Find everything training providers need to know about authoring tools in this free ebook!

You will:

  • Learn what e-learning authoring tools are and why training providers use them.
  • Find out about the different types of authoring tools and their strengths so you can choose the right one for your needs.
  • Discover the important role authoring tools play in course creation.

  • See the best free and paid authoring tools available.
  • Learn about the best features of the best platforms to make informed decisions before you purchase.
  • Discover the most important questions to ask before you choose an authoring tool and more!

Excerpt

Introduction

Learning about all the options for e-learning authoring tools can be confusing! This guide will simplify your process with an in-depth look at the many topics and questions that you may have about e-learning authoring tools.

Here, we dive into everything that you need to know about authoring tools. You will learn what they are and why you should use them. Find out how authoring tools make e-learning more engaging and effective and why using them benefits you, your client, and end-users. We also cover the different types of tools and important features to look for. You will find in-depth information on our favorite authoring and quiz tools and recommendations for getting started and moving forward. By the end, all your questions about authoring tools will be answered, and you can move on to deciding what one will work best for your business.

What Are E-learning Authoring Tools?

Let’s first discuss the difference between an authoring tool and a learning management system (LMS). Both are necessary tools in your training provider toolkit, but each has a specific job. Your LMS is software that handles the administration and distribution of your training materials, while your authoring tool is a program used for course creation. Using them together, you can offer clients top-of-the-line training materials.

An authoring tool enables you to create and organize content into a general course structure that is formatted specifically for digital online learning. Authoring tools can help you build many different types of content, whether it’s text-based, video content, quizzes and tests, or simulations. Using one of these tools means that even e-learning beginners can make professional, top-of-the-line content. When you look around for e-learning authoring tools, you’ll find a plethora of choices, from built-in and third-party to cloud-based and desktop. 

So, what’s the right tool for your business? It depends. You must first determine your needs, goals, and budget. Consider what type of e-learning experience you want to offer, your technical abilities, the kind of data that you want to collect, and how you will maintain and update your content in the future. Keep these considerations in mind as you learn about different e-learning authoring tool options.

What Are the Advantages of Authoring Tools?

Using an authoring tool to create your online content offers many advantages. One of the best is how easy they are to use, whether you have a professional designer or not. Most e-learning authoring tools have a selection of templates that you can use to build professional-looking courses. Simply take the content that you have prepared, and put it into a premade template to create a dynamic learning experience for your users. Once your course is put together, it takes little time to publish it to your LMS.

If you are using a cloud-based tool, you get the added benefit of being able to work collaboratively with your whole team. Work can then be done at any time and from any place, and additional updates or approvals can happen quickly. This type of work is exceptionally cost-effective. In addition, workers at any level of expertise can easily work together. 

As a training provider, you have unique needs when it comes to building courses. Instead of one learning population, you may have many separate clients, each with their own specific branding and customization options or even different courses. Using an authoring tool gives you a broad range of customization options and flexibility to build courses that fit each client. Whether this means creating separate courses or just making slight adjustments for each client, with an authoring tool, you can provide an excellent product for each client.

How Do Authoring Tools Affect Learning?

While ease of use may be the biggest benefit of using an authoring tool, there are many other advantages, such as how it affects learning. You can create engaging, motivational content for end-users by using a robust tool to author your course content. Build an interactive course with branching scenarios, or turn lessons into a game so the user is motivated and engaged in the material. Motivated and engaged users are more likely to comprehend the course material and finish courses. 

Authoring tools enable the development of learner-centered content, which means learners can take control of their education. Using authoring tools allows you to hand learners the reins when it comes to the direction and experience of their learning. With authoring tools, you can build courses with content that is self-paced and not dependent on the stipulations of an instructor or a specific schedule.

Using an authoring tool, you can build your course with specific learning goals in mind. This ensures that the learning audience will have the best chance of truly understanding the material. For example, create an assessment that uses question pools rather than multiple choice. A question pool means that a learner will see different questions when or if they retake assessments, ensuring that they have a comprehensive understanding of the material. It also makes it harder for coworkers to share answers. 

Another way that authoring tools affect learning is by giving you control over customization. Keeping users engaged means not bombarding them with redundant or unnecessary content. You can easily add or remove parts of a course for certain learning populations, keeping your content clean, efficient, and effective.

Why Use Authoring Tools?

If you still aren’t sold on using an authoring tool, keep this in mind: using one will give you the most control over your content. For example, if you use an LMS with a built-in tool, your content may not be able to come with you if you choose a new system. But if you use a third-party authoring tool, you own that content. If you go to another LMS, you take your courses with you, giving you ultimate portability.

A tool that is separate from your LMS gives you the ability to have more design and customization control for your clients. Like branding, you can have your master courses customized in your authoring tool for the client and use the LMS to deliver it. Having the ability to quickly adjust your master courses means you will get a high ROI on any e-learning materials that you create. Courses can be recycled repeatedly with different formatting, new updates, and various add-ons.

Authoring tools will also speed up your design process. All the different course customizations that you need to make for each client can add up over time if your process is slow and inefficient. Using these tools lets you work faster and keep assets organized for easy use and reuse.

Types of Authoring Tools

The kind of authoring tool that you choose should be based on the needs and budget of your business. Available tools include:

  • Built-in vs third party: A built-in tool enables you to create a course within your LMS. It often comes as a package deal with your LMS, making it budget-friendly. These tools might have less functionality but are easy to use, and you can avoid any extra costs associated with buying outside software or licenses. On the other hand, a third-party tool may cost more, but it will have robust options and pre-made templates. It can also give you the added benefit of content portability. There will be no question about your ownership of the content, even if you use an outside tool and choose to change your LMS.
  • Cloud based vs locally hosted: A cloud-based tool gives your team the ability to work on course materials at any time, no matter where everyone is located. Costs vary for these types of tools, and functionality on mobile devices may be slightly less robust than their desktop counterparts. Alternatively, a locally hosted tool or desktop software can be less costly. These types of tools often have better features and options than a cloud-based program. However, they offer less flexibility—collaborators may not be able to work concurrently or remotely, and you may need additional licenses for multiple team members to use the software. 
  • Multimedia: This type of authoring tool enables you to create different kinds of interactive content instead of static pages of content. Making courses interactive and with varying media types will help learners stay engaged. Depending on the tool, you could create anything from simple videos to powerful virtual reality experiences. Most authoring tools offer the ability to develop multimedia e-learning experiences, so a tool that does not have interactive capability may not be a good choice.
  • PowerPoint ribbons: If your current e-learning material is made up of PowerPoint slides, using PowerPoint ribbons with an add-in tool will be easy. You get the familiarity of PowerPoint with the functionality of the add-ins. Do note, though, that PowerPoint on its own is not necessarily a good e-learning fit for most training providers.
  • Screen capture and record: These types of tools enable you to move beyond a simple screenshot into something much more demonstrative. You can record detailed tutorials and add annotations and effects as needed. 
  • Mobile-oriented: If your user population will be utilizing mobile technology for e-learning, you may want to look into an authoring tool that specializes in responsive design. This type of tool will give you options based on the device that your audience will use. Look for authoring tools that use HTML5 to ensure that they can adapt to different device types.

Is PowerPoint an Authoring Tool?

Generally speaking, PowerPoint has many more capabilities than the average user is aware of. But it is not an authoring tool, and in most instances, it should be used in conjunction with a separate authoring tool. If you have a large amount of PowerPoint content or just want to get more familiar with what the application can do, take a deep dive into the tools and features that it offers, including adding animations, transitions, and audio. You can also look into all the add-in programs that PowerPoint works with. Better yet, learn how to convert slides to e-learning modules. Even with add-ins, though, you will likely need to be able to code. Furthermore, the file sizes that you will be dealing with will be large and difficult to distribute—nobody wants to watch a PowerPoint presentation on their tiny smartphone.

PowerPoint can be a great asset but on its own, has many limitations. For example, you will not be able to create branching scenarios, and courses made with this program tend to be strictly linear. Furthermore, it is unlikely that you can create a responsive course with PowerPoint, which is crucial in today’s e-learning market. In order to use it as a complete authoring tool, you will need the power of additional programs, add-ins, or authoring tools. Two of the best authoring tools that you can use alongside PowerPoint are Articulate Rise and Articulate Storyline. Both are powerful tools with many features that can help you create fantastic learning materials.

E-learning Authoring Tool Spotlight: Rise vs Storyline

Rise

  • Pros:
  • Shorter learning curve than Storyline
  • Mobile-friendly design
  • Easy-to-use built-in block designs, such as labeled graphics with clickable hotspots, flashcards, and sorting
  • Acceptable to many corporate clients
  • Ability to add your own media, such as images, videos, and audio
  • Rise Scenario blocks: create branched scenarios with virtual characters/avatars, and add dialogue, responses, and feedback
  • Storyline blocks: embed Storyline 360 courses into Rise 360 
  • Ability to add knowledge checks throughout a course
  • Improved accessibility features
  • Cons:
    • It has a limited look and feel. There’s a standard Rise template, and you can change the colors and labels, but one person’s Rise content vs. another’s will look and feel virtually the same.
    • There are limited interactions available. While it’s easy to set up the content blocks and add your own media, you can’t do much else, like build in your own interactions or move buttons around.
    • There’s a lack of white space control.

Storyline

  • Pros:
  • Sophisticated building choices
  • Many quiz design options
  • Custom branching design
  • Many design and layout options (once you learn how to use it)
  • Use of variables giving the user creative freedom to design an almost unlimited range of interactions
  • More comprehensive accessibility options, such as the ability to build your closed captions within Storyline
  • Free downloadable templates that you can use to get started without subscribing 
  • Ability to brand with logos, colors, fonts, and customized player
  • Cons: 
    • Long learning curve that could be overwhelming for beginners
    • Must understand variables, slides, and layers and how they all interact

If you’re looking for recommendations, the trending strategy for course design using authoring tools is to start with Rise. From there, you can add Storyline elements when necessary, including Storyline blocks when an increased amount of interactivity is needed. When additional levels of complexity in content and design arise, you can then move to using Storyline. This approach has worked for many clients.

For small organizations or those without the time or resources to develop content, you might want to consider acting as a subject matter expert and hiring an instructional designer to do the course development work for you. This will help ensure that the courses that you offer contain high-quality content and design.

Leverage Authoring Tools to Create E-learning Assessments

All major authoring tools come with built-in quizzes, but you still need to understand exactly what you want before choosing one. Each authoring tool will have variations and options, so deciding what works best for your objectives is crucial. 

For starters, you should know the differences in types of assessments. For example, building knowledge checks throughout your course will build excellent comprehension for your learners. However, it is unlikely that you will be able to receive any data from their answers in these checks because they are more for the learner’s benefit than your own. Conversely, quizzes will test your learner’s knowledge and provide you with valuable insights. 

Both are important for your learners’ e-learning experience. You may also want to vary the types of questions that you use in your assessments. You can use multiple choice, drag and drop, surveys, or matching, to name a few.

Quiz Option Comparison

  • iSpring: This standalone quiz maker has powerful options and insightful reports. It supports fourteen types of questions, and you can give users specific feedback to help them improve performance or add detailed slides within a test to provide additional information. You can even add branching scenarios with the assessment or use audio-based questions.
  • ClassMarker: This quiz tool is professional, secure, and web-based, so no software is necessary. It supports many different question types and enables you to sell your quizzes online. You can also customize the branding for certificates and exams.
  • Raptivity: This quiz tool classifies itself as an “interactivity builder.” It has a host of interactive templates that enable rapid customization without any coding. The quizzes that you make can be standalone micro-learning modules or part of a larger course.
  • Quizmaker360 from Articulate: From the powerful Articulate 360 authoring tool comes Quizmaker 360. It’s mobile-friendly and can be published alone or within a course. This tool can also be integrated with other products from Articulate and has many different design options.
  • Adobe Captivate: With the Captivate authoring tool, you can create quizzes with many options. It supports true/false, multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and matching questions. 
  • Firmwater QTI: This built-in quiz maker is available to all Firmwater clients for free, along with plenty of help and support from experts. It supports all the standard question types: multiple choice (single and multi-select), fill-in-the-blank, ranking, free-form, and Likert scale. It can also incorporate questions and feedback and has built-in reports specific to the tool to analyze learner responses.

What Are the Best Features of Multimedia Authoring Tools?

There are a few basic features that you will want to look for as you search for the best authoring tool. When comparing tools, branding and customization capabilities will be essential for you as a training provider selling to other companies. You will also want to make sure you have the publishing options that you need, such as SCORM, xAPI, etc. 

Another feature that you may want, depending on your design and technical experience, is an authoring tool that takes little to no training to master. Themes and templates are vital in this case and possibly even drag-and-drop course building. Having access to these easy-to-use features means you can focus on what’s important: your content. 

When it comes to the multimedia capabilities of authoring tools, there are myriad options that you will have to decide on. One of the most imperative is that it is optimized for mobile and that you can deliver your courses on multiple device types. You also need to be able to embed various media, like audio, video, and infographics, and have them work correctly on any kind of device. Responsive design capability is a must-have feature for an e-learning training provider. 

Next, look at the options that you have for quizzes, exams, and interactive elements. Interactivity and gamification are vital to creating engaging content. Check for features that add branching scenarios, custom navigation, and different types of gamification. Ideally, there are also pre-made templates for interactivity.

What Are Free E-Learning Authoring Tools?

  • Open eLearning: This is open-source e-learning software with which you can create multimedia courses and educational games. This tool is available to download to the desktop for use offline. You can choose to use it as a standalone product, but Open e-learning also works with other tools if you need any additional functionality. The software is available for Linux, Mac, and Windows, requires no coding skills, and is available anywhere, anytime, without a subscription.
  • Adapt: This is a free e-learning authoring tool with responsive, multi-device, HTML5 design capabilities. No coding is required with this tool, and it can be distributed through both a web server or SCORM-compliant LMS. Also included are multiple forums for idea sharing, learning, and a project and jobs board.

Overall Best E-learning Authoring Tools

  • Articulate: A suite of tools including both Rise and Storyline, this complete set of apps gives you every tool that you need to create dynamic learning experiences. It has a vast stock asset and template library with over 9,000 options. You can also send projects to different stakeholders, allowing them to quickly view and approve the projects. Additionally, there’s an extensive library of training videos and webinars to assist you in becoming an e-learning authoring pro.
  • Adobe Captivate: This is a powerful tool with broad functionality and an extensive interface. It includes pre-made slides, interactive videos, 360 learning experiences, and Quick Start Projects, a new tool that has slides and out-of-the-box interactions already set up for you. You can also easily convert PowerPoint slides into interactive videos and create virtual reality walkthroughs. Adobe also has a huge e-learning community and learning hub.
  • iSpring: This easy-to-use tool boasts a short learning curve, and no training is required to create interactive courses and assessments. It includes a PowerPoint converter, roleplay simulations, and an easy assessment builder. It also has a large content library with thousands of stock assets.
  • Lectora: This tool has extensive pre-built design frameworks, themes, and wireframes. It also has multiple integrated tools, including screen record and A/V editor, interactive templates, online review and collaboration tool, and adaptive branching scenarios. It is available in both desktop and line variations.

Conclusion

The best authoring tool is the one that fits your needs and budget. Use the information and advice from this guide to make an informed decision about what is right for your business, while being aware that what’s right for you may look different for other training companies. You know your business best, but remember that Firmwater is always here to offer expert guidance and support. The five-star customer support team is available by phone or email. Extensive documentation is located in the Help Center and on the blog page.

Building an engaging, custom course doesn’t have to be painful. Using an authoring tool can enable you to quickly learn how to make professional-level courses for your clients. With the right technology, you can take your expert training knowledge and turn it into courses that drive your learner’s comprehension and motivation. This, in turn, will wow your clients and keep them coming back for more!

So, as you move forward, start by determining whether you need the flexibility of a third-party tool or if you should start with a more budget-friendly one built-in. Then decide if you need the power of a desktop or locally hosted tool or if you need remote-friendly cloud-based software. Next, choose a tool based on the learning experience that you want to offer your clients and learners. Finally, you can find an authoring tool that supports multiple media types and has options that will build your vision. You’ll be ready to author an incredible course in no time!

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!