How to Compare E-Learning Authoring Software

Choosing the right tool is an important part of overcoming any challenge. Let’s say you’re trying to solve a tricky math problem. There are a couple of ways you can go about it. You could try to use your fingers and toes, or pen and paper. You might ask a knowledgeable friend to help you solve the equation. You could use a calculator or a computer. Each approach has pros and cons, though some are less likely to lead you to a correct answer.

When you start creating e-learning, one of the most important decisions you face is choosing the right authoring app. As with the math problem, some tools simply won’t get you where you need to go; others are good but maybe trickier to work with than you’d like; and one or two qualify as “Goldilocks tools”: they’re just right.

But how do you evaluate your options before you’re elbow-deep in a project? You likely have different priorities for different projects (think: creating rich interactivity vs. publishing content as quickly as possible). It’s important to keep these priorities and your needs in mind as you make your choices. An app that falls flat for your colleague could be a godsend for your project!

Here are some questions to help you evaluate e-learning authoring apps with your individual priorities in mind:

  • Is the new app easy to use? This is crucial! If the software you’re evaluating offers a free trial, be sure to take the time to try it out. Does the app meet your needs and match your skill level? Be realistic about what you and your team can handle.
  • Can you create mobile e-learning courses? Now that mobile devices are basically another appendage, building courses that work across devices is no longer an option, it’s a necessity. Does the app you’re evaluating allow you to do that easily? Or do you have to manually adjust all of your content to look right on various screens?
  • What level of interactivity are you aiming for in your e-learning? Are you looking to build a simple course with some interactive elements? Or do you need to build custom, complex interactivity? Both? Does it make adding interactions easy? Does it have built-in interactions or form-based authoring to help you add interactivity? You want to make sure the app you choose supports the level of interactivity you want to achieve for any project.
  • How will it account for special-use cases you may have? Take another look at your priorities. What’s on there that we haven’t covered in this list? Do you know you’ll need to create software simulations? What about interactive videos? Do you need to have stakeholders review your projects? Are there needs your organization doesn’t have now, but may in the future? And does this solution account for these scenarios?
  • Is the new app compatible with your LMS? You’ll want to think about how you plan on delivering content to your learners. If you need to be able to track their participation or other course analytics, then confirm that your authoring app makes it easy to publish e-learning to your platform of choice. SCORM and Tin Can / xAPI are common standards for e-learning. They ensure that content can communicate with your LMS. (Psst! Not sure what all this talk of SCORM and Tin Can is all about? No worries. Take a peek at these introductory articles to get caught up fast: A Quick Introduction to SCORM and Introduction to the Tin Can API.)
  • What kind of support is available? Even if the app you choose is easy to use, chances are you’ll need help at least once somewhere down the line. Does the software company have an active community of users who can help when the time comes? Do they offer free technical support, or does that cost extra? These are important things to look into before you commit.

There’s no one-size-fits-all authoring app that works for everyone and every project. However, some software companies offer complete e-learning course development solutions so you can pick and choose which app you use depending on the project. For example, Articulate 360 includes multiple authoring tools (like Storyline 360 and Rise), tons of course assets (such as templates, characters, and images), a review app, and even free online training.

No matter what apps you’re considering, it’s up to you to vet them to make sure you end up with one that fits your unique needs. Hopefully these considerations will help you more easily pick the right authoring software for you.

If you’re interested in trying out Articulate 360, click here to start your free 60-day trial. And, you can always count on E-Learning Heroes to provide more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning.

What do you look for in an e-learning authoring app? Let us know in the comments below.

Nicholas Sargent

A director who purchased Captivate for her team asked me this yesterday: "So, what's the difference between Storyline ('cause I mentioned using Storyline) and Captivate?" My thinking is: If I want to make a video, I use Camtasia (not Storyline or Captivate). If I want to build an interaction, I like using Storyline, because of the intuitive approach of triggers and layers. I like Storyline's approach more than Captivate's Advanced Actions. But, if I had to make videos a lot and didn't have Camtasia, I might prefer Captivate, because it seems like previewing on the timeline is more responsive in Captivate than Storyline. And if I were to compare Camtasia, Snagit, Storyline, and PowerPoint against Adobe Creative Cloud in general, I'd say that I can get a lot more done at my skill level wi... Expand

Kelvin Loh
Matthew Garratt

Reporting, responsive design and community support are also important considerations missing from this article. You need to consider how you want to report on student activity. While Articulate is SCORM compliant and can export to Tincan API, there is a real issue with how this information appears and is reported on. Lectora allows easy and intuitive reporting to google sheets and the ability to adjust what is reported on. The reports generated by the information exported by Articulate is difficult to extrapolate/manipulate. It is really difficult to diagnose and track learner behaviour within an Articulate exported course, unless, perhaps, you use the Articulate LMS that is uncommon in most edu institutions (cost prohibitive). The ability to tweak how courses look on different devi... Expand

Kelvin Loh