Authoring tools

Authoring tools

Table of Contents

    Continuous training is every learning and development (L&D) team’s best-kept secret for keeping the workforce up-to-date and competitive. But delivering effective digital learning experiences requires the right technology–including authoring tools.

    What are authoring tools, you ask? They allow you to create topical training programs efficiently. Without them, developing just one 20-minute digital training course will take nearly 80 hours (and some advanced coding skills). Put simply, an authoring tool is a cost-effective, time-saving, and accessible solution for creating impactful digital training.  

    This article covers the essentials of authoring tools for content creation so you can choose a solution that best fits your organization, generate high-quality training resources, and make your job easier. We’ll explore these questions:

    • What are authoring tools?
    • What are authoring tools for, and how can they help your organization?
    • How can organizations choose between different types of authoring tools?

    Let’s dive in!

    What are authoring tools?

    An authoring tool is software that enables users to create digital content for online training (e-learning courses, interactive resources, quizzes, microlearning modules, etc.) without extensive programming knowledge. After building your content, you can distribute it in several ways according to your organization’s needs. The most common method is via a learning management system (LMS).

    Keep in mind that the tools must create the course in a file that the LMS or other learning platforms support, or else you cannot import it.

    The tools vary according to the manufacturer. Some offer bare-bone options, while others have advanced features for creating more in-depth courses. 

    How authoring tools work

    Content authoring tools are ideal for trainers and instructional designers looking for a user-friendly way to create high-quality e-learning materials. While each software is slightly different, here’s a general overview of how to create an e-learning course using an authoring tool.

    1. Choose a structure – Build the outline of your course. For instance, do you want users to click through slides or scroll? You’ll also need to create relevant chapters, sections, and a table of contents. Don’t worry, you won’t have to build everything from scratch. Most authoring tools come with professional-looking templates that you can customize. 
    2. Tailor your look and feel – Customize your template by adding your organization’s fonts, logo, and color palette. Authoring tools usually have a global style setting, so you can standardize your design and ensure all your training content is consistent.
    3. Add your content – Copy and paste any text into your template and upload images, videos, or multimedia elements. Opting for a responsive authoring tool ensures your content will look good on any device.
    4. Build interactive exercises – Authoring tools make it quick and easy to build interactive exercises from scratch. These include drag and drop, matching activities, quizzes, clickable images, and simulations. You can also add personalized feedback popups to reinforce learners’ knowledge. 
    5. Test your settings – More advanced authoring tools come with an array of customization settings. This means you must test your course thoroughly before launching it, especially if you have included a final quiz with a passing score.
    6. Publish your resource – Once ready, you can publish your e-learning content as HTML, SCORM, or xAPI. The most common method is to download the SCORM file from the authoring tool and upload it to your company LMS. 
    7. Launch it – After uploading the training content to an LMS, you can add it to a learning path or deliver it as a standalone course. Then, simply enroll your learners and sit back.
    8. Measure results – Top LMSs like Docebo come with powerful analytics and custom reporting to monitor the impact of training easily.

    Types of e-learning authoring tools

    With so many on the market, picking a solution that works for your organization can be overwhelming. So to help you decide, we’ve broken down the different types of course authoring tools.

    By platform

    One of the common ways people divide up e-learning authoring tools categories is by looking at the platform where the software exists after deployment.

    Desktop authoring tools

    These are typically installed on your hard drive. Some may still use the old-school perpetual license, but most desktop solutions are subscription-based.

    Certain versions may give you access to cloud-based features. But frequently, the software will remain in your local drive, affecting collaboration efficiency. As such, this type of e-learning software is ideal for those who work primarily offline. They’re also popular for trained instructional designers looking for several creative functions to complete projects alone.

    Cloud-based authoring tools

    Existing solely online, these authoring tools don’t require users to install anything on their devices. As a result, they’re perfect for collaborating teams and content creators working across multiple devices.

    Cloud-based tools usually offer more responsiveness across mobile devices and apps than desktops. This makes them an ideal solution for multi-organization e-learning efforts, medium to large development teams, and teams with high turnover or several collaborating freelancers.

    By e-learning format

    The other way to categorize e-learning authoring tools is to identify what the software can effectively author.

    • Rapid authoring tools: These have features similar to desktop-installed tools but are in the form of Microsoft plug-ins. They allow users to add assessments and other interactive content to PowerPoint presentations. Top examples are Articulate Studio, Adobe Captivate, and Adobe Presenter. It’s the best solution for users new to online learning and looking for simple solutions.
    • Authoring tools built into Learning Management Systems: Some LMSs offer built-in authoring tools for creating simple e-learning pages or assessments. An LMS can only make basic assessments or courses. But you can complement it with an XAPI-, AICC-, and SCORM-compatible authoring tool that integrates into the LMS.  
    • Interactive video authoring tools: HTML5 makes your video learning more interactive. Through it, you can add comprehension checks and hotspots and turn videos into branching simulations. These tools make it simple to add these features without advanced skills or knowledge in video editing.
    • Quiz and assessment tools: This option is perfect for users looking to create simple quizzes or assessments for their employees (to complement blended learning programs, for instance). However,  since they only offer assessments, they have limited functionality. 
    • Screen recording tools: Screen recording software is valuable for creating visual step-by-step tutorials and software simulations. Users can record voiceover commentary on the onscreen activities and annotate them to make them more engaging.

    How to choose the best e-learning authoring tools

    Too complex, not advanced enough … choosing the best e-learning authoring tool for your organization can be challenging. Here are some factors to consider during the decision-making process.

    Ease of use

    The right authoring tool for your business should be user-friendly. That way,  Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) can produce training materials without help from tech-savvy developers. An easy-to-use software also reduces content creation time, and the return on investment will be higher.

    Deployment model

    Another essential factor is where the software will be hosted. The cloud-based and desktop solutions vary in several ways, including pricing and functionality. Determining deployment preferences in the first steps of your search will prevent compatibility issues later.


    Organizational training needs vary and will evolve with time. The training workflow you set one year will shift the next based on your employee learning curve and the changing environment of your workforce. The major advantage of cloud-based authoring tools like Lectora is that users can flex and scale up based on existing development needs. It also gives global access to the authoring tools from anywhere with branded templates to contribute to the project.

    Built-in features

    Your authoring tool should provide a wide selection of e-learning themes and templates. Without the right features, users are limited to basic images and sound clips. Luckily, options like Articulate Storyline have features for creating interactive courses that are simple for beginners and powerful enough for experts. Gamification tools are a great addition, although not strictly necessary, since top LMSs like Docebo offer in-built badges, points, and leaderboards. 

    Mobile learning readiness

    Online learning focuses on flexibility and accessibility, meaning content that can be consumed on multiple devices is a must. Mobile learning makes it easy and convenient for employees to access training content from different locations and devices. Additionally, it allows for micro-learning, where learners can access short bursts of information, such as brief videos, quizzes, or interactions.

    Content protection

    After content creation, you want to ensure the data is safe and backed up. Safety is paramount whether the authoring tools are hosted on servers or cloud-based. Verify the security protocols set by your e-learning vendor, such as watermarks, password protection, or time-limited displays. 

    Seamless integrations

    Most e-learning authoring tools publish a Tin Can (xAPI) and SCORM package that’s effective for importing content into compliant LMS options. The SCORM and xAPI standards aim to allow tools and content from various vendors to track and launch learner progress following a set of protocols. The best e-learning authoring tool should support, at the very least, SCORM standards to ensure users can export HTML5 formats easily.

    Opting for an authoring tool that integrates with your corporate LMS will ensure a smooth learner experience. For example, Docebo integrates with various authoring tools, such as Elucidat. This means that users can easily update training content without having to download a new SCORM file and reupload it to the LMS (or affecting learner data).

    What are authoring tools doing to improve learning for your organization?

    Finding the best e-learning authoring tools for your organization can save you time, money, and hassle. So, it’s worth doing your homework before committing to one. Take advantage of free trials to test-drive different options and find the best fit for your needs.

    You’ll also want to consider how it integrates with other tools in your tech stack, such as your LMS. 

    At Docebo, we offer a reliable AI-based learning suite for efficiently managing, delivering, and monitoring training content. Our solution also integrates with leading authoring tools for a seamless creation process and high-quality learning experience. Visit our glossary for more relevant resources on all things e-learning.