what is an eLearning authoring tool?

category: software
an eLearning authoring tool is a piece of software that allows you to build professional courses with ease. Similar to what WordPress did for website design, authoring tools provide a framework for you to create a course filled with interactive features without the need for any programming knowledge.

You don’t need to be an expert designer to use an authoring tool effectively; they’re built with training and development staff in mind, making course delivery as smooth as possible. A great eLearning course will present content through a number of different formats – this could be videos, interactive quizzes, even gamification of some modules. Using the right software will give you the opportunity to incorporate all of this more effectively. The idea of textbook-style learning online is now very outdated (remember when online courses were often just PDF versions of books?) which is why authoring tools have become increasingly essential.

why do I need an authoring tool?

To develop an interactive course from scratch requires a lot of technical skill and additional time, which isn’t necessary. If you’ve never used an authoring tool before you might be surprised at the level of functionality they can provide. “Authoring” gives the impression they are writing and content focused, but actually offer a lot in terms of overall structure and design. This makes it easy to keep course development in-house, so it can be completed without the need for designers and web developers.

do I need to install a new program on my PC?

Authoring tools come in different shapes and sizes, but generally will either be desktop-based or cloud-based. Traditionally, desktop-based authoring tools have be used in years gone by, requiring you to download the software and work on it from that one PC only. With the development of cloud-based software, however, authoring tools have been developed to run in your browser. This means that you can access your tool and your work on the go, from whatever computer you are working from at the time. Another advantage of cloud-based authoring tools is the ability to share your work with your colleagues easily and co-author projects.

can I add my own resources such as videos and images?

Yes, most authoring tools will allow you to upload images and videos to your course. Sometimes you will also be able to add additional information such as PDFs for your learners to download. If you would like to make your images and videos interactive, some authoring tools will help you do this using ‘Hotspots’ (where when the user clicks on a certain part of the image or video, something will happen. E.g. an info box might appear). With some cloud-based tools you can set up a ‘bucket’ of resources associated with a particular course or project, meaning that you can easily share and store relevant files within the tool itself.

can I use my own branding?

Different authoring tools offer different levels of editing power. At one end of the scale, there are authoring tools geared for those who want to put together a quick course using a template, with as little hassle as possible. At the other end of the scale we have authoring tools which offer incredibly complex editing functionality, and which can take days of training and practice to become competent in. For most people, there is a happy medium to be found. Look for an editor which YOU are happy using, and which can also give you the control you need over your content. Most authoring tools will allow you to use your brand colours as a minimum but trialling different software can help give you an idea of how much flexibility you will need.

how do I send my course to my LMS?

Most authoring tools will export your content as a SCORM file, which can then be uploaded or automatically added to a Learning Management System. This is where they can log in and register, save their results, and access other materials you might want to provide. SCORM files not only make sure the learner can see the course you have put together but can also interact with it. It is a much more complicated file format, than say, a PDF with only static content. Using SCORM files in your LMS means that you can track how your learners are doing and how they are interacting with your content.

The software abilities provided by good eLearning authoring tools are well worth the investment. For example, thirst.io offers access starting from just £25 per month including help and support. This is earned back almost immediately when you think of all the potential issues you no longer have to think about. Is your design responsive? Would the course run on a mobile device that doesn’t support Flash? Does the underlying software integrate with your LMS? All of this is covered so that you can focus on what you do best – teaching. Take a look at ‘How to get the most out of your authoring tool’ for more info on how to get started with your authoring tool.