Are you looking for an elearning authoring tool that will let you create high-quality eLearning courses? Well, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we provide a detailed review of five popular eLearning software solutions. We’ll analyze their main features and compare their pricing to help you make a more informed purchase decision. But, first, let’s see what an eLearning authoring tool entails.
What Is an eLearning Authoring Tool?
Authoring tools are used to build digital educative content from little bits and pieces of information: text, images, audio, and video. In addition to helping you “glue” together various media into entire eLearning courses, they have some unique features that can only be used for training. For example, some elearning authoring tools allow you to create software simulations so you could teach your staff how to use certain software that they need for their everyday work. Or, some of them let you build quizzes that can be included in a course or become a standalone training unit.
All this content needs to be packed in a format that can be easily distributed via the Internet and that learners can open with minimum software installed, preferably just a web browser. Back in the 2000s, Macromedia ruled the online content world with their Flash plug-in that allowed browsers to run games, video, and, among everything else, eLearning courses. But, as time went by, Flash was slowly pushed off the stage by a new more powerful standard called HTML5, and this is how HTML5 eLearning development software appeared. Let’s take a look at the advantages of building courses in this format:
- HTML5 content is responsive and supported on a wide range of platforms and browsers. Moreover, it’s mobile-friendly, so learners can take their courses with them and view them whenever and wherever they like, instead of having to be tied to a computer.
- HTML5 opens up a lot of opportunities for interactivity that allow course developers to produce more engaging learning experiences.
- The standard supports rich media elements – it has an inbuilt capacity to play video and audio.
- It’s easy (and cheap) to keep content up to date. HTML5 course development tools are able to modify and edit existing content.
What Issues Can Authoring Tools Solve?
“eLearning authoring” is not just some flashy term that’s more about buzz than meaning. There are actual reasons why getting an elearning authoring tool is a must for a business these days. Here are some things that an eLearning authoring tool is struggling against:
- Unappealing content – curb good old Word, PowerPoint, and PDF documents to introduce learners to quizzes, interactive video, and gamified training.
- Generic training materials – author unique content in-house, without having to involve third-party instructional designers who have no real grasp on the specifics of your business.
- Unhelpful data – choose what training data to report to your learning management system (LMS) to have learners’ stats in the palm of your hand.
- High training costs – move your training meetings from the classroom to a digital space and free up time for your most experienced workers.
What to Consider When Choosing an Authoring Tool?
There’s a vast selection of authoring software on the market, with most of these tools being built with a particular type of client in mind. Before you decide on one of these solutions, you should clear up some things:
- What types of training content can be useful in your case? Interactive video lessons, software simulations, quizzes, or all of these? Imagine what sort of eLearning you’d like to provide to learners, depending on their professional duties.
- How well does the authoring tool work with mobile devices? You need to be clear about your learners’ habits. Mature audiences would probably be fine taking their training on a desktop, but how about zoomers and even younger generations? Most 20ish-year-olds can’t imagine their lives without peeking into their smartphones at least once an hour, so their eLearning should work the same way – 100% mobile compatible. And though most authoring tools allow you to create responsive courses, some of them require building different versions for desktop, tablet, and smartphone that definitely consumes a lot of time.
- What is your annual eLearning budget? Don’t choose an authoring tool just based on price. More expensive doesn’t translate to handier in the eLearning world. Similarly, grabbing the cheapest option just because it’s cheap is a bad idea. A really low price for an authoring software is often a sign that there might be hidden fees for functionality you need the most.
- Do you have an LMS where all training stats can be recorded? If you’re an advocate of continuous learning and regularly provide your employees with new courses, you’re likely to see the results of your training. There should be an LMS where your content sends all stats from all training sessions. Plus, the authoring tool of your choice should have impeccable compatibility with your LMS.
Now, let’s take a detailed look at 5 top-performing authoring solutions on the market in 2021. You can watch the video or skip to the article if you prefer reading. If you’re limited on time but need to choose a software right away, proceed directly to the comparison sheet to view all the options of the 5 authoring tools in one place.
1. iSpring Suite
iSpring Suite is a full-featured eLearning solution focused on making rapid content development easy and intuitive. A major plus with iSpring Suite is that the core authoring tool works as a PowerPoint add-in, which makes for a familiar interface that’s 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 dialogue 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 dispenses with the manual configuration of 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’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.
iSpring Suite lets you build graded quizzes, surveys, and quick knowledge checks that can be included between course slides. There over a dozen question types, from the ubiquitous multiple-choice to the engaging drag-and-drop.
Separate from the quiz editor, iSpring Visuals is centered on building learning interactions. What’s best about this component of the tool is that you don’t need to start from scratch – just pick one of the interaction templates like Timeline or Accordion and fill it in with your data.
Video and audio editor
This features a fully functional video editor, enough to merge several videos with transitions and captions into one MP4 file and insert it into a course.
iSpring has a special tool that allows you to build realistic conversation simulations that will help your learners master their communication skills. This is a must have for sales and customer service training.
With all its components supporting HTML5, iSpring-published content is 100% mobile ready. Unlike with some other authoring tools, you don’t need to build separate content versions for desktop and mobile. The software automatically adapts your content to all display sizes, saving you time and your nerves.
A number of output formats are available: pure HTML5, eLearning standards like AICC, SCORM, xAPI and cmi5, plus MP4 for video courses. You can upload published content to an LMS or open it directly in a Web browser.
- Ability to use an existing PPT presentation as a starting point for a course
- Simple familiar interface for building courses quickly
- Built-in dialogue simulator with branching conversation scenarios
- Professional video studio for recording and editing screencasts and webcam footage
- Robust tool for creating interactive quizzes and surveys
- Perfect playback on all devices
- Ability to turn PPT presentations into SCORM courses
- Ability to convert Word and PDF documents into interactive SCORM flipbooks
- Professional grade content library with 68,000 assets, including templates, characters, backgrounds, and icons
- Cloud service for fast content sharing and collaboration
- PowerPoint needs to be installed for iSpring Suite to work
- Doesn’t support closed captioning (CC) for video and audio narration
- Doesn’t have a text-to-speech function
- No software simulation support
- Only works in Windows
iSpring Suite is a great pick for PowerPoint lovers looking to take the leap into a full-fledged content 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 quizzes, dialogue simulations, and interactives, there’s plenty of power under the hood too.
$970 (Annual license)
2. Adobe Captivate
Adobe Captivate is well suited for general eLearning development such as creating slide presentations or quizzes, and for developing complex interactive courses. Also, it’s 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, ex.: see it, try it, do it.
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 point of this toolkit. You can make eLearning fun with drag-and-drop, puzzles, games, and other interactive activities.
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.
Having fewer question templates than its competitors, Captivate offers a unique type of assessment in the form of software simulation. This feature might be indispensable if your training program is based on computer software.
It has 19 learning interaction templates including games like “Jigsaw Puzzle” and “Who wants to be a millionaire?” They might look a bit sloppy and prove to be hard to configure, but the diversity here is truly impressive.
Video and audio editor
Adobe Captivate has a built-in editor that can help you put together a video tutorial with transitions and various effects like zoom and pan. The best part is that when you record yourself from a webcam, you can use the “green screen” feature to replace the background of your video on the fly.
There’s no special tool for building conversation simulations or character-driven dialogues in Adobe Captivate, so if these are a big part of your training design, it may not be the best pick.
Captivate suggests an interesting workflow to those who consider mobile compatibility their top priority. The tool lets you break up your slide contents into the so-called “fluid boxes” that can change their size and positioning based on what device the course is being viewed on. This, in theory, gives you total control over the look and feel of your content on all possible devices – including smartphones.
The tool supports HTML5 and all popular eLearning standards such as SCORM, AICC, and xAPI. Plus, it still lets authors publish to Flash with an option for creating lessons in the EXE format.
- Extensive variables and branching that allow 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 generate text-to-speech (TTS) voiceovers automatically
- ‘Green screen’ feature where you can insert your own background
- Mobile-specific development tools such as geolocation tagging
- Complex software simulation recording options
- Has a version for Mac
- Unintuitive user interface
- Requires you to put in a lot of hours to learn how to use it
- Customers report that Captivate can get buggy and crash in Windows
- Designing responsive content is difficult, since you have to create separate versions for desktop, tablet, and smartphone
- Imported PowerPoint presentations don’t preserve all their animations after being converted with Captivate
- Technical support outsourced to a call center
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 the 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 especially for course authoring: Storyline 360, Studio 360, and Rise.
- Storyline 360 is Articulate’s flagship 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 a PowerPoint add-in. It combines three tools: Presenter 360, to transform slides into mobile and online courses; Quizmaker 360, to add quizzes to your course easily; and Engage 360, to build interactions easily.
- 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 dialogue simulations, and hotspots that will get you started 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 provides access to over 4.5 million stock photos, illustrations, and icons via an online library.
Articulate 360’s learning curve is somewhere in the middle: 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 takes time to explore all the content creating capabilities, so if you’re not ready to invest the training time, your authoring efficiency can be limited.
Articulate’s QuizMaker 360 offers users the standard multiple response, fill-in-the-blank, hotspot, and a few other question types that can be inserted into a quiz or a survey.
A component of Articulate Studio called Engage 360 has a selection of interaction templates that you can insert into your course. There you can find things like FAQ and Checklist – if you’d like to use one of them in Storyline, you’ll need to import them from a Studio project. Otherwise, you’ll have to build your interaction from scratch or download one of the community-provided templates.
Video and audio editor
Storyline includes a simple video editor that lets you perform transitions from one recorded take to another, add captions, and save the output to your course. However, it’s not half as advanced and useful as what Captivate and iSpring have to offer in terms of video editing.
Rise 360 (the cloud-based tool) has a built-in dialogue simulation feature. Engage 360 includes a “Conversation” interaction template, but it can only be used as an educative tool, not as an assessment with a passing score.
Articulate, just as Adobe and iSpring, has its own mobile app that lets learners play the content on their phones. Also, courses published with Storyline and Rise are fully mobile-compatible.
This authoring tool lets you create lessons in HTML5 that you can publish to your hard drive or directly to the online storage of Review 360. In terms of eLearning standards, it supports SCORM, AICC, xAPI, and cmi5. You can also use it to publish a version of your training course that can be burned to a CD.
- 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 compatible with all smartphones
- Free mobile app for playing courses offline
- Not the most user-friendly interface, steep learning curve
- Interaction templates don’t work properly
- Screen recording functionality is basic compared with other solutions
- Can slow down computer (heavy software)
- Ensuring Section 508 compliance doubles the time spent on a single course
- No version for Mac
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-sized organizations won’t need all of these tools, but will still have to purchase the entire 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 content authoring plus similar tools that are comparable 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.
The interface will look familiar to Windows users, since it uses 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 and running 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.
Lectora lets you build quizzes or surveys using a selection of 12 question types. They range from simple ones like true/false to more interactive varieties such as drag-and-drop or rank sequence.
There are form elements like list box and radio button that you can insert to your course and link to certain variables and actions, thereby setting up a custom interaction. If you’d like to start from a template, eLearning Brothers offer a library of readymade interactions like Puzzle and Drag & Drop that you can easily customize.
Video and audio editor
Lectora has a very capable video tool that lets you record from both your screen and/or webcam and edit the results: you can create transitions from one segment of video to another, add effects, record narration, etc.
The tool doesn’t have a dedicated instrument for building dialogue simulations. You can try to find a suitable template in the eLearning Brothers library or create your own from scratch using the advanced programming capabilities of the tool.
Lectora is perfectly capable of publishing responsive content, and so is suitable for mobile-oriented usage. However, it doesn’t have an app for downloading published content and viewing it offline like iSpring and Articulate do.
Even though it’s hosted in the Cloud, Lectora doesn’t come up short on the standard set of output options: HTML, AICC, SCORM, and xAPI. And besides, you can always publish your course to its online storage.
- 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
- More expensive than its competitors
- Clunky, outdated UI
- Not the most intuitive authoring tool on the market
- Advanced features don’t support Section 508
- In order to create a responsive course, you need to edit the same content in 5 (!) different views
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 technically inclined 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 responsive 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 authoring platform: templates, resources, 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.
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, but this will require an investment of time and training.
Elucidat boasts a wide range of question types for your rated quizzes. You can also download one of their templates to come up with some other type of assessment, like an interactive game with a branching scenario.
The software has just a couple of available interaction types that you can use in your courses: these are Hotspot and Flashcards.
Video and audio editor
Unfortunately, Elucidat lets you neither record nor edit audio or video.
The tool also doesn’t feature a dedicated conversation simulation feature.
Elucidat is mobile-ready with all content it publishes being fully responsive, but it doesn’t feature a dedicated mobile app that can download and run courses offline.
This authoring platform only lets you publish courses to SCORM or store content in their cloud storage.
- 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
- Cloud-based means you have to store all your contents on the vendor’s servers
- Lacks flexibility in comparison to other toolkits, so experienced content authors may find themselves limited in their abilities
- Doesn’t give too much control over custom interactions in your content
- Can get more expensive than any of its competitors according to user reviews
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 course 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 dialogue 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|
|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 plug-in only)||8|
|Voice-overs for interactions||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Color scheme adjustment||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Built-in Audio and 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.