After a whirlwind week that for many of us has left an indelible mark of uneasiness and concern, we all need a little good cheer.

Sure we could ask Santa to make a special emergency delivery. We could inquire why Black Friday or Cyber Monday is always after Thanksgiving. Heck, we could even demand that for this year it starts like today.

In the name of fellowship and bringing all of us around the world together, now more than ever before, the calling out of THE TOP PICKS of E-LEARNING 2016 is the first step (okay, maybe not the first step, but for this post..)

I bring you my top picks for a wide swath of products on the online learning space.

Please hold your applause until after the winners are announced.  If you have jeers, keep them to yourself, seriously.

Best Web Conferencing Tool

Uberconference.  I use this product on a daily basis and it packs a wallop.

No Pin required to access the session (for users).  Offers a 1-800 number for a small additional fee. Includes VOIP that I find crystal clear.

Ability to include your conference information within Gmail, Outlook, and other e-mail providers when you schedule a session. 

Can go real-time too.  Can show your Linkedin profile or Google+ profile. HD Audio. Mobile apps. Cool hold time music. Video with web cam is tight.

Ideal for SMB in my opinion.  I’ve tried a lot of web conferencing tools and this one finally delivers. 

Best Authoring Tool

dominKnow Claro.  Back to the top after a few years out.  They call themselves publishing platform, but first and foremost it is an authoring tool.  Whether you are a newbie or an advanced designer, there is something for you here.

Big Wins.  SaaS. Mobile apps (on/off synch app if you so choose).  Publish HTML5 courses.

Uses intelligence components for content authoring with dynamic themes that take care of the details for you. Ability to use, re-use assets i.e. reusable learning objects.

Publish directly to an LMS and LRS if you so choose. Course standards include xAPI and PENS, besides the standards of SCORM. 

Responsive with side by side live preview where you are able to continue editing. Multi-authoring which allows people anywhere to work on the same page of a course.

A majority of authoring tools offer multi-authoring but the difference is that the authors cannot work on the same page at the same time.

Asset library, themes, and the usual fare is included. 

I will say that I’m not a fan of the analytics angle because it opens up the approach that you could use the system in a somewhat manner of an LCMS or mini LMS (many SaaS authoring tools follow that path – and I dislike that too).

Best Course Marketplace

Open Sesame.  The approach is rather simple. Scope out and search for courses. Buy a course and shove err stick it into your LMS. 

Has a lot of courses available. The courses come from an extensive list of providers.  Some you may have heard of, others you likely haven’t.

Are all the courses awesome in design? No, but then again, this is an issue with many course providers including Lynda.com and Skillsoft. 

Another common problem among the course aggregators and providers, the lack of cleaning up. 

In other words, there are plenty of outdated courses and ones that really are dullsville.  As noted earlier, I see this with a lot course providers (and aggregators) including Lynda.com, Skillsoft and even the MOOC freebies via Coursera (for example).

Course categories include business skills, compliance, certifications, industry-specific.

They have partnerships with a few LMS vendors whereas you can purchase their courses via that LMS.  I am aware of at least one vendor who includes five courses at no additional charge into their LMS.

Reportedly working on AR and VR courses (although at the present time, and I have not been able to validate exactly the specifics nor design or testing).

Best Custom Course Provider from an LMS Vendor

Unicorn Training.

This is somewhat okay a lot different than going to say a boutique custom course development shop or a course development shop.  There are LMS vendors (including various subsets) that will build custom courses for you, regardless if you are a client or not.

Big Wins.  Can build very cool simulations that are interactive and engaging. Ability to create game-based learning including courses on mobile devices.

Video-based courses too and yes, video mobile apps (offering a lot of cool options for content).  Builds courses across many industries including Financial Services, Healthcare, Technology, Broadcasting and yes even K-12 and higher education. 

Oh and for those wondering they have a Top five LMS for 2017.

Best Low Cost and Easy to use Video Capture, Editing software – It’s a Tie

SmartPixel

I’d go with the video suite because it includes audio capabilities too.  A big challenge for me with video tools isn’t so much the capturing piece but the editing functionality and ease of use. 

Some tools are really robust but if you have to spend a lot of time figuring out how to use the darn thing, then what’s the point.

Can capture and edit video on Windows, iOS (Apple) and Android. Social Sharing on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. Output 720HD.

The Pro version removes the watermark, gives you personalized settings and HD enhancements. The cost for Lifetime is about $63 per computer.  For one year per computer it is around $16 USD.

And the other Top Pick

I personally use Screenpresso.

It is strong enough for me and has the ability to not only save images as all do, but you can created HD video and you share your images not only with Facebook, Twitter but also Flickr, Imgur too. 

The sweet spot for me is the ability to publish (i.e. push out) to Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, Evernote, OneNote, YouTube and send to folks via e-mail or FTP.

For mobile fans, you can get it with iOS for your smartphone or tablet.  Oh and Android too.

The image below showing off Lightworks was used with Screenpresso.

Price: $23.98 per user, perpetual license. For companies – unlimited users, $1,890, perpetual license. 

I will say I used to be a big fan of SnagIt but no more.

The change in the design with the big red button for one of the capture options is annoying. I equally hate the profiles piece where the defaults on items such as capture region are nonsensical.  I had to go into the profile to include a hotkey that made sense. 

Best Video capture, editing tool for online learning

Techsmith Camtasia

Top of the product line when it comes to video capture, editing and well, video course builds from an output standpoint.

What it is missing is the conversion to SCORM 1.2, which some LMS vendors offer when you upload your video. 

Then again, you are unable to do video bookmarking, so chapter challenges still exist.

Anyway, feature rich.  I will say that the ‘green screen’ feature never seems to work for me. It looks cool and all, but you may want to get your own actual green screen and go that route. 

For those folks who want a serious video editor with enough oomph to make you go wowsa, but are not interested in say an Adobe Premiere (personally, I’d avoid it), you have a few options.

Here is my top pick

Lightworks

lightworks

Non-linear editing at its finest.  They offer a free version and a paid version. The free is slick, the paid is rock n roll awesome.

This editing solution is not for beginners, although if you are willing to learn how to use the product and have patience, you can do damage in a good way.

The tool was used for the King’s Speech – which shows you the power and flexibility.

Outputs include AVID DNxHD, AVCHD, MOV, MXF, AVI. 

You can export in MPEG-4 for web, YouTube, Vimeo distribution and yes, for your own courses in an LMS, which accepts MPEG-4 and most do.  Resolution wise 4K is doable.

Price Points:  Free, for Paid:  They offer month license (which is good for a month), yearly and Outright license.  Yearly and Outright include Boris FX – which rocks too. 

Yearly per activation: $174. 99,  Outright, which never expires:  $437.99 per activation.

End result – Price wise it is hard to beat for what you get.  As someone who was a big AVID user back in the day (elite non-linear editor), Lightworks is an ideal solution for those of us who always wanted something similar for home, but couldn’t afford their own system.

Create courses with PowerPoint and have an Assessment tool too

iSpring Suite

Studio is a very nice product when it comes to creating courses with PowerPoint, but to me, the one that is often overlooked is iSpring.

Features include ribbon style similar to PowerPoint, screen recording/capture, assessment tool, character library, ability to create video lectures and works with any mobile device.  Plus it is mobile responsive.

Price Point: One license is $697 USD.  Three licenses are $1,986 USD. They also offer a five license package. 

A huge minus to me is there “maintenance plan”, which is another way of saying support that includes updates, priority email and phone, dedicated support analyst (whatever that is), case analysis and new feature request prioritization. 

Standard offers yearly updates and general support. 

For all that other stuff you have to go with Premium (doesn’t include that new feature request thing and no dedicated support analyst) or Dedicated – which gives you everything. 

I should note that for the first year, you get complimentary maintenance, which includes some of their items, but not everything.  Pricing is unknown after that.

Personally, it should be about $50 for updates, support.  Anything higher for that basics – over priced.  But that is just my take.

Bottom Line

Well, those are my top picks. Some are sure to surprise.

I declined to include a standalone assessment tool and general e-learning tools as there are plenty of sites that list the best or offer them as top tier. 

I wanted to go out of the box for some of the best picks, not the typical fare for certain e-learning items such as the custom course development by LMS vendor, course marketplace, video editing options and so forth.

Take a dive and explore.

You might be surprised.

At least, during these challenging times,

Intrigued.

E-Learning 24/7

I do not collect any affiliate dollars, nor any quid pro quo.  Totally independent here and I get nothing in return for my listings.  This is the way it should be and as anyone knows, this is the way, I always go.

Next week will be the Top 10 Authoring Tools for 2016, and as you can see Claro is listed number one.

Who are the others to join the rankings? A couple of hints – Storyline 2, Lectora Online.

Double secret Bonus – In 2 weeks, Review of Storyline 360.