The ultimate authoring tool buyer’s guide

Choosing an elearning authoring tool isn’t easy and it takes more than a free trial. With each tool offering a wide range of features, workflows and support packages, it’s key you find the right fit for all your stakeholders’ needs, now and two years down the line. This detailed guide and six point scorecard is designed to help you find the best elearning software for your needs.

The ultimate authoring tool buyer’s guide

Why it takes more than a test drive

Choosing an elearning authoring tool is not an easy decision and takes more than taking it for a test drive. As with any new technology, you want to be sure you’re making the right choice and investing wisely – for now and for the future.

Your choice needs to meet the needs of a wide range of stakeholders: your authoring team, any design contractors, learning and business leaders, and last but not least, your end users.

Yet each tool offers a potentially bamboozling array of different features, workflows, and technical integration options. Each tool provider will also have their own way of working with customers and offer differing levels and types of support.

How do you weigh up which option is right for you?

This guide will take you through a process for making the right decision, equipping you with the necessary questions and considerations you’ll need to work through to find the right fit.

Pre-demo

Spend a bit of time putting together your shopping list and doing a bit of research, before you invest too much time in demos and free trials.

1. Be clear on your needs

It sounds obvious, but it’s key to get clear on what your requirements are upfront. Without knowing what you and your stakeholders need to get from an authoring tool, it will be hard to weigh up which one is the right fit. A software provider might offer loads of snazzy features, but are they right for you? Will they get you where you need to be now and in two years’ time?

Whether you are bringing elearning production in house to gain more control or cut costs, or looking to build out a new suite of digital learning products to re-brand and sell, pull back and consider your set-up, needs and plan. Here’s six elements to consider:

  • Size – the size, location and available time of your production team
  • Skills – the level of skill/experience your authoring team has.
  • Quantity – the amount of content you’re aiming to produce, in a given time-frame, and the number of learners you’re aiming to reach
  • Quality – the types of content you need and want to create now, and in future
  • Scale – the need to re-brand, re-version, translate and/or regularly update content
  • Systems – where your content needs to launch from and systems it needs to integrate with

Decision timescales are also key here. If you know you need to have X number of products launched by a certain date, work back from that to assess when you need to have your new tool in place, and when you need your team up to speed using it by.

An example: Two different sets of needs

Global Training Provider

A training organization is looking to convert workshops and take high-end digital learning products to the global market. It intends to work with third-party design agencies to create the products. These will then be re-purposed in-house to make them fit for different customer needs.

They need a tool that:

  • Works at scale – enables multiple products to be created quickly, then re-used and adapted time and time again
  • Is responsive – works on any device without additional authoring effort
  • Is easy to use – so third parties can get up to speed, fast
  • Produces modern, high-end results
  • Makes translation easy
  • Enables content to be re-branded
  • Is easy to update
  • Can work across multiple LMSs and work without an LMS

Nice to have: they’d like to track data around usage of their products, and measure what’s working easily.

In-house L&D team

An in-house L&D team are looking to invest in an authoring tool that helps them create more modern, elearning, quicker so they can respond swiftly to arising business needs. It will be used primarily by specialist in-house authors spread throughout the business.

They need a tool that:

  • Is Collaborative to enable globally spread teams author together
  • Responsive – works on any device without additional authoring effort
  • Is easy to use – the elearning skill level varies and there’s hope subject experts can use the tool directly to create parts of content
  • Supports different modes of elearning from immersive scenarios to one-page resources
  • Is easy to update
  • Integrates with their in-house LMS and potentially with their new social media platform

Nice to have: enables teams to take their digital learning design to the next level and produce more personalized content.

Three things that can help you capture needs:

  1. Do some stakeholder mapping – consider the stakeholders for your authoring tool, from your project sponsors and business leads looking for ROI, through to your end users. Break your production team down into varying roles from subject experts, designers, authors, editors, and reviewers and consider their needs.
  2. SWOT up – carry out a SWOT analysis on your authoring team. What are their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
  3. Create a vision statement – Don’t just focus on the kind of digital learning you want to create now. Where do you want to be in two years time? Consider the kind of content and products you want to be delivering, to whom, and what kind of feedback you want to be hearing. Set out a clear vision statement.

The ultimate authoring tool buyer’s guide

2. Gather reviews and recommendations

Create a shortlist of potential tools to try and dig in to what others’ are saying about them.

Elucidat reviews on eLearning Industry

Are like minded customers using the tool? Can you talk with any of them, via LinkedIn or similar?

When it comes to presenting your business case for the tool, showing your stakeholders how other teams have been successful using it will really help your case.

Free-trial vs. guided demo – what’s best?

Some authoring tool companies offer free trials, others offer conversations and guided demos. We recommend getting on the phone and having a conversation, rather than attempting to evaluate the tool through a free-trial alone. Here’s why.

A free trial

  • Gives you a quick feel for the authoring interface, but doesn’t always help you evaluate it from all stakeholder perspectives
  • Leaves you to your own devices, but note this may not be a realistic experience. Chances are a licensed author would have technical support/training available when using the tool that might not be available fully at free trial

A guided demo

  • Helps you experience more than just the authoring interface. Get a tour of how it feels for end users, reviewers, learning managers, administrators and more.
  • Enables you to ask all your questions and have the sales rep do the leg-work for you in presenting or gathering the answers
  • Gives you a chance to get a feel for the company, what they are like and how they treat customers

Book a demo and request a free trial of Elucidat.

A six point scorecard to help you navigate demos

It helps if you have consistent measurement method when weighing up different tools. To help you navigate tool demos and dialog with reps, we’ve put together a six point scorecard. Within each of the six criteria, make notes and try giving each tool a score out of 10.

Ease of use Ease of Use

According to Towards Maturity’s Benchmark report, 66% of organizations are struggling to build teams with the development and learning design skills needed to use some of the legacy authoring tools. It’s key that you find a tool that makes it easy to get great results and that offers real support to get your team up the learning curve. Some tools are super simple, but perhaps offer less features and have more restricted output results. Others offer wider ranging or higher end results, but authoring teams need a bit of a leg up initially to get proficient.

To judge ease of use, you have to consider how easy it is to use out the box and what support is available to help teams take it to the next level…if there is a next level that it goes to! It’s a bit like weighing up ease of input vs quality output. We cover quality further down.

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Authoring

  • How easy is it to use the tool? What are your first impressions? Does the interface feel logical? Does the workflow make sense?
  • Does it come with pre-built themes, page types and interactions?
  • How easy is it to achieve good results/create a 5min piece?
  • What skills does it take to achieve good results? Can anyone do it? (or do you need graphic design or coding skills, for example).
  • How long does it typically take to produce a 5min piece of content?
  • How long does it usually take a novice to get fully up to speed with the tool?
  • Does it automatically make content mobile-friendly or does it require additional authoring?

Wider team

  • How easy is it to carry out reviews, make edits, make comments?
  • How easy it is to publish/upload content?
  • Is it collaborative? How easy is it to work together on a project in the tool?

Support

  • What support is available to help your team…
  • Get up and running with the basics
  • Master the tool
  • What is the availability of any support teams and average response times/ratings?

        

Efficiency & stability Efficiency & Scalability

Evaluating how a tool can help your team meet its target quantity of projects within the resources available, efficiently, is key to your success. So, find out:

Efficiency via re-use

  • How does the tool make high scale production more efficient? i.e. what features does it have that support:
    • Duplication and re-usability of interfaces, layouts, whole projects
    • Translation into multiple languages (all languages?)
    • Ability to create variations of the same course for different customers/users
    • Customizable branding so one course can be switched to an alternative on-brand look
    • Can it handle bulk assets upload and management?

Limitations

  • Are there any limits to the number or size of projects?
  • Are there any limits to how many authors can work in the tool?
  • Does it support contractors using licenses for short periods?

Collaborative/streamlined working

  • Can authors work together on projects, at the same time?
  • Can teams ‘jump in’ and edit other people’s projects easily?
  • Can reviews and suggested edits be carried out in the tool, by non-authors?

desktop vs cloud

The ultimate authoring tool buyer’s guide

Desktop-based authoring tools need to be downloaded and installed on an individual’s computer. Software updates will also need to be downloaded and installed.

 The ultimate authoring tool buyer’s guide

Cloud-based authoring tools are usually more secure and convenient than their desktop equivalents. This is because the source files for your courses and the authoring tool itself are held centrally and are accessible to all your authors, wherever they are. 

The ultimate authoring tool buyer’s guide

Projects are worked on by one-person at a time. Files and projects cannot be shared. Authors will need to store their images, videos etc on their desktops, uploading them into the courses they’re working on each time.

 The ultimate authoring tool buyer’s guide

So, for example, if a course requires an urgent fix, and the primary author is on the road, another author can quickly make changes. Teams can also collaborate on the same projects, at the same time, to speed up production. 

The ultimate authoring tool buyer’s guide

Projects will need to be launched somewhere before they can be reviewed by editors. Editors will usually need to make comments in a spreadsheet or similar, and sent to an author to act upon.

 The ultimate authoring tool buyer’s guide

Look for tools that have in-built review functionality so editors can suggest changes within the app, rather than via an external spreadsheet or similar. 

Find out more about the pros and cons of cloud-based vs desktop-based tools.

Technical Technical capabilities

Evaluate how well each tool integrates with the systems you require it to now, and in future, and understand how it uses and presents data to help you understand successes and present key results to senior stakeholders, easily.

Integration

  • Does it integrate with your required platforms or LMS?
  • Does it need an LMS or platform in order to publish content?
  • Is it xAPI enabled? (Ask for case studies)
  • Is it SCORM compliant (if you need this)?

Data management & project evaluation

  • How does it gather, store and present back data?
  • What kinds of data does it collect/present?
  • Does it include in-built data dashboards that tell a story about projects?
  • Does it require downloading and manual manipulation of data to grasp trends?

 

analytics dashboard

An example of an in-build data dashboard, from the Elucidat Authoring Platform

Quality Quality

Be wary of providers who can’t show you lots of output examples! Ask the provider to show you examples of projects created in the tool, so you can experience them from the end-users’ point of view. Interact with them and try to gauge the look, feel, usability, and range of what’s offered to you.

 

  • What kind of outputs does the tool produce, out the box?
  • What is really good at enabling you to produce, easily?
  • Does it have a specialist area? Most tools will be particularly good at a certain type of design approach e.g. branching scenarios
  • What does it offer that’s more sophisticated? e.g.
    • Ability to embed and use videos and audio
    • Personalization features
    • Gamification features
    • Ability to create immersive scenarios and branching
    • Range of ways to ‘score’ and track learning
    • Social elements – such as social polling
    • Ability to animate content
    • Ability to create custom layouts, navigation devices, interactions, templates
    • Any others that are important to your requirements?

quality elearning examples

Explore 30+ elearning examples created with Elucidat

Maintenance Maintenance & future proofing

Ease of authoring projects is one side of the coin – on the other is how easy and quickly you can make changes to projects whether they are already published or still being worked on. Suss out what the steps are in the update projects, and find out if anything gets ‘disturbed’ by doing so. You should have the freedom to make changes to live projects without users or data streams being affected – so ask lots of questions!

Making edits

  • How easy/quick is it to update content?
  • How easy/quick is it to re-publish content?
  • Who has the rights to do it, within a project team
  • Are there any downsides to updating content i.e. loss of historical data?

Future proofing

  • Based on where you want to be, will this be the right tool for you in 2 years’ time?
    • What’s on the tool’s development roadmap for the next 12 months?
    • How far has it come/what’s been added in the last 2 years? (Ask for retrospective roadmaps)

People behind the scenes People behind the tool

Yes you’re buying a tool. But the people and services behind that authoring software makes all the difference. We’ve all experienced bad customer service around internet or phone providers, for example. It’s not fun. If you’re investing a lot of money into a tool, you want to ensure the fit with the people behind it is right and that they’ll support you every step of the way.

Get a feel

  • Who are the company and what’s their background? i.e. are they all ‘techies’, are they learning design specialists? Have they worked client side before? What’s the mix?
  • What do they believe in? – i.e. what are the company values and what’s their mission?
  • How do they come across when you talk with them?
  • Have you been to visit them? What’s the vibe in the office?
  • Are they loud and proud of their design outputs and customer stories, and are happy to share?

Do they go that extra mile?

  • Do they share advice, tips, and ideas willingly?
  • Can they gift you ready-made projects as starting points?
  • Do they give you a dedicated customer success or support contact?
  • Do they offer services beyond just the software i.e. Professional Services in digital learning design. Can they help you with design ideas? Coaching new authors in learning design? Consulting on your elearning strategy?

Learn about the people, services and support you get with Elucidat. 

Weighing it all up

Only now can you truly weigh up value for money. Make a note of the costs, but don’t judge on face value. Use your scorecards and notes to help you. In theory, you should have scored higher where the tool best meets your needs – and this is where the value comes in for you

Make sure you fully understand the true cost for each tool. Try to sum up how much it will cost for your team of X people to use the tool for X projects for X time period – you need to find a way to create a like for like comparison.

You then need to pull back and consider what value you get for that cost. Your scorecards will help here.
Your needs

It might help to set up a spreadsheet with notes, comparisons and scores for each of the tools you’ve evaluated, and then add the comparative costs into this so you can review cost and value together.

Final decision…almost?

If you whittle your decision down to two tools, or even just one, consider bringing in other stakeholders to get experience them too. For example, consider bringing in some authors, graphic designers, novice designers into the mix to run some tests. Just remember that trialling a tool solo can be a narrow experience of a true tool, as it might not show the full support offered by the provider to holders of a real licence.

Turning your choice into a business case

Once you’ve made your choice, you may need to convince the rest of the business. We provide lots of tips and ideas on how to put together a business case here.

Keen to find out more about Elucidat?

Why not book a chat and demo with the Elucidat team.

 

 

 

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