These 10 valuable tips will help you determine what authoring tool could be the best fit for your needs
Selecting an elearning authoring tool can be confusing. Because it’s usually best to try before you buy, selection can take a bit of time too. Whether you’re looking for a new solution to up the scale of your online learning production, searching for a speedier or higher quality solution than what you currently have, or embarking on creating elearning for the first time, here are 10 considerations to help you choose the right tool for your needs.
First, put together your measurement criteria
Before you go shopping, stand back and consider what you need from the authoring tool. What do you need it to deliver for your team and to your learners?
- Speed? If you want to speed up elearning production, you need to measure how quickly you can produce like-for-like content in your tool trials.
- Cost reduction? Weigh up the tool license fees, and consider how much time it takes to produce elearning content.
- Quality? Of course, cost and speed need to be balanced against quality. Consider creating the same content in different tools and testing the outputs with learners. Make note of the fully available functions of each tool to compare each one’s potential and deliver high-end results.
- Quantity? If you have a target for how much elearning you produce as a business, you need a tool that not only backs speed but also doesn’t require expertise or a lot of training to use. The more accessible you make it for nontechnical people, the more you can produce.
Once you have your measurement criteria in mind, work through the following:
1. Test the tool out with nontechnical authors
The best way to test usability is to have nontechnical or novice authors use the tools. Have two or more nontechnical authors create some sample content in different tools, each author trialling tools in a different order from one another. How do they rate the interface and usability? Does the tool have a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) interface? The WYSIWYG interface enables authors to see what they’re building and how the learning content will look to end users. Does the tool track the time spent authoring for you? If not, make sure you log it yourself so that you can compare.
2. Benchmark what comes out of the box
Compare each tool’s immediately available capabilities. List the ready-made interaction types, themes, layouts, menus, question types, and any other built-in features. These may include tools for branching, scoring, social learning (e.g., polls), video and audio handling, interactive videos, and gamification. You may find that some tools can report diagnostics and personalize learning for individuals as standard.
3. Go beyond the box
Once you have like-for-like comparisons of ready-made functionalities anyone can pick up and use, explore how the tools support free-form design (i.e., the ability to create new templates and free-form layouts). At this stage, if you don’t feel capable of exploring design functionality beyond what comes as standard, ask for a demo.
4. Work out the workflow—especially for edits
Having an easy-to-use authoring tool is just part of the picture; you also need the tool to support collaborative working, easy editing, and open communicating. If this all happens outside of the tool instead, you’ll create time hurdles for your projects. Suss out if the tool has inbuilt review and communication features that enable team members to make comments and edits to specific parts of the content directly. Does it enable you to set up specific project roles with differing permissions so that some members can review or comment, whereas others can edit? If so, you can share your project with stakeholders and sample learners to gain feedback as it’s built.
5. Measure if it’s (really) mobile-ready
Many tools claim to be multi-device, but unfortunately not all are fully responsive. Content layouts can help you build mobile-ready content as they can automatically reorder and resize content to fit smaller screen sizes. Look for a tool that not only publishes to all devices automatically (without you having to make fiddly edits and additional versions) but alsoenables you to see what the content looks like across different devices as you build it. If it’s fully responsive, you should be able to toggle between different views easily.
6. Level out the look and feel
Factor in what premade themes each tool comes with and how tailorable they are. How easy are they to brand? Can you create specific looks for specific themes? Can you lock down or provide guidance to teams on how to use certain templates so that you can get the right level of consistency for your project(s)?
7. Evaluate if it supports scale
Smart re-use of key elements allows a speedy, consistent digital learning design that you can roll out on scale. Suss out if you can re-use themes, menus, custom layouts, whole topics, modules, or ad hoc pages across other projects. If you can give another project a flying start with a ready-made structure, look and feel, and interaction types, your experts can focus on crafting great content.
8. Analyze the analytics
Evaluate what tracking and reporting the tool can provide. Does it fully integrate with learning management systems (LMS) and provide tracking data through them? Can it provide tracking and analytics outside an LMS (i.e., as a stand-alone tool)? Look beyond completion and assessment scores to other useful data, such as the time spent, device used, user location, and more detailed reports on how learners handled questions and activities. Does the data enable you to track trends with confidence?
9. Test out translation
Translation is often a must-have but can be a bit of a headache. It often requires paying translation organizations to edit the text within the authoring tool directly. This is, of course, an option if the tool is easy to use and fail-safe. Alternatively, ask if it’s possible for the tool to output an XML localization interchange file format (XLIFF), which contains all the text to be translated and corresponding spaces for a human translator to enter alternative language versions of that same text. Re-upload this into the project files, and avoid having translation companies use the authoring tool at all.
10. Master maintenance agility
We all know that business and project needs can suddenly change. Content may need refreshing, especially with product knowledge and compliance projects. You need a tool that enables you not only to edit content easily but also to republish in seconds—across LMSs and all devices—without any hiccups. Cloud-based tools facilitate editing by enabling any team member to hop on, make a change, and republish quickly.
Smart, modern online learning begins with smart processes and collaborative tools that make creating high-quality elearning easy. To maximize your elearning output, review more than just the tool; wisely consider how your team and subject experts can use it.
About the author
Steve Penfold is the Customer Success Director at Elucidat. He helps large companies and online training providers use Elucidat to simplify and speed up their authoring process.