What is an Authoring Tool?
This is a software program used by content creators to develop eLearning courses. It is mostly paired with LMS programs and creates content using SCORM or xAPI learning standards.
Authoring tools can be template-focused, instruction-focused, web-creation and programming tools, knowledge-capturing systems, and text-based file authoring tools. Course authoring could be as easy as just creating a Microsoft Word document or PowerPoint presentation, or complex such as creating a graphic design image.
These tools help content creators to develop and manipulate multimedia elements for the content’s intended purpose. In eLearning, an authoring tool is used to create digital courses and is mostly used by L&D (Learning and Development) personnel to design and develop learning material.
Course authoring tools can either be advanced and highly-specialized or simple and basic. Your LMS can also have its own built-in course authoring tools or you might need to use third-party course authoring software. With Tovuti LMS, you have all the tools you need to create engaging content.
Authoring tool is one of the most common elearning topics. For information on other popular elearning topics, visit this page.
How Do Authoring Tools Work?
Most course authoring tools come with a slide-based structure. Hence, you only need to create as many slides as you can and then fill them with content such as text and images. Depending on the tool you are using, you can also add interactive elements such as video, quizzes, and animations. When everything is in place, all you need is to hit the publish button and the course will be live.
The aim of authoring tools is to allow you to use an ordinary computer to create professional eLearning material. When eLearning was in its infancy, creating content was complex and time-consuming and mostly involved the input of designers and programmers.
Today, with an authoring tool, you can easily create awesome and engaging courses in a short amount of time and won’t need any help from a designer or programmer. These tools have different features but all perform the same function; the management of learning content through content creation, organization, and content standards.
Types of Authoring Tools
PowerPoint Authoring Tools
These eLearning tools work as add-ins to Microsoft PowerPoint. Using such tools, you can create professional courses using PowerPoint presentations. One advantage of PowerPoint is that it presents an interface familiar to many people, therefore, the creation of courses becomes easy for them.
With these add-ins, PowerPoint becomes enhanced with advanced features such as video lectures, quizzes, and interactive simulations. Hence, PowerPoint-based authoring tools are powerful enough to create engaging content. They also don’t have a learning curve meaning that rapid authoring is possible.
Cloud-Based Authoring Tools
Web services have advanced over the years and, in turn, have eliminated the need for special hardware or special operating systems. A user just needs a web browser through which he will log in, choose an application, and start working.
Cloud-based authoring tools use this concept of today’s modern web services. They allow you to create inherently web-designed material. Unlike traditional course authoring software, these tools provide you with flexibility meaning you can access the service anywhere at any time.
In comparison to installed software solutions, cloud-based authoring tools have limited functionality. Still, different cloud-based solutions come with different features. Nonetheless, they all come with the same primary authoring task capabilities.
With these tools, you can create professional pages, interactions, and assessments. The best part is that these tasks can be done by multiple authors all working on the same project.
Stand-Alone Authoring Tools
These are software programs specifically created for eLearning development. These tools take time to master (they have a learning curve), and may at times require programming skills.
If this is the right fit for you, a stand-alone tool offers you unlimited freedom and flexibility to create unique training material. Such tools let you experiment and implement advanced features such as sophisticated safety drills, virtual reality (VR), and virtual tours.
Highly-Specialized Authoring Tools
There are tools in the market that come with all the authoring features you need. However, it makes no sense to pay for all of them if you only need a few. For instance, if all you need are video courses, a professional video editor will suffice.
Highly-specialized authoring tools will only be useful if you need to complement your major tasks with some added features. It can happen for two reasons. Either the feature you want is poorly-designed or absent, or you want a more advanced feature.
Examples of such tools include software simulation tools and programs for creating video lectures and branching scenarios.
Features of Authoring Tools
- Content Authoring
This is the primary function of any course authoring tool. It includes the addition of text, images, audio, video, and any other screen elements. Content authoring brings life to your courses and creates what the learner will be reading, hearing, seeing, and doing. The type of course you create will depend on this key functionality.
- Content Management
Your eLearning assets such as media and other content should be organized in an orderly manner. In the future, you may want to use them to update an existing course or create a new one. Hence, keeping your workflow organized saves time on development.
Content management also allows you to control the tools you need during the development of your learning material. Some content management features include course and lesson libraries, template library, question and quiz bank, and media and resource library.
- Quizzes and Surveys
This allows for the creation of knowledge checks and collection of learner feedback. When choosing an authoring tool, it is important to consider the tasks it is capable of completing. The more the features the better. For instance, some tools will allow you to create varying question types.
- Screencasts and Video Lectures
Video is a powerful eLearning element. It is more fun than plain text. There are three categories of this feature.
- Video tutorials and how-to videos provide helpful insights. YouTube is a great avenue for such videos.
- Software tutorials are screencasts that automatically deploy when you use hotkeys (program and keyboard shortcuts). They usually add visual cues to the video when these actions are detected.
- Talking-head screencasts are a common format for creating video tours where you share your screen or webcam with other users.
Importantly, ensure that your tool comes with the necessary editing functions such as video trimming and merging.
- Branching Scenarios
A branching scenario allows your learners to affect the walkthrough of a course via their choices. In comparison to linear courses, branching provides individual learning experiences and gives your learners an enhanced way of assessing their knowledge.
For example, if your learners make mistakes, they can be directed to additional pages that provide more information on a topic. They can also be allowed to skip some topics or choose which ones they want next.
In some cases, eLearning involves many people working together on the same project. Things can get complicated when tasks such as file sharing are involved.
Collaboration allows for seamless sharing of ideas, files, and other eLearning elements. Some collaboration features to look out for include shared resources, co-authoring, user roles, author control, and sharing options (social media, email, link)
Depending on your organization’s publishing style, it is important to choose an authoring tool that fits that requirement. Publishing is all about formats some of which include HTML 5, iOS, Android, Flash, cloud-based, or CD.
- SCORM Compliance
SCORM is an eLearning standard that allows your LMS to communicate well with other conformant systems. When you create eLearning content, it needs to be published for the learners to access it. Therefore, you need a SCORM-compliant authoring tool to easily upload your content to your LMS.
If your LMS comes with course authoring software, content should be published following certain acceptable learning standards. SCORM is one of these standards. Other standards include AICC, CMI5 and xAPI (Tin Can).
SCORM is the industry standard. For more information on this learning standard, kindly read our blog post on this topic.
- Mobile Learning Support
Not every course authoring tool will allow you to create mobile-friendly content. The use of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets has become part of our daily lives. Many learners access eLearning material through such devices. Indeed, mobile learning allows the user to be flexible and access content anywhere at any time.
Your course authoring tool, therefore, needs to be mobile learning compatible. To achieve this, your learning material and quizzes should be formatted in HTML5. Besides, the courses need to be responsive meaning they should adapt to varying user screen sizes to create an adequate learning experience.
- Training and Support
Customer support for any computer program is a plus both for novices and experts. Some authoring tools will come with guides and training courses to help you master how to use them. They may also come with live chat functions and community forums that provide more information such as troubleshooting and customer feedback.
Other training and support features include email and phone support, video guides, tutorials and how-to-guides, demos, webinars, and upgrades and updates.
Why You Need an Authoring Tool
Below are some benefits of having an authoring tool.
Saves time and improves eLearning development efficiency: The right authoring tool will eliminate the need for coding allowing content creators to develop LMS-ready material in a short amount of time.
The emphasis is on learning and not programming. Therefore, content creators will focus more on this aspect which results in quality content and an enriched learning experience.
Interactivity for more engaging content: Authoring tools introduce interactivity to your courses and improve learner engagement. Elements such as drag-and-drop exercises, quizzes, and gamification are sure to keep your learners active and productive.
Management of localization and internationalization: A good authoring tool should help you to publish content in different languages. It comes with an import and export function that captures all course content including captions. It also allows the user to get the relevant version of the program based on choice or location.
Responsive courses that work on any device: If some of your learners use mobile devices to access your courses, a mobile-friendly authoring tool will increase adoption rates of your LMS since no one will be locked out.
Incorporation of corporate branding: An organization’s training initiative should reflect its branding. A good tool will allow you to incorporate logos, corporate colors, and other branding features into your eLearning content.
Collaboration: In some cases, some courses are created by a team of developers. Mostly, cloud-based authoring tools allow multiple content creators in different locations to log in and review content as well as comment and make tracked changes for others to review.
Make eLearning accessible: Content developers should be aware of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the guidelines for content and authoring tool accessibility. Most authoring tools come with accessibility features such as captions, alt tabs, and alternative navigation options. Other tools have settings that can enable and disable accessible and inaccessible features respectively, to facilitate your eLearning initiatives.
How to Choose an Authoring Tool
Choosing an authoring tool can be a challenge. How do you know which is the right tool for your organization’s training needs? To make an informed decision, you need to assess the requirements and needs of your training projects.
Different authoring tools come with varying features and capabilities developed to cater to different training needs. Ideally, your level of expertise and the kind of courses you want to create are two factors to consider and that can help you while choosing the right tool.
If you are a novice, then you should opt for software that does not require programming experience. For expert users, definitely, a tool with programming features will be desirable.
Regarding the kind of courses you want to create, you need to consider a few things. For instance, you need to establish if you want video-based courses, custom scenario-based courses, template-based courses, and other factors.
Authoring tools are at the heart of course creation. Choosing the right tool can help you create courses in a faster and more efficient way. You can choose to have a third-party course authoring tool or purchase a learning platform like Tovuti LMS which comes with advanced built-in course authoring tools.