The Ultimate Guide for Choosing an eLearning Authoring Tool
There are a growing number of eLearning authoring tools on the market. With each boasting its unique selling features, it's tough knowing which features cater to your specific content creation needs. Luckily, almost every authoring tool on the market offers a free trial that lets you test out their features.
So, what should you be looking for when trying out a new authoring tool? Since we all have different needs, backgrounds, and proficiency with new technology, there's no universal answer. However, here are some important factors you should consider when choosing a new eLearning authoring tool:
Ease of Use vs. Creative Freedom
This depends on a combination of your expertise and the need for creative freedom. There are many authoring tools that come packed with pre-made templates that are designed to get you started quickly but will also limit your flexibility in design. Are you a technically-adept person who can learn a new interface quickly? If you're working with a team, are they equally adept? If your courses have very specific needs and you can handle a learning curve, a more complex tool might better suit your needs. While complex tools have a higher learning curve, the sky tends to be the limit for such tools. It's just a matter of knowing the scope of your needs.
Pricing & Plans
Ease of use tends to go hand in hand with price. A complete tool packed with tons of features will most likely cost more than a basic tool. This is where making a wise decision can be tricky. Beyond monthly pricing and plan options, there are many other factors to consider:
Price per user versus team pricing:
Will you be working solo or in a team? If solo, are there small plans catering to a solo environment? If you're working in a team, are there plans catered to collaborative environments? Can new users easily be added to a plan?
How much monthly storage is included in the price. More expensive tools will offer unlimited storage whereas others can be quite limited. For the latter, what is the cost for extra storage if needed? How much storage do you even need? If you're creating self-hosted video courses, you will need much more than if your courses are basic HTML with a few quizzes.
Monthly versus yearly pricing:
Are you required to pay for a year upfront or can you pay monthly? This depends on your budget and payment preferences.
What happens when you cancel your account? Will you lose all of your content? Will you be refunded if you cancel halfway through a 1-year subscription?
Flexibility of Features:
Some tools give you the flexibility of paying for certain add-ons individually instead of choosing a plan that's unnecessarily large for what you need. Can I buy additional add-ons if needed? These can include extra storage, extra users, and more.
You can normally find the answers to these questions in an authoring tool's terms and conditions and FAQs.
This is where you take into consideration all of the features you need relative to how much you're willing to spend. For instance, if you're creating simple HTML5 eLearning courses containing images or externally hosted videos, do you really need those extra gigs of monthly storage? Probably not.
Whether you're choosing a more complex authoring tool or a simple tool, consider the costs of external perks that might not be included in the plan. This can also include hiring extra help if your tool has a steeper learning curve. If the authoring tool is more expensive but will provide everything you need, perhaps the added value in your life will override the extra cost.
In other words, sometimes it makes more sense to look beyond price and consider the value you're getting from the tool. Will you be saving time and money in other areas due to the tool? This means a $100/month tool may actually end up costing you only $50 thanks for the $50 you'll save.
This really depends on your work environment. Will you be working solo or collaborating within a team? The best collaborative tools tend to be cloud and/or web-based. If you will be collaborating with multiple team mebers, real-time collaboration would be in your best interest to avoid overriding team members' work. Real-time collaboration lets you see other users' changes as they occur.
If you have a tool in mind, how far do their collaborative features go? Can you communicate with collaborators directly within the tool? Can you leave comments on items within a course? While desktop software is less collaborative, its rich features tend to make up for it. Some tools will offer collaboration as an external tool, so it's important to look into those external tools and their pricing beforehand. Other tools will offer features that enable collaboration but may not necessarily be the most efficient method for a collaborative environment.
The bottom line is, if you'll be collaborating a lot, make sure that the tool you choose offers enhanced collaboration features to avoid miscommunications and frustrations down the road.
According to Pew Resaerch, 96% of Americans owns a smartphone. If the courses you're producing will be viewed outside of a classroom setting, they must be mobile-friendly!
This is where you should be looking at the publishing output. Is it Flash, HTML5? Can courses effectively be taken on all major devices? Also, is it mobile-friendly out of the box or do you have to produce additional courses for a mobile-friendly output?
To avoid frustrations down the road, take advantage of free trials to test out a mock course on iOS and Android smartphones and/or tablets. In fact, in today's day and age, it's probably more important for your course to look better on mobile devices than it is on desktop. Of course, this also depends on the demographics of your learners. It's a shame to waste hours creating a course that looks beautiful and engaging on desktop but suboptimal on a standard smartphone.
Templates & Media Assets Included
Templates can be a huge time saver. An authoring tool's template selection can help determine how much time you will have to invest in creating an aesthetically appealing course. Most tools will include a few templates and color schemes to help get you started, while others come packed with a large library of templates and media assets. If a tool comes equipped with templates, background music, images, and other graphics, you will save time in content creation and won't have to invest as much in graphic design or purchasing media licenses.
If you're a beginner in instructional design, you'll be better off with a tool that lets you create a professional-looking course straight out of the box. Sign up for a few free trials and see which eLearning authoring tool offers the set of templates that best fits your design needs.
Desktop vs. Web-based Authoring Tool
The debate between desktop and cloud-based eLearning authoring tools can be extensive. While both types of software come with pros and cons, web-based authoring tools are becoming more and more popular.
Some advantages of web-based authoring tools include universal access, no software to install, fewer resources needed, no storage space consumed, automatic software updates, and more. In general, the opposite is true for desktop software. However, there are definitely some benefits as well, such as offline access, control over your data, and higher security. If you plan on working solo from the same device at all times, a desktop tool could fit your needs. However, if you tend to work from different devices in a collaborative environment, a web-based tool would probably be best. Desktop tools also tend to be richer in features, providing greater control over the look and feel of your course. Web-based authoring tools, on the other hand, tend to be much more flexible and efficient to use.
Nowadays, ensuring that a course is engaging can be more difficult than coming up with the content itself. Adding interactivity to a course is essential to ensuring learners stay focused and engaged. That said, depending on the complexity of a tool and interactions offered, adding interactivity can vary in difficulty. First, decide which level of interactivity you'd like to incorporate. If you'd like learners to simply click next in a linear fashion, most tools should have you covered. However, if your aim is to create a more interactive experience with scenarios and branching, you'll need a tool that specializes in non-linear eLearning. Ideally, a tool that makes it easy to create a non-linear eLearning experience. That said, ensure the tool you're looking into offers a solid set of interactions and that they're not too complex to incorporate into your courses.
Regardless of your course's objective, it's always a good idea to periodically assess knowledge. Assessments allow your learners to interact with your course and recall recently processedinformation. That said, eLearning authoring tools offer a varying depth of quiz features. This is where you should look into how many question types are offered versus how many you plan on using. Some tools will allow you to create completely gamified assessments while others might only allow simple multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank type questions. If you'll be including simple quizzes in your courses, a tool that offers easy quiz creation should do. If you plan on giving more detailed and comprehensive assessments in your courses, look for a tool that offers more flexible and custom quiz features.
Integration with LMS & Other Technology
If you are currently using a learning management system (LMS), it's important to determine if the tool is compatible and can easily integrate with it. The same goes with other technology you might be using in the process of creating a course. To know if a tool is compatible, you'll have to look into the publishing standards offered — SCORM 1.2, SCORM 2004, xAPI (TinCan) and AICC are offered by most.
No matter how easy a tool may seem, a strong support system is important since unexpected errors are often inevitable. Servers can crash, bugs can occur, errors can disrupt progress, files can disappear as a result, and so on. That said, it's important to know what level of support is available if things take an unexpected turn. Do they offer phone support? Chat support? Is it available 24/7? Is it included in your plan? The last thing you want is to be paying a software engineer by the hour to fix an error. For tools with limited help files and documentation available, a reliable support team can make a big difference. Technical issues aside, some tools, such as Absorb Create, even offer personalized assistance in creating courses.
Video or No Video
With short learner attention spans, it's not surprising that video has become one of the most popular eLearning formats. With that in mind, ensuring the tool you choose offers at least basic video features is a good idea. Most tools will let you add a video to your course, but customizing it and making it interactive is possible with only a limited number of authoring tools. With built-in video features, adding interactive video to a course can require a significant amount of external resources if the functionality doesn't already exist inside your authoring tool.
Free Trial Period
Most, if not all, eLearning authoring tools come with a free trial. Being able to try a tool for free before investing in it is essential if you want to make an informed decision. We strongly recommend creating a small test course on each tool you're considering and see which one is the most efficient while catering to your specific needs. Be sure to test out every feature you plan on using.
With all of this information you should now have a good idea of what to look for when choosing an eLearning authoring tool. If you're looking for an easy-to-use tool that gives you the ability to create interactive courses with features like branching logic and built-in assessments, we recommend trying out Absorb Create.