When I was growing up, my mother warned me never to discuss three subjects with anyone: politics, religion, and eLearning authoring tools. She said no matter what you say, those who disagree with you will just dig in their heels and refuse to admit they’re wrong. OK, maybe she didn’t mention authoring tools, but she might as well have for all of the arguments I seem to witness between those who love one tool over another. Besides, she’ll tell you that I often didn’t listen to her advice.

Among the vendors and the tool users

From my vantage point as one who reviews tools on a regular basis and who uses many of them in day-to-day development, I have seen some interesting facts.

I have witnessed tool vendors who:

  • Try to convince everyone that their tool is the only one you’ll ever need
  • Are perplexed as to why their tool hasn’t taken over the market
  • Spy on their competitors by signing up for beta programs under false pretenses
  • Think everyone is a programmer, so their tool requires a computer science degree (these are few)
  • Think everyone hates programming, so they limit their tool so anyone can use it (these are many)

Among tool users, I have seen:

  • Blog entries from those with a clearly nefarious agenda, trashing a new tool version without actually having spent any time using it
  • Unbridled excitement by folks who have just been shown a demo of a tool and are convinced it will change their lives (or at least their careers)
  • Those who will defend the choice of their favorite authoring tool to the death
  • Those who constantly switch tools because they become frustrated very quickly with each one, always convinced that the next one will prove to be The One

Let it go

All tools eventually reach EOL (end of life). The typical user hopes that a tool will go through several versions and stagger on for years before eventually it can no longer withstand changes in technology or in the marketplace. However, many of the tools that were very popular 20 years ago, 15 years ago, 10 years ago are no longer used, even those that used to be most popular. All eLearning developers must take it upon themselves not to get too complacent. They should always be looking at what else they can learn to keep themselves alive in a changing market. I have seen too many who have held onto a dying authoring tool way past the time they should have let go because they had invested so many years in learning that tool that they found it difficult to learn something new. Or maybe they’re just lazy.

The reviewer’s dilemma

As one who has always guarded his reputation about his lack of bias regarding eLearning tools, for very good reasons, it should surprise nobody that I do use some tools more than others. I have my favorites, but I will be the first to admit that I’ll drop a tool in favor of another when working on a project if I see good reason to do so. I don’t believe in making any tool try to do it all because none can. At last count, there are millions of tools … okay, thousands … no, wait, it just seems that way. However, there are at least a couple of hundred, of which most are completely unknown  and barely register a blip in the market.

One of the biggest reasons I guard my impartiality is that I am hired often to help organizations choose the best tool for them. Let me share with you some of the questions I ask to help me determine what to recommend in the reports I write for them. I hope these will also help you to figure out which tool will best serve you. Don’t be afraid to make a list of your answers to these questions (and add your own questions and answers). Ask tool vendors to respond to your questions and see how well their answers match your needs.

Some of the questions I ask

  1. What types of eLearning do you regularly create? Choices include software simulations, self-paced conceptual learning, case-based scenarios, and other types.
  2. What types of media do you need to include?
  3. What types of interactivity do you want for learners?
  4. What type of progress tracking and analytics do you have to implement? This goes beyond SCORM/AICC/the Experience API and tries to ascertain the actual data to track.
  5. Do you need the tool to show “live” websites within eLearning?
  6. Do you want the tool to be very simple to use, knowing that this will limit the number of features it offer, or would you rather it have a lot of features that may take some time to learn?
  7. How much do you need the tool to import PowerPoint?
  8. How important is it that the tool makes it easy to develop eLearning in multiple languages?
  9. How important is it that the tool support accessibility options for those with disabilities?
  10. Do you want the tool to be based in PowerPoint, a tool you install, or a tool that is in the cloud, or does it not matter to you?
  11. Describe the types of support for mobile delivery of eLearning you need.
  12. What types of quiz questions must be supported?
  13. Do you need quizzes to be able to draw from questions banks or pools randomly?
  14. Do you need the tool to play well with other tools you use?
  15. Do you need it to support a scripting language, like JavaScript?
  16. Do you want it to have built-in libraries of human characters and other media assets?
  17. Do you need it to also support publishing to printed materials, self-running videos, classroom resources, and more?
  18. Do you need a lot of external support, such as training classes, books you can purchase, online support, and so on?
  19. Keeping in mind that sometimes expensive tools save a lot labor hours while free or cheap tools require a lot more authoring time, do you have a price point for tool purchase?
  20. How important is it to you that the company that sells a tool is well known and financially stable?

The answers to those questions may lead to many more questions I will typically ask, but the above represents my starting point. What types of questions do you find yourself asking when researching tools? Be sure to add them in the Comments below.