Avallain Author is software for authoring eLearning activities and courses. Apparently, lots of ELT publishers use Avallain to create digital resources. I recently completed a training course on using this software…
Why did I do the training programme?
I’ve written digital resources for publishers before, like digital practice activities for coursebooks. That involved writing into a Word template, with someone else (no idea, maybe the development editor? I didn’t ask) converting my content into interactive resources using software like Avallain.
The digital authoring contracts I’ve been offered in recent years have involved writing directly into a digital tool. I figured that some formal training on one of these tools would be worthwhile. Cover both bases, learn something new, etc.
Avallain delivered a CPD webinar for ELT Publishing Professionals and their software looked good. They offered ELT PP members a 10% discount on the fees for the training course. I didn’t know of other training available, and this tool is apparently popular among publishers (some connections on the inside agreed), so I went for it.
How much was the course?
More than I expected tbh. 300 quid. That was basically 6 months of my CPD budget. Mind you, if it leads to one good contract…
It’s a one-month course that’s self-access – there are no live sessions. You have to complete all lessons and tasks in that time – including submission of the final assessment. Avallain estimate that the content takes around 6 hours to cover, and the assessment for certification takes around 2 hours.
It’s done in cohorts, which *I think* pop up a few times a year. I started the training as soon as it was available, although this meant I didn’t get the chance to interact with others in my cohort (they all started later).
The course involves accessing/using two platforms. The course material itself is hosted on an LMS called Avallain Magnet…
You go through 67 ‘lessons’ which cover:
- Introductions to the course and the software
- The basics of content creation using Avallain Author
- Customizing your content
- Designing your content
- Creating an eBook on Author (I’ll come to that)
- Managing assets
- Structuring learning content
- Workflow management
You access the course on Magnet, but then you have access to Avallain Author itself to practice creating content. There’s sample content on there (a Business English course, and a good example!) which you can explore. All trainees access the same sample content so I don’t think you can play about with it too much. Still, you’re able to make your own activities just to muck about with the settings and stuff – learn the basics, etc.
After you do the training course, you complete a certification task. This involves creating your own course, but all the content is provided so it’s more a case of ‘can you use the correct activity types and settings to populate a course?’, rather than ‘can you create a whole course from scratch using the Author?’.
Magnet as a platform
I had no big issues with the LMS. The course was easy enough to navigate, quite intuitive. This was a good sign I guess, as it’s where your own content would be hosted, so I thought it was an okay tool. Occasional glitches, but it seems fine overall. I can’t vouch for functionality on mobile etc, I did the whole course on my laptop.
You can imagine the type of stuff. Fairly straightforward navigation, progress bars, scrolling which always throws me when it says ‘You got 1 out of 3 review questions correct’ and I’m like WHAAAT and then I realize I didn’t scroll down to see the other questions. Standard.
Actually, during that ELT PP webinar, the Avallain people were saying how Magnet might be a tool for teachers to create their own courses, not just publishers. However, they must have decided against trying to hook freelance teachers in – it is still priced at 299 euros a month and I couldn’t see any options for teachers.
Most lessons start with a video tutorial (generally good), then go through review questions/tasks based on this content using various activity types – gap-fills, matching tasks, etc. You can repeat these review tasks, no pressure, and they don’t count towards a final course grade. Each unit ends with a test to check what’s been learnt –you cannot retake these parts but again they don’t count towards a final mark for the certification.
The final follow-up task for each unit is usually to go into Author and practice creating content. However, this is more just ‘have a play around’, as there isn’t any suggested content to work with. You can refer to the sample content for ideas, but practising really means making things up from scratch or using your own content to trial a few things.
Overall, the content in the lessons was clear and practical. I think some of the post-video review content on the course could be replaced. Sometimes it’s just a bit unnecessary, or it wasn’t challenging enough. Mind you, even when the content wasn’t the best, at least it showcased some of the tasks you can create through Avallain Author, which in a roundabout way was good.
The test activities were quite challenging. I was always getting something wrong! But it was often just facts or info about settings in the authoring tool – the type of stuff you end up learning how to do, yet can easy slip up when asked to describe it. Haha. That’s my excuse anyway. You can go back through the unit content before answering each question so still no real pressure.
The most practical unit of the course includes 18 lessons which intro the activity types you can create on Avallain Author. Example content…
Etc. Each lesson explains how to create content for each activity type and gives a basic practice of the syntax needed.
That’s the stuff you really need in order to use Author. This, along with another useful unit on how to set up navigation, scoring, and so on were the most practical bits. I wasn’t really into the final few units on workflow, creating work packages, etc – still useful of course, just a bit less interesting.
The unit on creating an ebook was a bit too general. It explained how you can upload a pdf ebook doc to the platform, then add ‘hotspots’ to a pdf to make it interactive. They could have gone into more detail tbh. I wouldn’t feel comfortable going through that process as part of a project without further guidance…
While Avallain say the content lasts about 6 hours, I’d say more like 10 – if you take it in and have a bit of a mess around on the authoring tool to consolidate what you’ve learnt.
The certification task
The final task involves creating a sample Business English course. Basically:
- They give you all the actual content
- Then they give you information about the basic ‘global’ settings for the course, like the navigation settings, scoring, etc.
- Then they break things down activity by activity (about 20 slides overall I think), giving you a chance to practice. It’s things like ‘create a matching task with this content’, ‘create a dialogue and add media using this content’, ‘choose an appropriate activity type for this content’, etc.
- Finally, you organize it into a ‘work package’, which is just like an internal organization structure for resources.
- The whole thing takes about… hmmm… I’d say 3.5 hours, Avallain reckon two hours.
- When you finish, and if your work is accepted, they actually publish the course for you in the LMS! That’s quite cool to see.
BTW, the support from Avallain specialists during the course is VERY good. They are pretty much ‘there’ all the time (depends on time zones I guess) and they are very responsive. It’s one of those chat windows where you’re not 100% sure you’re talking to a real person at first! Lol. Really good support though – best part of the course for sure. Both email interaction and messaging through the platforms has been really good.
The ‘Help’ guide is also good. Sometimes a bit general, but overall it’s… well… helpful!
The ACTUAL authoring tool
So, Avallain Author…
For context: If you haven’t written digital content like this before then it’s not super complicated.
- You create a series of lesson activities, selecting appropriate ones from a dropdown box.
- Each activity has tons of different settings to select, so you just choose all your parameters. You know, like ‘learners can check answers immediately’, ‘learners can move forward if they get more than 80%’, etc etc. Basically every possible scenario you can imagine.
- You add content – instructions, actual activity content, supplementary resources like images, etc.
Activity content usually involves writing in certain syntax. For example:
Pete might [be] stating the obvious.
For gap fill items where the missing word is ‘be’. Or:
Pete (always/*sometimes/never) writes boring posts.
For choices, where the star is the correct answer. It’s relatively straightforward tbh – if I can do it then you can!
How easy is it to do this on Avallain?
Hmmm. I’d give it a 7.5/10 overall. Maybe 8/10. In some ways it’s intuitive, in others it’s pretty annoying to be honest.
The sheer amount of settings (while useful) can be confusing. But it’s the fact that you get combined settings for a group of activities (i.e. a ‘lesson’), then different settings for individual activities, many of which seem to override each other, that is just a bit…
But you kinda work it out!
I only wanted to throw my laptop against the wall/out the window/etc about six times during the course, which I think is a record low for me when learning a new digital tool. I only actually chucked it once, more of a half-hearted ‘discard on the bed’ rather than a full-on drop-kick.
When you get the syntax wrong in certain activities, like when writing a dialogue, the software has a tendency to suddenly show a random coding error screen thingy and then crash, which is…
That’s when you get the inevitable ‘I’m gonna save my progress at EVERY AVAILABLE OPPORTUNITY!’ feeling, so it’s good that it happened during the training!
Buttons to preview an activity sometimes just decide not to work, especially if you’ve unknowingly used the wrong syntax in the content.
The Styles for text in activities don’t seem to make much sense and need some playing around with – although you never quite know if things will work out okay…
Certain features, like adding buttons to access additional notes, have glitches. But you don’t know that when it happens and you spend like 30 minutes trying to work out what you’ve done wrong, then the nice helpdesk people say there’s a glitch and they’re actually working on it as a team and you’re like, ‘okay, cool’ but still:
Oh. Creating dialogues.
As always, I found that most problems I had were actually down to my errors (lol!), although there is definitely the occasional blip with the authoring tool that needs ironing out.
Apart from those little niggles, which I’d expect from any tool, Avallain Author is relatively easy to use. I can see why it’s popular among publishers. I can also see why it’s worth being trained on it beforehand so you can work out some of the quirks!
Overall, would I recommend the course?
Yeah. Most content is relevant, well-structured, practical. Can’t comment on course interaction – didn’t have any apart from with the support team.
Good final task that really helps you get to grips with the tool. Needs more practice tasks during the training course itself (see below). Overall, worth learning about this platform – transferable skills for sure. Very good support throughout. Better value than I’d anticipated to be fair.
It could still improve in some areas.
Basically, the certification task is good, but I’d have liked similar practice tasks (non-graded) to do throughout the units. So, when they introduce all the activity types, I feel like they should have more of a substantial guided task for each one – ‘go and try this!’, rather than just ‘do your own thing’. I kinda wanted the cert task to run alongside the training – I’d recommend doing it like that actually!
The training course itself: 4.2/5
The cert task: 4.7/5 (well-devised in relation to the scaffolding given on the training course. A nice ‘controlled practice’)
The authoring tool: 4.4/5 (minus 0.1 for every desk flip)
Desk flip image copyright Rage Comics