If you’re just getting started with eLearning, you have a lot of decisions to make. One of them is which self-paced (asynchronous) authoring tool to purchase. This decision comes down to some practical considerations that I’ll explain in a couple of back-to-back articles (this month and next month).
To determine what tool(s) to buy, you’re going to want to do some analysis. You could just wing it, but then you’ll likely be shortchanging yourself and your learners while you try to work with something that doesn’t meet your needs (or theirs). Buying authoring tools is a lot like buying window coverings. For example, if you put sheer curtains on a window that faces the street, those curtains will cover your windows but they won’t provide the privacy you need. It’s the same with authoring tools. The wrong tool may produce very nice looking instruction, but it may not be the instruction that your learners need. In both cases, it makes sense to do some analysis. Then make a decision based on need.
Consider starting with free tools
Before you begin your analysis, it may actually help to look at and work with some free tools. This might be the case if you are totally unfamiliar with authoring tools or the language and concepts common to the authoring task. In the process, you may find that there are free tools that work perfectly well for your needs. (This is especially true for small organizations or those with very limited funds.) Here are two places to find free tools:
http://c4lpt.co.uk/Directory/Tools/instructional.html (Look for the free symbol.)
Most commercial (non-free) authoring tools provide free trials so you can give their products a test run. So even if you are not going to use free tools, after you narrow down your list of most valuable tools (in the next section), you absolutely should give those tools a trial run before purchasing them.
Start here: what do you need to build and what tools do you need to build it?
A most critical consideration, when selecting an authoring tool, is the nature of what you need to build. All tools are not equal for building all types of content. In other words, most tools are better for building certain types of content than other tools are.
For example, most people who have been building eLearning for a while are going to agree that if you want to build application demos or simple application simulations, Captivate and Camtasia are two of the better tools for that purpose.
Table 1 compares the three most commonly used self-paced (asynchronous) authoring tool types, the types of content they typically build, and a few of the most commonly used tools in each category.
Type of Content
Commonly Used Tools
|1. PowerPoint-based||Content built using PowerPoint slides, often with narration.||Adobe PresenterArticulate Presenter|
|2. Screencasting||Digital recordings of what is happening on a computer screen, window, or application.||CaptivateCamtasia Studio|
|3. Full course authoring||Full-featured authoring including tools needed for content, assessments, and media creation or editing.||LectoraFlash|
It gets confusing, though, because you can often use commonly used tools for other purposes.