant team of software engineers and educators began work leading to the introduction of Authorware, a system to enable instructional designers and nonprogrammers to build a wide range of interactive multimedia applications. Authorware became the world’s most popular authoring system. Unfortunately, new owners of Authorware discontinued development. The loss of Authorware, even in the face of a plethora of tools available today, leaves a gap in the market, where one needs to either be a software coder or accept limited instructional strategies from less capable tools.
We felt it was time to start fresh with even greater aspirations—not only enabling everyone to create and share powerful interactive multimedia, but also to help each other through the exchange of reusable objects. From creative exploration, amazing capabilities, and outstanding productivity comparisons, ZebraZapps was born.
There is an element of learning involved for new users from instructional videos to webinars. How important was it to include this service to your users?
Our number one priority for user support is effective training and guidance. We continuously add to our library of online training videos, webinar classes, and self-paced instruction. Our customer support team always works to ease the challenges new users face with a new and different system or tool.
We believe that one of the most important elements to learning ZebraZapps is getting an opportunity to see new and inspiring ways of transforming common content into something truly interactive and engaging.
So our webinars give new authors the opportunity to build along and ask questions while learning new techniques. These experiences are followed by our brainteasers, which are short inspiring interactions that swizzle the new concepts covered in the webinars. Brainteasers challenge authors to apply their newly learned concepts in a completely different way.
Who is your typical customer and how are they using ZebraZapps?
Our users run the gamut. The range includes independent instructional designers and media artists, to advanced engineers and entire training departments. One thing is for certain: our users want a powerful and professional tool to build highly interactive and engaging learning events. Right for their learners; right for the content. They want to create eLearning that leaves their learners with a long-lasting impression, that truly motivates them, and makes for high-impact business results.
What was the decision behind releasing the Professional Plus version?
Pro Plus meets several of our customers’ needs. First, Pro Plus provides users with the ability to deploy ZebraZapps applications locally or on their own servers. Pro Plus authors can also deploy applications using ZebraZapps servers, using the 1,000 learner storage data accounts, which are part of the Pro Plus package.
Beyond new publishing and delivery options, Pro Plus comes with premium support and a hands-on training class for authors to get started building serious eLearning applications.
ZebraZapps offers ease of use and quick turnaround time; and removes the necessity of knowing how to code. Do you believe the role of instructional designers will change in response to the proliferation and popularity of authoring tools?
Not all tools are alike. For too long now, authoring tool design has been focused on creating efficiencies for the designer and not on meeting the needs of the learner. Rapid development tools on the market today are so concerned about building simple quizzes and page-turning eLearning faster and faster, design flexibility has fallen behind…if it’s there at all.
Learning effectiveness derives largely from replicating real performance contexts as authentically as possible. Contexts are content/performance-specific, but many tools force designers into selecting from a palette of context-neutral templates, rather than enabling the design and implementation of what’s really needed. Rapid authoring tools see the role of instructional designers reduced to selecting context-insensitive templates.
Instructional designers need a platform like ZebraZapps where they can practice their craft and derive the greatest benefits from each instructional event. We think designers should demand more of their tools and expect more for their learners. If they don’t, the tools will determine the role of the instructional designer and force unfortunate compromises.
How do you respond to critics who say products such as ZebraZapps unfairly dismiss the skills of learning experts?
We agree that many tools do this. That’s a primary reason we felt an obligation to develop ZebraZapps. ZebraZapps is different. It is a tool for learning experts. It’s a tool we found ourselves longing for. We built it, in fact, to meet the demanding requirements of our own eLearning design and development studios. ZebraZapps empowers learning experts to create effective experiences that motivate learners, provide authentic learning experiences, and spark performance improvement. ZebraZapps is a tool for organizations who want to create lasting learning experiences that keep students engaged from start to finish.
ZebraZapps was recently named one of TrainingIndustry.com’s “2013 Top 20 Authoring Tools”. Do you see this as a moment of validation in a crowded industry?
Absolutely. We were thrilled to be named to TrainingIndustry.com’s Top 20 Authoring Tools this year. It gives us motivation and reinforces our passion to make ZebraZapps a better tool every day.
I noticed many free and some not so free apps in Shopps. Can you describe how Shopps works and why was it important to create a marketplace, specifically from the end user’s perspective?
Our Shopps provide a number of revolutionary opportunities:
First, great learning resources are often land-locked inside an organization, because it’s hard to share something stored on an internal LMS. The Shopps make public access easy and are also meant to provide an inspiring place for learning professionals to have a real conversation about content, design, and interactivity.
Second, the Shopps provide a commercial repository for off-the-shelf learning, where individuals and corporations have equal opportunities to sell their wares, receive feedback, and be financially rewarded for their contributions. ZebraZapps provides the e-commerce engine, and authors collect the check. No muss. No fuss.
Finally, authors can also buy and sell reusable objects or “gadgets” they have created in ZebraZapps. Gadgets create development efficiencies by allowing others to simply drag and drop cool interactivity, artwork, and media straight into their applications/courses and publish. Many share their gadgets without charge, but the e-commerce engine is also available for gadgets and allows fee collection to reward the helpful work of others.
Although cloud computing is clearly the way of the future, some users are still skeptical about the security of the cloud. Can a ZebraZapps user download their files instead of solely relying on system backups?
Yes. With the release of Pro Plus, authors now have the ability to download their courses for use offline, on their own servers, or LMS. No problem.
As the product continues to iterate, what are your plans for launching the HTML5 output?
We are focusing our engineering cross-platform efforts on allowing authors to develop once and publish everywhere, natively (iOS and Android) and through a browser (HTML5.)
Authors are typically faced with too many decisions in regard to mobile deployment: Do I host my content on existing servers? Do I require learners to download content to their devices on every access (html5)? Do I create and distribute native apps where learners download content once and store it locally?
With ZebraZapps authors won’t be forced to compromise.
Let’s be honest, mobile is not going anywhere; has there been any discussion about future support for iOS and Android platforms?
Yes, there’s no doubt that mobility is enticing. From mainframe with hardwired terminals, to tele-connected workstations, to desktop computers, to laptops, to tablets, to pads, to phones, to watches, to…? What we’re sure of is that our ingenuity will lead us to new and effective ways to take advantage of technologies as they continue to be more accessible and more convenient.
We see some great successes with information retrieval, performance support, and social learning on mobile devices, but we also hope this is only the tip of the iceberg. As Don Bitzer, creator of the famous PLATO learning system, said long ago, we have to build the capabilities before creative people can determine the subset of requirements.
So, at Allen Interactions, we’re building full functionality into ZebraZapps cross-platform mobility. Designers will be able to experiment with a full range of powerful capabilities, tapping native device capabilities, native performance, and network interactivity. Although this is not a minor undertaking, impressive capabilities are already functional.
When can we expect to see these new rollouts?
We are not making release announcements until appropriate to do so, but it’s not too early to begin learning ZebraZapps to determine how you may want to use mobile access.