Comparison of Toolbook Assistant and Toolbook Instructor for Use in the K-12 Environment

Diana Dell, Ed.S.



          Research indicates that interactive, multimedia materials can improve learning.  Tindall-Ford, et al.(1997) concluded that when information is presented in both audio and visual forms, performance on complex tasks is improved.  Similarly, after reviewing nearly 100 studies from the literature on the use of multimedia in instruction, J.R. Williams (1998) found that combining visual and verbal information improves comprehension.  These and similar findings, and a common belief that interactive multimedia adds excitement and enthusiasm to traditional instructional methods, have established a need for K-12 teachers to deliver interactive, multimedia instructional content. 

          Authoring software is becoming an increasingly important tool in K-12 environments as teachers are integrating more technology into their curricula.  Software that allows educators to deliver content with the benefits of multimedia and interactive learning experiences is a necessity.  While K-12 educators need these powerful tools, it is imperative that these tools require minimal learning time due to the lack of time devoted to technology professional development.  The simpler the tool is to learn, the more likely teachers will actually use it to create course content.  If teachers don’t use the tool, students will not have an opportunity to benefit from it.  Therefore, simplicity of the tool’s use is a factor that impacts the number of students who will receive the advantages of multimedia and interactive learning experiences.

Comparison of features and functions:

          In an attempt to meet the need for an effective authoring tool and balance it with the time constraints of the typical K-12 teacher, the writer evaluated Toolbook Assistant and Toolbook Instructor, companion software products from SumTotal.  Both tools can assist educators in developing web-based training, computer-based training, and interactive e-learning content.  The features and functions most applicable to the K-12 environment were used to compare the products and to evaluate effectiveness.  Based on the writer’s experience, the features and functions chosen for this comparison include delivery options, content development, assessment features, and media possibilities. 

          The following chart compares the features of these companion products as indicated on data sheets prepared by the software distributor:

Features and Functions

Toolbook Assistant


Toolbook Instructor



·        Internet

·        CD-ROM

·        LAN

·        any standards-compliant LMS

All delivery options of Assistant with the addition of the following:

·        HTML

·        EXE


Content Creation/ Development

·        Drag and drop authoring

·        Course creation wizards

·        Page, course and custom templates

·        Catalog of smart objects

·        Web publishing wizard

·        Context- sensitive help

All features of Assistant with the addition of the following:

·        Simulation recorder and editor

·        Custom interactive content

·        Multiple-types of training content

·        Free-form authoring

·        Conditional branching

·        Custom templates

·        Actions editor

·        Database access

·        Built-in Scripting


Assessment/ Question Types

Available Question Types:

·        Mutiple choice

·        Drag and drop

·        Text match items

·        Text entry

·        Essay

·        Match item

·        Hot spots

All assessment features of Assistant with the following additional features:

·        Question pools

·        Randomized question and answers choices

·        Weighting for answers

·        Custom feedback –delayed, text, and media

·        Multiple correct

·        Fill-in-the-blank with phonetic matching

·        Visual match items

·        Sequence procedural steps

·        Timed assessments

·        Specification of number of attempts

·        Multiple security levels


Windows Media

Real Media

Flash movies

Integrates Office documents

All media of Assistant and all common image, audio, and video formats.


Summary of comparison:

          Toolbook Assitant, an entry level product,  is targeted to novice designers with little or no experience with authoring tools or in developing e-learning content.  With simplicity in mind, its drag and drop features allow designers to “point, click, and author” e-learning content ( Many templates and a catalog of smart objects contribute to its ease of use.  As with most WYSIWYGs, customization  is limited.   Conversely,  Toolbook Instructor is geared to design professionals and provides a “comprehensive authoring solution to create software application simulations, tests, assessments, quiz and interactive e-learning content” (  It allows for more complex interactivity and customization of menu options, templates, catalogs, and other features.


            Ease of use and the ability to rapidly deliver interactive, multimedia-rich e-learning content makes Toolbook Assistant the authoring tool that best meets the needs of  teachers in K-12 envirnoments.  Most teacher’s authoring needs will not outgrow Assistant.  However, for those teachers who become proficient developers and consequently need additonal functions and features, transitioning to ToolBook Instructor is an option.  The compatiblity and integration of Instructor and Assistant  allows content created in Assistant to be edited with Instructor making the transition a simplified process.


(2004). Toolbook Assistant: Authoring made easy. Retrieved June 15, 2006, from Toolbook, A SumTotal product Web site:


(2004). Toolbook Instructor: Fast. Easy.. Retrieved June 15, 2006, from Toolbook, A SumTotal product Web site:


Tindall-Ford, S, Chandler, P, & Sweller, J (1997). When Two Sensory Modes are Better than One. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Applied, 3(4), 257-287.


Williams, J (1998). Guidelines for the Use of Multimedia in Instruction. Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 42nd Annual Meeting, 1447-1451.