State of the Authoring Tool Industry

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When looking at the state of the authoring tool space, two words come to mind

Bewilderment and Confusion.

Bewildered on what is happening, why what is needed isn’t appearing as it should, and how is it possible that something so obvious based on where e-learning is heading, mobile is pushing and future tech is inspiring is lost among so many vendors?

Confusion leads to flushed in terms of causation that some vendors in their infinite wisdom have decided it is better to jump one way than stay the course.

I’ll be upfront here, the level of disappointment of the state is so stunning that words in many aspects can’t do it justice. 

For those who are e-learning developers, instructional designers (with the background to back it) or instructional technologists, I feel your pain.

For the fans of PowerPoint, no need to worry, many vendors to select with various options, albeit many similar.

And for the entire rapid content authoring tool space, I have to ask – Why?  Why are so many of you heading down the wrong path? 

Why so many of you are missing the signs that are staring you in the face, in terms of where the industry is headed and frankly, where you should be going?


Building a better mousetrap

An authoring tool solution is supposed to be all about the ability for folks to create, build courses that can be linear (A to B to C) aka click-click or non-linear (why WBT was empowered in the first place, where the learner can bounce around A to C to G, focusing on what they need to learn, and returning as often as they want). 

The latter shows real benefits, if it utilizes scenario based learning as its model.

But I digress.

If I am an authoring tool vendor, I would explore what is happening in the authoring tool market, what my product looks like, how I can make it better for my target audience and what do I see or others I trust see the e-learning space is heading. 

After all, you can have a great LMS, learning platform, or whatever you want to call your learning system, but the difference maker is good/great content.

If you do not have it, then you will get folks not using the system, not going back into the courses, and just clicking away to get where they have to go.  Static is boring.

The point is that an authoring tool should not just go along, but go beyond.

And therein lies one of the issues, that is showing up with many, many vendors.

  • PowerPoint still reigns –  If you are a course purist, the idea that PPT should be seen as an authoring tool should make you grumble with disgust. 

I recall a conversation I had last year with some folks from Articulate who informed me that PowerPoint is an authoring tool.

Strange, since I could find no evidence, no information from multiple research standpoints, that Microsoft pitches it an authoring tool.

PowerPoint is presentation software. Yes, you can use it for many different things, and yes, Microsoft has an add-on that turns PPT into something similar to Adobe Presenter.

But, it does not pitch it as an authoring tool. 

Two problems that I see with PPT being used as an authoring tool is that to make it engaging, fun and interactive you have to use what the product includes, and those templates are a mixed bag.  

The other huge issue is that the course terms of chapter-page-lesson/scenario and so forth has turned into “slides”.

As an added bonus, some products do not enable folks to have a TOC or even push or mention of it.  You can’t get folks to go non-linear with a TOC to see where they can go. 

  • M-Learning responsive or can be seen on any mobile devices – Yipee! Welcome to  2016.
  • Layers, objects, actions –  The more “advanced” tools that offer both the basics to build a course and the possibility to create an interactive or engaging course, offers these features and others that showcase e-learning development opportunities.

I’m a big fan of this, but for the newbie who is starting to build courses, the terms of layers, etc. is overwhelming, unless they have used a product in the past like Photoshop that uses layers.

I’d love to see vendors have the mouse highlights over the term layers, actions, objects and so forth, so that the course builder could see what the terms mean – examples an added bonus. 

The idea that folks who don’t know will just swing on over to HELP is questionable at best.  When you are using software and can’t figure out the term or what this or that is – zings over to the help area? 

  • Layout screen – slides or whatever you wish to call them on the left side, the building of the course in the middle.  I’ve seen a few vendors offer the “hierarchy” option rather than the slide look on the left side.  If you are in the e-learning developer or ID school, hierarchy is the way to go, but yes, I’ll readily admit it is not for everyone.
  • Ribbon or similar headers –  Look at all the things the software can do, by you simply clicking this button or that button.  Yes, it is very useful, no complaints here – just noting the universal look.
  • Avatars and assets – Seems more vendors are offering the libraries of assets, many of us only dreamed about years ago. 27,000 assets, 50,000 assets, over 100,000 assets. Yowsa!  It all sounds great, until you start taking a dive into those assets.  As with anything, some are slick, some are not.
  • Collaboration/Peer Review –  For the vendors who are more advanced, time stamps, version status, SME names or initials are included. 
  • Output to HTML5
  • At least SCORM support – Plenty still support AICC.  SCORM 1.2, 2004 (3rd edition) included.  Only a few support PENS, which is a shame, because it really does some very cool things.
  • Works with any LMS 
  • Assessment tool
  • Adding video/audio/documents – Video can be a video file, link from YouTube, Vimeo and so forth.
  • Zoom in/Zoom out and other nifty things

This is just a short sample okay mid-sample of the every day feature sets.  There are plenty more, but this isn’t about features so much as it is about the why factor.

Ring, Ring

Hello?  Oh, you are from the fast track company and you want to let me know about the features or items or terms that are blasting their way into the industry?  Do tell.

  • No programming skills needed
  • Easy to use
  • Build a course or courses in just a few minutes – Personally, that is a scary concept. Not sure, I want to take a course that someone built in a few minutes.
  • Works with PowerPoint –  The spin includes some angle with PowerPoint. This item has been around a long time, but with new vendors entering, well, you get it.
  • Supports all mobile devices – I love it when they only show a smartphone.  I know when I want to take a course, I think where is my smartphone?
  • xAPI support – Hit the gas this is flying fast
  • LRS support – Moving along, not as fast, but worth noting here
  • Analytics in SaaS authoring tools – Not a favorite of mine. The approach is that the person builds a course, can send a link to other people who click the link, go to take the course and on the other side, the course developer or usually whoever is running training or L&D ,can see the analytics.
  • SaaS authoring tools – More than ever before and yet the most well-known in the industry still live on the desktop.
  • Some video capabilities – Not enough to have you shout from the top of a building, but hey a few out there are adding screen capturing/recording right into the product.
  • SaaS courses that push out to an LMS, but still sit on the SaaS Authoring tool vendor’s server.  I see the pluses of it, yet there are minuses.  Fast to fix, fast to add assets or have asset management at your call, but, let’s put it this way – if you have somebody building you a course, do you ask for the course files aftewards?

Do you see any items that are missing here, that in the consumer marketplace and even in training folks are seeking/wanting?

Here is a couple to ponder. And part of my Why isn’t this in every authoring tool?

  • Game based learning – Creating cool game based courses that are interactive, engaging and fun – and use your content.  If it looks awesome on a mobile device, especially a tablet, phablet or 2to1 even better.   Where can you find this without having to have the programming skill sets needed to do so?  In only a select few authoring tools on the market. 

Listen, the games are not going to be the stuff you see when you buy a popular game app, or play on XBox, for example, but they are getting better (for the most part).

  • Gamification as some component/feature in the tool
  • Video capture, video overlays to add assessments, questions to ponder, scenario situations, and video editing that is at least similar to the video editor apps you can download for your mobile device. 

It’s minimal options out there for this – within an authoring tool – and while there are ATs who have video editing, the level to match with some of the video editing apps that are inexpensive on mobile device stores is appalling.  Speaking of which, ability to capture web cam or real time recordings in some fashion and add that piece into a course is equally small. 

  • One stop shop. Many LMS vendors figured this out a long time ago, and many are just starting to get there, but for the AT space as a whole, the idea of a one stop shop seems out of touch or reach. 

I’m not talking about an AT vendor adding the analytics piece or trying to make themselves some type of hybrid learning platform.

Nor am I talking about vendors who included other products as separate pieces which can intertwine with their offering OR are just bonus pieces.

I’m talking about an authoring tool that has the oomph in it for me to use it for all my needs, rather than searching for other products to enable me to do so.

Why is that missing?

Why let the consumer buy Camtasia that has super strong video capabilities if you can take the best pieces, advance them and have it in your product? 

Why offer someone to buy Rehersal whose video components include the ability to use a coaching angle, when as a AT vendor you could utilize real time video streaming that is starting to appear in some LMSs, and push forward that coaching piece – which BTW is on the steam ahead in the LMS industry (coaching aka as ask an expert)?

Why angle folks to look for an ePub option, when you can have it with your solution?  Why make us create a course without the ability to learn more about ID, even with a tutorial on ID and some basic steps? 

Why minimize video overlays with video built-in assessments, when the market is clearly seeking it out?  Yes, I know it gets back to my gripe about lack of video oomph.

Why ignore the API or app angle such as compatible with this or that. If you are doing the course link – how about making your product compatible with some of the apps in Zapier or at least Gmail?

Why not include a TOC and explain to people – users the benefits of having one?  Why assume that people know this – because many do not.

Why not create an on/off app for folks to build courses and push them to your SaaS authoring tool?  Folks I know who build courses, tell me they sometimes create out of the workplace.  Seems like a no-brainer to me. 

Why not include a review checker or SCORM checker to make sure that the course that has just been created will work fine?  How about adding an xAPI checker or something along those lines?  I know of one vendor who has a review checker and it works quite well.

Why not include storyboards for those ID folks, e-learning developers and course builders who gain experience and knowledge and wish to go to the next step?

Do you know how many ATs today have a storyboard feature built-into their product?  Let’s just say, I have more gopher holes in my backyard.

Why ignore what is possible for future discovery?  Explore VR and what it will take down the road to include it?  Better to think now and watch it, than think later and watch it pass you by.

Lastly, why is Articulate and Adobe still on the desktop?  For those wondering, Adobe Captivate Prime, does not come with Captivate nor is Captivate in the cloud. It is Adobe’s LMS, and slick marketing utilizing the Captivate name in it. 

My Top Five so far for mid-year

Just the rankings for now.

  1. For the Instructional designer and e-learning developers: Lectora Online.  Biggest issue the UI – update it! update it! And, uh update it! 

This is not a tool for beginners or those who are used to more simpler tools. If you have intermediate authoring tool skills or higher, or an e-learning developer, ID or instructional technologist, this is an ideal tool.  It won’t meet everyone’s needs, but Lectora has told me that they are committed to the online tool and making it even better.

1a. For the general population or those listed above, who are not LO fans, Gomo Learning leads. Biggest issue – they seem to be heading towards the hybrid learning platform market.  It is a real concern for me.  That said, they have a very strong feature set and continue to get better. SaaS tool.

I wish Articulate Storyline 1 was still available, because I know quite a few custom shops who still use it over Storyline 2.  Sigh. 

Anyway moving on

2. Articulate Storyline 2 – Feel free to read my review and yes, I still stand by it.  Biggest issue – read my review. Oh, and it is still a desktop tool. 

General population and above can use it, and yes, if you know what you are doing and have the skill sets to make it happen (which you can learn), you can push out some really amazing courses. I do know custom shops as well, that use S2.  Lastly, for those wondering, in one of my yearly rankings I had Storyline 1 as #1 for the year.  So no bias here.

3. Growth Engineering Genie – Game based learning plus gamification plus creation of courses. Biggest issue – The slides thing as a term for chapters, pages, et al.  Oh, and you have to purchase two licenses, since the gamification option is not only within the course, but also for the folks who build the courses.  General population to build courses.

4. Composica –  General pop and above.  Includes social and finally has done something – in the past it seemed stagnant. Biggest issue – UI ribbon.  Still needs work. Plus, I want my asset management library with free assets that are either solid or crummy!!!  Ahh, I feel much better.  Tool with potential. 

5. – The future is here and no you do not need shades. What do you need? Guts! Create VR apps, AR capabilites and yes soon to arrive (supposedly this summer) scenario based courses with HTML5, VR and mobile ready.  Experienced skill sets are needed.

5b. iSpring Suite 8.3 –  Better than Studio hands-down. General population all the way. Biggest issue – Desktop oh and PowerPoint focused!  Mobile includes on/off app, offers some nice scenario templates. Very inexpensive for what you get – which is plenty for those who are eyeing Studio and similar. 

What about?

Adobe Captivate – Very robust and at times, confusing to use.  Desktop too.  I think they can do better. Again, if anyone should be a one stop shop it should be Adobe Captivate – and it isn’t.

dominKnow Claro – Always a perennial favorite of mine, but last year I felt as though they had hit the stagnation wall. While it has finally lifted itself up from there – here in 2016- I’m waiting to see the big ticket items that showcases the product once again.   For those playing at home I still have the product in my top ten.

Elucidat – Oh so promising, but where have you gone that product that I found so enjoyable?  Let me know when you come back. I’ll be waiting.

Articulate Studio –  Nothing personal, I just think iSpring is better.

NexLearn Simwriter – Waiting to see the latest version. This is a sim building tool and despite what they claim, you really need to have intermediate skill sets to build a course in it. Better suited for ID, e-learning developer(s) or people who want to build sims and are willing to spend the time to learn the product.  Oh, you can use it without having to buy their LMS.

Bottom Line

This is where the industry stands at the moment. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t as good as it should be.

It should

Be stronger. Be driven. Be different.

Be exploratory and don’t let folks ask Why

Let them ask for more.

E-Learning 24/7

p.s. If you are attending ATD ICE next week in Denver, I will be speaking and will have a booth #631.  Feel free to stop by and say hi or if you are interested in my Find an LMS service or my brand new – e-learning strategy and services – I’ll be there to answer any questions. If you are a supplier, I do offer services too – so stop by as well.  My giveaways include one of my Top 50 LMSs for 2016 report, one hour consulting call.








  1. Hi Craig,

    Happy Monday!

    We met briefly in Washington, waiting for the shuttle bus to ATD ICE. I’ll gladly tackle this question below if you’d like the answer.

    Rehearsal is primarily a tool to sharpen or practice a particular message (i.e. elevator pitch, first 60 seconds of a sales meeting, etc). After working on the message for a few attempts a mentor can view the submitted attempt and provide feedback. It’s an asynchronous process, deliberately. We want to learner to be “free to fail” and practice in a safe spot.

    I’m only addressing your question. There are plenty of other benefits to organizations using Rehearsal. Without the slightest hesitation I would say I’m the best salesperson on the planet for employee-generated video for learning (my demos are everything you’ve been preaching to see from a SaaS vendor). I’d enjoy taking some time to chat about anything related to the technology if you are ever interested.

    Happy Monday!


  2. I am a big fan of Articulate Storyline; I wish I hadn´t bought the upgrade. I liked Storyline 1 better than S2. Lately, I have been playing around with a new WordPress plugin called H5P that with some imagination let´s you do marvelous things. You shoud chek them out.

    They also have released a Moodle plugin but there´s no need because learning objects created with H5P can be inserted in any webpage, they even provide the code just to copy and paste anywere. The most important thing that I like is that it supports HTML5 and plays just fine in any device unlike Storyline.

    The Opigno LMS have integrated h5p like it´s authoring tool; besides it´s completely free.

  3. Hi
    perhaps its worth you taking a look at one that has just recently been re-released after a makeover. eNetAuthor from eCom Scotland has many of the features you crave: xAPI and SCORM compliant, HTML5, SaaS, easy drag n drop authoring for the non techies and the ability to play with code and make things far more complex if you are.

  4. I would say that one of the main reasons the PowerPoint/slide format rapid authoring tools are popular is due to customer demand. With the ghigh volume of content development tools available on the market, developers are looking for interfaces that they are familiar with and also a short learning curve from a new template to published course.

    We all have PPT installed on our computers, most of us as default. Therefore the slide design format is embedded in our consciousness and I think it will be a while until we move away from this.

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