Laptop_ToolboxAll good carpenters know that choosing the right tool makes a huge impact on their finished product.  In my experience as an instructional designer, I’ve found the same to be true.  I’ve worked with many authoring tools to develop online learning experiences, including but not limited to, PowerPoint, Articulate, Rapid Intake, Captivate, and Flash, and each has allowed me to present content in engaging and interactive ways.  But how do you know which tool is the best for developing your training? Which tool offers the most functionality and will add the most value?

Just as the carpenter must know what kind of wood is being worked, how the finished product will be utilized, etc. there are key questions an eLearning developer must answer before choosing an authoring tool.  It is important to know that not all authoring tools will provide the best match for your content. When selecting an authoring tool, you should always consider:

  1. What type of content is being presented?
  2. What level of interactivity will be incorporated?
  3. How will multi-media (graphics, audio, and video) be incorporated?
  4. How will the training be deployed?
  5. What are the compliance considerations (SCORM/AICC)?
  6. How often will the training need to be updated?
  7. How quickly does the training need to be developed?

At the end of the day, you want to use a tool that enhances the content in such a way that it maximizes its value for your learners. Below are a few observations about some of the most popular eLearning authoring tools.  I hope you find them useful as you’re making the critical decision of what tool(s) to employ in creating your own eLearning courses.

Articulate 09

Articulate 09 consists of three primary tools: Presenter, Engage, and Quizmaker. Each of these tools presents its own set of features and functionality and they all come together to help you create effective (and visually impressive!) eLearning assets. In terms of overall user-friendliness, it’s hard to beat Articulate, particularly if you already have a solid working knowledge of PowerPoint. 

Regardless of what type of content you’re presenting, chances are good that Articulate 09 will provide you with the tools necessary to create powerful and engaging training. Below is an outline of each tool that is contained in the Articulate 09 package.

  • Articulate Presenter is very user-friendly and extremely easy to configure for SCORM and/or AICC compliance. It is an “add-in” tool to PowerPoint. In order to effectively unleash the full potential of this tool, you really need to know the “ins and outs” of PowerPoint. As a PowerPoint “super user,” you can get very creative with how you develop training with Articulate by incorporating animations, hyperlinks, and branching scenarios. Spend some time re-familiarizing yourself with PowerPoint before you launch into the world of Articulate Presenter and you and your learners will benefit tremendously.
  • Articulate Engage is also very user-friendly and provides the same ease-of-use when creating SCORM and/or AICC packages. This tool provides various “canned” interactions (tabs, hot spots, FAQs, etc.) that can be imported into Articulate Presenter. The main drawback with Engage is that, compared to some other tools, you have a fairly limited amount of customization control over the interactions that you create within Engage. Again, what it loses in customizability, it makes up for in overall user-friendliness.
  • Articulate Quizmaker makes is easy to create limited response quiz items that can also be easily integrated with Articulate Presenter.

Captivate

Adobe Captivate stands head and shoulders above the competition if you’re looking for a tool to help you create applications training (how to use a specific program or perform a certain process or procedure, for example). Captivate enables you to record, edit, and publish visually appealing demonstrations and simulations for whatever programs you may be running on your computer. But Captivate is by no means limited to just applications training! You can present just about any type of content in Captivate and incorporate engaging interactions, audio, and video. With this tool, you can also easily create SCORM and AICC compliant courses to run on just about any LMS.

You will have more customization options at your fingertips with Captivate than you might with some of the other eLearning tools, but this comes at a price. In order to really get in there and manipulate the out-of-the-box interactions that Captivate provides you with, or to create your own interactivity from scratch, you will need to have at least a cursory knowledge of ActionScript 3 (or AS3, the program language used by the Adobe Flash Player platform). You can still create fantastic eLearning assets without knowing a lick of AS3, but if you want to maximize the tool’s potential, knowing the basics will be immensely helpful.

ProForm (Rapid Intake)

This is a great template-based tool in which you can add content and graphics to a form-based application. As far as customization is concerned, with ProForm, you are limited only by your knowledge of Flash and ActionScript. You’re provided with all of the source files you need to modify the pre-packaged templates (called “course styles” in ProForm) as much or as little as you wish. However, given the amount of pre-packaged course styles and screens, you may never feel the urge to lift a finger when it comes to customization. With its publishing wizard, ProForm also makes it easy to package your content for SCORM and/or AICC. As an added (and very significant) bonus, when it comes to user support, ProForm and the entire Rapid Intake team are in a class by themselves. There is a treasure trove of tips, tricks, and troubleshooting techniques on their robust support page. Just as an example, the CEO of Rapid Intake himself has joined me on more than one call just to work through some technical glitches. It really is quite impressive! 

Flash

It always seems to somehow come back to Flash. Why is that? Flash provides you with total freedom to create the most robust interactions and animations you could possibly imagine. But, and this is a big “but,” it requires knowledge of writing in ActionScript 2 and 3. The beauty of Flash is that it can be integrated with most authoring tools and add some extra punch to your course screens. However, if you are not a Flash programmer, and you don’t have the weeks of practice that it takes to grasp the program, then I would recommend using one of the other tools above that do the programming for you.

In summary, from my experience, Articulate is the most user-friendly and efficient tool for creating online training. It addresses all of the considerations listed above and allows me to create online training for pretty much any level of interactivity. That said, I encourage you to do some hands-on research. Get online and download trial copies of the software. Like the great eLearning carpenter you are, get out there and get your hands dirty! And if you happen to come across a great tip or new tool, drop us a line - we’d love to hear about it! Good luck!

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