If you’re here, then chances are you’re trying to make sense of the tricky world of e-learning authoring tools. So many choices, where do you begin? Don’t despair. After reading this article, you’ll have a firm grasp of the pros and cons of five of the most common types of e-learning authoring tools out there.
E-learning authoring software has become an essential tool in the learning and development (L&D) world today. It allows organizations to create and update online learning materials. This can take different forms depending on the specific tool. You might use an e-learning authoring tool, for example, to revamp an existing PowerPoint training presentation and turn it into an online course, or to create very short tutorials and tips (so-called “microcontent”) intended for use on a mobile device.
Whatever the case may be, there are advantages and disadvantages to all of the most common e-learning authoring tools. Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons of each type of tool.
Type 1. Locally hosted tools
Let’s start with what used to be the only choice in e-learning authoring: locally hosted tools. These are tools that you download from the vendor and install onto a local hard drive.
The pros: Generally, these tools offer many specialized features which give you a lot of freedom when designing content. Often, they’re considered full-service solutions because they can deal with various kinds of tasks. This gives you the possibility of creating many different types of e-learning content, from straightforward courses to more elaborate, interactive online resources.
The cons: Because of their many features, these tools can be difficult to learn. There may also be hidden costs involved. When you buy a locally hosted tool, you may only get one version, which doesn’t necessarily include future updates. Even if updates are included, the costs are still generally higher than subscription-based options.
2. SaaS tools
Software-as-a-service (SaaS) tools are cloud-based e-learning platforms. These offer many advantages compared with their locally hosted predecessors. There are also some drawbacks. Let’s see how they stack up:
The pros: These tools are usually purchased on a monthly or annual subscription. As a plus, subscribers have access to all the updates and new features that come out during the course of their subscription period. Vendors of these kinds of tools are generally quite active in developing and releasing new features, so subscribers benefit from the latest available technologies. This can be a great, cost-effective way to keep your e-learning authoring operations up to industry standards.
The cons: Since they’re cloud-based, there’s always the risk of security breaches. Though fairly uncommon, a single data breach can have terrible consequences for your organization, especially if you store sensitive company information or personal user data in the cloud. If you opt for a cloud-based SaaS solution, be sure to ask about your vendor’s security options and only choose a vendor that takes your data security seriously.
3. Specialized media tools
This category covers a wide range of tools, some cloud-based, others locally hosted. These tools focus on one specific form of content creation, like editing instructional videos or building interactive presentations. They usually work hand-in-hand with other e-learning tools. For example, you can upload a video from another tool, edit it using the specialized tool, then publish it on your LMS or other e-learning platform.
The pros: These tools can give you many advanced features because of their narrow focus on one type of content creation. This is advantageous if your organization has a strong preference for one particular form of e-learning content. They can also offer you lots of templates and other pre-configured settings to speed up the content-creation process.
The cons: There may be compatibility issues, because these tools almost always rely on your other programs or e-learning infrastructure to deliver the finished product. Universal e-learning formats like SCORM help reduce compatibility issues, but incompatibility is still a risk that needs to be considered.
4. Screen recording tools
If your organization requires a lot of software simulations or step-by-step tutorials in its e-learning activities, then screen recording tools can be very beneficial. These are tools that enable you to capture and annotate or add voiceover commentary to onscreen activities. Say you want to train customer support employees how to use your back office software to escalate an issue to the correct department within your company. With a screen recording tool, you can create a video showing the steps right as they would appear on the employee’s screen.
The pros: Screen recording tools create highly effective content, because they walk learners through real-life situations. This essentially enables employees to learn by doing, because they follow the steps in real time right on their screen.
The cons: These tools can be difficult to use, making the content-creation process lengthy. You may also run into compatibility issues here, as these programs will generally work with specific file types and project files that won’t work universally. Fortunately, this is a quickly growing form of e-learning authoring, so we expect to see some improvements in the near future.
Though we usually associate PowerPoint with classroom-style training, it actually offers various e-learning authoring tools as well. You can use PowerPoint to create and export step-by-step training courses which employees can access online.
The pros: Because PowerPoint is such a commonly used tool, most authors will already have at least a basic understanding of how to use its features. That means there’s less of a learning curve here than with some other solutions. Plus, PowerPoint is readily available as part of the Microsoft Office suite on Windows PCs.
The cons: PowerPoint’s features are limited compared with other options. That means it’s rarely a standalone solution, as you may need other tools to achieve the design features you want.
Which type of e-learning authoring tool is best?
Now that you’ve seen the upsides and downsides of these common e-learning authoring tools, you’re probably wondering which one is the best. The answer depends entirely on your organization’s e-learning needs and culture. Where some organizations prefer video tutorials and microcontent, others need detailed text-heavy presentations and standardized assessments. If you’re in the market for new e-learning tools, remember the pros and cons listed above. It’s also a good idea to start with a free trial. This way, you can see for yourself whether the tool is a match for your company’s needs.