Open University content authoring tool

Humane design and education

Content Authoring Tool for e-learning course authors and publishers 2010

  • A department of The Open University was producing bespoke e-learning courses for businesses.
  • There were inefficiencies in the course production process which led to courses taking longer than estimated to produce and costing more than expected.


  • Each e-learning course used a fixed-size web template which could only be viewed after a course had been run through the publishing system. This meant that Instructional Designers, Subject Matter Experts and Flash Developers had to prepare their content in isolation without knowing if they had exceeded the content limit or available screen space until after publishing. Many, lengthy rounds of revision were needed to complete course production.
  • Courses were put together by a distributed team of experts. They delivered content in MS Word which was then copied and pasted into the XML-driven web template by course publishers, a time consuming and inefficient process.
  • Flash Developers were provided with requests for interactive quizes and learning components out of context of the course material making them difficult to build accurately, they often had to be re-worked.

Methods and solutions

  • Requirements gathering – identified the needs of the course publishers, Flash Developers and Instructional Designers.
  • Development research – discovering an effective medium to provide a graphical template to the Instructional Designers.
  • Development of template – word-based template styled to look like the web-template which incorporated the XML for the course.
  • Produced documentation and tutorial for managing the publishing tool using Captivate and trained colleagues on its use.


  • The publishing system required an XML document; the content authoring tool incorporated this XML so the copy-and-paste step in the production process was no-longer needed.
  • The web-template design was replicated using MS Word styles so Instructional Designers experienced an almost ‘WYSIWYG’ storyboarding tool and so didn’t exceed the template size and course length.
  • The Instructional designers could insert a learning component from a drop-down menu on the MS Word toolbar leading to greater efficiency and greater content accuracy.
  • The Flash-based interactions could be developed early on, collaboratively with the Instructional Designer and in the context of the course material, making them more usable and effective.


Publishing became more than twice as fast leaving developers more time to invest in producing a template library of learning components and to research work.