Content Authoring — 7 Lessons Learned

Calendar Icon May 21, 2010
Reading Time Icon Read Time: 4 min
By Firmwater

This post is long overdue, but I’d like to think that its delay will help all training vendors recognize that creating SCORM content for delivery on an LMS takes time – much more time than you think.
So, a number of months ago, I planned to work with some of the more recognized authoring tools to test out their functionality and report back on my learning experiences. I started my learning journey with Camtasia Studio 6 and decided that the best way to truly understand the challenges training vendors face when creating SCORM content is to actually take on a content creation project myself. And after much deliberation, our team here at Firmwater settled on developing a new user orientation video, to instruct students on how to navigate our LMS.
So, instead of getting right into the “goods and bads” of Camtasia, I thought it would be more helpful if I mentioned some of my lessons learned during the course of my first ever content authoring experience. So, here’s my list:

1. Define your learning outcomes

Learning outcomes identify the skills and knowledge your learners will acquire after a particular learning experience. They are essential to the learner because they communicate what you expect from them and equally important for the instructor because they serve as a project guide. Without clearly defining the outcomes, you won’t be able to organize your material in a manner that will facilitate quick and easy learning. It will also be difficult for your students to understand the order and logic to what you are trying to explain.
So, even before you start coming up with different ideas of how to display your content, be sure to clearly define the end result that you want your learners to achieve. I could have saved myself a lot of time had I just come up with a simple statement like: “After the user watches this instructional video, they will be able to use the available menu items and page links to comfortably navigate their training site and start their online training.”

2. Create a storyboard

It’s still not time to record. After you’ve identified your learning outcomes, you need to put on paper what you imagine each part of your online course to look like, and that’s where storyboarding comes in. I like post-it note storyboards because you can remove and redraw frames without making a mess of the entire storyboard page. It’s also easy to mix and match the frames if you decide to reorganize the video flow. Here’s an example:

I actually forgot to create a storyboard while planning the production of my user orientation video. The one you see above I decided to make after a few failed screen recording attempts; I figured it might help me visualize the end project and it made a huge difference. Had I sketched out those video frames from the start, I would have recognized the frame order that ensured the best video flow and saved myself all the added time it took to rerecord the video.

3. Write a script

Writing a script is an extension of storyboarding since both can equally help you envision how your course will unfold. I’d recommend having your storyboard handy as you create your script and from here, simply write the dialogue and actions pertaining to each frame in your storyboard.
If you are creating a script for a voice-over, ensure you are aware of the tone, type of speech and vocabulary used throughout the script. You will want to make sure they remain consistent to avoid unnecessary confusion. This is especially important for courses delivered online because your students will not be able to rely on your facial expressions to understand what you actually mean. Here are some other useful tips:

  • Determine who your target audience is.
  • Keep things simple and interesting.
  • Have someone edit your script.
4. Ask a lot of questions

I think I asked one question about the user orientation video. Unless you’re creating a course solo and you don’t need to report to anyone about its progress or use, ask whoever is overseeing your content creation project a as many questions as possible. The more you find out now, the less time you will waste later.

What kinds of questions should you ask?

  • What will the course be used for?
  • What are the objectives?
  • What is the structure and layout?
  • Is there a minimum/maximum length of time?
  • How will the course be delivered?
5. Master the authoring tool you choose

If you want to create a flawless piece of online learning content, you need to master the authoring tool – but this isn’t done overnight. I spent well over three months working with Camtasia Studio 6 and I’m still learning new things.
Authoring tool proficiency comes in stages and the content you produce will reflect that. As you become more comfortable with your tool of choice, you will begin to experiment with new features and it’s great to know that you are not on the learning journey alone. I discovered quite a few recording and editing tips while watching many of [Camtasia’s online video tutorials](http://www.techsmith.com/learn/camtasia/7/) and most authoring tools offer similar online community resources. You may also find how-to guides useful. I used Daniel Park’s [Camtasia Studio 6: The Definitive Guide](http://www.amazon.ca/Camtasia-Studio-6-Definitive-Guide/dp/1598220721) as I worked through the process of creating the user orientation video. Overall, the materials to help you along your journey are readily available, you just need to set aside the time to take a look at them.

6. See it from the student’s perspective

Evaluate your course based on the 4 R’s:

  • Reassess: the instructional pace of your course; is it too fast or too slow?
  • Review: your learning outcomes; have you achieved them?
  • Remember: your goal isn’t to transmit information; have you transformed your learner?
  • Recall: less is more; are you easily and needlessly confused?
7. Commit to a delivery date

Like many training vendors, I didn’t have the option of creating this course in isolation. Instead, I developed it while working on other projects and was only able to dedicate a few hours per week to its progression. Since I wasn’t spending a lot of time on this project, I adopted the “whenever I can get to it” attitude.
Here’s the problem with that attitude, not setting a deadline for something automatically makes it seem unimportant. Without a deadline, it becomes easy to put off the work, which means you might as well leave it off your “to-do” list because it will be a long time coming before it ever gets done. So, just commit to a delivery date, even if you know you might have to extend it.
I hope you will find these lessons somewhat helpful for the content creation projects ahead of you. And if you are planning to use Camtasia Studio 6 to develop your courses, you will find my next post “The Goods and Bads of Camtasia” useful too!

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