Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Power vs Ease of Use: Do We Need to Choose One?

Industry gurus have long maintained that authoring tools can be either powerful or easy to use. They say: choose one. I say: I want both. Is that possible? Well yes, if the tool designers pay attention to flexibility.

Consider interactivity templates. The very idea of a template connotes a cookie-cutter approach. Easy to learn, easy to use. How do the template designers maintain the ease of use and yet provide powerful features that the course designer can control?

The answer is in flexibility. Here is a short checklist for template designers who want to build flexible interaction templates.

  1. Element Size and Placement :  Provide control to the course designer over the placement of  whole elements, not just text labels, images, buttons and videos. Example: An interactive pyramid diagram template where the course designer controls the size and location of the pyramid - in addition to its levels and content.
  2. Ample Space for Text: Some people just cannot say it in a few words. Support for long text strings clearly helps in such situations.
  3. Text Hyperlinks: When there is a need to provide additional information that wouldn't fit the real estate of the interaction, a text hyperlink is the best way out.
  4. Liberal Limits: How many pages in a flip book? How many steps in a process? How many bullets in a slide? How many terms in a glossary? How many hot spots in a rollover exercise? How many flash cards per interaction? The course designer has to exercise judgment in making sure there aren't too few or too many. That said, the role of template designer is to support a wide range between the minimum and the maximum number of such elements.
  5. Video Support : With the explosion of video content over the web, users are expecting video support in several interactions. 

This list is obviously illustrative, not exhaustive. The recently released Raptivity 6.5 has several interactions that illustrate the use of these design practices.

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