Top 4 authoring tools for creating elearning
Authoring Tools

Top 4 authoring tools for creating elearning

Director of Professional Services at Kallidus, Pat Cannon, has over 19 years experience in the Learning Technologies sector. During his time with Kallidus, he has been responsible for introducing new production processes, growing the team and increasing Bespoke Content revenues four-fold. He was also the Programme Manager for the multi-award-winning Transport for London Customer Service project.

Pat shares with us his thoughts on authoring tools:

There are dozens of tools on the market today that all have different features, capabilities and pricing models. These tools have improved massively over the last few years and have overtaken the bespoke frameworks that every major supplier had developed ‘back in the day’. When considering an authoring tool, there are a number of factors that should be taken into account.

How to choose the right tool for the job

For the most part, these tools have two key functions:

  • Publishing learning materials out in various formats of SCORM/xAPI ‘out of the box’
  • Providing a way of creating ‘containers’ for the good stuff – your actual content – in a way that is maintainable without the need for programming skills

Choosing the right tool is very important but the most important things to get right when developing elearning content:

  • Sound instructional/learning design that delivers to your agreed learning outcomes and business objectives
  • An easy to use user-interface and navigation
  • Strong graphic design skills/assets
  • Clever and creative use of media – text, imagery, audio, video and animation.

The tools are there just to hold all the desirable aspects together and then to pass the tracking data to your chosen LMS.

How should you go about selecting an authoring tool?

Here are some considerations:

Thinking about what the target devices are is a good place to start. How will learners access the content? What are the challenges with the infrastructure within your business? For example, are there limitations with bandwidth – access to Wi-Fi? Perhaps you need your content to work offline and online? What skills do you have – in the team or otherwise – to create content?

As an aside whilst thinking about target devices: whenever we talk to clients and they ask for mobile, we used to ask if they meant tablet or smartphone – or both. More often than not, tablets were all that were required. As technology develops, the newest tools support any device which means there are less hurdles to overcome during the development process – but there will always be extra costs for QA/testing if you target multiple devices.

Take a look at how innovative software can transform your learning strategy.

As explained above, there are many tools in the market today – too many to cover here. Here, I am going to focus on four: GomoAdaptArticulate 360 and Captivate.

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

GOMO

Gomo is an online tool where your build work is completed on their platform in the cloud. Any assets you create – images, video or audio are imported into the content you create in Gomo. Once you are ready to publish, you can download a SCORM or xAPI package for uploading to your LMS. You can preview your content easily before publishing. Gomo is a fully responsive and adaptive tool. This means that the display is optimised for any device dynamically and that functional elements behave differently on different devices.

Gomo’s strengths are:

  • It is easy to use; you can create content quickly
  • It plays well on all devices, being fully responsive and adaptive as a true HTML tool
  • Performance is good and file sizes are small
  • Gomo Support are very responsive – you can ask questions and get answers in real time using their chat tool
  • It enables collaboration: different developers can work on Gomo at the same time. Topics can be locked by a developer and then unlocked
  • You may need to use gomo’s custom theme service to fully customise

Weaknesses:

  • There is a limited amount of functionality out of the box
  • You need to be more proficient at building assets (images, animations, videos) to enhance the core content you create
  • You may need to learn CSS/JavaScript to fully customise

Gomo is a tool that works on any device as it is fully responsive. It is great for producing rapid content but also for high-end, providing that there is engaging, good-quality media elements added to the mix.

ADAPT

Adapt is an open-source platform with a recently launched authoring tool. Before this tool was made available, Adapt was only really suitable to those that were able to write code. With the authorisation tool, this changed but if you want to really collaborate, you will need to host this tool on your own servers or choose a third-party supplier to host for you. This is one of the reasons why Kallidus limits its use of this tool. Handing over the source code becomes a challenge as we cannot ask clients to set up a hosting environment just to maintain their content.

Adapt content navigates through the user scrolling down the screen. Your users will jump down the screen to blocks of content – not your usual swipe next style navigation.

Adapt’s strengths are:

  • Adapt content plays well on all devices, adapting to any size screen
  • Collaboration is possible. Different developers can work with Adapt at the same time by using a tool such as Subversion
  • There are no up-front costs but remember – open source is not free! There will be costs in setting it all up
  • If you can write code, you can create your own components or customise existing ones which is very powerful

Weaknesses:

  • It is not that easy to use – the implementation of the authorisation tool is a good step forward though
  • Support relies on the Adapt community so a lot of searching around is required. The forums are good but not having someone dedicated to Support is a weakness for me
  • There is a limited amount of functionality out of the box
  • You need to be proficient at building assets (images, animations, videos) to enhance the core content you create
  • You may need to learn to code if you want to take this further

Adapt is a very powerful tool but requires a level of programming skill to really get the most out of it. The development of the authorisation tool is moving forward but you will still need to find a third-party hosting service to set it up.

Articulate

Articulate has launched an annual licence product alongside the perpetual license version of Storyline. There is Storyline 360 and Articulate 3. The difference is that 360 is an annual subscription and comes with access to huge content and template libraries, Articulate Review and other tools – keep reading to learn more! Storyline 3 can be purchased as a perpetual license. Storyline 3 is roughly two thirds of the cost of Articulate 360 so it depends on whether the other add-on tools, image and template libraries are important to you. Also, you will not get version upgrades without purchasing them alongside Storyline 3. See more on this link.

Functionally, both versions are the same.

Storyline 3

Historically, Storyline has never been a tool suitable for smartphone output. It just scales content down rather than adapting the layout to the device. This has now changed in that you can publish to ‘HTML5 only’, meaning the output is much more ‘smartphone friendly’. There is a brand new HTML player for HTML5 output that works alongside the existing Flash player. This is a major improvement for tablet and mobile device publishing.

Storyline will still scale your content to size but you can force your users to view the content in landscape mode only, which will limit possible issues with the display in portrait. Also, as this is Storyline, you can use ‘states’ to change elements of your content to adapt to the device – the text size for example.

The old Flash player output is still there for older browsers that support Flash but do not support HTML5. It is not fully responsive like Gomo or Adapt but even so, it is worth considering.

Articulate 360

Articulate 360 comes with a few new applications as well. With your subscription, you will have also have the use of Rise, Studio, Review, Preso and Peek. More information can be seen here. Of these, Rise is the most interesting. This is a HTML tool similar to Gomo and looks very good. At the moment, it is not quite mature enough for Kallidus’ needs but it is worth keeping an eye on as Articulate are adding new features all the time. If you are after a rapid solution, it works well. There is also a Content Library – a huge database of assets and templates that come free with your subscription.

Articulate 360’s strengths are:

  • It is easy to use; you can create content quickly
  • It is very customisable and powerful
  • There are added tools within the package – Storyline 3/360 being the core tool here
  • There are lots of templates and an asset library which is very comprehensive
  • Support is good – we find the Articulate team very responsive

Weaknesses:

  • It is not a fully responsive tool although the new HTML player compensates a lot for this
  • File sizes are larger and performance is not quite as good as Gomo
  • It is not a collaborative tool

Articulate 360 is the most powerful and feature-rich tool here and, with Rise, has much more to offer than any other tool out there. It is not as expensive as Gomo either. You can create content on any device but for smartphones, you are limited to playing these in landscape which may or may not be an issue. Rise handles fully responsive content well and is one for the future – it is still maturing as a product. From a VFM point of view, the perpetual license of Storyline 3 is hard to beat.

Adobe Captivate

Captivate has been around for many years and was originally focused on systems training. For me, this is still where its strengths are. You really cannot beat this tool if you are going to be building a lot of systems training. Captivate 9 has a feature that allows you to add breaks in your course so that you can build different screens that are optimised for different devices.

Captivate’s strengths are:

  • It is easy to use; you can create content quickly
  • It is fairly customisable
  • It uses a ‘show me, try me, test me’ approach, making it ideal for systems training

Weaknesses:

  • It does not play well on smartphones – having to add customised screens as breakpoints adds development time and therefore costs more
  • Adobe Support is notoriously poor – and for good reason. The worst in the industry in my view!
  • It is not a collaborative tool

Captivate is still the tool of choice for large-scale systems simulation projects.

Getting closer to a decision

Build a simple prototype to test your environment. If you are using video, pop some placeholder video in to test. Publish and test on your LMS. Always test on the actual systems users will access from or it is not representative. Download trial versions of the software before committing yourself and your organisation to any tool.

Research your tool and speak to your IT department as there may be restrictions on installing software, for example. A tool such as Gomo does not require installation.

All are not equal

All of the tools above play well on tablets and desktops. Smartphones, however, are a different challenge. For me, if smartphones are going to be the main device or even on a level par with other devices, look to a fully responsive tool. This is one that will adapt the layout of the content so that content is displayed for optimal viewing – giving the best user experience.

    • If smartphones are a must-have, my view is that the best choice is Gomo, at present.
    • Storyline 3 is a close second simply because it is not a fully responsive tool and does not perform as well as Gomo on smartphones.
    • Rise (Articulate 360) will also soon be an option once it becomes more mature and the feature list grows sufficiently.
    • Adapt is more technically difficult to use from a development standpoint and requires a lot more work in setting it up.

For tablets and desktops, Articulate Storyline 3 is head and shoulders above the rest.

Want to find out everything you need to know before you start a bespoke elearning project?

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