Learning management systems (LMSs) are a great way for corporate trainers to deliver e-learning content to workers. There’s just one problem: e-learning content doesn’t just magically appear.
Moreover, premade training course sites, such as Lynda.com, come up lacking if you need content to be tailored to specific internal processes and culture.
That’s where e-learning content authoring tools come in.
These platforms allow you to combine and arrange disparate media (text, video, slideshows etc.), as well as customized assessments, into comprehensive digital training courses.
It’s like film editing software for trainers, except instead of splicing together footage to make The Godfather, you’re creating engaging and interactive training courses that your employees can’t refuse.
Some LMSs have content authoring functionality built-in, but if you’re in the market for a standalone e-learning authoring tool, here are five you should consider.
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Adobe Captivate is one of the market leaders in the content authoring space. The software supports a wide range of media—including images, videos, animations, PowerPoint presentations and more—as well as 30,000+ games, layouts and stock images available in the asset store.
Master slides and templates can be created to maintain brand guidelines across courses, and multistate object functionality means you only need to upload or add an element once. You can then manipulate it endlessly to fit your design and interaction needs, a significant time saver.
Captivate also provides tools to create immersive simulations and complex branching to take learners on individualized course paths.
Where Captivate really impresses is in its flexibility. The platform offers multi-device previews so you can see how your courses will look on any device, as well as the ability to define relative object positions to maintain layout integrity across browser sizes.
You can publish courses as iOS, Android or Windows apps for mobile users and even serve different course variations based on a worker’s geographical location.
$1,099 (perpetual) or $360/year (subscription)
✔ Impressive multistate object and geolocation functionality
✔ Advanced branching and responsive formatting options
✔ The software license provides access to a massive asset store
x Annual contract required with early termination fees
x Lacks integration with Adobe Creative Cloud suite tools
x Adobe novices will face a steep learning curve
Microsoft Office users will feel right at home with Articulate Storyline. It offers the same simple menu and interface design which enables users to easily take advantage of its extensive content authoring functionality.
Along with the ability to import content and media, as well as assessments from Excel or text files, Articulate Storyline features motion pathing, trigger events and an interactive slider to make courses more immersive.
Support for uncompressed video is another highlight, if your course requires high visual definition.
If you don’t like being constricted to a set editing layout, Storyline offers dockable panels that you can move around anywhere on your desktop or to a second monitor.
The platform also comes with what’s referred to as a “what you see is what you get” text editor that provides robust options like kerning and typographic ligatures to make text look exactly how you want it to. Software simulation creation and a robust assessment builder are also included.
Purchasing the software nets you eight character packs—bundles with 140+ high-resolution poses of people to use in your courses—as well as the screen capture platform Articulate Replay.
Articulate Storyline also includes access to E-Learning Heroes, a robust community site where you can find free templates, expert guidance and user posts on how to best take advantage of the software.
✔ Dockable panels for flexible work station options
✔ Intuitive user interface
✔ E-Learning Heroes community site
x Users say load times and rendering can be slow
x Limited support of mobile devices
x Not compatible with Mac
If you’re used to creating PowerPoint slideshows for training purposes, consider iSpring Suite.
This set of authoring tools integrates with Microsoft’s flagship presentation program to bolster slideshows with video narration, e-learning interactions and assessments to create comprehensive, mobile-ready courses.
You can embed webpages in your course—a neat feature to keep learners from jumping out of a lesson to a web browser—and publish courses in HTML5, Flash, or MP4 formats.
Another differentiator is iSpring TalkMaster, a tool that lets you combine preset backdrops and characters with text to create dialogue simulations, which are a great way to teach employees how to talk to clients or fellow associates.
There’s also dedicated course viewing apps for iOS and Android devices that allows learners to download courses to their mobile device and take them offline.
Screen capturing is built-in to record and paste screencasts in your slides, along with set templates to style courses as books, timelines, FAQs and more.
When it comes to outputting, use recommended settings, or rely on the separate sliders for image, audio and video compression to compress files as needed. You can also adjust all of the panels, buttons and navigation in the iSpring player to customize learner guidance.
✔ Super affordable
✔ Great for rapid content development
✔ TalkMaster dialogue simulator
x Only works on Windows, and requires Microsoft Word and PowerPoint
x Few interaction and assessment options
x No software simulation capabilities
Sometimes it takes a village to create a training course. Elucidat offers a cloud-based content authoring tool that enables collaboration between members in a training team.
Along with the ability to set user roles to only let collaborators in on certain projects, Elucidate also allows for unlimited “reviewer” roles—a “read only”-type permission that allows stakeholders or learners to look over your courses.
There’s also a Google Docs-like comment system so users can discuss any changes that need to be made.
If you want quick-and-dirty course creation, Elucidat has pre-built themes and a library of thousands of images and objects to draw from. For more customization, an HTML and CSS editor is built-in.
Moreover, Elucidat has functionality for gamification elements like badges and points to better engage learners in training courses and analytics to measure course effectiveness.
Elucidat provides two notable time-saving capabilities. The first is the ability to identify master elements and change them across courses as needed. So if your branding changes, and you input a new logo, that new logo will automatically replace the old instances in all of your courses.
The second time-saving feature is called Elucidat Rapid Release, which syncs Elucidat with your website and LMS so you can update content without needing to re-upload course files on those systems.
✔ Robust collaboration features
✔ Cloud-based platform
✔ Options for rapid or customized course development
x High license cost
x 14-day free trial period is short compared to alternatives
x Being relatively new, Elucidat is still rolling out requested features
Previously known for their desktop offering, Trivantis went cloud-based with Lectora Online.
This e-learning content authoring tool is built around anytime, anywhere course access and provides responsive design options to support mobile devices like phones or tablets.
Lectora Online boasts disaster recovery should your course become lost or corrupted. It also offers workflow management functionality to keep track of course changes as they happen.
Lectora Online comes with a clip art and media gallery, assessment creation and a drag-and-drop interface to easily move elements within a course. It also features a central online repository for uploading and using media across courses. Scan a QR code with your smartphone to preview your mobile-optimized courses.
The tools to create courses are somewhat simple, but the inline variable replacement functionality provides customization of learner names, assessment scores, dates and more.
Accessible through any web browser, Lectora Online promotes a collaborative work environment where users can add notes and even create assignments for other team members to complete during course creation.
The license also provides free access to online forums and how-to articles, along with a toll-free number to reach Trivantis’ support team, who have been in the content authoring game longer than most.
$1,290/year or $159/month (subscription)
✔ Secure cloud storage and disaster recovery
✔ Responsive design options
✔ Workflow management
x Antiquated interface
x Lack of advanced functionality
x Isn’t a true 1:1 with the Lectora desktop offering
Why An LMS With Integrated Content Authoring May Be Best
Though the five tools above represent some of the best options when it comes to standalone e-learning content authoring, we recommend trainers also consider LMS platforms with integrated content authoring functionality. Here’s why:
Decreased cost. If you have a content authoring tool and a separate LMS, you’re paying to use two systems. In most cases, it’s cheaper to use an LMS with integrated content authoring alone.
Better integration. The transition from course authoring to publication is much more seamless in an integrated system than trying to output content from one system to another.
Unified support. Having trouble translating your content into an LMS course? An LMS provider with integrated content authoring can tell you how to make best use of the system for optimal performance between tools.
Not sure which option is best for you? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about content authoring tools or LMS platforms.