What is JavaScript, and why should you learn how to use it? - Writtr
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What is JavaScript, and why should you learn how to use it?

We have been releasing papers on JavaScript and providing concurrent workshops on it at our meetings for almost as long as The eLearning Guild has been around. And yet, many eLearning designers and developers have not added to their skillsets this ultra-important scripting language.

I lately put a few questions to Mark Lassoff about JavaScript. In Learning Solutions, Mark often writes papers on coding and JavaScript. Here’s what he was sharing.

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What’s JavaScript about?

JavaScript is the DNA of all we do as designers of eLearning. JavaScript is a programming dialect that allows vibrant material to be created and customized.

What are some customization instances that a designer may need to do?

There are many customization instances that are beyond present fast eLearning growth tools ‘ capacity. JavaScript allows augmented truth, gamification, and virtual reality. What if you required to replicate a complicated bit of avionics (as I have) for a teaching client, or wished to integrate real-time economic information into a teaching activity? The solution is JavaScript.

Unfortunately, I believe we’ve been stuck in the fast eLearning tool “cabinet” for so long that we scarcely consider what JavaScript and other tools can do. We stare at Captivate’s tools and believe that’s the floor. The barrier is natural ; by using the same template of growth used by any other electronic sector that has crossed us, we can empower ourselves.


Don’t authoring tools provide all the capabilities needed?

There are many good reasons eLearning developers should learn JavaScript.

The rapid development tools that are in use now can’t do everything. JavaScript can be the engine behind simulation, mixed reality, artificial intelligence, and robotics. In a larger sense, coding enables all of the advances that people love talking about in online learning. xAPI is JavaScript. Deep search for performance support is enabled by JavaScript. Gamification and games themselves… you guessed it: JavaScript. Even the rapid authoring tools are writing JavaScript under the hood.

In the end, we’re just creating web content. I’ve always been curious about when and why eLearning veered off into a different direction, but the content we develop is viewed in some form of web browser—whether that’s on a mobile device, laptop, or full-sized television. There is no practical reason for us to be using rapid eLearning development tools except for the fact that most eLearning developers haven’t learned the tools everyone else uses to create web content.

And, in my opinion, the rapid eLearning tools are the reason that the development of eLearning has lagged behind the development of other types of digital media content. We’ve limited ourselves to what these tools can do and have refused to look outside the box.

If we had, like all other digital media developers, availed ourselves of the power of coding and specifically of JavaScript, our content might have developed along a parallel course, and engaging eLearning content would be a given.

As it stands now, traditional learning organizations are beginning to lose learning development contracts to companies that simply do digital better. That’s a shame. Some of the best developers in our industry don’t use rapid eLearning development tools. They write code. If you look at the work of any learning presentation that seems “outside the box,” almost 100 percent of the time they’ve used the standard coding stack of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to create it. Freeing yourself from the limitations of the tools, and from the old “PowerPoint metaphor,” allows you to create anything you can imagine. No limits.

Finally, do you want to be working in 10 years? I think that learning JavaScript future-proofs your career. As I mentioned, many of the best developers are using the HTML development stack instead of opening a rapid development tool to create learning content. Not to mention there’s been parallel growth in an entire direct-to-consumer eLearning industry that is not based on SCORM and rapid development tools. Employers and prospective clients increasingly look for learning experience designers. They are insisting on HTML, JavaScript and other coding skills. They are going beyond the use of Articulate, Captivate, and other environments. Learning JavaScript prepares you for these jobs and opens new avenues for your career.


Are there any specific authoring tools that might benefit most from some script?

The choice to use JavaScript for development or rapid eLearning tools doesn’t have to be binary—many rapid development tools allow you to integrate JavaScript into an online learning presentation to augment learning content developed there. Articulate, Storyline, and Captivate all have some capacity to integrate JavaScript.

Also, complete modules can be built in HTML5 and JavaScript and “wrapped” with a rapid eLearning development tool so that you can include the advanced content developed with the HTML5 stack, but still have the advantages allowed by rapid development.

Mark Lassoff
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