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Authoring Tools for E-Learning: The Definitive Guide

• 8 min read

Authoring Tools for E-Learning: The Definitive GuideHave you ever looked at a powerpoint for more than 30 seconds and then suddenly felt your eyes glaze over? The mind starts to wander: Did I leave the stove on at home…? What should I have for lunch today?

When you finally come back from your daydream, you realize that you scanned over the first three slides, but can’t remember what any of them were about. Even if you start over and try to refocus on the materials, you’ll eventually fall back into another unproductive thought trap.

This is what learners experience far too often. Don’t get me wrong, powerpoints and word docs have the capacity to be moving, entertaining, and effective, but it’s unrealistic to think your learners can maximize their experience and retention with the limited interactivity that they have to offer.

*Enter content authoring tools*

What are Content Authoring Tools?

Think of a painting. You have your rulers, pencils, a canvas, paints, and brushes – and then you have your frame for when your work is ready to be seen by the world. Your authoring tools are your painting supplies in this scenario, as they enable course creation, while your frame is your learning management system (LMS) which houses your learning content.

Authoring tools start your journey; they help you develop and create your training. Once you’re done, the course is formatted into a zip, which then can be pushed into an LMS. This is where your audience then gets to interact with what you’ve created.

The beauty of authoring tool packages is the power to diversify your learner’s experience. Instead of solely pushing out word docs and powerpoints, you can expand your horizons with different media types by using the various versions of SCORM or with xAPI.

A common practice in the learning industry, SCORM and xAPI make it possible for an LMS and an authoring tool to work together to push these various media types for Learning & Development programs.

SCORM Compliant authoring tools ensure your course gets packaged neatly inside that little zip drive we mentioned earlier. When you upload this zip file to your LMS, the course comes to life – this is when you get to stick your painting in the frame and show it off.

By using an authoring tool (which usually has storyboarding capability and an editing tool), you can embed and combine anything from text, video, audio, graphics, and animation into a course. Sounds sexy, right?

Authoring tools help streamline your content creation so that you can easily upload your eLearning course into your LMS. By giving yourself more creative freedom and flexibility, you can decide which format best suits the topic you’re trying to cover. This keeps your learners engaged and gives you more ways to elevate your learning experience.

The land of authoring tools can be a bit saturated, though. There are tons of different tools claiming to help you succeed in different avenues. Let’s break it down for a sec.

Related: See Learning Content From a New Perspective

What are the Different Types of Authoring Tools

eLearning Industry has defined the different types of authoring tools for us which you’ll find below (we seriously love these guys). These should help you cut the time it takes to vet out different options to determine which will suit your learners best. A tool like this could allow your sales reps to record and upload successful demonstrations, discovery calls, or pricing calls to then share it with other reps!

  • Cloud Based (SaaS) eLearning Authoring Tools: Our heads basically stay in the clouds these days (buh-dum-ts 😉), and these tools follow suit. Cloud based authoring tools are easily accessible simply by logging in to your university, and without the hassle of hard drive installations. Because it is hosted by the cloud, these tools are mobile and remote work friendly.
  • Locally Hosted eLearning Authoring Tools: Before cloud based eLearning was even a thought, this was really the only way to create eLearning courses. You had to first buy the discs that housed the software, and then download it to your computer. It goes without saying that this option was never meant to allow for mobile accessibility or remote capabilities.
  • Multimedia eLearning Authoring Tools: Think of these as your hybrids, like a Prius! What we mean by this is that multimedia eLearning can be cloud-based or locally hosted, but their key focus is on animating eLearning course design. These give you an added level of interactivity, design options, and creative freedom. You can use these to create engaging content and then import the final piece into third party eLearning tools.
  • Screen Capturing and Recording eLearning Authoring Tools: if you’ve ever used software like VidYard, you might be familiar with screen recording. Similar to VidYard, these eLearning authoring tools give you the ability to use screenshots and screen recordings to produce tech simulations and tutorials. With tools like these, you can for example highlight product demonstrations more easily than ever. Instead of filling a powerpoint with lonely screenshots, you can add more context and interactivity by capturing everything on the screen so your learners can easily follow a software’s capability.

Related: The Top 10 E-Learning Challenges L&D Pros Face Every Day

Benefits and Challenges of E-Learning Authoring Tools

Even with the best tools, there are two sides to every coin. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of E-Learning authoring tools when you are first learning more about them. They come with great reward, but do require you to do some digging, vetting, and testing to see what works best for you and your learners.

What You Have to Look Forward To

Creative Freedom: There are no two ways about it – interactive presentations are the best presentations, and authoring tools allow you to create content that will engage your learners. These tools give you more creative authority over your learning objects. Remember that word play game, Mad Libs, where you’d plug in different words to formulate silly messages? There’s a reason this concept was made into a game. When what you are creating matters, especially when it comes to instructional design, you should have the autonomy from start to finish to decide how it looks, reads, feels, and presents to your audience without unnecessary barriers.

Top Notch Reporting: Authoring tools help you to measure the effectiveness of and collect data on your training. After you create a course in an authoring tool and it is packaged into your zip file, you house it in your LMS and it is able to capture and house a goldmine of data. This will tell you how your learners are actually interacting with your courses. If previously your learners have simply been sitting on a document or powerpoint, it’s probably been hard to analyze where the learners are falling off or not getting what they need. You may only be able to see how long they spent on this piece of content, and not much else above that.

In contrast, for example, if you create a storyboard with multiple sections, instead of housing everything in one doc, you can see more clearly where someone dropped off on a piece of training and how long they spent in specific sections. Authoring tools enable you to articulate more sophisticated and granular reporting to understand what areas of support your learners need, or maybe even where your content needs tweaking.

Your Favorite Colors: Your learning university should be able to emphasize your company culture and branding. With an authoring system, you can fully brand and configure learning packages to align with your organization’s identity. In this respect, even your learning experience is tied back to your brand and you get to streamline your learning experience with your corporate culture. Authoring software ensures that you get to claim your colors and identity to maintain the look and feel that makes your organization what it is.

Related: How To Create Engaging e-Learning: 10 Highly Effective Strategies For e-Learning Professionals

Potential Challenges

Learning Curves: We’ll use the example of photoshop here. The first time you peak at photoshop, there is a ton of functionality. The options to click can be overwhelming if you do not know what they do. Authoring tools can be similar. There is sometimes a learning curve that you will need to overcome in order to maximize the full power of authoring tools. Sometimes this even requires coding abilities. But hey, you’re in the business of learning. In order to expand the skill sets of your learners you may need to learn a thing or two first.

Version Control: We have probably all taken a photo for Instagram before. Imagine you take a photo, slap on a filter, save the photo, and publish the picture to Instagram. Five minutes later, you realize you applied the wrong filter. In order for your Instagram to house the right photo, you have to re-edit the photo and republish it to your page.

Similarly, version control in an authoring tool can be slightly more complicated than without one because you need to publish a new package and upload it to the LMS every time you make a change to the course. In context this would mean, for example, if you have a PDF living in your university and you need to make updates, you’ll have to upload a new PDF to reflect the changes you made to the doc instead of editing inside the LMS.

Proprietary Authoring Capabilities: Unfortunately, not all LMS’s are equipped to report on the data that these authoring tool packages provide. A layman’s term example of this is that wall plugs from the United States do not necessarily work in Europe. You could have the best hair dryer on the market, but it will stop working if the plugs aren’t compatible to power the object.

Similarly, if an LMS vendor comes with ‘built in’ authoring tools, it’s unlikely that you will be able to export the learning objects you create in the event you move to another LMS. Opting for an authoring tool that produces SCORM or xAPI (Tin Can) content ensures you can move about as you please with your content and get best-in-breed learning content.

Related: How Learning Paths Help to Create Structured Learning Programs

Authoring Tools You Might Consider

If there’s anything we are certain about at Docebo, it’s that the learning industry has put in serious work this last decade. Let’s just admit: we’re crushing it. We love the opportunity to celebrate players in this space who have made learning more innovative, accessible, and enjoyable. Below are a few names you may or may not already be familiar with who have been pioneers in the eLearning content authoring space who you might consider investigating further.

Authoring Tools

Related: Maximize Your Learning Platform’s Potential With These Integrations

Your Content Author, Signing Off

If you’re in the learning space, it’s inevitable: you love seeing your people succeed. Some of the best ways to do that are with useful content authoring tools. With more creative freedom, design options, and data to optimize the performance of your courses, the benefits far outweigh the potential challenges. Especially with more sophisticated reporting, being able to use data to decide whether your learners are falling short or whether your content just needs revamping helps you prove the ROI of your learning program.

Our final thoughts: these tools make it possible for you to bake your cake, and eat it too.