Over the weekend, I did one of the most stressing things there is to do in life. Yep, house hunting.  There is nearly nothing out there that make you get excited and depressed in just a few hours, than looking for a new house.

Where do you live? What amenities do you want or need? Pool? Beach? Center of town?  Close by or away from humans? And after all that, you have that wonderful thing we like to call – price.  What can you afford?  No, seriously, what can you afford without living on the floor with an air bed and eating crackers for dinner?

Yep, it is exhausting.  Actually, it can be just as exhausting and face nearly same challenges when you are looking for an authoring tool to build your courses.

How so?

Authoring tools list AKA Where do you want to live

Selecting a place to live, assuming it is not next door, is not something that can be easily identified.  That same occurs when you are deciding on an authoring tool.  With over 180 authoring tools in the market and with the majority not as well known, picking just the right one can be as challenging as selecting an area to live.

I’m interested in what type of  house err tool

 In the housing world that would be whether you want a townhouse, apt., condo, house, etc. In the authoring tool world:

  • PowerPoint focused authoring tool, Basically you know PPT, love it and want the ability to build within it and then convert your PPT to a Course
  • Hierarchy, Slide (view possible) – built around the desire to use the authoring tool itself.   These tools are widely seen in the industry – as in most common.  You have objects, elements, layers (in many cases) along with an option to go tree  or not, with some allowing the “slide” like view too; you can also create a course with PPT slides only, but that is not the ideal target
  • Uses MW Word – Yep, you can build courses in MS Word and then output to a course.  They are out there, I wouldn’t use one, but they do exist
  • Sims –  Build a course around simulations.  This is not the same thing as picking some templates and scenarios and building, rather a strong sim will expect you to have instructional design and e-learning development skills.  While I have seen a few that give off the “rapid build” appearance, unless you have experience with solutions in the past like Authorware, MacroMedia Director, or similar brethren, you will face some serious challenges.  One sim tool I know costs 25K per license, but the majority of pure sim tools in the market cost way way below that.  
  • Hierarchy/Tree view – Focused on course elements, objects, etc. – Asthetics within the tool are underwhelming, but can output amazing – Best known of these tools was Authorware;  This is a tool geared for e-learning developers and those who have a strong ID background. 
  • M-Learning – Courses built specifically for mobile devices and nothing else.  Everything is 100% focused on mobile build. 

There are couple of other “types” as well, but the top two are:

1. PowerPoint focused or driven, these tools established the rapid course authoring tool market and still score highly with folks – Biggest name:  Articulate Studio

2. Hierarchy/Tree Experience with PPT available as a object – BUT you can use only PPT if you want  – Big names in this area: dominKnow Claro, Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate, Lectora

And just like selecting a type of house, you then have decide where – in the surburbs, downtown, country, but in our AT world you must decide whether to have your tool sitting on your desktop/laptop, in the cloud (SaaS) and/or mobile devices (as a self-contained build app). 

If you are asking can you have one of those options and still have a native mobile app, then the answer is yes.

Amenities in your new home

Just as you would when looking for a house, you will want to know what comes with the house – after all -having such items as a pool for some people might weigh higher than having a 3rd bedroom.

In the authoring tool world, after selecting type and location it is all about the features.

  • Your View –  Do you want layout, tree, slide or a combo of a few?
  • Inside – Layers, objects, elements, templates, scenario backgrounds, collaborative/peer review, characters (actors), movement, assessment, audio recording and editing, video recording, web cam recording, screen capture and recording, image editing, video editing, accept all types of video, audio, image files; gaming elements, multilingual, ADA 508, TTS, Speech-to-text, touch building (using your fingers and not your mouse), and so on..
  • Outside – Output to HTML5 (Y/N), Mobile Responsive (Y/N)

In the house hunting world, many people nowadays are renting – so knowing if the property accepts pets is crucial.  In the AT world, knowing whether your AT accepts your specific compliance standard (SCORM, SCORM 1.2/2004, AICC, PENS, TinCan) would be equally relevant.  Albeit there are some tools that do not work with nor accept any compliance standards.


Out of all the requirements when looking for a home to buy or rent, number one is price.  How much is this going to cost me?  Guess, what with authoring tools, it is all about the price.

  • Licensing –  Some tools charge a yearly license fee based on the number of authors that are going to build courses;  others have a one time charge – per license though

Example:  I have three people building courses.  I can either go with Option A) Buy an authoring tool whereaby I pay a yearly (and on-going) fee for all three,  B) by an authoring tool where I buy three licenses (one for each person) OR Option C) Buy one license (wink, wink) and everyone shares the license.

I know, you are saying “I would never, buy just one and let five people share it” , but any vendor who has been in this space for at least 30 minutes knows that there are plenty of folks who do share after buying a single license.  It happens a lot, especially if the product allows it (which many do).

Selection Time

With so many tools out there, it isn’t surprising to see which ones rise to the top and its not because they are necessarily the best.  What are they then?  The best known.

Thus, I never recommend just picking one of the most well known, because well it is known.  Nor would I select a tool that is really a PowerPoint converter.

No, I would select one that offers a robust set of features including this format:  Course-Chapter-Page-Lesson/Scenario (whereas in the page it could be a scenario although some tools call it a “lesson”) or you could have a page without any scenario component on it.  Then you could add an assessment (I’m a big fan of practice real world scenarios over assessments).

I’d also want one that offers output to HTML5, ADA 508 complaint, Web cam/video recording – with an iphone that would rock, actors/characters, scenario backgrounds, mobile responsive, hierachy/tree view, preview (so you can see the course before you publish- especially preview for mobile devices), add video (MP4), SCORM, TinCan compliance, collaborative/peer review including time stamps and in the cloud (currently, SaaS is still not universal – a real concern, especially since the e-learning market as a whole has a high cloud based adoption rate).  

I’d also love to have one whereas I could build games as courses, and games that should remind me at least of Colecovision (I’m not greedy) but higher than Atari 2600 or Zonk – everyone’s favorite text based game from 1990. Heck, if it looks like a game you could play on a CGA monitor, I’d be stoked.

And lastly, something that can enable anyone to build a course.  If you are new, you can build.  If you are experienced the tool offers the power of Authorware, Director with the latest and greatest capabilities and feature sets AND with a one time license fee.  Not a fee you pay yearly. Not a “special” deal fee which appears every month as a special, no one flat fee.

And you get upgrades/updates at no additional charge. 

Bottom Line

Selecting the best authoring tool doesn’t necessarily mean the right one.  For it all comes down to many items we have come accustomed to in our house hunting days, type, area, features, other items and price.

And after going through and narrowing it down, the final decision is how does it feel – this new home.

For you will want your authoring tool to feel that same way,

As a home for building your courses.

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