By Craig Weiss

Top 10 Authoring Tools for 2017

Before we dive into this year’s top 10 authoring tools,  a funny thing happened to me this week – rib injury.  As a result a delay in the post and up front apology for that.  Anyone who has hurt a rib, knows the thrill of agony from it.  Wide World of Sports couldn’t pull a thrill from defeat from this one.

Ok, with that being done, let me list the vendors who are in the final ten and then break it all down for you.   Here they are in no particular order.

Rather than re-hash a variety of features and functionality, what I decided to do this year, is to base my rankings on the following (and yes, UI/UX is in there, along with functionality, but explaining functionality in deep dive in blog..)

a. Ease of use.  How easy is it to create a course?  I looked at it from two perspectives.  One – Beginner, newbie – has to create a course quickly (sadly very common today in the industry and the ones who lose out? Your learners).  Two – Someone with an ID background, or has gone experienced but does not have ID background.

b. UI/UX –  Has to deliver.   I saw a lot of products who had a nice front UI, but when you dug deeper the “ribbon” per se, was outdated.  

c. Online or desktop.  Sorry, we are on the go today, more than ever before; folks tell me they have to create courses everywhere, not just at the workplace.  Every other e-learning tool today has higher SaaS than one sector – authoring tools.  It has to change.

d. Functionality – What can the tool do?  What features make it standout from other authoring tools?  If a PPT course tool – what can it do that others in that niche can’t?  Nomenclature – are they using the appropriate terms for course building or have then gone rogue with “slides” – which seriously prior to Studio, was never used as a course term.  In Rise for example they call them “lessons”, which are chapters – the appropriate term. Lessons? Are you serious?

e. Mobile –  Everyone says they are responsive, but are they really?  Have they removed the widths to be truly responsive?  I reached out to folks seeking their opinons on the various authoring tools (using specific tools) for their take.  I also tested myself.

Along with mobile, HTML5 is is truly HTML5?  Publish to xAPI – does it work with your LMS?

f. Other.  Assets, resources, library?  Unique feature items that make sense?  That whole adaptive learning thing you hear pitched from vendors is somewhat misleading.  Great pitch especially for the holy grail for course building, but does it work as it claims to?  Without any assistance from the person building the course in the first place? 


Every vendor here scored a minimum of a B.  Yes that was the baseline.  The gap is continuing between outstanding to good, from good to average and average to poor.  How many people are using your tool is irrelevant to me.  Offer it free, and yeah people will use it.  Price plays a role with many people.  Reputation does too.  But as an analyst, I ignore reputation and price.  Not relevant to me. 

Building a robust course that is interactive and engaging (at least doable), is more so.   Micro-learning or micro learning (both are appropriate terms – I prefer micro-learning) not relevant.  You could have built micro courses in the late 90’s.  

Minimum level of Experience Needed to build a course


* Yes you can create a quick course here, since SL3 has features to build a PPT course.   But to me, if you want to push the product to its full potential, experienced level and ID is recommended.

ID recommended (Instructional design background, e-learning developer, or someone who has hit the experience proficiency of building a course). 

This level can build a very interactive course, and are ones who could use the tool for creating extensive courses either as a 3rd party shop – which I know many do – or otherwise.  Can you create this level of a course with the “beginner” noted ones?  In a couple you can (SL3, Gomo – to a certain point). 


The Final Rankings (from ten down)

10. iSpring 8.7

9.  Smartbuilder

8. SHIFT (please, change your name)

7. Branchtrack – Branchtrack lets folks know that they play well within Lectora Online.   I can see it as a component of your tool set for building courses.

6. Adobe Captivate

The Final Five

5. Lectora Online – I do have concerns that they are driven more still by desktop, despite years of saying they are committed more to LO.  Either you are or you are not. That said, LO can do more IMO than the desktop.

4. Evolve Authoring –  You can do a bit here, I love that it can also be part of your toolbox with other authoring tools, a nice compliment.  That says flexibility to me, which will be essential in 2018. 

3.  (Bronze) Storyline 3 –  Lots to like here, but that mobile responsive with the player is still questionable, does not support right to left, desktop tool.  I often hear people tell me that SL3 is SaaS based.  It’s not.  What you can do though after building the course is uploading it into Rise from AC360.  

Sidebar: Take on AC360

As for AC360 my sense is that down the road, Studio will go away and AC360 will replace it, with Rise doing a lot more or perhaps a new component as part of AC360 having enough Studio features in it.  In fact, Rise has quite a bit IMO.  Anytime a vendor does a comparison between their own tools, uh, that is a red flag, especially if they are pushing one more so than the other, and they do – with AC360.  Oh, for those that wonder, yes Studio is part of AC360 but again as a download which they refer to as an app.  What I am saying is see ya on Studio and replace totally with Rise or another “new component” of AC360, thus solving the cloud based issue of Studio. 

2.  (Silver) Gomo Learning –  Not a fan of the LRS in an authoring tool, when there are so many other items you could have to make, uh, a greater authoring tool.  You can keep your courses/content on Gomo and then push them directly into your learning system OR you can download the courses in their respective course standard wrappers and upload them into your learning system. Supports PENS.

1. (GOLD) dominKnow –  So much to like here.   Everyone can do collaboration and peer review, but what if you could gain insights into what each author is doing in real time?  Who is spending X time and how much time on a page or pages or course for example? Themes can be switched at any time. Custom trigger statements is a huge win.   You can send xAPI and SCORM at the same time, send xAPI data to multiple LRSs at the same time too. You have a choice – either keep the courses on their servers OR you can download them in their wrapper and upload into your LMS.  Supports PENS too.  Lastly, supports folks who have MAC OS.  I know cloud based tools will always say they do, but I have found mixed results. 

Bottom Line

There they are – this year’s top ten authoring tools for building courses or the term now being used – “content”.

You may disagree.

Just as you may agree. 

But as someone who self-taught themselves ID so many years ago, you can achieve quite a bit with any authoring tool on the market, even some rapid content authoring tools.

The key is what do you want to achieve?

And who is/are building the courses that your learners/students will see?

Because at the end of it all,

If the courses are boring or static, no matter how great your learning system is,

People won’t return.

Ever again.

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