7 Questions You Need To Ask When Choosing An Authoring Tool
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7 Key Considerations When Choosing An Authoring Tool

Finding any tool to help you requires some thought about your business needs. Technology is only as useful as it’s users, so before you start looking for an authoring tool, be sure to create your 'shopping list', that is a list of things your authoring tool will need to fit in with your eLearning team and end users. Once you’ve got this on paper, it’s time to start looking for an authoring tool. We’ve come down to the top 7 questions you should definitely ask before choosing your perfect authoring tool.

1. How Easy Is The Authoring Tool To Use?

Authoring tools that are complicated and hard to use can waste the author’s time and cause stress rather than support. According to Towards Maturity’s Benchmark Report, 66% of organizations struggle to build teams of employees that have the necessary skills to use authoring tools effectively.

It’s important to weigh up the results of an authoring tool and the ease of use. Key questions you need to ask yourself when choosing your authoring tool include:

  • How easy will this be to use to create out the box designs?
  • How easy is it to achieve higher end results?
  • What support is available to help us get there?

For example, there’s no point having an authoring tool that offers amazing features and delivers amazing results but is super complicated to the point where no one can use it. Unless, of course, their support and training are so good that it helps you beat the learning curve quickly.

It will also be valuable to think about how easy the simple things are once you’re all set up. How easy will carrying out reviews, making edits and commenting be? Is it a collaborative authoring tool or will people have to work on projects separately? The above has all to do with the ease of use, but you should also think about whether there is support out there to really make the most of the authoring tool.

2. How Efficient Is The Authoring Tool?

Evaluating how efficient the authoring tool is will help you assess whether it can help your team meet targets with the resources they have available. Look at what features each authoring tool has, and find out how the tool makes high-scale production more efficient. Ask yourself what features will support you when you need to duplicate content and reuse interfaces, layouts and whole projects.

Being able to create variations of your courses will also be an important element of an authoring tool. If you’re operating in different countries around the world, look at whether you can translate into multiple languages and if so, into which ones? You should also check whether you can create variations of the same course for different customers and whether the authoring tool can handle bulk asset uploads and management.

It’s also important to question the limitations the authoring tool has. No authoring tool is perfect, but you can compare the pros and cons of each one to find out which is best for you. Look at the limits to the number or size of a project and how many authors can work in the tool at any one time. It is important to be aware of what the authoring tool can’t do as much as what it can do.

3. Is The Authoring Tool Cloud-Based Or Desktop-Based?

Desktop-based authoring tools need to be downloaded and installed on a secure computer. With desktop-based tools, software updates will also need to be installed as and when they are necessary. Alternatively, cloud-based authoring tools are more secure and this means that the authoring tool is held centrally and is accessible to all your authors wherever they are, as the latest version.

The pros of having a cloud-based authoring tool are that projects can be worked on by a number of authors, making the tool very collaborative. With a desktop authoring tool, authors will need to store their images and videos on their desktops and then upload them into the courses they’re working on each time, which can be a little more time-consuming.

Look for tools that have inbuilt review features so you can suggest changes in the app easily. To learn more then take a look at our article on the pros and cons of cloud-based vs. desktop-based learning topic.

4. What Technical Capabilities Do I Need?

When picking an authoring tool, you need to know that it aligns with your technical needs. Looking at things like integration and data management will ensure you pick an authoring tool that integrates with the systems you need it to now and in the future. Ask yourself how the authoring tool will present data to help you understand successes and present results to stakeholders.

In terms of integration, it’s good to know what LMS you’re using and whether the authoring tool integrates effectively with the required platforms. Find out if the tool needs an LMS or platform in order to publish content and whether it’s xAPI enabled or SCORM compliant.

Another technical element to consider is data. How does the authoring tool gather, store and present back data? Does it need downloading and manual manipulation of data or is it self-sufficient? Looking at what data it collects and presents is important when considering which authoring tool is right for you.

5. What Does The Output Of The Tool Look Like From An End User's Perspective?

Some providers won’t offer you examples of the output you can expect, and this can be risky. Be sure to know exactly what you’re expecting your tool to produce before investing. It’s important to experience the authoring tool from the end users’ point of view and get a realistic idea of what you can expect it to do. Check through the output examples and interact with them. How do they look, feel, and how usable are they?

Think about what kind of output the tool produces out-of-the-box, and how easy it will be to get the tool to do exactly what you need it to. Perhaps you need a certain type of design approach? If so, look at what specialist area the tool has, and try to find examples of whether the authoring tool has created something similar in the past. Below are some quality controls you can check for.

Specialist areas to look out for:

  • Ability to embed and use videos and audio
  • Personalization features
  • Gamification features
  • Ability to create immersive scenarios and branching
  • A range of ways to 'score' and track learning
  • Social elements, such as social polling
  • Ability to animate content
  • Ability to create custom layouts, navigation devices, interactions, templates

6. How Does It Help Us Future Proof Our Content?

If you’re investing in an authoring tool, you want to know that it will be easy enough to update and maintain. Look at how easy it is to update the tool and whether you can quickly make changes to the project. Make sure that nothing is disturbed when you update a project, as, sometimes, less sophisticated authoring tools will have problems with users and data streams whilst updating. This is not ideal, so be sure to understand how things are affected during a project update.

Find out about the editing process and how quick and easy it is to publish and re-publish content. You may also want to consider whether this is the right tool for you long term. Based on where you see yourself in the future, how easy will this tool be to take it with you and continue to use as you develop and grow?

7. Is There Support?

A big thing to consider is the level of support you’ll get. You’re buying a tool, but the people behind that authoring tool will help you get the most out of it. Make sure the people you’re dealing with are reliable, trustworthy and helpful. You want to ensure that the people you’ll be dealing with are supportive and will help you understand what the tool is capable of.

Look into who the company is and where they came from. Asking whether there will be people on hand to help you will be really helpful in the future, as often people assume that support will be available but that’s not always the case. Be sure that they have dedicated customer service and support that will help you put your authoring tool investment to good use.

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