Why I choose to specialise

May 30, 2019

Over the last nine months of launching my own business, solely focused on offering services around Adapt Learning and leaving a comfortable office job in London to make it my full-time venture, I've had various questions from clients, subcontractors, former colleagues and connections in the industry that go to this sort of tune:

  • Why do you only work in Adapt?
  • We have a Storyline module we need built. Can you help with it?
  • Don't you get bored of working with just one tool?
  • Surely there isn't enough of a market just to be an Adapt specialist?

Why do you only work in Adapt?

There is a multitude of great authoring tools (and as I will point out soon, not so great) that exist in the marketplace. Why do I choose to only work exclusively with one with tool?

Adapt, as the only open source, non-propriety tool is the only authoring tool that allows you to work “under the hood”; to really configure anything and everything that appears on the page. You can dip into CSS and make changes to any element that may exist; add custom fonts, colours, logos and final touches anywhere that is needed. This goes beyond just theming. With a robust plug-in, architecture developer can create components and extensions that solve any request that a client may have.

No other Authoring Tool gives you this level of freedom to design a learning experience exactly as the client imagined. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, if you work at an agency creating premium, highly bespoke e-learning for clients there is no reason why you shouldn’t be using Adapt.

My thoughts are clearly reflected throughout the industry. Adapt is used as the sole responsive Authoring Tool of choice by some of the largest and most successful e-Learning agencies in the UK such as Kineo, Sponge and Learning Pool. These are top of the pack agencies that are consistently winning Learning Technologies awards. I’m sure they would say Adapt’s great flexibility and customisability is a factor in their success.

I’ve been reading The Win Without Pitching Manifest by Blair Enns, a book designed to help creative agencies and freelancers to distance themselves from their competition. His very first proclamation is “We Will Specialise” i.e. you should choose a single field of expertise and keep to it. Instead of being a “jack of all trades”, I believe I can be much more useful specialising in the one field that has infinite more opportunities than the other authoring tools. I can use my expertise in that single technology to make myself the go-to person whenever there is work with that tool.

We have a Storyline module we need built. Can you help with it?

In short, no.

I, like many twenty-somethings, have fond memories of playing flash games in my teenage years. Thankfully, I left those memories of those experiences of using 16*9 boxes in a webpage behind in the Noughties.

The most touted benefits of having a responsive authoring tool, like Adapt, is that content can be delivered to a smartphone. This isn’t the case with older authoring tools such as Storyline. Even if one of your clients claims mobile learning isn’t utilised at their organisation, will that remain true in the 5 to 10-year lifespan of the course? The benefits of a responsive authoring tool also extend to desktop users too. Assuming they have something more modern than a 1024*768 monitor straight out of 2001 they will appreciate having content that can beautifully fill their HD (or higher) screen.

More importantly for the short term are upcoming laws regarding web accessibility, which JISC covers here. Articulate admits on their own website that accessibility support is fairly weak and any custom interaction by an unskilled e-learning developer (e.g adding a page lock behind a drag and drop) would leave the course inaccessible for keyboard users. When new legislation this could potentially leave your organisation wide open for a law-suit.

Storyline does well to make programming more accessible for those who aren't coders. It can store variables and it’s possible to do some neat stuff with them. However, a good Adapt developer could create a component or extension in Javascript that can do even smarter stuff; all whilst being infinitely more reusable across other projects.

An argument made for Storyline is that you can export a Storyline file and give it to a client so that they can make amendments in the future. This is a poor experience. The client is required to purchase a licence, get permission from their IT department to install in onto their Windows laptop. If they are changing text or replacing a graphic, or even converting it to another language there is a good chance it will break the slide, and everything will appear unsymmetrical or out of frame. Compare this to Adapt. The clients securely log in to Adapt through their web browser. The course structure is laid out plainly and works just like any other CMS they may use. They go into the component in question and make the change to a responsive textbox that will automatically resize. They could even duplicate the course, convert it to Arabic and it would be working out of the gate.

To summarise, the e-learning industry is often touted as being behind others technologically. With the use of tools that Storyline that are products of Flash it’s not hard to see why this is the case. This is why I choose not to work in Storyline.

Don't you get bored of working with just one tool?

Not yet.

I’ve been working with Adapt on an almost daily basis for over four years. I went from building courses, to building themes and plugins, to now running my own business as a consultant. With every change I’ve faced new challenges and been able to learn new skills.

The kind of projects that I have been involved in vary so much in the services they require. Sometimes clients want to have a prototype template setup, so they can build courses themselves out of it. Sometimes they need expert advice about a challenge. Sometimes they require something which I can’t deliver alone, so I can tap into my network of Instructional Designers and Graphic Artists to deliver their project.

Every time I’ve heard a new problem and diagnosed a new way that I can help, I feel like I’m constantly learning and applying new skills to challenges. So, although I work with just one technology it is such multi-faceted work that I’m having more fun and still learning more day-to-day than I have ever done before.

Surely there isn't enough of a market just to be an Adapt specialist?

This expands on the above point. I think it would be tricky to sustain myself as just an Adapt e-learning developer (unless I relied heavily on subcontracting from agencies), or just an Adapt theme/plugin developer (normally plugins are solutions that crop up in bigger projects), or just as a consultant, or just a training provider (something I would love to do more), or just an Authoring Tool provider.

The secret has been to be flexible enough to position myself to solve any or all of these problems: enjoying listening to the desired outcomes of my clients and then diagnosing solutions that are scalable, flexible and cost effective; being comfortable enough to take on and manage large projects whilst also being nimble enough to help with small amends and fixes.