Why You Need an Authoring Tool

Jill W.

Do you need an efficient way to develop a batch of online courses? Have a stack of old Flash or PowerPoint-based learning content that has to be updated? Need to make your eLearning more accessible? If any of these problems look familiar, an authoring tool could be the solution. Let's take a look at what an authoring tool can do for you.

What is an authoring tool?

At its most basic, an eLearning authoring tool is an application for building eLearning courses and content. Many include a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) interface similar to a word processor or Microsoft PowerPoint. Content developers can use the interface to:

  • Place and format text
  • Add graphics and video
  • Build quizzes and an assortment of pre-programmed interactions, such as graphic hotspots and drag-and-drop exercises

Completed files are published in a variety of formats, usually including international standards like SCORM or xAPI (Tin Can). which can be uploaded into a compatible learning management system (LMS).

Authoring tools offer many advantages (and a few disadvantages) for eLearning development. Is an authoring tool what you need to streamline development and solve your eLearning problems?

Eight things an authoring tool can do for you

1. Improve the efficiency of eLearning development, saving you time and money

The right authoring tool will cut down, or cut out, the coding phase of eLearning development, allowing instructional designers and content developers to produce LMS-ready modules. No more sending off your storyboards into the black hole of IT development, where they compete for the attention of a programmer with other projects and priorities.

According to Christopher Pappas, "The idea behind rapid eLearning authoring tools isn't just to do things faster. It's to optimize online training resources and save time while still ensuring quality." eLearning creators can focus on their area of expertise, the learning, without trying to learn programming or communicate their ideas and intentions to IT. Programmers can focus on building something new or exceptional instead of recreating common interactions and standard layouts on screen after screen.

This brings us to one of the possible disadvantages of authoring tools. While they may provide a wide range of templates, layouts and interactions, there's a limit to what they can offer. This shouldn't be a problem if your goal is to produce a high volume of learning material with standard formats, but if you're looking to generate a creative, high-end product with new or unusual features, an off-the-shelf authoring tool won't be sufficient on its own.  However, it does have value. An authoring tool can be used for standard or repetitive elements while your programming resources are dedicated to building the unique.

2. Automate the conversion of legacy content into updated formats

Keeping up with the latest technological developments can be a challenge. Some authoring tools are designed to simplify the process, with the ability to import and convert older files. Flash can be converted into HTML5 or a series of PowerPoint slides into a screen-by-screen eLearning module. Once converted, the right tool will allow you to update and edit your new courses as well.

3. Add interactivity to make your courses more engaging

When you want to make that PowerPoint deck you just converted to a SCORM module more engaging, you can use the interactions offered by your authoring tool to liven things up. Quizzes, drag-and-drop exercises, hotspots and even full-on gamification are available with some tools. For more information about authoring tool interactivity, check out Creating Interactions with your Authoring Tool.

While authoring tools aren't as versatile as a live programmer, high-end custom programming may not be in your budget. Authoring tools can give you access to a wide range of interactions -- without the programmer.

4. Make your eLearning more accessible

There's no excuse for inaccessible eLearning. Online developers should be familiar with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and their guidelines for web content and authoring tool accessibility. Additionally, many jurisdictions are implementing accessibility requirements for corporate and government-related projects.

Many authoring tools have accessibility features such as alt tabs, captions and alternative navigation options. Tips for Designing Accessible eLearning will help you decide how to use them. Some tools take their commitment to accessibility a step further, offering settings that will enable accessible features and disable inaccessible ones to facilitate your eLearning development.

5. Incorporate organizational branding

Organizations put a great deal of effort (and money) into developing and promoting their branding, and their training should reflect it. Many authoring tools allow you to apply corporate colors and logos to your content.

6. Facilitate collaboration

How many people does it take to develop a learning resource? Between instructional designers, subject matter experts (SMEs), validators and whoever else has a stake in the project, it can be a challenge to keep track of all the contributions and comments.

The solution to this problem might be an authoring tool with collaboration features. Cloud-based tools often allow multiple people in different locations to log in and review content. Some also allow collaborators to make comments and tracked changes for others to review.

7. Manage localization or internationalization

The right authoring tool can make all the difference when you need to publish localized content or different language options. One common feature is an import/export function that captures all course text - including captions and all those little items that are so easy to overlook when capturing text manually - for translation. Another feature to look for is the ability to offer different versions of a course, based on either a user's location or their choice.

Take a moment to check out some of the ways an authoring tool can facilitate translation at 3 Authoring Tools for Easier and Faster Course Translations.

8. Build courses that work on any device with responsive design

Responsive design has been an active concern in eLearning for several years now. With users accessing content on phones, computers and tablets, it's necessary to build content that looks as good, and works as well, on a 5.8-inch screen as a 27-inch monitor. it. Instead of devoting considerable IT and design resources to the issue, select one of today's responsive authoring tools and "you only have to create an app once, and it will automatically fit comfortably in any standard device, such as smartphones, tablets, and web browsers".


Where are the hitches in your eLearning development process? If you need to improve the efficiency of your development process, update legacy content, add interactivity, accessibility or branding, ease the struggle of collaboration or translation or build courses for mobile consumption, an authoring tool might be just what you're looking for. How can they smooth out your development process?

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Jill W.

Jill is an Instructional Designer at BaseCorp Learning Systems with more than 10 years of experience researching, writing and designing effective learning materials. She is fascinated by the English language and enjoys the challenge of adapting her work for different audiences. After work, Jill continues to leverage her professional experience as she works toward the development of a training program for her cats. So far, success has not been apparent.