The selection of authoring tools is a large and somewhat confusing topic. In 2019, a Guild research report on authoring tools by Jane Bozarth started with a survey that defined “authoring tool” as a product that generated SCORM files for direct upload to an LMS. The responses included a range of products—from PowerPoint to video editors to scripting languages and game engines—that do not match that definition. That report is still available, and the information in it is still largely current (the biggest exception is the number of votes and percentages).

Another article in February looked at free ancillary tools, the software that helps developers with related tasks in online learning development. Many readers include these ancillary tools in their category of authoring tools.

There are other ways to match your search for authoring tools to your needs. This checklist is intended to provide a convenient way to identify features to look for in an authoring tool, depending on the state of your satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) with your current choice. These ideas come from the two sources listed above (the subheads are based on the organization of the Guild research report) but the bullets represent a wider range of sources published in Learning Solutions and Learning Guild resources. You may wish to use this list as you look over the reviews online, in various blogs, and on Capterra and similar sites such as Software Advice, Slashdot, and PCMag. You should definitely read the 2019 Guild research report, which contains more depth than this basic checklist and consider the list of free ancillary tools listed in the February 2021 article.

Changing from current authoring tool

  • We need more features or updated features to meet our business goals or those of our customers
  • We need an updated user interface to facilitate our workflow
  • Price/cost of license: Current tool upgrades are too expensive or the subscriptions offered do not work for us
  • The current tool is difficult to use, is buggy, or is not efficient
  • The current tool has a steep learning curve
  • The current tool does not support developments in technology or practice
  • The current tool is not well-supported:
    • User support is only available from video tutorials or user forum, no Help Desk
    • The tool updates too often (we can't keep up), or very infrequent updates
    • Developer/vendor/publisher does not respond to requests for changes
  • The current tool does not address accessibility needs

Adding tools or features, not replacing current tool

  • The current tool does not offer all of the options and features we need
  • Looking for support for augmented reality (AR) and/or virtual reality (VR)
  • Other technologies needed in order to respond to client requirements (e.g., AI, machine learning)
  • Looking for a tool with the ability to create quizzes and to support adaptive learning
  • Support for images and asset libraries
  • The ability to use audio: add an audio timeline that works well, or a tool that provides better quality audio
  • Text to speech or speech to text
  • Game/gamification features

Favorite features of current tool(s)

  • Easy to use and easy to learn to use
  • The tool provides a good combination of features and power to give flexibility
  • Strong support from the publisher or vendor: blogs, books, newsletters, conference sessions, webinars, "office hours"
  • Active user community that is well-supported by the developer, publisher, or vendor

Issues with current tool

  • Tool is incompatible with the organization’s learning management system (LMS) or learning experience platform (LXP)
  • Tool makes too many trade-offs for ease of use over power: limited flexibility
  • Accessibility features are too limited
  • Problems with captioning
  • Tool does not provide a collaborative review function