How to select an e-Learning authoring tool


There are hundreds of e-Learning authoring tools around and they come in many shapes an sizes, so how to select the one that fits your requirements? In this post I will give a global overview of different types of e-Learning authoring tools and some questions that you can ask yourself. Your answers should guide you in the right direction.

What is an e-Learning authoring tool?

Before we start. What is an e-Learning authoring tool? It is software that you can use to create e-Learning modules, quizzes or assessments. Like you use Word to create a document, PowerPoint to create a presentation, you can use an e-Learning authoring tool to create online courses and quizzes (e-Learning).

Pencils

How to select the proper authoring tool

Let’s start with your requirements. You can come up with many requirements, but I found that it is much more effective to focus on no more than 5 to 10 really important ones. So create a list of requirements and start deleting until you have no more than 10 requirements left.

Types of authoring tools

In order to give you more insight I tried to group the tools for you:

  • Cloud based authoring tools
    • These tools live in the cloud, so you do not need to install any software. As long as you have a browser and an internet connection you can use them. So the advantages of cloud based tools are: No installation, always the latest version of the software, ability to collaborate with others and they usually will work on any operating system. The main disadvantage is that you need to have an internet connection in order to work.
  • Installed authoring tools
    • These tools need to be installed on your PC, you also have to install updates to get the later version. Many tools will charge you for updates and upgrades. So check that before you decide to buy. Main advantage of these tools is that you can work without an internet connection and they are very often very rich in functionality. That is also the biggest disadvantage, it makes them very complex. You have to be an expert in e-Learning and in these kind of tools in order to get the most out of them. Most of these tools require substantial training. Another disadvantage of installed tools is that they will not allow you to collaborate with other users.
  • Rapid authoring tools
    • These are also locally installed tools but they are add-ons to PowerPoint. Basically they allow you to add interactions and questions to a PowerPoint presentation. That is the biggest advantage, you probably already know PowerPoint so the basic usage is simple. But these tools have all the disadvantages of installed tools.
  • Quiz and assessment tools
    • There are tools specialized in Assessments and quizzes only. Usually they have more question types and different reporting than e-Learning authoring tools. But they are questions only, you can’t add any content pages with information.
  • Within a LMS
    • Learning Management Systems are focused on the learning (learners) part, but many of them do have an built in authoring tool. Usually they are very simple and allow you to create pages only. You can’t create a whole course or a complete assessment. You can use an authoring tool together with most LMS. There are two main standards for exchanging information between a course created by an authoring tool and a LMS.  Make sure both your LMS and the authoring tool support the same standard for this (either Scorm or XAPI. For more details on SCORM and XAPI go to this page )

What is your goal?

What do you want to achieve? Just a onetime course, a series of courses, a whole Academy or maybe just a few assessments? This will determine what kind of tool you need. If you will be creating content on a daily basis, you probably will take advantage of the more complex tools (installed ones), it will pay off to take a training in these tools. If you will be authoring every now and then, you would want to go for an easy to use an easy to use cloud based tool.

Are you an e-Learning expert?

Almost all the tools focus on professional e-Learning developers. These tools are rich in functionality but complex and expensive. You will need a training to be able to use them. So if you are not an e-Learning expert don’t go there! In that case there are two options for you. If you do have an LMS check out the authoring capabilities. They are limited most of the time, but will be relatively simple to use. Your other option would be a cloud based tool.

Are you the only author?

This is an important one. There are two ways to collaborate. Co-authoring and reviewing. With co-authoring two or more authors will write and create the course collaboratively. A review function will allow you to give subject matter experts access to check your course and make comments. If this is important for you than you probably should check out the cloud based tools first. Because all data is stored online it is much easier to collaborate in these tools (people can go to your course instead of you sending them your course). I believe that collaboration and reviewing should be definitely on your list of requirements.

How do you want to share your courses and quizzes?

Another really important issue. And this one will cost you the bigger part of your budget. You can share your courses via a Learning Management System, via a website or intranet or even via an app. Learning management systems tend to be complex, and they usually charge a fee per learner. If you have a website, intranet or wiki, you can host your courses there. You create them in an e-Learning authoring tool and ‘publish’ them on one of these web servers. Tracking and tracing can be an issue here tough. If you want to publish your courses outside an LMS (which I recommend) you need to make sure that your authoring environment includes tracking and tracing of the learners results. Very few authoring tools have that built in, but there are that allow you to report to a Learning Record Store. Your tool needs to support the XAPI standard in order to allow you to track the results in that case. I explained result tracking in more detail in this earlier post :Track and trace Learners results. What do SCORM compliance, AICC, XAPI and CMI5 mean?

Do you need a Learning Management System or not?

As I wrote in the previous paragraph, you can share your courses and see the results without an LMS. An LMS offers more than just hosting of your courses and tracking the results of your learner. But I would advise you to consider a ‘best of breed’ solution and not a LMS. With best of breed I mean that you select multiple small tools and create your learning environment. It will be cheaper, it is more flexible and you will not have a vendor lock in.

What kind of devices are your learners using?

People will take your course via their mobile, their tablets or their PC’s. You need to make sure that your courses run perfect on all these devices. In order to do that you need to select a tool that is a responsive (that means it will adapt to the screen size automatically) and secondly, make sure it does not use flash (not supported on tablets and many mobile devices). Responsiveness is another must have requirement.

Subscription or a license?

In general you will find subscriptions in cloud based tools and licenses in tools that you have to install. The licensing model is the old model, the subscription model the new one. Subscriptions can be taken on a monthly or yearly basis and give you more flexibility. A license is a onetime purchase that will give you usage over a much longer period. But do take into account that most subscriptions include free updates and upgrades, while you have often to pay a significant amount to upgrade or even update a license.

Did you made up your mind?

I do hope that this post helps you to make a step in the right direction and the right decision. If you still have some questions, feel free join one of my free Q&A sessions on e-Learning. I will be happy to answer your questions.

4 comments

  1. Dear Kasper,

    Good article. In the section, “Do you need a Learning Management System or not?” – I found you mentioning ,
    “With best of breed I mean that you select multiple small tools ” => what does the small tools? are they available in market??
    Can you kindly let me know what are those small tools that you would suggest??

    -Vishnu

    Like

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