Seven Top Authoring Tools
by Joe Ganci
OCTOBER 12, 2011
Recently The eLearning Guild published a research report written by yours truly, entitled Rapid eLearning Authoring: Top Tools, in which I analyzed the results of the continuous surveys to which thousands of Guild members respond. The results proved enlightening. In the report, I lay the groundwork for understanding and adopting tools, and then cover in good detail each of the top-seven tools. If you are a paid Guild member, I encourage you to download the report.
Following the publication of that report, I thought it would make sense to take the seven tools that survey respondents reported using the most and compare their features for you. While it is not always easy to compare the power and ease of use of two tools, it is certainly possible to place the features most people want and expect in an eLearning development tool side-by-side and review them.
However, it’s important to note that not all apples are the same: two applications may claim that they allow you to create quizzes, but one may let you create much more powerful quizzes than the other. For that reason, I decided to indicate whether a feature is partially supported or fully supported.
The top-seven tools that people reported using, in order of most use to least, are:
- Adobe Captivate
- Articulate Presenter
- Articulate Engage
- Adobe Connect
- TechSmith Camtasia
- Adobe Presenter
- Harbinger Raptivity
The categories I use in the table include:
- Best Use: Can you use the product to create applications of a certain type; e.g. software simulations?
- Interface: Do you use the product online or in PowerPoint? Does it use wizards or a stage?
- Can Insert: What media formats can you put in your eLearning by using the tool?
- Platforms: Does the application run in Windows, on a Mac, or online?
- Publish to: To which formats can you publish your eLearning?
- Cost: What are the initial and update costs of the product?
The table appears below. My quick analysis follows the table.
Quick comparison of features
|Partially Supported||Fully Supported|
Adobe Captivate stands out as the application with the richest features. Remember, with power comes the need to learn more, hence a longer learning curve. Nevertheless, it takes only a few days of training to start using Adobe Captivate effectively.
All of the other products are easier to use but offer fewer features. You can use each to create elements of great eLearning, but you will probably need to use each together with others to meet the needs of your instructional design, especially if you need to set up branching mechanisms and other advanced elements.
Therefore, for each tool, I have attempted to indicate what types of learning you can create with it. Knowing this can help you choose the right tool for your design needs.
Many products, including three of the seven here, are extensions to PowerPoint. As such, they provide a great entry point for those who already are PowerPoint users. However, they usually are more restricted in what they can do compared to other, more full-fledged products. Nevertheless, you can, with the right design, create excellent eLearning with applications like these.
Many also use wizards and forms. By their nature, these interfaces tend to limit what you can do, versus, for instance, scripting or more free-form editing. However, they also make it much easier to avoid making mistakes and sometimes allow you to create eLearning more quickly.
It’s important to know what media you can include in your eLearning applications and the tool you use will determine that. Most of the applications shown here are more than capable of handling diverse media elements. However, some tools do not support some elements, so be sure the tool you choose will handle your needs.
All the tools in our mix run in Windows, except for Adobe Connect, which is online. Adobe Captivate also runs natively on Macs. Some elements of Articulate Presenter, Articulate Engage, and TechSmith Camtasia also run on Macs. If you are a Mac user, you definitely want to consider this.
One of the questions you must answer before deciding on a tool is where does the resulting eLearning have to run? Knowing the answer to that will help you determine which tools will accommodate those venues. Does it have to run natively in Windows or on a Mac? Do you need to deliver in PDF format?
The cost of the product is always an interesting consideration. An item that is free, or that costs little, can sometimes cause you to spend much more time creating eLearning than one that is costly. At other times, a low-cost product provides more features than an expensive one. You should consider both the initial cost and the upgrade costs only in the context of the rest of the features you’re evaluating.
More than likely, you will find that you will decide on two tools, perhaps even three, to fit all your instructional design needs. However, you will use one of those tools as your mainstay, while you will adopt the others only when you need their strengths. In the same way that you might use Microsoft Word to write a report but incorporate spreadsheets you create in Excel, you may find that using Adobe Presenter works for you while incorporating Raptivity interactions, or that you will use Adobe Captivate and incorporate videos that you created in TechSmith Camtasia.
You choose the tools you need depending on the instructional design you need to implement, the venues to which you need to deliver, your budget and schedule, and other factors. I hope this table helps you to reach your eLearning goals.