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by Brian Westfall,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: September 29, 2016


The term “e-learning” is used to describe a variety of activities. It most commonly refers to online distance learning, but also applies to other educational contexts—such as employee training or online certification classes—in which software and computers are used more than pen and paper.

E-learning software is used to create digital educational materials. It’s used in traditional educational settings, such as schools and universities, as well as workplace settings, to create both external and internal educational resources. In this guide, we’ll cover:

What Is E-Learning Software?
Common Features of E-Learning Software
How Much Does E-Learning Software Cost?
What Type of Buyer Are You?
E-Learning Software Market Trends

What Is E-Learning Software?

E-learning software is sometimes called e-learning authoring software. That’s because the primary purpose of e-learning tools is to author, or create, educational assets.With this type of software, trainers and educators can:

  • Combine and arrange disparate media (text, video, presentations) into comprehensive, logically sequenced e-learning assets and courses
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  • Add animations and customized response cues to facilitate learner engagement with e-learning course material
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  • Safely store e-learning assets for future editing and reapplication with new learning initiatives
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  • Publish completed e-learning courses in a variety of compatible formats

There are other, related types of software that manage different aspects of e-learning. For example, broader learning management systems (LMSs) automate the administration, testing, tracking and reporting of learner progress through online courses. E-learning software has a narrower scope: It provides the tools needed to create those online courses in the first place.

cornerstone e-learning

Screenshot showing student progress in e-learning course designed with Cornerstone software

Common Functionality of E-Learning Software

E-learning platforms are used to create a wide variety of educational and training materials for use in many industries, both in the public and private sectors. Given this, the e-learning software landscape includes a large selection of applications.

As a software buyer, choosing among this large selection of e-learning vendors can be a challenge. To help you understand the choices available, here is a list of applications included in many e-learning tools:

Templates Provide pre-configured models for different types of e-learning materials, such as lessons or quizzes. This makes it easier for users to create materials, since they don’t need to be designed from scratch.
Multimedia tools Allow users to upload and integrate multimedia files (i.e., videos and images) into e-learning resources, as well as do basic editing on these files.
SCORM support SCORM is a set of technical standards that e-learning solutions must follow. Products with SCORM support help users create materials that can be combined and integrated with any other SCORM-compliant materials.
Testing tools Allow users to add quizzes, tests and exams to e-learning courses, which can be used to track or determine student progress.
Customization tools Help users create e-learning resources that match the look and feel of their company’s digital assets (such as its website).
Storyline editing E-learning courses often progress much like stories, with a linear beginning and end. Storyline editing functions let authors mix, match and rearrange e-learning components.
Interaction tools Let authors add elements that students will interact with during a lesson or course. Interactions can include free-form text entry, picture selection or simple mouse clicks.

e-logic essential lms

Interaction tool included in e-Logic’s eSSential LMS software suite

How Much Does E-Learning Software Cost?

There isn’t one set payment model when it comes to e-learning software; a fact that often surprises first-time buyers. As a result, your cost can vary widely depending on what system you go with and how much functionality it has.

With many standalone authoring tools, for example, you’ll either pay one large upfront fee to use the software in perpetuity or pay a smaller subscription fee on a monthly or annual basis. Some products offer both of these options for added flexibility (Adobe Captivate is either $1,099 upfront or $360 a year).

If an authoring tool is part of a more comprehensive LMS however, you’ll often pay a subscription fee based on how many people in your organization are using the system. To compare the costs of different systems over time, try out our Software Advice Total Cost of Ownership Calculator.

What Type of Buyer Are You?

Depending on what type of buyer you are, different types of systems may be better for your needs.

Corporate Buyer: From training new employees to helping old employees learn new policies and processes, e-learning software is used very often in the business world. Corporate buyers typically look for e-learning platforms and authoring tools that can integrate with the software used by their human resources (HR) department. Alternatively, there are HR platforms that offer e-learning applications either out of the box or as add-on applications.

successfactors sap

SuccessFactors by SAP, an HR software suite that includes LMS and e-learning applications

Educational Institution Buyer: Schools, colleges and universities are increasingly offering e-learning courses to their traditional, remote and continuing-education students. There are e-learning software platforms that address the needs of each of these use cases, including applications for creating age-appropriate materials and review lessons as well as for automating student progression across lessons.

Public Sector Buyer: Government agencies use e-learning software to create courses to train and assist both employees and members of the public. Some government agencies have mandatory training requirements; many e-learning tools learning management systems include functionality—such as security and privacy protection measures—to ensure the training is presented and completed according to regulations.

For more assistance with your search, please contact our software advisors. They can explain the options available to you, help you create a short list of products to learn more about and ensure your search for e-learning software gets started on the right foot.

E-Learning Software Market Trends

The e-learning software market is constantly changing and evolving. Here are some market trends to look out for as you research different systems:

  • Course personalization. Many tools are adding features like custom learner paths to give users different course experiences depending on assessment answers and past interactions.
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  • Responsive design. Create one course, then use multi-device previews to optimize it for computers, laptops or smartphones—depending on which devices your learners use to consume content.
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  • Simulations. Advanced tools include features that make it easier for users to create immersive simulations mirroring real-life work situations. This is especially prevalent in the healthcare industry.

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