Selecting course creation tools for asynchronous learning can be a time-consuming task, if only because there are so many choices to consider. Over the years, however, The Learning Guild has published many articles and online resources to help practitioners organize this effort and to make good choices based on impartial reviews. In this article, which is a follow-up to the brief introduction in "Focus Week: Authoring Tools", I offer an outline of the key steps and links that will take you to resources that should save you time.
In case you are starting your search here, remember that an authoring tool is not an LMS (learning management system), and a learning management system is not an authoring tool (most of the time). Also, remember that in terms of software, authoring tools may be individual tools that you install on a computer; they may be add-ins or plug-ins that extend the capability of PowerPoint to make course development faster, and they may be cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) that makes life easier in these days of distancing where your development team may be located around the globe.
No matter which of these you choose, the software supports the creation, publication, and distribution of asynchronous digital training content in a format that can be uploaded to an LMS. Other forms of asynchronous digital training content such as video and virtual reality are created, published, and distributed outside of an LMS.
Begin at the beginning
First, you should identify some key features that will support the course.
You probably already use an LMS in your organization. You will need to ensure that the authoring tool you choose is compatible with your LMS and that both are compatible with your intended use.
The authoring tool will need to be able to convert your content to HTML5 or SCORM in order to deliver the course to your learners.
Most authoring tools have a limited range of potential types of learning they are intended to support. For example:
- Stand-alone courses installed and running on the learner's desktop machine
- Web-based courses
- Interactive eBooks
- Cloud-based training labs
- Software and IT products
- Soft skills
- Small business
Your authoring tool will need to support the media in which you intend to deliver courses. The major categories to be sure about are:
- Various image file types
Although not a media type, you will almost certainly need your authoring tool to support accessibility features (Section 508 support) for learners living with disabilities.
Ask the right questions
There are many questions to ask during the search for an authoring tool. In 2017, The Learning Guild published "The Next Generation of Asynchronous Tools", and this includes extensive information about what to ask. The questions to ask begin on pages 3-6, and continue in parts 2 and 3, pages 8 -40. You will be asking about:
- The learning curve for developers and for learners
- The platform (Windows, Mac, mobile, web) that the authoring tool uses
- Support in the tool for different types of learning designs, including:
- · Conventional eLearning courses
- · Microlearning
- · Branching scenarios
- · Simulations
- · Interactive videos
- Finally, you will want to ask whether the tool supports responsive content (will it run on mobile devices?)
Know what you want to pay and how
Cost and payment are always important questions. For authoring tools, the possibilities are:
- Free trial, followed by licensing
- Subscription (monthly or annual)
- One-time license
Know where to find available tools and their requirements
You can rely on advertisements that you find online or in the mail, but if you have particular requirements you may need to review a larger scope of information and tools to find what you need to best serve your situation. Just before the pandemic hit, The Learning Guild published "Authoring Tools 2019". This publication included survey data from respondents in The Learning Guild community, as well as feedback from vendors, freelancers, and design shop owners, to report on the state of authoring tools today. Respondents were asked to identify up to three tools they use, and the features they most wanted.
You may also want to search online services that provide impartial reviews and other details of various tools in an easy-to-use format. For this, I recommend starting with these three, which provide efficient filters to help you focus your search: