How to choose the best eLearning authoring tool for your training needs

Kristy Lacroix
Smiling woman with shoulder-length dark brown hair in a black shirt.
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With my years of experience in the ever-growing eLearning industry, I've had some incredible opportunities to work with a range of these authoring tools. While there have been certain programs that were easy for the teams I collaborated with and me, others proved pretty tricky! When I started, I was using a free, open-source authoring tool, and let me tell you, it was a bit of a struggle. The tool had a steep learning curve that required an understanding of HTML, CSS, and even some JavaScript, and the community support wasn't as easy to understand or access as I would have liked. But I persevered, and eventually, I was able to create some pretty impressive eLearning content.

Later on, I had the opportunity to work with a more advanced authoring tool: specifically Articulate Storyline. What a game-changer! This tool has a wide range of features and capabilities, and the interface is intuitive and user-friendly. It was like night and day compared to the open-source tool I had used before.

An eLearning authoring tool can help any eLearning developer no matter what experience level

Whether you're a beginner or an experienced eLearning developer, trust me when I say that when it comes to authoring tools, it's important to do your research and find the right tool for you. Plus, using the right authoring tool can make all the difference in the world when it comes to creating engaging and effective eLearning content.

With the popularity of authoring tools increasing and so many eLearning authoring tools available in the market, it can be difficult to choose the best one for your needs.

As we continue to discuss the best eLearning authoring tool for you, we will

30-second recap: what is an eLearning authoring tool?

eLearning authoring tools are an essential part of the eLearning industry. These software programs allow instructional designers, educators, and subject matter experts to create, publish and deliver interactive and engaging online training programs, tutorials, and other learning experiences. These tools typically include a variety of features, such as the ability to add text, images, videos, audio, animations, and interactive elements like quizzes and assessments. They often offer built-in, easy-to-use templates and layouts and can track and report on learners' progress.

For further reading, check out my blog article “What is an eLearning authoring tool?” which goes into much more detail on this subject.

Three types of eLearning authoring tools at-a-glance

There are several types of eLearning authoring tools available, but they can be broadly classified into three categories. Each category offers distinct features and capabilities for your eLearning development and delivery and supports an incredible variety of learning experiences and course designs, from simple to complex.

Three blocks with different types of eLearning authoring tools. From left-to-right: Rapid (icons of a paper and a pen with "speed" lines); Advanced (icon of a robot with gears); Custom (icon of a mixer and stars with a "?" in one of the stars).

Rapid course authoring tools

Need to create an online course quickly but don't have the technical know-how? Rapid eLearning authoring tools are your go-to. They make creating interactive courses and multimedia content easy – no programming skills are required. With just a few clicks, you can create and publish linear courses that don't require extensive technical skills or programming abilities – think of it as "no-fuss" course authoring! However, due to how rapid course authoring tools operate, their downfall can be in the limitations or lack of options available to an eLearning developer who wants more control over their course creation.

Advanced course authoring tools

Advanced eLearning authoring tools offer more comprehensive features than rapid course authoring tools. Their wide range of capabilities includes creating interactive and multimedia-rich courses and can even include complex branching and gamification elements or specialty simulations. These tools are suitable for creating advanced and highly interactive online training, such as a medical course that requires shifting between different types of brain scans to identify a diagnosis.

Custom course authoring tools

Custom eLearning authoring tools are tailored to meet an organization's specific needs and requirements. These tools are usually developed in-house or by third-party developers and offer high customization and flexibility. Custom eLearning authoring tools suit organizations with unique training needs or those looking to create highly customized and tailored online courses.

If you're looking to explore this subject further, check out my article “What are the different types of authoring tools?” – it’s a great source of knowledge that'll further increase your understanding! But don’t forget to come back here, so we can continue to pick out the right authoring tool for you.

How to choose the best eLearning authoring tool for you

With so many eLearning authoring tools available to help users create interactive and engaging online training courses, there are several important factors to consider when choosing a tool, such as your training needs, budget, and the level of technical expertise of your team. Here are some questions you might ask yourself as you evaluate different options and eLearning authoring tool recommendations for you to consider.

Identifying and understanding your learning goals

Before jumping in and building a course with any authoring tool, it’s important to have a solid plan of action to guide your efforts. Whether creating an eLearning course or developing training, there are tools that can help ensure your objectives stay focused and successful.

For example, a learning outcome map is great for aligning activities with specific assessments. Bloom's Taxonomy helps organize educational goals according to cognitive skills level. The ADDIE model for instructional design includes five phases, from analysis through evaluation! If you aren’t an instructional designer, understanding and applying SMART Goals will provide you with measurable targets so your course development never veers off track. No matter what you choose as your starting point, identifying learning goals pays dividends down the line!

Three blocks with different types of eLearning goal structures. From left-to-right: SMART Goals with "SMART" written vertically, and each letter with a representative icon beside it ("S" - 4 arrows pointing to a dot, "M" - ruler, "A" - trophy, "R" - arrow in a target, and "T" - clock); Bloom's Taxonomy pyramid, with an icon on each step in place of the text (bottom-to-top: brain, checkmark, cog, magnifying glass, star, paint palette); ADDI model circle with icons in place of the words (clockwise from the top: magnifying glass, paint palette, file, cog, star).
  1. Learning outcome mapping is a process of aligning learning objectives with specific activities and assessments to ensure that the desired learning outcomes are being met. It is a method of designing and evaluating educational programs by connecting objectives, instruction, and assessment.
  2. SMART Goals stand for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals commonly used in training and development.
  3. Kirkpatrick's Model is used to evaluate the effectiveness of training and development programs and helps identify where improvements can be made. This model has four levels of evaluation: Reaction, Learning, Behavior, and Results.
  4. Bloom's Taxonomy is a framework for classifying educational goals according to a hierarchy of cognitive skills, from simple recall to more complex critical thinking. It is often represented as a pyramid, with the lower levels representing lower-order thinking skills and the higher levels representing higher-order thinking skills. It can be used to design learning objectives, instruction, and assessments that target specific cognitive skills. The six levels of Bloom's Taxonomy, from lower to higher order, are Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating.
  5. ADDIE model is a widely used instructional design model that includes five phases: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. It is a systematic approach to designing and developing effective instruction, and it is used in many fields, including education, business, and government.

These tools can help to ensure that training and eLearning efforts are focused and effective and that your desired learning outcomes are being met by the authoring tools you are considering adopting.

What kind of content do you want to create?

Remember that some authoring tools are better suited for creating interactive learning experiences, while others are geared toward creating simple text-based courses. Incorporating multimedia elements like videos and audio clips into your eLearning course designs can be a great way to keep learners engaged! If you are making sure that this type of interactive content is an essential part of what you create, seek out authoring tools with good media support. Some even give users the ability to do their own video recording or editing right in the program – how useful is that?

The following table offers an interesting look at different types of content you may be considering developing and which tools have worked best for each in my experience building online courses. I have first-hand experience with nearly all of these tools, except for those listed for the AR/VR section (I’m relying on the suggestions of colleagues I trust for those recommendations). Let's see what the toolbox has to offer!

Types of content versus best tools to use

Keep in mind that the list below is not exhaustive. Other tools are also available in the market, with new ones always arriving. The selection of the tools always depends on the requirements of the content and the target audience. Additionally, some tools may be better suited for certain types of content, while others may be better for different styles of training content.

If you want to create...
Authoring tools to try...
Interactive tutorials
Corporate training courses
Webinars and virtual classrooms
Video lectures
Simulation-based training
Self-paced modules
Quizzes and assessments
Gamified learning
Audio recordings and podcasts
PDFs, ebooks, and other downloadable materials
Social learning platforms
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) based learning*

What is your budget?

Having a handle on your eLearning budget is key to creating the best possible learning experience and will help you make informed choices and manage costs efficiently when selecting an authoring tool for your project. As you research various authoring tools, you will find that many options are available, and they vary widely in terms of cost. Consider your specific needs and budget constraints. If you're working on a tight budget, a free or low-cost tool may be your best option. However, if you're looking for a more advanced or feature-rich tool, you may need to be prepared to invest more money.

Some authoring tools are completely free, while others may have free versions that offer limited functionality. Other tools may be based on subscriptions or plans and require regular payments to continue using them. Additionally, some authoring tools allow you to purchase a lifetime license, which can be a cost-effective solution for those looking to use the tool for an extended or undetermined period. Some authoring tool plans may be individual licenses, and others may be based on a limited number of "seats" with additional costs for additional users.

Factor in the long-term costs of an eLearning tool before you purchase

It's also important to consider the long-term costs associated with the tool, such as the cost of updates, support, or additional features. Some authoring tools charge based on the number of users, so having a clear understanding of who will need access to the tool and their role in creating, editing, or consuming the eLearning content, will help make the appropriate decision.

What if there are objections to the cost?

While an eLearning authoring tool’s price may be shocking at first, calculate how much your time, or the time of your eLearning team, costs versus creating content with an authoring tool versus without the assistance of professional tools. Knowing how much time your organization will save should put any eLearning authoring tool cost objections to rest.

Consider using Adapt Learning as a free eLearning authoring tool!

Adapt Learning is a free, open-source tool that allows users to create interactive courses and includes features such as customizable templates, multimedia support, quiz creation tools, and the ability to create a responsive design and VR and AR experiences.

What level of technical expertise do your team members have?

It’s difficult to decide which eLearning authoring tool is the easiest to use, as each tool has unique user interfaces and features that make them more or less easy to use. Some authoring tools have a steeper learning curve and require more advanced technical skills to use efficiently, while others are more intuitive.

Two characters piecing together an eLearning course on a large monitor, similar to assembling a puzzle. On the screen is lines of text with a few areas with dotted outlines, where images and other content will go. One of the characters is on a ladder, holding a large image to place into one of the dotted-line areas. The other is standing on the ground to the left of the ladder, holding a piece of content.

For example, Adobe Captivate is a popular authoring tool used in the eLearning industry. It offers a wide range of features and capabilities, such as interactive elements, quizzes, and responsive design. However, because it is a more advanced tool, it may have a steeper learning curve for users who are new to authoring tools or unfamiliar with Adobe software.

On the other hand, some authoring tools like iSpring Suite and ProProfs are considered user-friendly and easy to use. These tools have a simpler interface and intuitive navigation and offer great support, tutorials, and resources, which make them a great option for users who are new to authoring tools or have limited technical skills. They are also more accessible and easier to learn, which allows the users to focus on creating and designing their eLearning content without getting overwhelmed by the technical aspects of the tool.

So remember, some authoring tools have a steep learning curve and require more advanced technical skills to use effectively, while others are more intuitive. The ease of use of an eLearning authoring tool is an important factor to consider, especially if you have limited technical expertise or resources. Gear your research toward user-friendly tools that have a simple and intuitive interface and offer support.

Consider using the iSpring Suite for teams with less technical expertise!

iSpring Suite is an all-in-one software that allows users to create interactive courses with features such as customizable templates, multimedia support, quiz creation tools, and the ability to publish courses in various formats, including SCORM and xAPI. Users do not need coding or design skills to start building courses.

How will your eLearning courses be delivered?

The course delivery method can have a significant impact on the overall quality, accessibility requirements, and costs associated with development. Keep in mind that an LMS (Learning Management System) is defined as a software application intended for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting, and delivery of educational courses, training programs, or learning and development programs. On the other hand, standalone authoring is a software application designed for creating eLearning content but does not include an LMS. This means that users will need to use a separate platform to manage, track and deliver their eLearning content. Examples of standalone authoring tools include Articulate Storyline and Adobe Captivate.

Should your LMS have an authoring tool built in?

An LMS that includes an authoring tool is a software application that combines the features of an LMS with an authoring tool. This allows users to create, manage, and deliver eLearning content within the same platform. An example of an LMS that includes an authoring tool is Moodle, a free and open-source LMS that also includes an authoring tool called “Moodle Book,” which allows users to create and publish eLearning content.

Or should you use a standalone eLearning authoring tool?

Should you choose to use a standalone authoring tool, do some research to ensure that the eLearning authoring tool you choose is compatible with the LMS, web publisher, or standalone player where you intend to host your course. Doing this ahead of time will save you from hiring an external developer, which means your schedule has to align with their availability, or, if you're a developer, from having to test and debug the file outputs manually. Always check your LMS requirements before selecting an authoring tool.

In summary, an LMS that includes an authoring tool is an all-in-one solution that allows users to create, manage, and deliver eLearning content within the same platform. A standalone authoring tool is specialized software used for creating eLearning content but requires a separate platform for managing, tracking, and delivering that content.

Consider using SmarterU LMS when you need to author and deliver training courses!

SmarterU is a comprehensive LMS that can be used to manage and deliver eLearning programs for various purposes. This cloud-based system allows users to create, deliver, track progress, and generate reports on learner activity and progress and includes an integrated authoring tool.

How will your learners complete their training?

It is vital to think about how you'll apply assessments in your eLearning courses, what knowledge goals everyone will have accomplished by the end of it all, and the type of material that is being explored. If this isn't done right, learners may miss out on valuable growth opportunities!

Assessments can help measure the effectiveness of your course content and provide feedback to both learners and instructors. For example, if your learning objectives focus on knowledge acquisition, then objective assessments, such as multiple-choice questions or true/false questions, may be appropriate. If the learning objectives focus on skills development, then performance-based assessments, such as simulations or projects, could be better used.

Additionally, it is also important to consider at what point during the eLearning experience the assessments will be given: at the end of a module, at the end of the course, or even throughout the course to measure the progress and understanding of the learner.

Styles of assessments and popular assessment types

With so many options in eLearning assessments, it can be hard to decide which type would most benefit your course materials. To help you out, let's explore some popular assessment methods. Various methods are available and ready at our fingertips, from multiple-choice quizzes to interactive simulations that encourage hands-on involvement.

A 3x3 grid of assessment types and icons for each. Starting at the top row and going left-to-right: Multiple-choice or true/false questions (two screens, one with three answer options with one highlighted, and one screen with "T/F" and two answer options); Matching questions (two columns of text with lines going from one side to the other); Fill-in-the-blank questions (three rows of text with one blank space on each); Short answer questions (two questions with short lines of text below each); Essay questions (a paper filled with text lines); Performance-based assessment (arrows pointing up with a gauge pointing to the right); Self-assessment (a user in a circle); Peer assessment (two people facing each other with a target between them); Adaptive assessment (a head with sliders inside).

Multiple-choice or True/false questions

Multiple-choice questions are objective assessments consisting of a question and several possible answers, of which only one is correct. True/false questions are similar as they are also objective assessments but consist of a statement that is either true or false. Both are easy to create and can be used to assess knowledge acquisition.

Matching questions

Consist of a list column of items on one side and a list column of corresponding items on the other. They are used to match the items from one list to the other.

Fill-in-the-blank questions

A statement or question with one or more blank spaces. Learners are required to fill in the blank space with the appropriate word or phrase.

Short answer questions

A question or statement to which learners must provide a written response. They are used to assess understanding and critical thinking.

Essay questions

A question or statement to which learners must provide a longer written response. They are used to assess understanding, critical thinking, and writing skills and are usually only recommended if they will be graded by an instructor or as self-reflection activities.

Performance-based assessments

Assessments that require learners to perform a task or complete a project. They are used to assess skills development and can include simulations, case studies, and role-playing activities. These activities often cannot be automatically graded, and learners need to be assessed by an instructor or facilitator.


Assessments that learners complete on their own to evaluate their own understanding and progress.

Peer assessments

Learners complete assessments of each other's work to evaluate their understanding and progress.

Adaptive assessments

The difficulty level of the questions is adjusted based on the learner's performance. This allows for a more personalized learning experience

Do you need any specific features or integrations?

Do you need to be able to track learner progress? Do you need to be able to integrate with other systems or tools? Interactive elements such as quizzes, polls, and games can add fun and increase engagement in your courses. Look for eLearning authoring tools that offer a range of interactive elements and allow you to easily incorporate them into your eLearning designs.

When selecting authoring tools and eLearning resources, it’s important to ensure that your selections will provide an efficient and effective experience for both your designers and learners. Think of all the amazing possibilities: integrations with other programs and user-friendly interfaces – it can be a fantastic voyage into eLearning success.

Here is a laundry list of possible authoring tool integrations to consider and the benefits of each (though it is worth noting that the integrations suitable for your organization will depend on your specific needs, goals, and resources).

Possible authoring tool integrations

Learning management systems (LMS)

Easy tracking and reporting of learners' progress and also enables the delivery of eLearning content and assessments.

Content management systems (CMS)

Easy management and updating of eLearning content and easy integration of multimedia and other interactive elements.

Video conferencing and webinar tools

Live, interactive instruction, and also allows for recording and playback of sessions for learners who are unable to attend live.

Social learning and collaboration tools

Allow learners to connect and share ideas and resources, which can help enhance the learning experience.

Gamification and simulation tools

Allow for the creation of interactive and engaging eLearning experiences that can help to increase learners' motivation and retention.

Translation and localization tools

Allow for creating and delivering eLearning content in multiple languages and also allow for adapting content to different cultural contexts.

Analytics and reporting tools

Allow for tracking and analyzing learners' progress and engagement and generating reports that can be used to evaluate and improve the eLearning program.

Single Sign-On (SSO) integration

Ease of access to the learning content for users, as they don't have to remember multiple usernames and passwords.

Consider using Articulate Storyline as an authoring tool for creating interactive eLearning!

Articulate Storyline is a powerful authoring tool that allows users to create interactive and engaging eLearning with customizable templates, multimedia support, and quiz creation tools. Users can create interactive courses with animations, effects, and other interactive elements, and various publishing formats are available, including SCORM and xAPI.

Remember that it’s a good idea to review the features and capabilities of several different authoring tools and compare them to your specific needs and requirements. You may also consider reaching out to other organizations in your industry to see which tools they are using and get their feedback.

How to select and evaluate eLearning authoring tools to find your best fit

Hopefully, throughout this series, you’ve learned that purchasing eLearning authoring software doesn't have to be complicated! You can take a few simple steps – from researching to conducting vendor demos to determine the best options for your needs before making the final purchase.

A checklist of 8 items split into 2 columns on how to "Select and evaluate eLearning authoring tools." Column one: 1. Determine online training needs; 2. Identify authoring tool options; 3. Match authoring tools to needs; 4. Contact vendors for more info. Column two: 5. Compare list against criteria; 6. Request a demo / trial; 7. Evaluate the demo / trial; 8. Select winning vendor.

Let’s put all the pieces together to create a cohesive information workflow organized in a way that can be easily integrated into your process.

Determine your online training needs

When starting the process of purchasing eLearning authoring software, it is important to determine the specific eLearning needs of your organization. Identify the types of content that will need to be created, such as interactive modules, quizzes, videos, etc., and the format in which it will be delivered, such as mobile, web, or blended.

Identify eLearning authoring tool options

After your courses’ specific eLearning needs are identified, the next step is to research and identify the different types of eLearning authoring tools available in the market. This includes researching the features and functionalities of each tool, such as the type of multimedia it supports, its level of interactivity, and its ability to track and report on learners' progress.

Match eLearning authoring tools to your needs

Next, it is important to create a list of selection criteria that will be used to evaluate the different eLearning authoring tools. Include factors such as ease of use, scalability, cost, and integrations to help ensure that the final decision is based on the organization's specific needs and goals.

Contact authoring tool vendors to learn more

You should now have enough research and a list of criteria to contact vendors directly and request information about their products and services. Ask about pricing, support, and any additional services they offer.

Compare a shortlist against your initial criteria

Once you finish evaluating and comparing the eLearning authoring tools, create a shortlist of the tools that have been identified as the best fit for your organization.

Request an eLearning authoring tool demo or trial

Gain a firsthand experience of the eLearning authoring tools on your shortlist by requesting a demo or trial. This hands-on approach will give you a deeper understanding of the tools' functionality and how well they align with your organization's specific requirements, ultimately influencing your final decision.

Evaluate the demo or trial to help make your decision

Now that you've completed your demos and trials, it's time to evaluate the eLearning authoring tools against their selection criteria. Put your evaluation criteria into action and compare each tool - you'll soon find out which one best fits your organization's needs.

Select and contact your winning vendor

Carefully consider the options and select a vendor that has all of the features you need at a price point that fits within your budgets, such as scalability, ease of use, integrations, and more! Make sure you spend time on the research before settling on any one solution.

Remember that when selecting your eLearning authoring tool, it's important to take the time to carefully evaluate all of your options to find the right tool for your needs. The examples mentioned in this article are just a few of the many eLearning authoring tools available on the market, and each offers its own unique capabilities. To make sure you're making an informed decision, I suggest playing around with each option; once you identify what works best for you, then voilà… you'll have found your perfect authoring tool!

Smiling woman with shoulder-length dark brown hair in a black shirt.
Kristy Lacroix

Kristy has over a decade of progressive and diverse experience within the fields of higher education, television production, studio animation, global retail manufacturing and marketing, and graphic design. She enthusiastically believes that creating effective and memorable learning experiences is where conscious design, good storytelling, and accessibility meet.

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