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Templates – To Use or Not to Use?

Templates can be very helpful in providing the structure of online learning activities; however some templates can limit creativity and make presentations become very cookie-cutter and boring. Templates can also allow for the rapid creation of learning activities which enable timely development and revisions. If templates are easy to use and flexible; they facilitate the design of relevant, current, and creative activities. However, some templates are so difficult to use and/or inflexible that they prohibit the rapid and creative design of activities.

Common authoring tools provide flexibility in terms of course design and navigation, but most do not include a wide variety of easy to use, customizable interactivities that make the content interesting and engaging. This requires the developer to create these interactivities using other software programs and integrate them into the authoring tool project.

There are several template-based products available in the market; however most are very limited in the ability to customize the content and look and feel. Many are also very difficult to use which prohibits rapid development. For instance, if they do not allow for a variety of image files (jpeg, tif, png,…) or video files (mp3, mov, flv,…) the developer will spend a lot of time converting files and managing resolution. Many times, templates are not flexible enough to meet the needs of specific content. I have had difficulty using some templates with nursing or other allied health content because of the length of many of the terms.  If the text boxes in the templates are not customizable, many of the terms are cut off or simply can’t be inputted.

With Flash and similar applications, you have endless ways to customize content and look and feel, however the learning curve is excruciating and usually requires someone with vast training. These are not something that can be used by someone who is typically tasked with course or training development. Of course, this fact causes increases in time, complexity, and cost.

My solution to providing high quality, cost effective content is to use Raptivity by Harbinger, which provides interactive templates that are both easy to use and very flexible. Raptivity offers a library of 180+ template-based interactions that allow for customized content and design. The interactivities include simulations, videos, learning games, puzzles, animations, interactive diagrams, brainteasers, page-flipping books, whiteboard simulations, interactive questions, surveys, flow diagrams, and many more that can be easily customized in various ways. The templates are provided with both a complete example and a blank template for each interactivity. The content, size of text boxes, number of items, the background, voice files, videos, images, etc can all be selected and easily changed. The initial included elements in the activities can easily be updated or revised allowing the content to be kept current and results driven.  Also, the completion status is easily tracked using scores and responses for each interactivity. The activities can be posted online or included in online training or course presentations. The activities can be embedded into hundreds of authoring tools, LCMS, LMS, CMS and live collaboration systems.

The chart below illustrates the comparison of tools in relation to flexibility and time.

I hope this blog provided some new ways to look at templates. Please share your ideas with us.  What templates have you used to make courses more interactive and engaging? What challenges have you faced when using templates?

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