There are loads of authoring tools out there, and it can be overwhelming to figure out which one to go for.
I’ve recently been looking at what’s the best development tool for my business. To find the right one the right one – one that meets all our needs – has pretty much taken a year. We trialled storyline for a while, loved it but it wasn’t the right tool for the whole business, and I waited for the market to catch up with our needs.
I thought I’d share my thought processes when trying to whittle down my selection.
So what are the key things to consider?
Are you looking for a tool for the short term, to meet a development need, or the long term? Will the tool improve, and scale out across your audience? Or will you find yourself in the same position two/ three years down the line?
What is the wider (e)learning strategy? How much digital content are you interested in creating? Who are your authors? What’s your plan towards mobile content? What type of digital content are you creating?
Start with your audience – learners and authors
I went out and asked my community of practice what they thought about the tools they had at the moment. Ultimately they were frustrated. And bored with what they had. They tended to use the same few templates and it was difficult for them to create something which didn’t look the same. Additionally the content wasn’t mobile friendly, outputting in flash. Their learners didn’t mind the content, but didn’t love it either.
What is your learning strategy?
- What kind of learning are you creating? Do you want to create games or scenarios or non linear content?
Nobody likes “click next to continue” elearning and increasingly we’re looking to design more engaging content. Being able to skip to the test, and have simple branching was something we were keen on using.
- How are colleagues likely to access the learning ?
With a massive retail operation and colleagues “on the go” accessing content when they want it, usually means mobile is a strong consideration for us, even if we aren’t 100% there at the moment. Less about smart phones and probably more about tablets, moving away from flash was going to be key.
- Consider whether you want responsive/adaptive content – such as built with Mohive, GoMo, Elucidat or Adapt or fixed screen size content such as Storyline.
If you do want adaptive/responsive content it’s worth remembering that you will be making a trade off. To meet the demands of different screen sizes, these responsive tools will rely on templates. It may be possible to create your own templates (such as with Elucidat, or Adapt) but you won’t have the blank canvas that something like Storyline offers.
- How many authors do you have – is it a handful of people around the business, or could that list grow? What are the skills of your authors? How often do they create learning?
This is likely to affect your choice of tool – a tool you’d select for a team of elearning professionals is likely to be different to the one you’d choose for people picking this up off the side of a desk. I have colleagues who will design elearning on a daily basis and those who’ll design a couple of projects a year. The software needs to be easy to use, if people using it are not going to be working full time with it. But it needs to be scalable too, so that those who do use it all the time have the ability to improve their offering as their confidence with the tools grows.
Cloud vs Software install
- How friendly are your IT department? How easy is it to get new software installed?
If IT is an issue, cloud based may be the better solution. If you have many authors, it might be simpler to buy a bundle of licences than separate installs (especially if you have to go through IT to get software upgrades installed too). Ultimately cloud based is a lot less hassle. But if you have quite tough IT security, then software install might be the only answer. I loved Storyline, but when it would take a month to get an upgrade installed, in time for the next release to come out, it wasn’t a viable solution across the business.
- What’s your tech like internally? How up to date are your browsers? What is the technology learners will be using? It’s worth checking that your tool works for those creating the content and those accessing it. There’s no point going for an HTML 5 tool if your browsers don’t support it (usually anything less than IE9). Then it’s worth checking if IT have plans for an upgrade.
- How much do you really want to spend? Who is paying for the licences? For training in the new tool? Are there costs in setting up templates or providing support?
- Are you likely to require translations? Is that easily done within the tool?
Most authoring tools provide some translation capability. But as well as translating the text, there are layout and button considerations so you may need additional licences for a native language speaker to review and amend.
Having a checklist
Once you’ve thought through those questions you have your selection criteria. I reviewed each tool on my shortlist against these, and with a short list of two or three, had a go at creating content in each of them. To provide consistency I used the same module each time.
- How easy was it to create content?
- Was the tool intuitive to use (so that I could pick it up quickly with little training)
- Did the published content work?
When that shortlist was further refined, my community of practice user tested it as well. We had one trial which went badly, and that tool got ruled out. In the end we got a tool which the population were excited about using, and I’ve increased the use of authoring tools and reduced my overall costs.
At the end of the year, and with my “moon on a stick” wish list, I’m happy that we’ve got the right tool which meets our business needs. Better still we’ve got a tool that we can develop externally created content in, making it easier to update materials.