With more than a dozen well-known eLearning authoring tools to choose from—and many L&D teams using more than one—choosing one to purchase can feel overwhelming. Authoring Tools 2019, a new research report from The eLearning Guild, offers a wealth of information from both users of authoring tools and key vendors.

Like designing effective eLearning, the process of buying an eLearning authoring tool starts with asking the right questions.

Identify clear goals

Knowing what you need to do with the authoring tool is the first step. While the fancy features many offer are alluring, if you’re going to spend most of your time creating simple eLearning modules, that is what should guide your choice. If you feel you must have the ability to do simulations or have a robust library of image and video assets, think hard about how you will use these features.

Many L&D teams use multiple authoring tools: 42 percent of practitioners who participated in the Guild survey use three or more, while 28 percent use only one authoring tool. If you’re looking for a first or only tool, your authoring tool selection should focus on what you plan to do with it. Different tools excel for different tasks, so consider how likely you are to create:

  • Conventional eLearning courses
  • Microlearning
  • Branching scenarios
  • Simulations
  • Interactive videos

You may do more than one of these (or all of them); knowing whether a tool makes it easy to create the type of eLearning you do most is essential.

Consider other goals as well:

  • Accessibility: Many respondents found that their tools treat accessibility as an “afterthought” or that they don’t support key functionality needed to meet their organization’s Section 508 compliance requirements. Building in accessibility is far easier and more cost-effective than trying to add it later, so this could be a dealbreaker for some.
  • Responsive and / or mobile content: Not all tools offer the same level of support for responsive content or mobile eLearning output. Pay attention to what your L&D peers say about these features or see if you can test how a tool processes your content. Some vendors offer free trial periods; take advantage of these to do your homework.
  • Video output: Similar to responsive and mobile content, not all tools live up to their marketing descriptions. Define what you need your video and interactive video content to do and then ask detailed questions or use the free trial to experiment.

Consider your process as well: If your next project requires converting thousands of PowerPoint slides to eLearning, be sure to choose a tool that allows you to do this quickly, efficiently, and painlessly.

Honestly assess your abilities

The technical skill level of the person or team who will use the tool is an important consideration. Some tools have a shorter learning curve, but the tradeoff may be fewer features. For many teams this is fine; most L&D pros do not use all of the features and power their tools offer.

Will SMEs be using the tool? Experienced instructional designers and eLearning developers? Instructors who are more accustomed to designing materials for face-to-face or virtual classrooms? This should factor into your choice.

The amount and type of support a vendor offers is another important consideration. Some survey respondents expressed frustration with “support” offered only as a video library. “I have to go to a forum or watch video tutorials to get help. Sometimes I need direct communication with a human,” one user said.

If the vendor support is long on user forums and video libraries and short on actual help, new users might want to look elsewhere.

Integration is essential

Choose an authoring tool that works easily with your LMS. This is an area where talking with professional peers could be helpful.

In addition to a full, smooth integration with your LMS, think about other tools that you and your learners use. These could include:

  • Social networking tools
  • Social collaboration tools
  • Audio and podcasting apps
  • Video editing tool or app
  • Animation or screencasting tool
  • Content created in PowerPoint, Excel, or similar

Another point to test is how easy it will be to import your assets, such as images, screen captures, video snippets, and other non-text content into the tool and what you can do with imported assets.

Learn from peers

While no replacement for competent, thorough vendor support, user forums and blog sites are a great tool for L&D professionals seeking information about how people use various authoring tools and what they like and dislike about specific tools or features.

When buying an eLearning authoring tool, you’re not alone—and it pays to thoroughly research your options. If you want an overview of multiple tools, download Authoring Tools 2019 and learn what more than 900 survey respondents had to say. The DemoFest showcase of eLearning projects, hosted twice annually at eLearning Guild events—DevLearn and Learning Solutions Conferences—helps users understand what authoring tools can do and provides opportunities to see completed eLearning projects and talk to the developers.