8 Considerations for Selecting E-learning Content Authoring Tools

Calendar Icon September 7, 2021
Reading Time Icon Read Time: 7 min
By Firmwater

There is no shortage of content authoring tools available for creating engaging and user-friendly e-learning content.

How can you be sure you’re choosing the most efficient and future-proof content authoring tools?

Selecting the right content authoring tools now will save you time and money down the road. Better yet, it may enable you to easily repurpose and re-chunk existing content for clients seeking tailored offerings.

Regardless of what type of training that you offer, be sure that you can answer these eight crucial questions before buying a content authoring tool.

1. Does the tool create an experience that you are proud to provide your students?

Never purchase the first tool that comes your way. You will always want to compare and contrast several content authoring tools before deciding on one. That said, many authoring tools have similar and overlapping capabilities that are “six of one, half a dozen” of the other, so to speak.

You don’t necessarily need to spend time examining all the functionality of every content authoring program. However, you do want to look for tool differentiators, particularly when these could impact your ability to streamline content design and learner experience. When comparing tools, try to create the same learning experience with each program. Evaluate the development effort, as well as the appearance, behavior, and ease of use for learners.

Different software may have some output styles that are more suitable or desirable for your specific training audiences and others that may save you development time. You always need to find a balance between design control and development effort when considering tools.

Does the software enable you to achieve your specific training goals? Does it provide the right types of assessment, when and where you need them in your training materials? You want to have content authoring tools that enable you to simulate real-world scenarios and engage the learner. Plan now for what you need today and tomorrow.

2. Does the tool offer templates and UX customization?

If you don’t already, you need to start templating your curriculums. Templating saves development time for your teams and provides a consistent user experience across your training courses.

Most content authoring tools advertise templating, but they’re not all created equal. Ask the following questions about any new authoring tool:

  • Does the tool enable you to copy, customize, and create your own templates to suit your clients’ branding needs? How difficult is it to learn and use the tool to create custom templates?
  • Are the default templates easy to use and intuitive for your clients, or will you need to heavily modify them?

Case study: Articulate Rise (fixed templates) versus Articulate Storyline (Modifiable)

Articulate makes great content authoring tools. Two popular ones are Articulate Storyline and Articulate Rise.

Articulate Storyline is an e-learning powerhouse. It offers content creators nearly endless opportunities to customize and deliver their content in various ways. You can create your own templates and build your own interface from scratch. You can even add custom interactions with JavaScript. Storyline gives you complete control over design, though it may take more hours and in-house specialties to use.

Articulate Rise offers a mobile-ready, stripped-down user interface, quick content design, and a variety of publication modes. It is HTML5 and SCORM compliant and enables content creators to embed interactive assessments and features. However, it is limited by the fact that beyond changing logos, headers, and colors, what you see is what you get. That said, what you get is a clean, simple look that works well on mobile and desktop devices alike. Good UX design is challenging to achieve, and if you don’t have that skill set, Rise solves that part of the problem for you.

3. Is the tool LMS dependent?

There are two types of content-authoring tools in the e-learning world:

  • LMS-based tools
  • LMS-independent tools

LMS-based tools are hardwired into an LMS, so they are LMS dependent. Any content created using these tools is permanently attached to the system. If you ever decide to use another LMS—or a client requests that you do so—you will likely have to recreate all your content from scratch. These tools are anything but future-proof.

LMS-independent content creation tools, however, typically follow open standards. You can import or export them into other LMS that follow the same standards. For example, you will be able to export your content as SCORM-compliant packages that can be loaded to most LMS.

4. Is the tool desktop or cloud-based?

There are two types of content-creation tools: desktop and cloud.

Cloud-based software

Cloud software, often referred to as software as a service (SaaS), is starting to replace desktop software in almost every industry. Cloud-based software is maintained and hosted by a provider, resulting in superior uptime and no maintenance costs, and enables seamless security updating without interruption. Better yet, your employees and trainers can access and work on their content from anywhere that they have an internet connection, 24/7.

However, cloud-based software isn’t completely issue-free. Licensing costs may vary by vendor, depending on the volume of use and number of licenses purchased. Since you won’t be saving your content directly to your own servers, you want to double-check that you can back it up when needed and download it for keeps if you decide not to renew your subscription in the future.

Cloud-hosted authoring tools typically offer smaller feature sets than certain desktop tools. For example, Articulate Rise is cloud-based and far more limited than its desktop counterpart, Articulate Storyline. This potential negative can be seen as an advantage, however. The learning curve to develop with these tools is often less steep, resulting in a consistent end-user experience across your content for less cost.

Desktop software

Desktop software is less flexible, as it is often tied to a particular PC. Unlike cloud software, which may allow many collaborators to work on the same documents concurrently, desktop software often allows only one person to work on a project at a time. Today, many desktop offerings are more powerful, with more feature sets than cloud-based services. This is changing, however. Desktop software is sometimes more affordable and great if you do not have regular internet access, but it comes at a cost: less flexibility.

5. Does the tool produce mobile-first content?

The world has gone mobile, so you need to export responsive e-learning content designed for mobile browsers. There are several simple tips to ensure that any content authoring tool has this:

  1. Focus on tools that export with native web functionality (HTML5, JavaScript, CSS, etc.). These will work in most mobile browsers natively without problems.
  2. Avoid tools that only work with non-standard plugins or specific browser types.

Fortunately, many authoring tools enable you to preview what your content will look like on different types of devices, e.g., desktop, tablet, and smartphone. You can review how your training content will display before exporting it to your LMS.

6. Do the tool’s assessment options match your needs?

Make sure your tool offers the assessment types that your students expect and that you need to offer. These may include quizzes, qualitative assessments, and simulation-based exams.

You will want authoring tools that can randomize questions or enable question pools. These keep learners honest by randomly selecting questions, sometimes from a larger pool. Question pools keep assessments more engaging by offering different phrasing of similar questions. Different questions also keep quizzes from becoming predictable on subsequent attempts.

Many tools also provide the option for self- and peer-assessment. These and other types of reflections increase learner engagement and promote deeper learning.

Does the gradebook and scoring mechanism enable you to export and report the kinds of scores that you need in your LMS? If not, you probably want to look for another authoring tool.

7. Does the software provide the learner data that you need?

Data is king. But only if you have access to it.

Do your e-learning content authoring tools enable you to collect the types of user data you need?

If you have learner data, you can see how students learn in your training courses. Surveys seeking self-reported data at the end of a course are never as accurate as student tracking data. There are two types of data that you want to collect.

Interaction data consists of question-and-response actions that are passed from your content to an LMS. You want to make sure your authoring tool creates content that uses the SCORM API to save interaction data to the LMS. In some situations, when creating training dealing with sensitive data, such as health information, you will also need to choose a tool that provides some control over what interaction data is saved to the LMS.

Course and participation data is also important. This type of data may include assessment, completion, or metric details about your students. For example, course data may include how many attempts it took a student to pass your quiz. Some authoring tools provide a limited number of ways for determining course completion status (e.g., all slides viewed, quiz score from one quiz, etc.), whereas others will provide more flexibility in determining the module’s completion status and score. Such data can be used to automate the issuing of certificates to students from within your LMS. See if your content-authoring tool enables you to design your courses so you can collect the types of data that you need.

You should also make sure your content is designed so the data that you receive plays nicely with your LMS. Can your authoring tool efficiently help you design your content using multiple SCORM chunks instead of a large, single module? Doing so will give you the ability to create reports of the smaller chunks in your course.

8. Who can create and maintain the content?

Someday, you will rely on people other than your current dedicated e-learning staff or third-party instructional design provider. You need to make sure new staff or third-party vendors can quickly learn how to use your content authoring tool.

It often makes sense to choose a well-known tool so you can easily outsource content production and maintenance should you need to scale up quickly. Depending on the time and resources that your company has, some authoring tools may make more sense than others, simply due to their ease of use and ubiquity.

Considerations for Every Content Authoring Tool That You Use

You will avoid headaches and costs if you answer these eight questions before purchasing a new authoring tool. Considering these will speed up the decision-making process and help you avoid making a short-sighted decision.

Always remember to keep the end-user—i.e., your customers—at the forefront of your decision-making process. If you focus on your clients’ potential satisfaction with the content that the authoring tools can create, you will always select the right tools.

Here at Firmwater, we don’t just sell an LMS for training providers. We partner with our clients, giving them the tools and insights they need to implement the best practices in e-learning course development, growth, and delivery. We care too much about our customers’ businesses to have them wade through forums and chatbots for help.

Ready to use an LMS that’s designed for the way YOU work, with a team dedicated to YOUR needs? Book a no-obligation consultation directly with our team today!

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