Choosing an eLearning authoring tool can be tough. Not only are there a ton of options on the market, but they all have different feature sets, workflows, strengths, and weaknesses. With the rise of cloud-based HTML5 authoring software, there are more options out there than ever before, so it can be confusing to decide which HTML5 authoring tool is the best fit.
Do you need to immediately get an existing PowerPoint course online? Maybe you have a complex multi-course program to deliver with multiple instructional designers and developers? Perhaps you want a slick and modern ‘app’ style look for your course?
In this article, we take a side-by-side look at five heavyweight eLearning authoring tools and see how they compare.
1. iSpring Suite
iSpring Suite is a fully-featured eLearning solution focused on making rapid content development easy and intuitive. A major plus of iSpring Suite is that the core authoring tool works as a PowerPoint add-in, which makes for a familiar interface that is very easy to use.
iSpring Suite takes a modularized approach to the user interface, with special tabs for different types of training tasks. There’s a quiz maker for assessments, a video and audio editor for creating video lectures and screencasts, and a conversation simulation tool for building dialog simulations with branching. Creating interactions is made simple with a whole set of ready-made templates for creating glossaries, catalogs, timelines, references, and FAQs.
The workflow puts the focus firmly on content development and avoids manually configuring complex interactive elements and coding variables. To make the process of building courses even faster, there’s a Content Library full of high-quality images, characters, location backgrounds, icons, and controls.
iSpring Suite is also fully responsive, offering automatic adaptation of courses for mobile devices, so you don’t need to create different versions of courses for smartphones, tablets, and PCs. Once done, your courses will work smoothly on virtually all devices.
How easy is it to use?
iSpring’s seamless integration with PowerPoint means that most people will be able to pick it up and immediately get authoring. The familiar interface and streamlined workflow make for a gentle learning curve that allows the user to explore other modules and features at their own pace.
Fortunately, ease of use doesn’t mean you can only create simple interactions and courses — there’s a lot of flexibility to add more complex scenarios and interactives via the iSpring Visuals and iSpring Talkmaster modules.
- Perfect PowerPoint integration
- Simple interface to build courses fast
- Built-in dialogue simulator with branching conversation scenarios
- Professional video studio for recording and editing screencasts and webcam
- Robust tool for creating interactive quizzes and surveys
- Perfect playback on all devices
- iSpring Play mobile app for offline course viewing
- Ability to turn PPT presentations into SCORM courses and Word and PDF documents into interactive SCORM flipbooks
- Professional grade content library
- Cloud service for fast content sharing and collaboration
iSpring Suite is a great pick for PowerPoint lovers looking to take the leap into a fully fledged authoring tool.
It’s also a perfect choice for those who are searching for the easiest and fastest way to move existing instructions, manuals, and textbooks online. If you already have PPT presentations, you can turn them into e-courses in just a couple of clicks.
You can also quickly convert your Word and PDF documents into interactive e-books with a realistic page flip effect. When you want to get more creative and add quizzing, dialog simulations, and interactives, there’s plenty of power under the hood too.
$970 (Annual license)
2. Adobe Captivate
Adobe Captivate comes in a few different versions — it’s available as a standalone eLearning HTML5 authoring tool, as a part of the Adobe Creative Cloud package, or as part of the Captivate Prime solution which includes LMS capabilities. In this comparison, we’ll focus on the standalone authoring tool.
Captivate is well suited for general eLearning development, for example creating slide presentations or quizzes, and for developing complex interactive courses.
A standout feature of the latest 2019 Captivate release is the ability to create Virtual Reality projects and make interactive videos and studio-quality HD videos by simultaneously recording webcam and on-screen content and adding interactive elements. The wide range of interactions is another strong suit of this toolkit. You can make eLearning fun with drag-and-drop, puzzles, games, and other interactions.
There’s no special dedicated tool for building conversation simulations or character-driven dialogs in Adobe Captivate, so if these are a big part of your training design, it may not be the best pick. However, Captivate is traditionally a preferred choice for developing software simulations with the help of effects, triggers, and slide settings. This allows for a lot of versatility in creating realistic simulations and presenting them to users in different modes, e.g. see it, try it, do it.
How easy is it to use?
Captivate is known to have a fairly steep learning curve for new users, and in past releases, a rather confusing workflow that relies on a lot of separate windows to select variables and triggers, and perform other functions.
To create really great eLearning in Captivate, you need to spend a lot of time getting to know its functions, so it may not be the best choice as a first time authoring tool. It’s perfect for creating more technical simulation-based training.
- Extensive variables and branching that allows creative customization
- 360-degree (VR) capability to embed virtual reality into your eLearning
- True responsive screen display on all devices, viewable as you create the training
- Asset library including templates, people, headshots, and full-body shots
- Ability to automatically generate text-to-speech (TTS) voiceovers
- ‘Green screen’ feature where you can put in your own background.
- Mobile specific development tools such as geolocation tagging
- Complex software simulation recording options
Adobe Captivate is less easy and intuitive but more powerful than its competitors. It’s best suited for experienced eLearning developers who are comfortable working with variables and some coding to make magic happen.
In contrast to some vendors that offer an LMS or hosting solution as part of the package, if you want to host the courses that you author directly via Captivate, you’ll need to purchase the PRIME package, which is more expensive and probably not suitable for small organizations with less than 100 employees.
$33.99/month or $1,299.00 (Perpetual License)
3. Articulate 360
Articulate 360 is a suite of nine tools, three of which are designed specially for course authoring: Storyline 360, Studio 360, and Rise.
- Storyline 360 is the flagship Articulate authoring tool. Its interface is quite similar to PowerPoint, but it recreates it with some changes rather than fully integrating with it.
- Studio 360 is an add-in for PowerPoint. It combines three tools: Presenter 360 to transform slides into mobile and online courses, Quizmaker 360 to easily add quizzes to your course, and Engage 360 to easily build interactions.
- Rise is a really easy web-based tool for creating simple courses. You can create custom lessons by combining different learning ‘blocks’. Although originally limited to a fairly small set of interaction types, Rise offers regular updates, and has recently introduced Storyline blocks for those who want to get a bit more custom while retaining the ‘app-like feel’ of the Rise interface.
If you hear an instructional designer say “I use Articulate,” chances are they’re actually referring to Storyline. Storyline has an advanced feature set, though it’s limited with built-in interaction templates such as tabs, simple two-step dialog simulations, and hotspots that will get you started with creating courses. To get more imaginative and creative though, you need to go deep into working with layers, variables and object states, plus spend a lot of time on learning, then fine-tuning and testing the tool.
Like iSpring Suite, Articulate 360 has a full set of tools for adding different objects to slides, as well as a Content Library, which is a collection of course templates, backgrounds, characters, controls, and icons. It includes fewer professionally-designed assets, but gives access to 4.5+ million stock photos, illustrations, and icons via an online library.
How easy is it to use?
Articulate 360 is somewhere in the middle of the learning curve; it’s not as easy to pick up and use as iSpring Suite, but it doesn’t have the steep time investment of Captivate to start creating decent-looking courses.
On the plus side, you have greater opportunities for customizing your eLearning content. But on the downside, you need to allocate more time to building courses, since you have to add many items manually.
Plus, it also takes time to explore all the content creating capabilities, so if you’re not ready to invest the time in training, authoring efficiency can be limited.
- Solutions for most eLearning tasks
- Ability to create responsive HTML5 courses quickly with drag and drop in Rise
- Similar to PowerPoint interface of Storyline 360, but with greater opportunities for customizing the content
- Ability to create basic interactions quickly and easily
- Screen recorder for making screencast capture and editing simple
- Lots of different authoring options for all levels of developers
- Large content library
- Adaptive player that makes courses responsive for mobile
- Free mobile app for playing courses offline
The ‘suite of tools’ approach works well for large eLearning departments where there are not only multiple types of courses to develop, spanning the range of complexity, but also differing skill levels of course developers, from beginners to experts.
The reviewing and collaboration options also make this a good fit for larger teams. The drawback is that most individual developers and small to medium organizations won’t need all of these tools, but will still have to purchase the whole set per license.
$1,299/year (for teams) or $999 (for individuals)
4. Lectora Online
In this comparison, we’ll look at Lectora Online, the cloud-based version of Lectora, which offers HTML5 authoring plus similar comparable tools to the other products in this article.
A big focus of the Lectora product range has always been compliance with web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG). This ensures that any course created in Lectora Online will be accessible to those with disabilities such as hearing or vision impairment. If you work in or develop content for federal government organizations, this is a good choice.
Lectora’s popular Getting Started templates are a great shortcut for authoring. Each template includes built-in navigation, interactive samples, page layouts, and instructions for use. Plus, these built-in templates offer different learning styles and course types such as basic linear, non-linear, microlearning, scenario-based, adaptive, time-of-need/just-in-time training, multimedia, and more.
For more experienced developers Lectora Online supports scripts, custom libraries, fonts, and CSS, so the sky’s the limit in terms of customization.
How easy is it to use?
The interface will look familiar to Windows users, since it utilizes the Windows toolbar format and folder structure icons to represent the different sections, topics, interactions, quizzes, and assets in a course. Compared to other tools, the menu system looks a bit confusing and the layout will take some getting used to.
Getting a standard eLearning course up using some of the templates provided should be within most people’s reach, but there’s definitely more complexity involved in creating and editing courses compared to the other authoring tools.
- WCAG compliant
- Supports conditional branching and sequenced events
- Ability to add your own scripts, custom libraries, fonts, CSS
- Built-in versioning for collaboration
- Robust quizzing options
- Getting-started course templates that include navigation and sample interactions
- Global content management and update of assets
- Reviewing integration with review link
- Stock images and templates from eLearning Brothers
Lectora has a legion of fans, but they mostly fall into the ‘power user’ category, meaning they’ve spent considerable time learning the tool and are truly experts with it.
It doesn’t offer a user experience as clean as iSpring Suite or Articulate Rise, but certainly offers a great degree of power and flexibility for experienced and more technical-leaning eLearning developers.
Most suitable for larger and geographically dispersed organizations with a mature L&D model encompassing multiple authors and reviewers.
$500/year (Starter), $900/year (Pro), $1390 (Team)
Elucidat’s cloud-based eLearning authoring tool lets you produce HTML5, SCORM-compliant content that they claim will work with any modern LMS.
Being a cloud-based platform, your whole team, from content designers to subject-matter experts, can contribute to, review and take part in the eLearning authoring process at any time.
Elucidat aims to be an all-in-one cloud-based solution for creating high-quality eLearning, managing content at scale, and analyzing performance. It has all the features you’d expect from an HTML5 authoring platform: templates, resource, video and audio management, a mobile responsive editor, a layout designer, and the usual interactive elements you’d expect such as buttons, flip cards, and input boxes.
There’s also a focus on collaboration with multiple authors, and powerful features for role-based development and translation projects across multiple regions. These include separate modular views for Team Leaders, SMEs, Designers and Reviewers, who all get access to feature sets relevant to their roles and position in the development process.
How easy is it to use?
The user interface is clear and uncluttered so you can get started building projects immediately using templates and content blocks, and applying style elements with great-looking results.
For more experienced developers, there’s a lot that can be done, however this will require some time investment and training.
- Management of eLearning content at scale
- Streamlined workflows for teams
- Page transition effects
- Ability to create single courses that are responsive on any device
- Personalized learner clips
- Flexible item animation; it’s possible to animate almost any course element
- Easily access data and insight into how users engage with learning content
- XLIFF Translation support for automatic course localization
Elucidat is well-suited to organizations with dispersed L&D teams and requirements to deliver course variations by locality.
The variations manager allows an author to create a central “master course”, which has full control over its “child courses”. Once an edit is made to a master course, the child will then follow — edits can still be made locally in a child course. Elucidat authors can manage several course variations within one location, saving the hassle of creating numerous versions and editing each one individually.
No price listed; must contact the vendor.
To help you compare each HTML5 authoring tool in more detail, we’ve compiled a comparison sheet. It’s based on the features that learning designers and developers expect from an eLearning authoring tool:
|iSpring Suite||Adobe Captivate||Articulate 360||Lectora||Elucidat|
|Type of solution||Robust HTML5 authoring suite, including a quiz editor, a conversation simulator, an interaction editor, and a video studio.||Powerful authoring tool with advanced capabilities. Part of Adobe Creative Suite.||Bundle of nine tools for deploying a large-scale authoring environment.||Online collaborative authoring suite with great WCAG compliance and translation tools.||Authoring tool with a focus on teamwork and extensive versioning and regional variation options.|
|Can insert images||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Can insert video||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Can embed video from YouTube/Vimeo||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Can insert audio||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Can insert shapes, SmartArt, and charts||Yes (Fully integrated with PPT)||Yes (Proprietary)||Yes (Proprietary)||Yes (Proprietary)||Yes (Proprietary)|
|Can insert equations||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Can insert hyperlinks||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Built-in visual content library||Yes||Yes||Yes (Online stock library||Yes||Yes|
|Built-in audio/video clip library||No||No||Yes (Online stock library||Yes||No|
|№ of question templates||14||9||20||12||15|
|Question design||Editable templates||Standard templates||Standard templates||Standard templates||Question pages|
|№ of interaction templates||14||19||20||100+ (Available via eLearning Brothers plugin only)||8|
|Voice-overs for interactions||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Color scheme adjustment||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Built-in Audio & Video Editor|
|Virtual reality projects||No||Yes||No||No||No|
|Publishing options||HTML5, Video, SCORM (1.2, 2004), xAPi/Tincan, AICC, cmi5, HTML5||HTML, SWF, Exe, Adobe Connect, Captivate PRIME, SCORM, AICC, xAPI||Review 360, Web, Video, Articulate Online, AICC, SCORM, Tin Can API, CD, Word||ReviewLink, HTML5, Tin Can API, SCORM, AICC||SCORM, Online link, API integration|
|Broad LMS compatibility||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Tech-support||Via phone, email, or online chat||Via phone or chat||Community forum, helpdesk ticketing||Via email or contact form||Via phone and email|
To Sum Up
We hope you found the information useful and are well on your way to selecting an authoring tool that’s perfect for you.
Sign up for a trial for each tool you’re interested in, use it, and make sure you enjoy it. If your authoring experience is causing you problems and forces you to deal with technical issues instead of making great learning content, consider another tool.
If you want to produce content right out of the gate without spending hours training or reading support forums, start with an iSpring Suite 14-day trial and explore all its features right now.