Whether you’re an experienced instructional designer or just starting your trajectory as a course developer, you’re likely to be aware of Articulate. It’s one of the biggest names in the industry, but does that mean it’s best to go with the flow? Not really. eLearning tasks can differ and where one product fails to provide a quick, reliable solution, there’s another one that can fill in the gap and save the day.
In this post, we’ll look at an alternative to Articulate, iSpring Suite. It’s an up-and-coming authoring toolkit that can give Articulate a run for its money. We’ll reveal both products’ strong and weak points so you can decide which is best for you.
Articulate 360 Review
Articulate has come a long way since 2002, when they released their first software called Presenter 3. It was able to convert PowerPoint presentations into Flash movies that could be posted on the Web. As the years passed, Flash started to die off, and the company rapidly shifted its focus to eLearning, as online training became the next buzzword. The original “converter” concept soon evolved to a PowerPoint-based authoring toolkit under the name of Articulate Studio, which eventually was replaced by a standalone program with the same purpose: Storyline.
Articulate is now an enormous software complex that consists of 4 desktop tools and 3 online services.
The desktop arsenal includes:
- Storyline – a standalone eLearning toolkit for Windows with the means for creating slides with audio/video narration, animations, quizzes, and screen recordings.
- Studio – a PowerPoint-based predecessor of Storyline. This product is still being maintained, however, and only getting crucial bug fixes. The range of its capabilities is basically the same as Storyline’s, with some additional features like a Learning Interactions editor, and some limitations – for example, no trigger&layer editing that would allow for the creation of custom interactions.
- Replay – a recorder that enables you to capture from both your screen and your webcam at the same time. Both videos can then be merged on a single canvas using a simple 2-track editor.
- Peek – another recorder that only allows you to capture from the computer screen and upload finished videos to an online content repository: Articulate Review.
Here’s what you get with the online part of the deal:
- Review – cloud-based storage for your finished courses and screen recordings; a sort of Google Drive for Articulate content.
- Rise – an online authoring tool for creating mobile-ready, fully responsive courses. It has built-in interaction-, scenario- and quiz-making components. Finished content can be viewed on Rise itself or exported to SCORM/xAPI.
- Content Library – a library of visual assets for eLearning that you can insert in your courses. People cutouts (characters), backgrounds, stock photos, and videos.
A lot of different programs and workflows are included in Articulate 360 – as you can tell – although, frequently, one component in the package closely resembles or even duplicates the functionality of another component. So, if you’re looking for an authoring tool that you can pick up on quickly, know that it can take days just to figure out what programs from the 360 deal are better suited for your task, let alone the time spent on content authoring itself.
Here are Articulate’s positives and negatives:
- Layers and triggers in Storyline allow for advanced customization of how learners can interact with your course.
- Rise 360 can be used to create truly responsive content in your web browser.
- Storyline has a text-to-speech function.
- It’s great for translating courses to multiple languages – you can import/export the entire text contents of a learning module.
- It has a rich content library – characters (both real and drawn), slide templates, pictures, and video.
- Review 360 allows you to upload published projects online to receive feedback from stakeholders.
- Storyline has a rather steep learning curve – getting a full grasp of what the program can do takes some time.
- It’s difficult to build learning interactions on a desktop. Studio comes with built-in templates, but they don’t work properly.
- Desktop applications can be heavy and slow down computer resources.
- Screen recording functionality is too basic and spread out over 3 different tools, which makes it hard to streamline video tutorial production.
- Storyline is Section-508-compliant, but you have to ensure accessibility manually, which almost doubles the time required for content development.
- It can get expensive fast if you have a lot of authors and want to scale content.
- Desktop applications have no Mac version.
When to choose Articulate 360
Articulate will be a good fit when you:
- Are not on a tight schedule and can afford to spend time learning the ropes before getting into actual course development.
- Work in a team of a few instructional designers that constantly reuse each other’s courses for new content: the more costly “Teams” plan ($1,299/year) includes Team Slides that allow your company to have its own library of commonly used slide layouts and designs.
- Need to have a course translated into a few languages; importing and exporting a course’s text contents are easy in Storyline.
Why Might iSpring Suite Be a Better Choice?
iSpring Suite is an alternative to Articulate that, while possessing a comparable range of features, is more focused on being user-friendly and suitable for absolute beginners. The tool makes it possible for you to start assembling good-quality content in the shortest time possible.
The main program that brings together the different tools, which are included with the package, is PowerPoint. It’s easy to fire it up and start building a new course, using a PowerPoint presentation as a basis. The niche applications included in the package like a quiz maker or a screen recorder are standalone – they are optimized extremely well so that the entire toolkit could work nicely even on low-end machines.
Here’s a list of desktop apps that come with iSpring Suite:
- Suite (PPT add-in) – the main app responsible for narrating slides and publishing HTML5 output. Powered by the best PPT to HTML conversion engine on the market.
- QuizMaker – a tool centered on building quizzes, surveys, and knowledge checks. It offers lots of question types, including drag-n-drop, customizable feedback, and design. Finished quizzes can be included in courses or published separately.
- Visuals – an interaction builder. Interaction presets include Accordion, Timeline, and Guided Image. Each one can be enhanced with images/audio/video and redesigned to match your corporate color scheme.
- TalkMaster – a communication simulator. This can be used to create game-like assessments that help train verbal skills.
- CamPro – a screen/webcam-recording tool, plus an advanced multi-track video editor.
- Flip – a tool for converting Word, PDF, and PowerPoint files into mobile-ready HTML5 books.
These are the online apps that you get with an iSpring Suite subscription:
- Content Library – a cloud-based library of design templates, backgrounds, and characters that you can use in your courses. Characters are fleshed out in more detail than with Articulate. ~400 images per character in iSpring vs. ~150 pics in Articulate.
- Cloud – online storage for finished learning modules and screen recordings that makes it easy to share a course for review. It can be used as your personal Dropbox for eLearning content.
Let’s look at the chief advantages and disadvantages of iSpring Suite:
- Easy to learn, doesn’t require previous experience in instructional design
- PowerPoint-based – can convert all of its animations and transitions to HTML5
- Built-in screen-recording tool that can capture both your screen and webcam, while allowing multitrack video editing later on
- Features a dialogue simulation tool that is used to develop communicative skills (content sample)
- Quality content library with thousands of visual assets from slide templates to characters and backgrounds in HD
- Cloud service for fast content sharing
- State-of-the-art HTML5 engine allows courses to play smoothly on a variety of devices
- Output compatible with over 156 LMSs
- Experienced in-house technical support
- Requires PowerPoint to work
- No closed captioning for audio/video narration
- No Text To Speech
- No stock images or video in the content library
- Course translation possibly difficult with no import/export text features
- No Mac version
When to choose iSpring Suite
Go for iSpring Suite instead of Articulate Storyline when you:
- Are looking for an easy, yet powerful authoring tool that can help you produce high-quality learning content in a short amount of time.
- Would like to put an emphasis on screen recordings and have a better control over results.
- Need to make sure that your courses work nicely on any device, not just a desktop.
- Have to produce Section 508-compliant eLearning but don’t want to overstretch the production cycle. iSpring Suite lets learners rearrange the contents of any course at their own convenience with a click of a single button.
- Want to be sure that finished content correctly reports data to your LMS.
Let’s make a head-to-head comparison of both tools with this comprehensive feature list:
|Articulate 360||iSpring Suite 9|
|Record audio and video narration||+||+|
|Screen capture and webcam recording||+||+|
|Advanced video editing tool||–||+|
|Content library with visual assets (design templates, characters, backgrounds, etc.)||+||+|
|Access to a stock library with images and video||+||–|
|PDF/PPT/DOCX to SCORM converter||–||+|
|Built-in learning interaction types|
10 – Rise (online)
20 – Studio (desktop)
0 – Storyline
|Quiz question types||11||12|
|Survey question types||9||14|
|Drag-and-drop quiz question type||+||+|
|Dialog simulation tool||+||+|
|Cloud-based repository for projects that allows you to share content for review||+||+|
|Can import PowerPoint presentations||+||+|
|Free trial||8 weeks||2 weeks|
|Price (per author)||$999/year||$970/year|
|What’s included with the subscription|
To Sum Up
To summarize in a few words: choose iSpring Suite for rapid course development and select Articulate if your company employs an experienced instructional designer who can harness its hidden customization powers. Otherwise, both tools are fairly equivalent and can be considered solid choices for eLearning authoring.
Have you worked with either iSpring Suite or Articulate? Let us know what your experience was like in the comment section.