Overcoming some of the challenges of working with desktop tools for e-learning

We know that easy-to-use authoring tools, a central system, and an agreed process helps make a high-performance team. We’ve done research into what makes a high performance learning team that shows this.

But what’s best: desktop or cloud-based tools?

This week the team at Elucidat and I have been batting arguments back and forth about desktop vs cloud based development tools. Now, I’m pretty agnostic about this.

There’s a wide choice of desktop tools to author and develop online learning. But we still need to involve multiple team members with different talents and clients and SMEs in the process and that has posed a number of challenges. Here are a few examples that I’ve come up against over the last couple of years:

1. Operating systems

The creative guys and I all work on Macs but the dev team tend to be on machines running Microsoft or Linux operating systems. Some desktop software doesn’t run in a Mac OX environment and requires a virtual machine setup running a Microsoft platform. This adds cost, as I’ve needed to purchase additional software to set this up. (Parallels or VM Fusions, are some examples of software you’ll need for this.)

2. Platforms and software

It’s wasn’t unusual when I worked in a large corporate to find some of my team still on the XP operating system. Some were running Office 2007, 2010, 365 and 2011. Some digital learning tools e.g. those which work like add-ins to Office applications such as Powerpoint, don’t work in browser based Office or so called ‘click-to-run’ software. Furthermore, some older legacy elearning tools won’t work at all with Office 2013 and so require costly upgrades.

3. Licensing

Desktop authoring tools are usually licensed per desktop. You’ll need to decide to purchase multiple licenses for each person’s machine or you could opt for a shared desktop machine with one copy loaded. This of course only works if your team are all under the same roof.

4. Admin Rights

Some company pc’s, particularly in areas of the business where regulation is tight (e.g. in the financial services sector) won’t allow users to install software or plugins, making it very difficult to empower the SMEs and clients to create or maintain courses. This can increase costs for you and your client, as you’ll need to draw up SLA’s (service level agreements) or pass on the cost of maintaining the courseware for your client.

5. Remote working

We explored the issues faced by teams working remotely in another post. Even if your team is all under one roof, it can still be difficult to access work outside the office, especially if your workstation is a desktop machine and you need the same software packages at home. In addition to that, the network may not be accessible outside the office without having specialist software.

Enter SaaS (Software as a Service) or cloud based tools

Faced with these types of issues, cloud based technologies look increasingly attractive, because they generally require just a browser to run, no matter what the local environment is, Windows, Mac, Linux. They don’t require proprietary software to be loaded onto individual machines and don’t require plugins.

What’s more, they offer solutions to project managers seeking to reduce the risks of having lots of people working on one project. We covered the risks of version control in elearning projects in an earlier post.

This week, I’ve been reading Craig Weiss’s recent post which got me thinking about the differences between desktop and Saas software.

I used to work on the train with desktop software because internet connection generally dropped off at intervals. Now, working with cloud based tools, sure there are the odd moments where I can’t (where WIFI or 3G isn’t available). This got me thinking that maybe we could develop an offline editing mode (similar to Google docs) that saves your changes and syncs when it goes online.

Great. Oh, but wait! Won’t my revisions then conflict with the rest of the team’s. Ugh! It quickly becomes a management nightmare – and expensive.

I concede that I might get in an hour or so development while sat on a train with a desktop tool, but at the end of the day, when I am working in collaboration with a team or with customers (which is always the case), then an hour extra dev time on a train doesn’t equate to much cost saving when compared to the time and money saved by synchronised working in cloud-based dev tools.

So, whilst there may be moments when I can’t get online, on balance my team is much more productive with Saas software.

I think we’ve seen some real solutions to the issues we’ve discussed being offered through cloud based authoring solutions. At Elucidat we have tried to create a fine balance between accessibility and productivity.

Have you got any stories to share about working with desktop or cloud based tools? We’d love to hear them. All the comments and discussions from the community really help us to hone Elucidat so that we can keep making it work best for you.

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