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: