What Is an e-Learning Authoring Tool?

what-is-an-elearning-authoring-toolSome people in learning and development are old hands with e-learning authoring tools (also just called authoring tools). In some cases, perhaps, to the point that the authoring tool becomes a bit old hat.

No, I doubt that. I just wanted to make an old hand/old hat joke.

Because what e-learning authoring tools let you do is pretty amazing, pretty powerful, and pretty darned fun.

On the other hand, though, almost every week I meet people in training almost who don’t use e-learning authoring tools and don’t even know what they are. Sure, once you explain what an e-learning authoring tool is, they can tell you that they figured there must be some software application that did something like that. But they’re always pretty interested to know more, too.

So, especially for those who are new to e-learning authoring tools, we’ve put together this quick explanation. If we only whet your appetite and leave you with more questions, please use the comments section below.

On the other hand, if you’re a authoring tool power user, we invite you to add your insights down below too. Let us know what your favorite ones are, and why, in particular.

We’ll follow up this blog post by taking more “deep dive” views at various e-learning authoring tools and by creating an e-learning authoring tool comparison article at some point in the (hopefully near-term) future.

We’ve promised we’re going to tell you what an e-learning authoring tool is, and we will.

But before we get started, we thought you’d like to know about two related resources we have for you:

OK, now, without any further ado, let’s get to the meat of the matter.

What Is an Authoring Tool?

Probably the simplest way to think of it is that an authoring tool is a software application that lets you create your own multimedia software titles.

You COULD use an authoring tool to create an interactive multimedia element on a website. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times do just this.

But, within training or learning & development, it’s more common to think of authoring tools as something you’d use to create a interactive multimedia training course. Or, to use a common term, an e-learning course/online course. That’s why I like to refer to them as e-learning authoring tools instead of just authoring tools. At least until we all know what we’re talking about.

Do You Have To Be A Computer Programmer to Use An Authoring Tool?

Nope. The cool thing about authoring tools is that you DON’T have to know how to write computer programming code to create your own course. They’ve kind of “built that into” the background of the authoring tools. All you do is click some buttons and point at some files and the authoring tool and the hidden computer programming behind it do the hard work for you. Or at least that bit of hard work for you.

Of course, as we’ll see below, there are a variety of authoring tools on the market. Some are easier to use than others. Some that provide very limited features are also quite simple to use. Others that provide more power and flexibility also start to introduce more complexity for the user. But, in general, they’re all pretty easy to use.

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What Do You Have to Know To Use an Authoring Tool?

There ARE a few things you need to know.

Obviously, even if you don’t have to do any computer programming, you do have to learn how to use the authoring tool. But as I said before, most of them are pretty intuitive and easy to learn. In addition, the companies that make them do a pretty good job of helping you use their products. And there are lots of users groups at the company websites or on social media sites like LinkedIn that you can join and begin learning from people just like you.

In addition, though, you really should know a few things about instructional design and/or training. That’s really where the hard work comes in–designing an effective learning experience.

Check this out to learn more about instructional design and training:

And finally, it doesn’t hurt to know a little about graphic design and to be able to create some visuals. This isn’t necessary, and the programs help you a lot with that too, but it’s definitely a plus.

Check out these articles for some tips about e-learning visuals:

And while you’re at it, check out these articles about e-learning audio and/or written text:

Can You Begin Creating an e-Learning Authoring Course by Starting With a PowerPoint Presentation?

Yes. Many of these authoring tools are designed so you can create a lot of the materials in PowerPoint. Then you just open the PowerPoint presentation in your authoring tool and add interactivity.

Check out that blog post we mentioned earlier that demonstrates how to make your own e-learning course to see an example of this.

What Format(s) Do e-Learning Authoring Tools Publish To?

e-Learning authoring tools allow you to publish the finished product in various different formats.

Of course, the most common formats are SCORM, AICC, and Tin Can. These are e-learning standards that allow the e-learning course created with an authoring tool to be imported into a learning management system (LMS) and work correctly (or, in the case of Tin Can, into something like an LMS called a learning record system, or LRS).

For example, all of the e-learning courses created by Convergence Training are created using an authoring tool. Of course, we have to do the hard work of creating all the stunning 3D-animation on our own.

Here’s some additional information that may be helpful:

In addition, though, you can export into other formats, including an executable (.EXE) file that you can launch and run from a computer or DVD and Flash, which you can then play from a webpage.

For example, here are few things I created in an authoring tool, published in the Flash format, and put on the Convergence Training blog:

While we’re chatting about publishing formats, check out this article about HTML5, too, which is becoming important in e-learning.

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Who Makes e-Learning Authoring Tools?

Although we make LMSs and e-learning courses, we don’t make an authoring tool. We’re not trying to sell you something with this article. 🙂

That said, there are a LOT of e-learning authoring tools out there.

To my knowledge, here are some of the industry leaders, with links to webpages where you can learn more.

Those are some of the big players in the market, but there are more.

Here’s an even longer list of authoring tools on the market.

Is One Authoring Tool Better Than The Others?

No, not really. They each have their own merits. It’s best to figure out what you want to do with an authoring tool, then do some comparison shopping.

That said, here’s one ranking, here’s another ranking, and here’s a comparison.

How Much Do e-Learning Authoring Tools Cost?

Again, this varies from product to product, but we’ve seen some freebies (we didn’t mention Screenr before but it’s worth bringing up here), some for as little as $99, and some that will set you back between $1,000-$1,500.

But here’ s a hot tip for ya: Many if not all have free trial downloads that let you check out their product  before you buy. We’ve done that ourselves and benefited from it. Give this a shot if you want to find out what each does and what products fit your needs best.

Your Turn: Your Questions or Opinions about Authoring Tools

OK, that’s it from us. At least in this post.

What about you? Do you have any questions about authoring tools? Or opinions to share? Lay ’em on us in the comments section below.

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Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto is an Instructional Designer and the Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Convergence Training. Jeff has worked in education/training for more than twenty years and in safety training for more than ten. You can follow Jeff at LinkedIn as well.

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