Elearning authoring tools: comparison of 7 major authoring tools [2021 update]
The eLearning Authoring Tool market is varied, with a potentially confusing range of options. Unfortunately, no one tool will do everything—so it helps to break down which authoring tools best fit which use-cases. In this article, we look at seven of the main players, their key features, strengths, weaknesses, and the users who will benefit most from them.
What are you looking for in a content authoring tool?
Before diving into our full eLearning authoring tool comparison, it’s critical to map out your needs to determine the features that are most relevant to you and your organization.
Alongside the abilities of a tool, your content development outcomes are dependent on everything from the people creating the content, to how the audience will consume that content and how complex the learning message is. You should have the following requirements in mind:
Ease of use
- What is your technical expertise?
- What is the technical expertise of your team? (And what do you want the answer to the question to be in the long term?)
- How much time do you have to train and onboard everyone?
- Do you need to create simple eLearning content in order to train your audience, or is something more complex required?
- How much content do you need to produce?
- Do you need multiple authors to work on a piece, or is working one at a time viable?
- Are learners limited to specific device types, or do you need to deliver learning to any device, anywhere?
- Does content need to be delivered in different languages?
For more information about defining your authoring needs, look no further than our ‘From Tool Selection to Measurement’ ebook which also covers how to get the most out of your budget, and how to introduce a new tool.
1. Gomo Learning: Easy-to-use cloud authoring with depth
Launched in 2014, Gomo was one of the first tools created to move eLearning authoring software towards responsive HTML5 content authored and delivered in the cloud. Gomo creates fantastic looking content regardless of the device it appears on. Furthermore, the content creation process is easy, flexible, and collaborative thanks to its cloud-based nature.
Gomo’s six years on the market give it advantages in terms of the depth of its feature set. For example, Gomo’s potential for customization tends to put it ahead of other cloud-based tools that have more limited customization features, or features that are slightly more difficult to use.
It takes no time at all to learn how to use Gomo to create eLearning courses, and contributor SMEs who have a more fleeting relationship with the software find the features they need very easy to use. At the same time, Gomo has greater scope for mastery.
Gomo’s maturity ensures that it has several unique features. A good example of this is the Gomo LMS wrapper. A tiny SCORM file pointing at a Gomo-authored course, the wrapper can sidestep the usual re-upload process while still delivering courses within your learning management system. Drag and drop the file onto your LMS once and never touch it again—you’ll benefit from instant course updates and you will still be able to gather xAPI data via Gomo itself.
In a market where no tool does everything, the Gomo team has worked tirelessly to develop an offering that comes closest to providing everything your team needs.
Who is Gomo for?
The whole business. Power users will find a wide array of customization options, and the tool is easy enough for contributor SMEs to use. Gomo also provides ample space for novice instructional designers to become more skilled in their craft.
- Fully responsive and adaptive desktop and mobile learning
- Recently overhauled UI
- An evolved tool with a wide range of features
- Cloud-based—no software download necessary
- The Gomo LMS wrapper allows for instant updates within any delivery environment. This tiny file, which is just a few kilobytes, only needs to be uploaded once and allows full xAPI functionality
- Varied and highly customizable themes—without scripting requirements
- Full custom theme service also available
- A tool for the whole team—intuitive for SMEs to create and review content, without sacrificing powerful features for learning designers
- Analytics included as standard
- Full support for multi-language content and character sets
- Not really viable for click-through style systems training—no screen capture functionality
- No extreme-fine detail control—designers who obsess over pixel-perfect positioning or complex scripted animations will have to work within some minor, easy-to-adapt-to constraints.
2. Adapt: Open-source freedom for learning dev agencies
Adapt is an open-source alternative for the eLearning authoring tools market, offering cloud-based course editing. Not uncommonly, open-source is something of a double-edged sword. On the positive side, many of Adapt’s contributors are learning designers with relevant experience of desirable interactions and features. Provided you have advanced programming skills, you can change how Adapt handles interactions via the Adapt Framework.
This, however. leads us to the negatives of Adapt. It is, first and foremost, an eLearning aficionado's tool, and is less workable as an enterprise solution. Other authoring tool options are simply more user-friendly and tuned to the requirements of the general user.
One concession that Adapt makes to lesser skilled users is a lite mode that keeps certain more complex features locked down. It’s also possible to buy ‘hosted’ versions of the tool. These offer some level of customer support on a budget. However, by going this route, you’re getting a basic version of the tool without the ability to dive into the Framework—arguably the main reason for choosing Adapt.
Who is Adapt for?
Adapt is most commonly a tool used in-house by learning development agencies, who have the skillsets to exploit the Framework’s customization potential. Use by client L&D departments is less common.
- Available for free (typically only used in-house by design agencies)
- Highly experienced developers can dive into the framework behind the tool and create complex custom eLearning interactions and layouts
- Open-source community of designers
- Paid (but cheap) “hosted” versions available with support (but limited features and no access to Adapt Framework)
- Responsive course output
- Updates must be manually implemented on the free version, sometimes slow to arrive for paid versions
- Weak, non-visual UI with form-based creation
- Requires a skilled developer to achieve results
- Designed by designers for designers—there’s a risk that non-designers may get lost
3. Adobe Captivate: Legacy desktop authoring
In the public conscience, there are perhaps two sides to Adobe: There’s the Adobe of Adobe Creative Suite/Cloud fame, regarded as an industry leader and innovator in all areas of design. Then there’s the Adobe of Adobe Flash fame, regarded as a creator of once-innovative then bloated standards that linger a little past their sell-by date.
Adobe Captivate exists at the intersection of these Adobes: Captivate is fundamentally a once-powerful Flash and desktop-only tool with a wide range of concessions to modern eLearning retrofitted onto it.
You can use it to build mobile-compatible online courses, but the process is more cumbersome than a truly responsive solution. It is HTML5 compatible, but this can be buggy considering everything was programmed with Flash in mind. There are no cloud features, so no simultaneous editing and review. New features such as VR, and mobile geolocation have been added, but the tool is quite complex to use overall.
Regardless of its viability for new projects, Captivate’s long legacy ensures that it remains in the picture. Organizations with large amounts of old training content to maintain get a lot of use out of it.
Who is Adobe Captivate for?
Captivate was once a dominant force in eLearning design and it remains in the toolkit of anyone who has to maintain legacy projects. It still has some strengths in systems training.
Adobe Captivate strengths
- Screen capture and software simulation features are good for systems training
- Familiar for a large number of veteran designers
- Support for mobile and VR-based interaction types (geolocation, tilt, touch, head-tracking)
Adobe Captivate weaknesses
- Complex and difficult to attain proficiency in
- Limited support
- No cloud functionality: no simultaneous editing/QA, no shared asset pool, difficulties with version control
- Desktop-first approach to responsive design—move elements around for tablet and smartphone versions after the fact
- Originally built for Flash—HTML5 support has been retrofitted and is buggy as a result
4 & 5. Articulate 360: Two solid tools that may force you to compromise
Articulate was relatively late to the responsive, cloud-authoring game—Articulate Rise, until recently only available as part of the Articulate 360 package—was released in 2016. Meanwhile, their legacy product, Articulate Storyline, stood toe-to-toe with Adobe Captivate.
Storyline is a valued tool in terms of customization options. It allows for a degree of fine-detail control, though the skill requirement is also substantial. Furthermore, these customization options do not stretch to creating mobile content. Storyline remains a desktop-focused tool and it simply scales content on mobile. This makes all mobile content difficult to use and not especially attractive.
Rise is in some ways a polar opposite product to Storyline. It works on any device, but it offers less customization than its competitors and isn’t remotely comparable to the customizability of Storyline. It looks slick, but it has some way to go before it’s particularly versatile.
The bundling of Rise and Storyline as Articulate 360 promises to offer the best of both worlds, but the jury’s still out because there’s very little that brings those worlds together. Though you can import Storyline interactions into Rise, they are subject to the same mobile limitations.
In this way, the Articulate 360 package offers two solid but contrasting products that may leave you wishing for a single tool that fell somewhere in the middle, or one that combines the best features of both.
Who is Articulate Storyline for?
Designers who don’t care about mobile, want to create something especially complex, and have access to uppermost-tier graphic design skills. Also one of the best options for anyone who needs screen recording/systems training (where multi-device isn’t required).
Who is Articulate Rise for?
Because of its ease of use and appealing (but limited) output, Rise is good for novices, or designers working on relatively simple briefs. So long as you’re not worried about achieving anything too different, it’s ideal. The wider business will also find it easy to use.
Articulate 360 strengths
- (Storyline): Legacy option that veteran learning designers are familiar with
- (Storyline): A range of design possibilities within a desktop-only context
- (Storyline): Well-established community
- (Rise): Easy to use and generates simple courses
- (Rise): Responsive course output
- (Rise): Screencasting available
- (Rise): Cloud-based updates, collaboration, and review
Articulate 360 weaknesses
- Having both Storyline and Rise doesn’t get you the best of both worlds. You must choose to use one or the other and deal with the associated compromises
- (Storyline): Highly complex—needs a veteran designer to exploit its full potential
- (Storyline): Desktop-only design—very limited support for mobile
- (Storyline): Weak collaboration options—another desktop-only legacy
- (Rise): Newness of the tool means very limited feature-set compared to other cloud-based tools
- (Rise): Theme customization is very limited, leading to very generic-looking outputs
- (Rise): No support for multi-language content
6. Elucidat: Another cloud-based tool
Elucidat is another cloud-based, responsive authoring tool and users can expect a lot of the associated features: multiple users working simultaneously in the cloud on a single piece of work and responsive design that works on every device.
Elucidat offers a visual editor and version control features among the cloud-collaboration features common to other tools.
Like any user interface, how favorably Elucidat’s WYSIWYG approach compares to competitors will vary from person to person, but the use of pen icons to demonstrate that fields are editable may undermine the efficiency of the design for some. This approach to editing also has the side-effect of burying more advanced features in the tool, so that while the output is more customizable than Articulate Rise, getting your desired results is easier elsewhere.
Who is Elucidat for?
Elucidat is another cloud-based tool with a simple environment that SMEs can work in while still offering customization options for power users, as long as they are prepared to dig for them.
- Typical cloud-based benefits—collaborative creation and review
- Responsive course output
- Learning analytics dashboard
- Version control
- WYSIWYG editor
- Learning curve for more advanced features—harder to achieve customization than competitors
- No scripting language or extreme fine-detail control over output
- Editor cluttered by unnecessary icons
- Expensive relative to its competitors
7. Lectora: Well established, with a steep learning curve
Another older tool that maintains a presence in the authoring tools market, Lectora has arguably done a little more to modernize than Adobe Captivate and Articulate Storyline. This comes in the form of Lectora Online, a cloud-based HTML5 version of the tool.
Lectora supports multiple editors in the cloud—something you won’t get in Adobe Captivate. And rather than handing off mobile design to an entirely different tool like Articulate Storyline does with Rise (and with significant limitations), Lectora is still a single package.
However, Lectora still suffers from the same sense of being an older tool dragged into the modern age that Adobe Captivate has. The design of the tool and its underlying code is still desktop first. For instance, while you can output your courses in responsive HTML5, you have to build the different layouts yourself. Newer tools do this for you.
Lectora also has a reputation for being among the more complex and less intuitive tools out there.
Who is Lectora for?
Power-user, learning design veterans who are already familiar with the tool and its intricacies or patient enough to learn.
Lectora Online strengths
- Has accumulated features through its many years on the market
- Allows for collaboration via the cloud
- Screen capture and simulation features
- PowerPoint import capability
Lectora Online weaknesses
- Complexity has risen with every new feature added over the years
- Ultimately a desktop tool accessed via web browser
- Unintuitive interface
- Not strictly “responsive”—desktop-first design requires designers to work on multiple versions of the same course to make mobile-compatible versions
At a glance—eLearning authoring tools comparison table
To assist you with your eLearning authoring tools comparison, please use the table below summarizing what each of the seven tools does, how easy it is to use some key points and who the typical user may be:
eLearning software name
How easy is it to use?
Who is it best suited for?
Cloud-based, responsive HTML5 authoring platform
Power-users and novice contributors
Open-source, responsive HTML5 authoring tool
Advanced users only (novice-friendly edit modes)
eLearning dev agencies
Desktop authoring tool. Can export HTML5, mobile
Anyone with legacy courses
Desktop, non-responsive authoring tool. Available in Articulate 360 authoring suite.
Power-user, learning design veterans
Cloud-based and responsive authoring tool. Also available in Articulate 360 authoring suite.
Novices, designers working on simple briefs
Cloud-based, responsive HTML5 authoring platform
Power-users and novice contributors
Cloud-delivered, desktop authoring tool. Can export responsive HTML5
Power-user, learning design veterans
Though there are many points of overlap, there are also many ways in which these authoring tools differ. Now you’ve seen our perspective on how seven of the biggest names in eLearning course authoring compare, we encourage you to find out about Gomo’s strengths for yourself using the links below.