Five reasons why I recommend using a cloud-based authoring tool

Line drawing image of clouds
February 7, 2020
7 minutes
Line drawing image of clouds

If you’re like me and you’ve ever been on the hunt for an authoring tool, you’ll probably find yourself overwhelmed in short order because the number of players, both large and small, are truly staggering.

While I suppose it’s nice to have this abundance of choice, that just makes the process of selection that much more challenging.  

Now, if you’re one of those sitting comfortably in the desktop space and you’re thinking about moving to a cloud-based authoring tool, it’s a deceptively simple choice. I’ve spoken about this process a number of times over the years.  

Let’s face it: There are a lot of players in this space, both desktop and cloud-based authoring tools, and the rationales for choosing and implementing the right tool are just as numerous.

In spite of the obvious advantages of working in the cloud, abruptly switching from a desktop app won’t “make the magic happen”. The simple act of changing the tool won’t help you if you’re not also thinking strategically about how, where, and when your work gets done, and some of the tacitly accepted barriers and limitations you’ve learned to live with, possibly for the sake of “rapid” output.

Let’s examine five reasons why you *should* be taking your L&D work into a cloud-based authoring tool.

It Makes Business Sense

The business market is increasingly globalized, and that means increased competition.

Increased competition almost always leads to a drive for efficiency in all aspects of operations. These factors are forcing businesses to evolve and become more agile if they are to survive.

Businesses are making increased use of cloud-based solutions for many of their critical business services like recruitment, payroll, ERP, etc., so, why should L&D departments be an exception?  

It is also essential for L&D to be able to answer the question, “what value are you bringing to the business?”

If we are going to demonstrate value to the business, that value starts with agility. Our capacity to demonstrate that agility, of course, has to be more than just, “oh, we will do ‘rapid e-learning’”. It refers to responsiveness, flexibility, and economy of effort.

Another part of business’ drive for efficiency is reining in spiraling IT infrastructure costs, particularly in the area of per-user devices.  If line-of business applications can be moved to the Cloud, L&D should be able to reduce its own IT footprint in a similar manner by using a cloud-based authoring tool.

One of the great things about cloud or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms, including cloud-based authoring tools, is the reliability.

Unlike a desktop, where the solution to most problems is to re-image it or replace it, reliability is not just a “thing”, it’s a “guaranteed thing”.

Cloud-based authoring tools come with Service Level Agreements where they can guarantee a certain level of “up-time” (usually between 99% and 100%).

Cloud-based authoring tools also make things like updates, security, and back-ups a seamless process; you simply don’t get that with a desktop application because it is entirely up to YOU to make a lot of that happen. Even with regular back-ups of your working files, a hard drive corruption could result in hours of down-time and the potential loss of your most recent efforts. Nobody wants to hear that you have to start from scratch on a mission-critical or high visibility effort.

Finally, because you’re working in a cloud-based authoring tool, your desktop station requires a lot less local processing power, which helps reduce per-unit costs for IT and keeps their work more manageable.

Empowering distributed stakeholders and contributors

We know that good L&D solutions are never completed in isolation, and there are always a number of contributors and interested parties in any initiative.

Your project’s stakeholders could be sponsors, reviewers or editors, and contributors could be anyone from Instructional Designers, to video and graphics specialists, to Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) or voice-over artists – anyone who is adding to the finished product.

Distribution of stakeholders, however, doesn’t have to mean a separation by meaningful geography, although it certainly can.

Organizations in metropolitan settings could be separated by floors in office buildings or even by “campus” locations. This sort of arrangement proves tricky when dealing with desktop-driven apps and their need to store working files on a “local” drive. It doesn’t take long for this arrangement to devolve into a mess of network file transfers, email file transfers, shared drop-boxes, USB sticks, and all manner of administrative overhead to keep everything in line.

In the words of one now-famous lady, “ain’t nobody got time for that”.

A cloud-based authoring tool provides that central meeting spot, the central repository where all of your assets are more easily managed.

The content and location-transparency provided by a cloud-based authoring tool pays big dividends when it’s difficult or impractical to get together and work synchronously.  

I’ve had a couple of projects in my career when my clients were on the other side of the country or across an ocean. Because the cloud-based authoring tool allowed them to be physically part of the projects they could see what I was doing pretty much in real time – and it’s hard to underestimate what that did for their confidence in the work.

On the flip side, I’ve worked on projects with desktop tools and even though my stakeholders were local, they couldn’t “see” what I was doing until I published a draft or they came over to check things out.

In short, cloud-based authoring tools help bridge the distance between you and your stakeholders AND the project.

The Review Monster

This issue is closely tied to the challenge of managing multiple stakeholders.

I have vivid memories, some from not-so-long ago, when the only way I could manage the review process for an e-learning solution was to physically print out each screen and send copies for physical review and commentary. Much of that feedback came by email, some came back with hand-written notes, and - on one memorable occasion - as a long-winded voicemail.

Distributing a spreadsheet “change log” wasn’t really an improvement because:

          a) I needed to find a way to itemize everything that should be reviewed, and

          b) there was still a lot of time/effort required to aggregate ALL the feedback into something coherent.  

Then, to top things off, we had the added challenge of determining whose changes carried more weight in the review process.  The VP sponsor or the line of business SME?  Many, many meetings were held to go through ALL recommended changes.

The above madness doesn’t address the root issue of not having an in-context, full learner experience to review, because - for some of them - e-learning was a very new thing!

Over time, as we educated our stakeholders and reviewers, and as e-learning became more common, we didn’t have to print out the modules, but the ability to provide in-context review commentary was a feature lacking in the bulk of desktop-based apps.

I was fortunate enough to start working with a cloud-based authoring tool starting in 2009 and it came with - you guessed it - a built-in review feature.

We then had the capacity to provide a fully-functional draft of the entire learner experience, along with the ability to add comments on text, embedded graphics, voice, or even the UI.

At the time, reviewers had to email us an .xml file to add to the change/review module and we could see everything,and then we could assign tasks accordingly.

These days, most current cloud-based authoring tools don’t even need the email step because the preview can be viewed and reviewed right from a platform’s URL.  

The review feature, more than almost any other, is what sells me on the value of cloud-based authoring tools.

Storage and Version Management

In the nascent days of workplace computing and networking, we were effectively shackled to our computers when it came to storing files.  

In short, we lived and died by the size of the C:\ drive, and if we ran out of storage, it was a simple matter of offloading files to a floppy disk (remember those?) and reloading when we needed it.

Let’s fast-forward a decade (or two?) and even though modern hard drives have significantly more space than those of old, offloading files doesn’t happen much on external devices, rather, you’re out on a work network. Sure, that solves the local storage issue, but it doesn’t do much to address speed or flexibility of access.

Have you ever tried accessing working files exclusively via a network drive? That might work for small files, but it’s not pretty once you work reached a certain level of complexity (as our L&D projects often do)…but more about that in the next section.

Then we have the great bugaboo of what to call our files, or even how to manage different versions.

Most cloud-based authoring tools have this sorted because they save things incrementally, and you can potentially roll back some changes and work from there. It’s truly glorious.  

What you now have is a platform that can manage versions, roll-backs, change logs, audit trails because the cloud-based authoring tool is doing the work for you, and doing it consistently.

Access Anytime, Anywhere, Any Device

The modern workforce (certainly in North America, and Europe), is one that is becoming more mobile, location-independent, and its members seek workplace flexibility.

Keep in mind it’s not just about the ability to work wherever you are. This influential movement of knowledge workersis also very keen on seeing meaningful investments in workplace technology.

Desktop apps, of course, tie you not only to the desktop AND to the usual business hours of the employer. A laptop does provide a modicum of location-independence, but a lot of users still struggle with the challenges of VPN/Secure Connections and remote file access.

Think also about the amount of time you spend on your mobile device (a smartphone or tablet), to say nothing of the volume of information you consume from news sites, or even web apps. Pretty speedy data retrieval, right? Well, that’s all coming from the cloud so it’s not like it would be a huge leap to moving your projects to a cloud-based authoring tool because you’re already doing so much in the cloud.

A Call to Action

Choosing an authoring tool is tough, I get it.

If you do happen to find yourself in that space and trying to decide between desktop and cloud-based authoring tools, take a really good look at your workflow, your pain points, risk factors from end-to-end, and think about what may need to change.

As you look deeper, consider some of these questions:

  • Does the time (and associated overhead) related to inefficient processes no longer make sense?
  • Could some of these things benefit from some level of automation?
  • If your organization had to make a fundamental shift, are you (and your workflow) agile enough to roll with the changes?
  • If you or your local machine were “lost” or “unavailable”, how quickly could you be back up and running with allof your data?
  • Is all of your feedback in one place, in-context with the materials/resources under development?

It’s safe to say that if you can’t provide positive answers to these questions, it might be time to take those first steps toward the benefits of a cloud-based authoring tool.

About Mark Sheppard

Mark Sheppard is the Principal Consultant of 2Sphynx Innovations, a boutique Learning & Development consultancy helping to solve the riddles of workplace learning challenges. He operates at the intersection of workplace performance and learning innovations. His experience includes everything from fostering behaviour change through human capital development to learning technology selection and implementation. He serves clients in the US and Canada, and prides himself on agility, creativity, and the drive to embed the learning into the work. He can be found on Twitter as @2Sphynx.

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