Course authoring tools are software programs used for developing e-learning content. These tools usually include the capabilities to build, edit and review e-learning content for deployment on an LMS. Often they have extended functionality that allows you to integrate multimedia, create responsive projects, and record simulations. Authoring tools have the ability to create a packaged output for uploading to an LMS. These tools were built with the specific purpose of content authoring in mind, meaning they are your best option when it comes to e-learning development. Choosing an authoring tool depends on what you want to achieve with your e-learning. Many factors should be considered; think about the functionality you need, the time you have available to implement development, and your budgetary limitations. The following are the most widely used authoring tools on the market today.

Adobe Captivate

Adobe Captivate is known for its broad functionality, with a reputation for being less user-friendly compared to other authoring tools. Being borne out of the Adobe suite means it is easier for veteran Adobe users to pick up and learn. Captivate allows for access to system variables, which gives you access to manipulate almost all features of your content. Captivate is currently leading the way when it comes to responsive mobile design. It allows you to preview tablet and mobile versions of content, and edit accordingly. It is currently the only authoring tool offering geolocation┬áservices, allowing you to deliver timely, location-aware content. Its screen recording functionality makes it a winner for creating software simulations. If you are a Mac user, this is the only authoring tool listed that works natively on mac – Lectora and Storyline require windows. If you are considering Captivate, take out a free trial first to come to grips with its (extensive) interface.

Articulate Storyline

If you are comfortable using MS PowerPoint, and you wish to minimize the time spent learning a tool, then Storyline is for you. In addition to its user-friendly reputation, Articulate E-learning Heroes community offers a wealth of knowledge exchange and support. It is super easy to add interactions and control variables – making e-learning look appealing with minimal effort. If you need complex branching of content, then JavaScript can be integrated to achieve this. There is a trade-off between ease of use and ability to manipulate the finer aspects of content. Unlike Captivate there is no available access to system variables. This can prove difficult when trying to manipulate the finer aspects of course material. Storyline is somewhat behind when it comes to responsive mobile design. Sure, if you include the HTML output it will shrink to fit smaller screens. Unlike Captivate you won’t be able to preview mobile versions of slides, nor will you be able to edit the appearance of rescaled slides. If you want a rapid authoring tool that is easy to use, and you don’t foresee yourself requiring complex functionality, then this is the tool for you.

Lectora Inspire

Lectora has a reputation for being similar to PowerPoint while having a host of powerful functions and quiz options. Unlike Storyline, every element of the player is customizable. It surpasses the competition when it comes to quizzing. Quiz questions are automatically added as variables, giving you many options for your answer-types. Its community is in its infancy stages, but growing fast. The latest version now offers responsive design for mobile and tablet devices. Like Storyline, HTML output allows for mobile viewing. Lectora is middle of the road when it comes to usability, and offers a wide range of powerful functionality. Lectora also has a cloud authoring option, Lectora online, which is more competitively priced, offers Mac compatibility and the ability for online collaboration. This may be a more suitable option if you will not miss the offline capabilities of desktop installed software.


When choosing a course authoring software, take out a free trial to assess its usability and functionality. Assess whether the authoring tool is able to meet your needs. Query whether the provider offers output files in a common file format, such as HTML5. You will also need to know if available outputs (e.g. SCORM 2004) are compatible with your LMS. Check out the templates, animation and graphics capabilities. Note how easy or difficult it is to learn. If your learners are using mobile or tablets to take training, check if it allows for scalability and responsive design. Investigate what kind of support is available if you have a question or run into an error. Take a look at the online forums to see what issues are frequently reported and whether community managers offer sufficient help. You may have other factors that are important for achieving your e-learning objectives. The key is to establish these early in the development process so that selecting an authoring tool is as straightforward as possible.

What experiences have you had with these course authoring tools? Is there a useful tool you think we should review? What advice would you give to a first-timer searching for the right course authoring software? Leave a comment below or tweet us @Firmwater.