What's the best E-Learning authoring tool?

For those of you involved in the world of Digital Learning, whether you're an Instructional Designer, E-Learning Developer or involved in Learning Design or Administration in any other way, I know you have lots of options.


I receive (on an almost daily basis) a new promotional message, advert or e-mail highlighting why this authoring tool or system simulator/emulator is better than all the rest. Having used many of the most common tools over the last 15 years, I'm always dubious about such claims.

And in my line of work I regularly get asked by clients to support and advise on Learning Technology investments, or to help implement them in a way that offers the best possible learning experience for their employees.


So I thought I'd share my experiences, thoughts and opinions opinions on the tools I've used.


In the hope of giving you something useful to take away from this post, here's what I'll talk about:

Simplicity: How easy it is for a 'novice' like a content/process SME to create engaging and effective content and what's the UI like?

  • Speed of Design & Development: How quickly you can go from Concept to Implementation

  • Feature Range: How 'clever' you can be with your design (as an author)

  • Integrations: Is it integrated with any LMS/LXPs or anything else.

  • Output options: What are the different ways you can publish?

  • Pricing: How much is it, and what's my opinion on the cost of a single licence?

Disclaimer: Everything here is my personal opinion (as objective as I can make it). I'm aware I may not have delved deep into some things, so if you think I'm wrong, get in touch - and I'll update this post.


Adobe Captivate (from v2 to 2019)


As you can probably tell from the versions in the header here, I've been using Captivate for a long time, since it was known as 'Macromedia' Captivate and I use it regularly. There's little I haven't done with it.


Simplicity


Captivate is not for beginners. It's UI, like much of the Adobe Suite can be a nightmare for new users to get their head around. I'd go so far as to say the most other tools are easier to use, but if you put in the time, you're definitely rewarded.


It's worth noting, however, that I much prefer the Captivate interface for complex scripts, advanced interactions and so-on. Though I accept it's more a subjective point here than objective.


You can import things like Powerpoint into it too but the results can be hit & miss depending on how you've created the slides. I tend to avoid this and simply cut & paste if my client's are asking me to work from a Slide deck.

Speed of Design & Development:


The depends wholly on three things.


  1. Your familiarity with Captivate as a tool

  2. How well you've scripted, storyboarded and defined your content pre-development.

  3. Whether you've invested the time already to create templates, layouts, themes etc. etc.

If you've done all three of these, it is phenomenally easy to rapidly build something incredible. As an expert in using Captivate, I find it easy to go from concept to launch with it, for a 15 minute module rich in interactivity, variable behaviour and various media (pre-built) I can get a great looking, engaging module out in as little as a few days.


And if it's 'simple' with little variability or interactivity/media I can get a basic module built and output in less than a day.


If, however, you're new to it or you haven't invested any time in scripting, storyboarding and so-on, you'll find Captivate can be a real headache. There are many other tools that are easier to get moving from a standing start.

Feature Range:


I've touched on this one a little already. I would go so far as to say you can do almost anything with Captive.


In my early days I was using it primarily for system training and I remember back in 2008/9 I used it to build a fully functioning front-end replication of the Peoplesoft CRM my employer was implementing. It took months, but it functioned just like fully operational system which meant new system users could play forever to familiarise themselves with it. Since then I've done this a few times with great results!


Over the last decade I've created countless 'traditional' E-learning modules utilising everything from simple, linear progression through to complex, scenario-based and branched multi-media modules with bits of custom-code to make it special. It genuinely can do anything.


In the last few years Captivate has also improved the Responsive & 360 design options too so they're hitting the level of some of the most common rapid-authoring tools. That said, the UI for these features isn't the most user-friendly and takes some getting used to.


One of the greatest things I've found with Captivate too is the online community on Adobe forums. If ever you're stuck with it, the online forums will have an answer - even it it's not the one you wanted to hear. Some of the people on their are true masters of this tool!

Integrations:

Aside from the Adobe Captivate Prime LMS launched in the last couple of years, I'm not aware of it being integrated specifically into any other LMS. Though I'm happy to be corrected on this point.


A side-note here is that if you're using any other elements of the Adobe Suite, using things like the media-library, adobe stock & fonts etc. it works well. I've not had this kind of experience with many other tools.

Output options:


Captivate's outputs cover the usual range. Scorm 1.2/2004, xAPI, .Exe, Video, HTML, Flash.


You can also output into a word-document with notes etc. - Comparable to the 'Notes' printout in MS Powerpoint.

Pricing:


For Micro-Businesses, Contractors, Freelancers etc, this is a huge win.


A standalone perpetual licence is around £1300 or so. But you can buy an annual subscription for about £35 per month which can definitely help spread the cost if you're just starting out on your own.


The team/enterprise licence levels don't necessarily offer any huge savings on the individual price but as with most things like this, the more you buy the less you pay per user.


As always, there's a free trial too. So if you want to try before you buy, you can.


Positives:

  • Feature Range

  • Output Options

  • Speed of Design & Development

Negatives:

  • Simplicity

My Verdict: (7/10)


Biased towards Captivate as I am, I'm trying to be objective in my verdict here and I think for most people, a 7/10 would probably reflect the true, overall perspective on Captivate.


Captivate is my go-to tool. I can pretty much do what I want with it, how I want. If it's something quick & dirty, it takes minutes. And if I'm investing all of my waking hours into something special and use everything at my disposal, it does that too.


Those who use it often, and to it's potential are usually loyal to it so I might get some kick-back here for marking it down on its simplicity but I genuinely feel that unless you're prepared to work with the tool and truly understand it, you're always going to have a bit of a headache.


Articulate (Storyline 1,2,3 & 360)


Simplicity:


This is one of the strengths of Articulate Storyline. I love it. For new learning designers/developers or experienced hands, it's simple & intuitive. It's kind of a mash-up between Microsoft Office's Ribbon (the top menus etc.) and Adobe's Layer/Swatch type view in things like Photoshop (Side-bar boxes etc).


What's even better is the Branched Screen/Chapter view you have with everything in Storyline. Visually it's much easier than things like Captivate (where it's like the Slide view on the left-bar in Powerpoint).

Layers, triggers etc. are very easy to find too and I genuinely find little fault with the UI/UX in Storyline.


My caveat on the Articulate simplicity is the 360 view, particularly 'Rise 360'. It's good, don't get me wrong, I just think it's a bit chunky and laborious at times when you're playing with the interactivity assets. Not a huge negative, it just irritates me.

Speed of Design & Development:


Another plus for Articulate here. Regardless of your pre-work (Design/Templates/Themes etc.) you can always go from Concept to Output pretty quickly, even with something complex.


The real winner though is Rise 360. As an example, for my coaching business I recently created a handful of free learning modules in Rise. Nothing special, just some 'information' focused modules that are device agnostic. From a standing start I created, published and marketed a 10 minute module in less than 6 hours. Genuinely a big fan!

Feature Range:


To save your eyes, and any chance of an RSI from typing, I'll keep this simple. It's pretty much on-par with what Captivate can do. I genuinely can't separate them here. I just prefer using Captivate.

Integrations:


Again, I'm not aware of any specifics but I could be wrong.

Output options:

Output options are standard here too.


Though one thing that bugs me is that it (Storyline) doesn't, by default output into a Scorm-wrapped Zip file. Which means you either have to zip it using the on-screen option post-export in Storyline or manually Zip it.


If you manually Zip (using the Windows compress function) some LMS don't recognise it as a Scorm file. It's annoying if this happens.


This isn't a major thing, but compared to Captivate which has a nice easy checkbox for 'Zip' output, it feels like an oversight.


Note: I know I'm being really petty here, but it's one of those things...

Pricing:


License wise here it's about £1000 for an individual license with decent discounts for multiple subscriptions.


My main issue here is that you must pay annually (happy for someone to tell me otherwise, I've just never found any option to). This can be a barrier for freelancers just starting out. And you have to pay for an upgrade to the latest version (which often has very little genuine benefit).


Positives:


  • Feature Range

  • Output Options

  • Speed of Design & Development

Negatives:


I honestly can't think of anything worth mentioning as a negative.


My Verdict (8/10)


It's not my go-to, so you might be surprised I've scored this higher than Captivate but that's the truth of it. For someone new to the industry, it makes more sense to start with Articulate because the UI & UX is better, while the output is whatever you make it. The pricing is pretty good too.


As an all-round tool, Articulate 360 would be a solid investment whether you're a freelancer, Team Leader for Designers or a 'Head of' looking to invest in the tools for your Learning Function.

I would steer towards the 360 subscription for the simple reason that you get Rise, which would be awesome for your strategy if you're working with SMEs in your business. Provide governance and all of the 'basic' bits you want to remove from your L&D Work stack can be done beautifully and effectively with Rise, allowing your Learning experts to build the more complex learning using Storyline.


TechSmith Camtasia


Simplicity:


I'm not a fan of the UI in Camtasia, but that shouldn't take away from that fact that, for what it intends to do, it's effective. As with all software, it has it's own jargon but once you're familiar with it, you're good to go.


As a screencast platform the UI is much more video-editing focused than the likes of Articulate and Captivate, which you would expect. So for even experienced E-Learning developers it can be a bit unfamiliar.


You could compare the UI to Adobe's Premier Pro too and I'd say I prefer Camtasia's here. Simply because I wouldn't use so many of the Adobe features in my dev work.

Speed of Design & Development:


I've used Camtasia a fair bit. And I'll be honest, I prefer to us Captivate for system based stuff or Premier Pro for Video creation/editing. I (genuinely) only ever use Camtasia if a client requires it. It's a product for a specific purpose and it does it well. But you can get similar output quality from Captivate (and Articulate) if you're familiar with those tools.


As with the other tools, if you invest properly in your design phase and set up templates/themes and so-on, you'll be able to get the output you want fairly quickly. So it's a good at what it does.

Feature Range:


As a screen recording & video software it does pretty much everything you'd expect and when I've used it, I've never felt it was missing something I needed. It genuinely is 'good' but that's about it in my opinion.


Integrations: I'm not aware of any. Let me know.

Output options:


It's a video-based software and it outputs into the most common video formats so it's pretty good. You can then import these into other E-Learning files for tracking or you can upload it as a video and your LMS/LXP should track based on the file metadata.


Either way, if you're using Camtasia for what it's intended, you'll get the output you need.


Pricing:


Its about £250 for a single license with an add-on for the next next upgrade (about£50). You also get pretty good discounts for 5 or more licences. And for what you get, it's a fair price.


But to be honest, with the Adobe creative suite alone offering much more for your money with a monthly subscription option, I'd probably take that option instead.


Positives:

  • Feature Range (For Video/Screencast)

Negatives:

  • Limited Feature Range in the 'E-Learning' space

My Verdict (7/10)


This might strike people as an unfair rating given that it does what it says it will and it's pretty straight forward. But in a post about 'Authoring Tools' it's limited in what it can do well, and you can get other tools that have similar functionality + other features. I included it because it's talked about in so many spaces as an 'Authoring' tool.


While I'm now repeating myself I want to re-iterate that it is genuinely good at what it does. But it's not the best and it's not mind-blowing. So if you only want video/screen recording type learning then great, you're in safe hands and the price isn't too steep.


Elucidat


Simplicity:


Far and away the best UI I've come across with rapid authoring tools. It's common-sense approach to features, labels and navigation are genuinely refreshing. I don't think there's much more to say here. Elucidat have pretty much smashed it in my opinion.

Speed of Design & Development:

I've used Elucidat for a range of things from Micro-Learning, Compliance Learning and Skills-Based Learning Modules and every time it's been very quick and easy to do. I'm struggling to think of any occasion where it hasn't been a genuinely rapid authoring experience.

Feature Range:

I'm skirting over most of this here because I've talked about authoring features a fair bit. And Elucidat does most of them really well. What stands out for me though is that it's a great tool for SMEs (or other non learning experts) & Learning Experts alike.


The 'Review' function is a real star too and it makes the full design/development cycle much more fluid is swift as a result.


The only drawback for me is that in my experience the variables functionality isn't the smartest, isn't always reliable and can be a bit clunky. This means you're not able to do really smart personalisation or interactions in the way you can with the likes of Articulate or Captivate.

Integrations:


I'm not aware of any specific integrations here but thought this the best place to mention the 'Rapid-Release' function as it feels like an integration.


I've used it a fair bit with Cornerstone OnDemand and essentially, you're outputting a single Scorm file that you load into your LMS and after that, any edits/changes you make to the module can simply be published using the 'Rapid Release'. Your changes will be (almost) immediately available from your LMS without having to re-publish in there too! I love this feature.

Output options:


The output options are pretty slick. I've already mentioned the Rapid Release. It does Scorm, xAPI, Web & Self-Registration releases too which are pretty clever, with the latter being particularly useful if you're not bringing contingent workers/contractors into your LMS/LXP.


Pricing:


This is a big negative for me. I enquired about this recently as I had an opportunity to work with a client who needed me to have my own license. It was about £5000 for an individual license.


As such I couldn't take the project up.


All other times I've used it have been as a licence user of my clients and from what I know, the licenses do tend to be around £4000 per license. That's based on little more than side conversations with a number of clients and may not be reflective of the true Teams/Enterprise licencing so don't quote me on it.


Either way, there are cheaper options and as much as I love this tool, I would always suggest an investment into a tool like Articulate 360 for comparable features and spend your savings on upskilling your learning teams.


Positives:

  • Simplicity

  • Feature Range

  • Outputs

Negatives:


  • Pricing

My Verdict (6/10)

If not for the pricing this would have easily been an 8. But at more than twice the price of more comprehensive tools, it just doesn't sit right with me.


If the entry point was around £2000 or even a subscription model of IRO £150 per month I would expect there would be an army of freelancers, micro-businesses and SMEs jumping to get this tool, it really is that good.


I think it's the best you can find in terms of rapid-authoring tools. It's in-line with the UI & UX most people are familiar with outside of work (your smartphone apps etc.) and any time I get to work with it, I enjoy it. It's just far too expensive.


CrossKnowledge Mohive


Simplicity:

This is something I've been using a lot lately to support a client who's just invested in CrossKnowledge - a pretty good investment based on their needs in my opinion.


In terms of simplicity, it's a bit of a mixed bag. And that's because CrossKnowledge have their own language/architecture at play which I'm not the biggest fan of.


From the perspective of an End-to-End Instructional Designer/Developer, the best thing about Mohive is the ability to do everything in the tool. You never need to venture outside (other than collecting assets) because of the 4-stage build which walks even the most novice of SMEs/Designers/Developers through the process. It's a real win.


That said, as someone who's used a lot of tools (many of which I haven't included on this list) it doesn't fit with my preferred way of working. It's entirely a personal thing.


Speed of Design & Development:


This is a huge plus, specifically because of the End-to-End functionality I talked about. Couple this with the integration into CrossKnowledge's LMS & you're in a great position.


As an example, for the client I'm working with right now I completed the content definition, authoring, reviewing and publishing in just a few days. And this is a brand new tool to the business for an LMS which at the time of publishing this post is 2 weeks away from launch.


It really can be a game changer if it's embraced fully.

Feature Range:


From a learner perspective, you'll never create the most complex or innovative learning experiences with Mohive (but with the Blendex & Channel features in the CK Platform, you can add much more). The in-built suite of interactive elements are well-established in the tool and a massive improvement on when I first used it back in around 2013.


The main benefits of Mohive from a feature point of view are the End-to-End design/development/publish features. If you're looking for an architecture to support your overall Learning Design & Development operations, this is the best I've seen.


If you're a Learning nerd/Learning Tech obsessed designer/developer, you'll probably not be a fan. It's fairly restrictive in terms of bells and whistles.

Integrations:


Integration with the CrossKnowledge LMS is spot on, it streamlines the entire process.

Output options:


It has the same kind of outputs as everything else, plus the upload to the LMS & a Cloud-publish so you can share a link for review too. Nothing special or unique and perfectly functional.

Pricing:


No idea on this one but given the CrossKnowledge push the whole LMS/LXP/Mohive package, I suspect it's not small from a Mohive only perspective. I'll talk about this from a Platform point of view in my next post (all about Learning Platforms)


Positives:


  • Speed of Design & Development

  • Feature Range

Negatives:


  • Speed of Design & Development

  • Feature Range

If you don't use the entire CK suite, it's quite a limiting tool.


My Verdict (6/10)


This is based primarily on the limited opportunity to create bespoke, innovative solutions. It's template based for the most part.

As a package, (The LMS/LXP/Mohive) it's a great product, the most integrated I've used. But as a 'Design & Development' platform, Mohive isn't a showstopper.


Gomo


Simplicity:


Gomo is something I've used more of in the last few years, specifically to support client projects.


In terms of the UI, I don't like it. Again, this is personal preference and everything you need is fairly straightforward to find. But it's not as intuitive or attractive as I like (I know this is bit rich coming from someone who likes the Captivate UI, but it is what it is...). And I think it's a bit clunky. The saving grace is the drag/drop/right click type functions. These work well and allow quick 'building' of assets.


From a Learner point of view, it's a great mid-line between more comprehensive tools like Articulate/Captive (and other similar tools) & Eludicat/Mohive (Rapid Authoring Tools).


It's more in the realm of 'Eludicat' but I think Elucidat is better, easier and more efficient.


Speed of Design & Development:

Quite honestly, it performs admirably. Not the fastest. Out of all of the tools on here, I'd say it's main competition is Elucidat, and Elucidat is more efficient in my opinion. You can certainly turn something attractive and engaging out in a matter of days, but as you've already read, most of these tools allow that if you work smart.

Feature Range:


The main benefits here are the integration with the Gomo platform if you use it. Like CrossKnowledge, it's built to work well with it, and it does.


But again, there's not much that makes it stand out.

Another plus for Gomo is the themes. It's feature-rich here, allowing you to brand things comprehensively and because of the centralised/cloud nature, it does an awesome job of applying themes across multiple courses. This is something you can't do as well or as comprehensively in tools like Captivate/Articulate.

Integrations:

Integration with the Gomo platform is spot on. And it streamlines the entire process.

Output options:

It has the same kind of outputs as everything else, plus the upload to the Gomo platform. Par for the course.


Pricing:

Gomo pricing always surprises me, no matter how many times I look it up. It's around £600 for a single license for the authoring tool. And if you're a solutions provider like me you can get the platform along with it for about twice that.


It comes with limitations like storage volume, user volumes etc. but it's a strong package and when you compare it with the likes of CrossKnowledge or Elucidat, it's a great offer.

Positives:


  • Pricing

  • Feature Range

Negatives:

  • Simplicity

My Verdict (6/10)

I feel others would score this much higher than I have, especially those who use it a lot because I think it has lots to offer, it's just not my cup of tea. I did say these were subjective and on this occasion, I'm really struggling to be more objective.

It's good. And if your business has invested, and you're using it as it's intended to be used, I'm confident you're doing some awesome things. My perspective on Gomo is purely driven by how familiar I am with other tools.


If any of you out there want to call me out on this one, please do. I'm sure that if I work on a meaty project with a client using Gomo, I'll re-visit this post and update it because it'll 'WOW' me.


Other Honourable Mentions: Adapt/Evolve/Assima/TTS


These are some of the other tools I've used a handful of times. Assima/TTS are both systems specific. Assima does an awesome job. I'm a big fan. But I haven't used it for a few years. TTS is really good too - but I really don't like the UI.


As for Adapt & Evolve, these fit in-line with the Gomo/Elucidat world from the times I've used them (again, project specific). They're nothing special but certainly not rubbish either.

All of these tools have a place, which is why they have so many amazing clients. I've just not got a strong enough opinion on any of them to give them anything more than a mention to say they're 'pretty good' at least.


What do I recommend for you?


Something you've probably already noticed in all of this is that all authoring tools have an audience. And if you've used as many as I have (or more) you'll know each has a specific thing it's really good at.


What this means for how I've advised my clients about authoring tools is this:


1 - Before purchasing any authoring tool, know what your Learning Strategy, Desired Learning Culture and Learning experience is first. This will dictate whether you need a comprehensive tool to make innovative experiences, or whether a rapid authoring tool would be best.


2 - If you have an LMS with an attached Authoring tool (Like CrossKnowledge/Gomo) it makes most sense to use the attached too. It's built to work with it.


3 - Designers are an absolute pain in the ass for asking for new tools (me included). The truth is, however, you're probably better off investing in their skills using the tools you have, instead of buying something new.


4 - Beyond these 3 points, the other important thing for everyone to know about Online/E-Learning/Systems authoring tools is that they are mostly very similar. There isn't a single tool out there that does anything so unique that it's head and shoulders above the rest. For this, you're probably better of partnering your learning experts with developers who can create things from scratch using whatever code is best for the job. This way, you can get the learning to do whatever you want.


My final note on recommendations is to 'steer' your thinking a little. If you want something where you have 100% control and potential with what you do, something like Captivate/Articulate is going to give you this kind of thing.


If you want something slick, engaging and good looking (and cloud-based) then Rapid-Authoring tools like Elucidat, Gomo, Adapt, Evolve etc. are probably your best bet, especially if you don't have any 'dedicated' Instructional Designers/Developers in-house and want to use SMEs.


Think I've got something wrong?


I'll remind you that this whole post is an opinion piece based on my specific experience of the tools I've mentioned. Some, I'm more familiar with and others not so. This means someone reading this will be screaming something like 'You're an idiot!' and I wouldn't blame you.


So use your frustration to educate me. I'd love to hear your thoughts on these tools (and more) and if I've got anything factually incorrect, let me know and I'll update it.


And if you're considering investing in a tool for you, your team or your company I'd love to help and give you a demo of the few I have licenses for (without the sales pitch you'll get from the companies that make them) - give me a call, my details are on the Site & my LinkedIn page.

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