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The XMLToolkit development framework is a custom code base and rendering engine developed for the Adobe Flash Player by Chris Spence at Educational Media Solutions.

The XMLToolkit is designed specifically to meet the needs of organizations deploying dynamic educational content in a scalable, multi-lingual context. The primary function of the XMLToolkit is to externalize and modularize the design, content, and behavior of web-based educational and/or training applications to enable dynamic assembly of client-customized, interactive, educational environments.

So, what does that mean exactly?
Basically, the XMLToolkit [XMLTK] is an engine that powers an interactive educational experience. This experience could be an e-learning course, a collection of activity-based learning modules, or even something as simple as an online presentation or website. The XMLTK-powered application loads information from external documents (sometimes in XML format, sometimes derived from a database) that provides the instructions required to build and present the experience. This data includes information about which fonts to use in the application, where to place images and shapes, what color and size those objects should be, what sorts of information (text, video, images etc.,)  will populate the site and on what pages they will be visible. The application can also determine its relative location on the globe, and use that information to further customize the display (e.g., an application loading in Japan would need to import japanese character glyhps, and perhaps a different collection of images that are more in keeping with japanese culture.) Most importantly, the web-site also imports a custom suite of "plug-ins" that enhance the web-site's behavior and interactivity.

What are plugins and why are they so cool?
Plugins are the modular components that impart special or custom functionality to the XMLToolkit powered application. Consider an e-learning course. Unlike a simple website, this application must keep track of and report user progress, control page access (i.e., making sure the user doesn't skip ahead), provide and track interactive assessments, load dynamic media... the list of custom features goes on. Each feature, or responsibility, is treated as an individual plugin that can be added or removed from the application without "breaking" the experience. If, for example, you wish to allow an unrestricted preview of the course for certain stakeholders, the tracking manager plugin can be removed, and those individuals could view the course without having to complete all of the otherwise requisite activities. This modular architecture affords tremendous flexibility in the ways in which your content can be deployed. For example, you might offer several variants of your product, and charge more for those with more plugin customization.

Furthermore, there is no limit to the number of plugins that can be developed for your application. Unlike traditional internet applications, those powered by the XMLToolkit do not need to be "re-coded" each time new functionality is needed. Instead, the new functionality is created as a new plugin, and imported into the application at run time. Pretty cool!

Who is the XMLToolkit for?
The XMLToolkit is most suitable for organizations that wish to deploy a suite of unique educational experiences to their users, and continue to do so into the future with no dependence on the application vendor. E-courses are an excellent example of such a product. Clients using the XMLToolkit can create as many courses, with as many design templates, as they wish without having to touch the Adobe Flash authoring environment. Some smaller companies have also elected to power their websites with the XMLToolkit, and use its easy to understand XML schema to maintain and extend their website experience.

Is it worth the cost?
Well, it depends on what your organization wants to do. There are many open source learning management systems on the market that can be configured to deliver e-learning content. EMS clients generally have a well-defined target audience with very specific interactivity, assessment, branding, design, and certification needs that are not satisfied by the broad-stroke solutions common to most LMS environments. Generally, a custom solution like the XMLToolkit is not recommended when an organization's needs are fairly basic and easily addressed by open source or pre-existing technologies. To hire a developer full time for two and a half months to build an LMS capable application environment (comparable to the XMLTK) would cost, on average, around $20,000. The XMLToolkit basic implementation costs, by comparison, $6300 and saves two and a half months of development time. So it is most certainly a reasonable investment for organizations with well-defined, specific needs that require a custom solution. See the Use Cases and Licensing pages for more information about XMLToolkit implementation and rates.

 

 
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