eLearning authoring software is essential to the work of many Learning Solutions readers. eLearning authoring software supports the creation, publication, and distribution of asynchronous digital training content, specifically content in a format that can be uploaded to a learning management system (LMS). In this article, the focus is on SCORM-compliant authoring tools and the features that are important to their selection and use.

SCORM, LMS, and authoring software

SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) is an international specification that defines how a course communicates with an LMS (Learning Management System). Using SCORM increases the interoperability of courseware, making easier to share course content between users’ systems by providing rules for communication. There have been several releases of the specification, however all SCORM releases make it possible to share a course, transition it on an LMS, and track learner progress and results..

There are many off-the-shelf authoring tools that will support the objective of building SCORM-compliant courseware. In fact, users can build their own authoring tools, often using spreadsheet, database, or slideshow applications as the basis but also using specific programming languages. Creating a DIY (Do It Yourself) authoring tool requires the user to have an understanding of the SCORM protocol, along with development skills. The use of an authoring tool, whether purchased or DIY, has the same set of objectives. Any given authoring tool will have its own feature set that aims to facilitate creation of content. When it comes to selecting an authoring tool, your main task is to ensure that the feature set supports your intended outcome and user profile.

A basic SCORM-compliant authoring tool supports building a set of slides or pages, and accompanying media (images) along with a method for navigating between slides. From there, an authoring tool may do other things such as supporting exams, surveys, and audio and video, or more advanced features such as transitions between slides or screens, requiring that certain content be completed before the user can advance through the course.

eLearning authoring tool feature sets

The basic approach to choosing an eLearning authoring tool is to find one that matches your requirements. Here are two approaches that have worked for many readers.

The T-Set

One tool selection approach that appeared in Learning Solutions and has had wide adoption is called the T-Set. It was developed by Joe Ganci and John Hart, and it boils down authoring tool selection to optimization across four important factors:

  • Talent: Who does the work? Will it be done in-house or by others? Does your in-house team have the bandwidth (skill set) to do the work? Are all three key roles (instructional designers, subject matter experts, programmers) involved in the project?
  • Topics: What is the topic (or task) to be learned? Is the topic complex, is there a lot to be learned? Do the topics involve closed, discrete lessons, or more open-ended needs? Are they more linear (information and compliance) or will they require branching and non-linear navigation?
  • Techniques: Which of the four basic techniques (tell me; show me; let me; test me) will be used to facilitate learning?
  • Tools: Is the choice of tool guided by strategy, not driven by marketing? A tool strategy is one in which you take into account the talent you have in place, the topic to be learned, and the techniques to be used. It also involves taking into consideration the characteristics of the company that makes a tool you are considering.

The article by Ganci and Hart linked above is one that is essential reading as part of your tool selection preparation.

Authoring tool features everyone wants

In the past, Guild Research has surveyed readers to learn which features are at the top of their “important” lists. Here, in no particular order, are the ones that turn up often. You may want to look in the various software review sites for tools that have strengths in the features that are most important to you.

  • Can customize how interactions look and feel
  • Can use numerous text-formatting options (styles, bullets, justification, etc.)
  • Can choose from a wide variety of question types (multiple choice, fill-in, hot spot)
  • Can make objects on the screen interactive
  • Can require questions to be answered
  • Support for accessibility
  • Support for responsive content
  • Support for video output and interactive content

What kind of learning delivery?

  • Stand-alone courses installed and running on the learner's desktop machine
  • Web-based courses
  • Mobile learning on mobile devices
  • Interactive eBooks
  • Cloud-based training labs

What kind of topics?

  • Equipment operation, troubleshooting, and repair
  • Software and IT products
  • Soft skills
  • Compliance
  • Small business skills

What kind of media will be required?

  • Text
  • Video
  • Animations
  • Various image file types
  • Audio

What kind of learning designs?

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

What kind of platform will be available for developing eLearning?

  • Windows
  • Mac
  • Mobile
  • Web

What do you want to pay and how?

  • Free
  • Free trial, followed by licensing
  • Subscription (monthly or annual)
  • One-time license

Support from publisher/vendor

  • What kind of support is available for learning to use the tool?
  • Are there active groups of users?
  • Are there webinars or courses on the tools?

Locating tools: Software reviews

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: