ACM Logo  An ACM Publication  |  CONTRIBUTE  |  FOLLOW    

Rapid e-Learning Polarizes Opinion

By Bob Little / October 2009

Print Email
Comments (19) Instapaper

Much to the disgruntlement of instructional designers and other e-learning specialists, rapid e-learning tools are offering in-house subject matter experts excellent opportunities to produce e-learning materials relatively quickly and cost-effectively—at least in the U.K. and U.S.

The e-learning experts complain that rapid development tools are helping e-learning amateurs to turn out low-quality and poorly-designed materials that merely pay lip service to the ideals of instructional design.

At a recent meeting of the eLearning Network—the U.K.'s foremost professional association for users and developers of e-learning—William Ward, formerly of Cable & Wireless but now an independent consultant, examined the rise of rapid e-learning, which he dates to 2003, when tools such as Qarbon, Breeze, and ToolBook became available. Ward stated that these rapid application tools had changed not only buying patterns within the industry, but also ideas about why and where to use e-learning.

In the U.K., today's rapid e-learning tools and tool exponents include Atlantic Link, Articulate, Mohive, Lectora, Adobe Connect, and Adobe Captivate, said Ward, while champions of the rapid application approach include not just Ward but also Kineo. Ward said that these rapid e-learning tools can be grouped into three broad areas:

Desktop: Lectora, Articulate (all costing, typically, less than $1,500 in the U.K.)
System: Qarbon, Camtasia Studio, Adobe
Server-based: Atlantic Link, Mohive

"Detractors of the 'DIY e-learning' approach accuse it of being PowerPoint on steroids. They say that there is no instructional design, no 'learning' and so it is no good," said Ward. "Rapid e-learning can be seen as somewhere near the bottom of the 'quality continuum'—with goal-based, scenario-driven e-learning towards the top."

He argued that, nonetheless, rapid e-learning has a valid part to play in corporate learning because rapid e-learning can produce fast and cheap e-learning materials, and it is only a matter of time before, with the development of web 2.0 and the blending of collaborative learning, we get "rapid scenario-based" e-learning.

There's no doubt that cheap and cheerful has a place in every industry, so why not in e-learning?

While purists sneer that e-learning produced via rapid tools may lack quality in terms of adhering to instructional design principles and may just be brain dumps by subject matters experts, if such e-learning materials improve workers' performance, who can criticize their place in the learning and development armoury?

This merely adds further pressure to the already beleaguered "traditional" bespoke e-learning content producers who are finding their cost structures increasingly outmoded in today's increasingly cost-conscious and expenditure-averse times.


  • Sun, 26 Sep 2010
    Post by Brian Wisnor

    Nicely done and much appreciated. Great launching point for further research. Thank you.

  • Fri, 17 Sep 2010
    Post by Linda Willis


    Thank you for an excellent article: informative, helpful, non-jargon-filled. It has simplified our search for a software solution. Like you, we are trying to adapt our instructor led content and were confused by the endless choices Google presented! Your article helped to clarify and simplify the components of an appropriate solution for our need!


  • Sat, 28 Aug 2010
    Post by abhi yadav

    Distance learning and its relationship to emerging computer technologies have together offered many promises to the field of education. In practice however, the combination often falls short of what it attempts to accomplish. Some of the shortcomings are due to problems with the technology; others have more to do with administration, instructional methods, or students. Despite the problems, many users like technologies such as compressed video and see continued growth in the area. This paper will examine some of the current research and thought on the promises, problems, and the future possibilities in modern distance learning, particularly types that are delivered via electronic means.

  • Tue, 22 Jun 2010
    Post by Richard

    Another option that was not in scope for this series of articles is one where the enterprise "rents" an LMS provider who also can provide development tools. In my former company we were charged a nominal fee--I think $25.00 per user--per year, and given access to all the storage and LMS features we needed. In addition, we were given access to various development tools--sorry, I forget which ones--that we could use to develop courseware whenever we wanted. There were no limitations on anything--time, storage, etc.--and after an initial set-up payment of a few thousand dollars, we had our own managed environment and complete 24/7/385 access for our people, who traveled constantly and were all over.

    For that enterprise, this was a much better investment than an LMS system, the HW and in-house support it required, plus the purchase of authoring tools. The vendor worked with us to set-up our site as our own, which was totally secure, and to set up the LMS and the course library. Since we dealt with 30+ technical vendors at any given time, courseware from their companies was also listed on the site, although students typically had to go to the vendor site and register, take the course, etc. It finally gave us one place where employees could find everything they needed rather than visiting vendor sites, coming into town for specific classes (although sometimes necessary for labs) and keeping up with their IEPs (individual education plans) themselves. Everything was in one place, and the cost was minimal.

    For a strictly academic setting this may not be the right choice, but it certainly worked for us.



  • Mon, 21 Jun 2010
    Post by Niel Dawson

    I am searching for resources that will help train my online instuctors for live webcast presentations. They are experienced a classroom presentations, but have no experience in providing live webcasts.

  • Thu, 17 Jun 2010
    Post by Sue Landay

    Please be aware that since the time of writing, iSpring's price has gone up to $499.00.

    It's still an amazing value!

  • Wed, 16 Jun 2010
    Post by Johanna Zitto CPT

    I participated in ASTD's Advanced e-Learning Certificate Program and these two resources were shared by classmates, besides Lectora and those you mentioned in the original article. Thanks for the article, Susan -- looking forward to the next one! Regards, Johanna

  • Tue, 15 Jun 2010
    Post by Barb

    I am new to e-learning even though e-learning has been around quite awhile. I've been introduced to Lectora and find it to be user friendly. I really appreciate the research you have done and anxiously await article #3.

    thanks, bab

  • Fri, 11 Jun 2010
    Post by Susan Landay

    Derek, thank you for your kind words. It certainly is a lot to get your arms around. Monica, I appreciate your comment about the Trivantis products. I did look into both Lectora and CourseMill, as I had heard great things about their product -- that it has robust features and is quite easy to use. Compared to many solutions, it is also considerably less expensive, but I still thought it might be a bit pricey for classroom trainers wanting to dip their toe into eLearning, which was my focus when writing. Their pricing looks something like this:

    Lectora Pro Suite is $2495.00 Lectora Publisher is $1595.00 CourseMill (their LMS-Learning Management System) is $14995.00

    Because the pricing was a bit high for my purposes, I did not look into the product as deeply as I might have. But because you asked my opinion, I will try to share my thoughts, which are based on a brief visit with them at a trade show, a phone call, and spending some time on their website. I find Trivantis to be a very professional tool, with a tremendous number of features. As I recall, they sell their product directly to end users as well as to other eLearning providers and resellers -- which tells me that it is a robust, sound system. Their website also shows that they offer a great deal of training and support, another indication that there's a lot you can do with the software, to make full use of all the features. As such, I think for many classroom trainers, who want to add a bit of eLearning to their repertoire, it would be overkill. For others, who see themselves putting together a number of online courses, I'm sure it would pay for itself very quickly.

    Hope this helps! Here's a link to their site:

  • Wed, 09 Jun 2010
    Post by Derek

    Thanks for the article as a teacher of business English I really need someone to explain all the geeky mumbo jumbo jargon, you have done great with 1st article, I can't wait for the next.

  • Wed, 09 Jun 2010
    Post by Monica

    I am surprised that Lectora by Trivantis wasn't listed as user friendly and affordable product. Have you looked into this product and if so, what is your opinion?

    Best, mj

  • Mon, 14 Dec 2009
    Post by Vivek Dodd

    There are good and bad rapid e-learning projects, just like there are good and bad conventional ones. Inmarkets builds bespoke courses, and we also offer a rapid e-learning platform - CC2, so I'm pretty unbiased when I say this. We use the same platform as our clients do, and when the in-house experts put in the effort they can achieve a similar quality of experience on CC2 as external consultants/designers. They make up for any deficiencies with the higher degree of relevancy they can bring to the modules. The bit they lack is visual design, although they are catching up with that too with tools like CC2 and Raptivity.

  • Tue, 08 Dec 2009
    Post by Lou Mang

    Having SME's produce content seems to me a far stretch unless the SME has some experience producing media. Maybe you could train them on using Captivate but as a Media Producer/Instructional Designer I know that there are production nuances/skills such as timing of animations, (professional)audio/video production and user interface issues that need to taken into consideration when producing eLearning. I'm not trying to be elitist about this its just that I've seen alot of poorly produced elearning. There are also issues of intergrating multiple file types(, etc)as well as Captivate, Articulate, Camtasia, etc. There are alot of considerations. I don't think you save time training SMEs to produce ReL. You'll end up spending much of your time as product support instead of putting your production/ID skills to work.

    Just a thought.

  • Wed, 04 Nov 2009
    Post by Greg Younger

    You inspired my weekly GCPLearning blog post with this question! Thank you! :o)

    Summary: SMEs with a will to teach can create richly applicable training materials. And expert learning designers with a will to learn the subject matter can create elegant and efficient training materials.

    Excellent points from the other posters in this thread about focusing on approach and purpose rather than on the tools. I think we're all on the same page about making blended and efficient use of the expertise (subject matter/pedagogical) and tools (REL/other) to make the best training we can.

    Cheers, -- Greg Younger

  • Mon, 02 Nov 2009
    Post by Guy Boulet

    As an instructional designer I've been involved in projects that used rapid e-learning tools and I must say that they were quite useful. The key is to use them smartly. What I do when using REL tools is that I sit with SMEs and together we define the learning objectives and pedagogical approach. They can then start develop their lessons using REL tools which I review from the pedagogical point of view. I can then suggest changes and improvements.

    I find this to be quite useful since I do not have to produce storyboards and supporting documents. So far, we've been quite successful since end-users have generally appreciated what was delivered.

    In the end, it's never about the tools you use but about the way you use them. Giving SMEs a bunch of REL applications won't make them learning experts. At some point, whatever te tools you use, you need a form of pedagogical review to ensure that you meet the objectives.

  • Fri, 30 Oct 2009
    Post by Tim Drewitt

    I've been involved with e-learning for over 15 years and have worked for some of that time on the vendor side with award winning companies who in many cases have established some of the high instructional design approaches that set apart quality solutions from the rest. However, over the last 4 years - in particular the last 12 months - I've been a significant user of rapid e-learning authoring tools. In most cases, it's the SME who provides all elements of the project, including the voice over narration. Feedback is consistently high. Staff buy in to the content as they can clearly identify (and respect the credibility/authority) of the narrator. Occasionally I will tinker with the material or coach the expert in some basic design skills, but the fact that we produce this content fast and on demand means that we're having a significant impact on the upskilling of our people. The one criticism I have of our profession - and which in part explains the sometimes low perception held of us by our busines sponsors - is that we take too long to produce anything. I'd much rather be seen to be responding more often and within the tinescales imposed on us by the realities of today's business world, than delivering fewer projects and out of sync with the business. Of course, there will always be a place for the "other type", but I see less demand for that overall. And as our SMEs get more experienced and the tools more advanced, I believe it will become harder to differentiate between the two.

  • Thu, 29 Oct 2009
    Post by J-M. Guillemette

    I agree with Michael that just providing REL tools to subject matter experts and telling them to go at it is a recipe for disaster. There is no more reason to expect an inexperienced SME (in instructional design) to create an effective learning experience whatever the tools used than there is to expect an instructional designer to create effective content in a discipline s/he knows nothing about. In my experience, the most successful projects remain those reflecting a team effort, with SME and instructionals designers working together. I believe that's also when REL tools are at their best: to further improve a process that already works! Rapid e-learning was introduced in large part as a marketing strategy to appeal to companies worried about the cost of e-learning. I doubt very much that Lectora, Articulate, Captivate or other REL tools would not have appeared without this movement to REL. They would have, but probably marketed differently to appeal to companies in other ways.

    Designing effective learning has never been an either or proposition, in terms of tools or other resources. Companies that get it right understand that teams are better than individuals, that the focus must be on needs not tools or glamour, and that effective e-learning doesn't have to be complex or costly. Getting the right blend of focus, tools and people remains key to success.

  • Thu, 29 Oct 2009
    Post by Michael Hanley

    While Bob mentioned a number of so-called rapid e-learning (REL) tools, he did not discuss REL's key component: the REL process. If you merely provide SMEs with a range of authoring tools and tell them to get on with "brain dumping," all yo u will end up with is a bunch of undifferentiated content. The learning professionals' activity in the process is, in my view, to elicit SME's tacit knowledge and skills and facilitate the design, development and delivery of appropriately focused instructional material to learners. For the record, I am a "purist" (in the sense that it's used in the article) and I certainly do not sneer at the concept. In fact, I find REL an invaluable (and valid) way to train large numbers of learners quickly and efficiently. --

  • Wed, 28 Oct 2009
    Post by Jennifer De Vries, CPT

    I appreciate Bob's comments on the topic of Rapid eLearning, but I think that you first need to define the term. Unfortunately, this term has been hijacked by eLearning tool vendors to mean "SME-developed eLearning" because there are more Subject Matter Experts in the world than Instructional Designers and therefore they can sell more product if they define it that way. However, I wrote the original White Paper on the topic of Rapid eLearning for Bersin & Associates in 2004 and the real definition of the term is:

    Rapid E-Learning is often developed in response to urgent business needs, such as a product launch or competitive situation. It may also be developed as part of a continuous update program, or when the content has a short shelf-life. Most Rapid E-Learning courses are developed in response to a request by a line of business organization. Rapid E-Learning is usually focused on awareness and immediate action and the modules are created in a matter of days or weeks. They are developed internally, with little or no budget and the base content is often developed by SMEs who use PowerPoint or a set of authoring templates. (c) 2004 Bersin & Associates

    So, the definition of Rapid eLearning is NOT that SMEs develop the content. It is that SME use readily accessible tools (e.g. PowerPoint) to provide source content that eLearning/training professionals can more quickly turn into an instructionally sound course that meets performance objectives.

    To learn more about the true Rapid eLearning process, see this White Paper that I researched and wrote for Adobe Captivate.