In the last few years, I’ve written close to 80 articles for this magazine, and in that time I’ve reviewed just about as many tools. I’ve often said that tool vendors must balance power and ease of use, and that most tend to favor making their tool easy by omitting some more powerful features. No tool is both the most powerful and the easiest to use.
Xyleme is a company that provides a tool and a service that really attempts to give you both, in ways that many of you may like right away but that others may find require a period of adjustment.
First, let’s start with some basic facts.
- 1. Xyleme is not actually just an authoring tool. It is a content management solution designed to support learning. Yes, you can create web-based lessons with it, but using the same content, you can format and publish for a variety of other types of files (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Several output options from the same content
- 2. The main focus of Xyleme is enterprises and content publishers. The company works with organizations, configuring the product to meet the needs of each client organization. This means that you don’t buy a license to Xyleme to just play around with it. You normally require a business strategy to ensure that the Xyleme installation serves a valid business purpose.
- 3. Like most newer tools, the Xyleme platform resides in the cloud, so you can access it anywhere you have an Internet connection. There is no need to install anything on your hard drive. It uses secure Amazon web servers to ensure that your content is safe.
So just how does Xyleme try to break the mold of typical authoring tools, learning management systems (LMSs), and learning content management systems (LCMSs)?
The Xyleme platform is where you do it all
- Develop and author
Developing and authoring
You access the Xyleme site to author your content. You can edit your documents in an online editor or in a desktop editor (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Home page of online editor
Editing your content is a little different from using a standard authoring tool. By adopting a WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) approach, other tools tend to force you into one output form, primarily a web-based course. If that’s all you need, and many times it is, then many authoring tools provide this option. I’ve been asked by several clients over the years, though, if it wouldn’t be possible to take the content I had created in an authoring tool and use it to also publish a handout or create PowerPoint slides to use in live training sessions. The answer is that it’s not easy to do without manually copying content out of the authoring tool and pasting it into Word or PowerPoint.
Xyleme doesn’t give you a true WYSIWYG approach, though you certainly can see your content laid out. In this manner, you can format the content into various publish options, like those in Figure 1. Xyleme provides HTML5, Word, and PowerPoint templates for you to use, and you can edit those templates and the styles therein to customize the look of the documents Xyleme publishes.
Working in the editor, you’ll see lots of options for inserting various media and interactions. Of course, you can insert images, video, audio, and more (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Content editing
You can also insert several interaction types. These include:
- Multiple choice
- Fill in the blank
- Drag and drop
- Hot text
- Bin drop
- Image map
Xyleme also fully supports procedural-based content (step 1, 2, etc.) (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Procedural content options
You can save and share authoring templates, so teams can standardize interactive learning and testing approaches. Xyleme provides templates for building tabs, animated timelines, slide shows, flash cards, and more.
Like many modern tools, much of the content you create is stored in an XML file, which is what allows Xyleme to keep the content separate so you can tag it and reuse it in a variety of ways. You never need to edit the XML files because you work directly in the editor to make changes. However, when publishing to the web, you will get a combination of files, just as you do when using any other tool. This includes the HTML file that launches the content. You can edit the HTML file if you wish, but you normally won’t feel the need to edit it directly.
When you’re bringing in new content, such as media files, you can attach word tags to them. In fact, you can attach tags to many elements. This allows you to find specific content by searching for the words you used to tag content—not just in the current file but across all of your files.
Regarding web delivery: With the slow death of the Flash file format on the web, Xyleme is part of a new crop of tools that do not publish to Flash. Rather, it publishes to HTML5. It’s only a matter of a little more time before older browsers, which don’t support HTML5, will no longer be used in organizations that have been slow to upgrade their systems. At that point, expect that no tools will publish to Flash any longer.
I want to emphasize once again that using the same content you’ve created doesn’t just mean publishing to an interactive web lesson. You can also publish to all of the other formats in Figure 1. However, note that interactive lessons will be responsive, meaning they will look correct both on desktop and on mobile devices without additional formatting on your part.
You can deliver microlearning and performance support, too, which is an added bonus that many course developers might consider an afterthought.
This kind of versatility is what separates Xyleme from authoring tools. This means you create content once and then you can use the same content to publish a fully interactive web course, plus printed guides that can be digital or paper-based. That’s pretty sweet.
Xyleme features a content repository. You can distribute content authored in Xyleme, and in other tools, and invite learners, collaborators, and reviewers to access it. All of your learning systems, like your LMSs, websites, and apps, play the content from the repository so that you have one source for your content, and that means you have only one source to maintain. You can search the repository for full courses or individual nuggets of content. This is where the power comes in.
Once you’ve delivered content on the web, you can then keep tabs on a number of factors regarding those who have accessed that content and how they did. This is a very rich environment, visually easy and pleasing to the eye (Figure 5).
Figure 5: An analysis report
Setting user permissions
You can provide varying levels of permissions to users so that you can assign different abilities to each:
- Collaborators: Yes, you can have several authors collaborating on a lesson from anywhere in the world. This lets you split up the work on a project so that each author has a specific assignment.
- Reviewers: You can also have reviewers write comments on your course and track those comments to act on them.
- Learners and other users: Of course, the main goal is to get the content in front of learners, readers of the documents you create, and others.
Xyleme uses a SCORM Thin Package to talk to an LMS
You can preview and play SCORM courses right in Xyleme, but most developers don’t. A more typical scenario is to integrate with your LMS. Like the SCORM cloud’s dispatch capability, you can point any standard SCORM-compliant LMS to a course that resides on the Xyleme servers. This is generally called a SCORM Thin Package, and I’m starting to see more services offering this option. To be honest, I’d like to see the industry drop the older SCORM protocols altogether and move totally to the xAPI or better. Unlike what I have seen traditional LCMSs and most LMSs offer, Xyleme provides xAPI compatibility and has some very cool analysis techniques, as you saw in Figure 5.
Xyleme supports all the standard tracking protocols: SCORM 1.2, 2004, AICC, and the xAPI.
Xyleme lets you output to just about anything you want
Second, like many tools, it uses XML (Extensible Markup Language) to store all the content you create. However, unlike most of those other tools, it also lets you publish in almost any form you wish.
It doesn’t provide a full WYSIWYG approach, like that seen in PowerPoint and in most authoring tools, because you don’t get just one output. While you get a sense of the layout, you actually have to preview content in its output format to see what it will look like. This is one of those things that might take some getting used to.
Overall, Xyleme has made authoring structured content in an LCMS tool easier and distributing content much more effective. It is a different paradigm, and I suggest that, if you work in teams and if you need to repurpose the same content in various ways, you take a look at Xyleme.