eLearning Authoring: A Perfect Professionals Computer Setup


What is the perfect computer setup for an eLearning developer? With this setup you and your staff will everything they need to succeed. I have also included some alternatives and tips to save you time and money.

Hardware

  • Laptop
    • i5 Gen 9 Intel Processor equivalent or better
    • 16 gig Ram
    • 512gig SSD
    • Dedicated Graphics Card
    • USB 3 ports
    • HDMI Port (plus VGA adapter)
  • Sound Cancelling Microphone
  • Headphones or Ear Plugs
  • Webcam
  • USB 3 Backup Drive
  • Second Monitor

Software

  • Windows 10
  • Microsoft Office 365
  • Articulate Storyline 360
  • Madcap Flare
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Techsmith Camtasia & Snagit
  • Audacity

So now we have had a quick run down about the perfect setup let us now discuss why this particular setup and some alternative options if money is an issue.

Hardware

Laptop

Computer hardware is getting more and more powerful and sometimes we need to know the minimum specification to work with when buying a new laptop. That is exactly what I have tried to do here and I have taken into account all the software that you will install on the computer as well. So lets break these down and discuss each one.

Processor

The start of any good computer is its Processor. I have chosen an i5 Generation 9 (Gen 9) Intel processor. You could have picked an AMD equivalent. It has 6 cores and is more than enough for everything you will need. If you don’t know what a core is think of it as a brain. So this single processor has 6 little brains inside it meaning it can do 6 tasks at once. Or alternately combined their power together to do bigger tasks. If you choose an AMD instead as a cheaper alternative keep in mind that most speed tests have 1 Intel Core the equivalent or 2 AMD cores.

The second thing about a processor is the speed at which it runs and the i5 Gen 9 processor starts at 3.4 GHz. This is all you need but feel free to get a better speed one if you find it cheap.

So why not a generation 10 Intel Processor? Basically price. If money is no object for you then buy the latest Intel Processor generation but I personally find that the previous generation is half the price for 3/4 of the power generally.

Finally, why not an i7 or i9 instead of the i5? Well there are two things here I like to consider and they are heat and battery life. Heat is always an issue with laptops causing the laptop itself to get hot, the fan to work at higher speeds making the room hotter and the noise of the fan annoys some people too. Noisy fans are a laptop model by model issue and if you can play with a demo prior to purchase see how it performs under load.

Battery life if you are not plugged in all the time is better with an i5 over an i7 and i9 so if that is important to you like it is to me than this is another reason for the i5 instead.

TIP : If you want to find the AMD equivalent chip just type into google the following search ” ig Gen 9 vs AMD” and pick from the auto fill drop down box to see the comparisons.

Ram & SSD

Ram or Random access memory is kind of like the high speed temporary storage space for running applications. If we use the analogy of a library and the Ram is the books in that library you can reach out and touch. And the Books that you may need on the Hard Disk or main computer storage like having to run down a flight of stairs to get a book. Then it kind of explains the role of RAM. The more you have in reach the quicker you can look at books. It is the same for a computer. For all old drive technologies like SATA this is still the case. So if your laptop has a SATA drive RAM is very important to a fast running machine.

So what about Solid State Disks (SSD). What are they? They are essentially a Hard Disk or main computer storage made of actual RAM. So why do I still need RAM if I have an SSD. Well they are not the same type of RAM. The SSD is made for long term storage and has limited reads and writes before the drive fails and is designed for larger data storage. Traditional RAM is used by running applications was designed for many more reads and writes and clears itself when the computer is turned off.

So enough of the mumbo gumbo just tell me what I need and why. Well an SSD is faster than a SATA hard drive so get one of those. It will need a decent size of around 500Gig for all the video, audio, graphics, software and project files you will have on it. For the Traditional RAM you can get away with 8 gig of RAM but if you do a lot of graphical work or work with videos I would suggest 16 gig instead.

Dedicated Graphics Card

What is a graphics card and what does it do? Well it displays everything you see on the screen. But I thought you only needed a good graphics card to play games? No that is not true. If you are using tools like Adobe Photoshop or Video Editing tools you will definitely need a good graphics card.

So what is the difference between an on board graphics card and a dedicated graphics card? On board just meaning it is a chip sitting on your existing computers mother board and it shares the RAM with your computer. So in other words will steal some of your computers RAM to run. A dedicated graphics card has its own RAM and is generally a better card. The two most popular dedicated Graphics cards are nVidia and Radeon. So basically just look for either of these two names on the laptop specifications and ask if it is a dedicated graphics card with its own RAM. That is all you need.

USB 3 Ports

This is quite simple one as you just need them to make backups quickly and restore files quickly to your laptop. You can look at the laptop specifications for if you have some. While one is enough two is handy when swapping between usb storage devices. Next to the square USB port it will have an SS if it is USB 3 as well as inside the port being blue in colour generally.

HDMI Port

All laptops need one for presenting your work to a projector or big screen to review your work with others. Just be mindful to get the HMDI to VGA adapter for older projectors. It will come in very handy especially at customer sites.

Sound Cancelling Microphone

There are plenty of articles comparing the sound quality out there of different microphones for eLearning and recording your voice. But my favorite for use on a desk is the Rhode NT USB as I just like the stand and the pop filter that come with it. I find it easy to use and does everything I want from a microphone. Blue Yeti is another popular choice.

I am on the road a lot and the Rhode and Yeti are a bit cumbersome to travel frequently with so I use a Samson Go Mic Connect. It has great sound quality for screen casting and voice recording on the road and sits nicely on top of your laptop screen. I used to use the Samson Go and while it worked well you had to stand it up in front of you and the cable always got in the road.

Headphones or Earplugs

If you are working in your own office this is not so much of an issue. If you have had angry looks across the office when you playback a video or audio track for the 100th time you know what I mean. If you work in a noisy office a noise cancelling is a must have feature. As soon as you add noise cancelling you have already got yourself a decent set so you don’t need to worry about getting some that are too expensive.

The choice really comes down to personal preference just make sure you have some. For all the audio work I have done on eLearning I normally just use standard ear buds with noise cancelling. I find I loose or break them travelling so normally jut get the cheapest set I can find at the tme.

Webcam

You will find most training videos on Udemy these days have a person talking to you to increase engagement and just to make them look a little more professional. To do this you will need to get yourself a decent webcam and some of the latter models come with green screen filter software built in.

I am partial to Logitech gear as it is just built well. For a webcam I would go with the C922 which has dynamic background replacement. It is HD quality with low light capabilities as well. It also has dual noise cancelling microphones built into it if you want a 2 in one for travel and don’t want to carry a separate travel microphone like suggested above.

TIP : If you have a HD webcam and it does not have background replacement you can just hand a bed sheet of a colour you are not wearing behind you. Then use OBS studio to remove the colour while recording or Techsmith Camtasia to remove the colour after recording.

USB3 Backup Drive

I know this kind of seems simple but always back up your work externally once a week and you will be glad you did. It can be to a work network drive or to an external USB3 storage device. I would recommend a sizable drive of 500 Gig as your video, audio and graphics will take up a fair bit of space.

TIP : Not all USB3 drives are made equal. The read and write speeds can be different and on cheaper ones the right speed can be as slow as USB2. The read speeds are generally USB3 for all of them. Don’t be fooled into the cheaper USB3 with a slow right speed as you will loose hours of your life that way.

Second Monitor

Once you have one you will wonder how you did without it. I get that you can only look at once screen at a time but it means you don’t need to swap applications as much and can watch a training video at the same time as typing in the other window. The second monitor is bigger and means you can have more real estate to view left and right docked applications as well. Some people prefer a full sized keyboard at work so can have a docking station set up as well which is another good option.

Software

Windows 10

Windows 10 has been out for a while now and has some cool features like how it handles dual monitors and can anchor applications to the left and right of your screen. It is also just makes you look more professional. I would wait on the Windows 11 release until the first service pack is out. Every second version of Windows has historically been a bit buggy.

Microsoft Office 365

I have used Google Docs and Open Office but keep getting forced back to MS Office as most of the world still uses it. This is installed on your machine for all your documentation and spreadsheet work related to the creation of eLearning.

Articulate Storyline 360

https://articulate.com/360/storyline

This is the best eLearning authoring software on the market at the moment which will allow you to create branched learning paths, exams and do simple slide based template system. It will also drop your eLearning package in many formats including SCORM. Since it is the best in the market at the moment it also comes with a hefty price tag as well.

NOTE : If you are looking for a cheaper alternative have a look at Active Presenter that is rapidly catching up to Articulate and has a free version to trial.

Madcap Flare

https://www.madcapsoftware.com/products/flare/

This market leader for single sourcing documentation allows you to write content once and publish multiple formats. This great for eBook or HTML5 web based companion manuals for your eLearning or even online help to go with your training.

NOTE : There are other cheaper alternatives to Flare like HelpNDoc or RoboHelp and many others but they still don’t match the functionality.

Adobe Photoshop

https://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop.html

A very well known graphics package for 2D graphics manipulation that has been around for many years. Having a tool like this will allow you to create all your static graphics for your eLearning. Whether it is background templates or images for buttons or characters in your stories. This has many features that will save you time and allow for professional quality work.

NOTE : There are many alternatives to Photoshop out there now and everyone has their own personal choice but they all still compare themselves to Photoshop. If you want an open source alternative check out GIMP for free.

Techsmith Camtasia & Snagit

https://www.techsmith.com/

Camtasia and Snagit are both tools from Techsmith and can be bought as a bundle. Camtasia is used for video creation most notably for screen casts. Screen casts are the recording of your computer screen while you are demonstrating a particular computer based task. Snagit is a screen image capture tool that you can use for training manual creation or help files as well as including the images into your eLearning when creating step by step wizards. While the eLearning packaging tools have the ability to capture Screen Casts they don’t allow you to edit it very well after capture. Camtasia allows you to zoom in, add text, edit and re-record audio and put in transitions. I generally make my screen casts in Camtasia and import the finished product into the eLearning authoring software products.

NOTE : CamStudio and OBS Studio are some free alternatives for screen recording but they just do the raw screen recording without post recording tools to smarten up your videos. A free alternative to Snagit I always have loaded on my machines is Greenshot that has many of the same features.

Audacity

https://www.audacityteam.org/

While you can get most of what you need from Camtasia with recording audio I love exporting the audio track to Audacity and cleaning it up. I take out the breathing and bumps and clicks as well as any non words. This just makes the eLearning just that notch higher in quality and also does not make me feel self conscious when listening back to my own voice. The best thing is that it is free so no need for an alternative.

What Next?

Now that you have a machine setup how about you look at a simple introduction to eLearning in this article?

Article : A Quick Introduction to Creating eLearning

Glen Brown

I am a Technical Trainer and Manager with over 20 years experience in IT, Education and Business. I have multiple qualifications on each topic including post graduate qualifications. I have a passion for sharing knowledge and using technology to do this. If you would like to know more about me please see the about page of the website.

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