What are eLearning authoring tools and how do they work?

What are eLearning authoring tools and how do they work?

15 May 2023

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In a world that is ever increasingly reliant on digital communication and tools, it’s important that as an employer or course provider, your course is accessible to as many potential learners as possible. With eLearning authoring tools and Learning Management Systems, your training can now digitally reach the entire globe. In this CPD article, we look at what eLearning authoring tools are as well as the benefits of using them for your organisation.

What is an eLearning authoring tool?

An eLearning authoring tool is a program designed to help develop eLearning courses. Authoring tools have predetermined elements, which the user can manipulate and change to suit their needs. They allow the user to export the content they create in different formats so they can distribute their course content to learners. An eLearning authoring tool can be a standalone product, or it can incorporated into your LMS (Learning Management System) to deliver to your learners.

What are the benefits of using an authoring tool?

The world of both work and learning has changed and more people are using online, digital technologies. Here are some of the benefits of using an eLearning authoring tool.

1. Anyone can create courses: Not every organisation employs an in-house developer or instructional designer. Authoring tools enable anyone in the organisation to piece together the course, without having coding or technical knowledge.

2. eLearning tools are cost effective: The ability to create digital courses without the need to hire a developer or designer will immediately cut costs for any organisation. Many authoring tools will allow you to upload your current training materials to their system, giving you a base to start from.

3. Allows the course content to be updated easily: Depending on what your course content is, it may be evergreen content or it may need to be updated every year, using an eLearning authoring tool will allow you to update sections of your course material as needed without having to start the entire course from scratch.

4. Customisable content: When using an eLearning authoring tool, you will be given the opportunity to customise the look and feel of your course to ensure your company branding is used throughout. Once this has been created for the first time, you can reuse this across multiple courses, or for tutorials for customers.

5. Scalability: Once your course has been created with an eLearning authoring tool, there is the potential to use it for any number of people. No photocopies, no handouts. Thousands of people could potentially access your course worldwide, more than you could ever train face to face.

6. Translations: With the online world at your fingertips, you want to be able to share your course with as many people as possible. Many eLearning authoring tools will be able to translate digital courses into any language needed.

7. Backups: If you are using a web-based eLearning authoring tool, there may be cloud back up options available, potentially avoiding outages to your training, loss of your resources and inconvenience for your learners.

What are the different types and examples of eLearning authoring tools?

When using eLearning authoring tools, different types of learning need to be considered. Some authoring tools specialise in a particular area, but most will have the same basic features.

  • AI: Although still in its infancy, the advent of AI generating course content has boomed with the introduction of ChatGPT. Please read our related article on ‘What AI means for the Future of Training.’ Authoring tools with AI features can empower employees to produce their own eLearning content. If an employee feels that there is a gap in their skill set, they can now use AI to create their own personalised course, for example.
  • Gamified Learning Tools: In order to keep a learner engaged, gamification is used. In this form of learning, rewards or badges are received when tasks have been completed, or new information has been used. Apps can be made with tools which feature drag and drop templates to create course material.
Create learning apps with authoring tools
  • Interactive eLearning: In this form of learning, students interact with the course content to get the information to perform a task. This could be used for an organisation’s training through a webinar with learner feedback, or it could be training for introducing new software or processes.
  • Micro learning: Micro learning is when a learner takes on information in a short space of time. In a phone app or on a website, these will be small pieces of information, short modules or videos. Mobile-based training platforms allow you to build micro courses, learning and surveys on mobile platforms. This would be a good option for employers delivering onboarding or continuing training, as it also contains a messaging system which could be used for company updates.
  • Learning Management Systems with Course Authoring: A Learning Management System is primarily for managing learning content, but some do have tools to allow you to build simple learning pages.

Is PowerPoint an eLearning authoring tool?

While a PowerPoint presentation is not used as a standalone way of learning, there are ways in which it can be used in eLearning.

Screen Recording: This is where a course provider uses a PowerPoint presentation as a basis for learning and also records their voice. This screen recording can then be used in online video training.

Importing into an authoring tool: PowerPoint allows you to structure your course content into the desired modules. Using this as a base, you can then import your PowerPoint presentation into an eLearning Authoring tool. As a PowerPoint presentation is normally linear and static, importing it into an authoring tool will ensure your content is accessible and LMS compatible. You will also have more information about how learners with the content. When using a presentation in training, the trainer is given feedback on how much they think the students have learned.

How to choose the best eLearning authoring tool

Different eLearning authoring tools will do different things and some are designed for specific areas of learning. Most eLearning authoring tools will have core elements. When you use an eLearning authoring tool to create your online course, you need to be able to export a file for use either on your website or for use in a LMS, a Learning Management System.

If you are using a standalone authoring tool to your Learning Management System, you need to ensure that the file you can export from your authoring tool will be compatible with your LMS. As there are many different eLearning authoring tools and LMSs, they all need to be able to speak to each other and need to adhere to a set of content standards like SCORM and xAPI.

SCORM is a set of technical standards for eLearning products to ensure that any course can communicate properly with a LMS. It allows providers to track the progress of learners and using data, they can create better learning experiences. xAPI allows the course creator to look at how learners are interacting with the course.

What makes a good authoring tool?

Before we look at what makes a good authoring tool, we must ensure that the course content is already the best we can make it. An authoring tool will make your course easier to distribute to learners, but the vital information and groundwork must be contained in the course to begin with. 

In our article, ‘How Can I Make Training More Attractive’, we looked at how we can engage and motivate students. This is particularly important when training is done online and if learners are self-determining their goals and pace. There are a number of things to consider when looking at what makes an effective authoring tool. Most of these will have core elements including:

Course authoring ability: As obvious as it may sound, it’s essential that you can create the course you want to with the authoring tool you have chosen.

Incorporates multimedia and activities: In order to make the content engaging, being able to incorporate video, games, quizzes and the ability to host learning audio is critical.

Best authoring tools to engage your learners

Possibility of collaboration: The possibility of incorporating group work or discussion into the course and the ability to have discussions, whiteboards and work on assignments together is beneficial. People learn in different ways so the ability to incorporate different methods of learning is important.

Assessment Tools: The ability to assess learners is essential in an authoring tool. This will show if the learners are understanding the course material. This will also give you feedback on how the questions are phrased etc. and if you need to go more in-depth in one area.

Preloaded templates: The authoring tool should have templates that you can customise for your own course content.

Accessibility: Any course content should be accessible to all users. This includes the ability to have captions on-screen, change font sizes, have keyboard navigation and be screen reader compatible.

Customer support: Any good tool will have good support for the course creator. Although anyone within the organisation should be able to create courses, there can be set up difficulties when incorporating these into your own work flow. They should provide tutorials, video guides, webinars as well as top customer service by phone or email.

What is an eLearning platform?

An eLearning platform is a group of technologies that are used to deliver complete learning programmes, one of which could be an eLearning authoring tool. These are web based applications or tools that allow users / educators to design online courses and then share these on the web. These are normally standardised and not customisable for individuals. All you need to access this type of learning is a computer and an internet connection.

Wearable eLearning platforms

As computer systems get quicker and more powerful, the eco systems around them also expand. Smart watches, virtual reality and other headsets have huge possibilities.

Smart watches

While it can be difficult to type on your watch, you have the ability to interact with content and this could be used for micro learning. In an immersive environment, tasks or clues could be given in line with gamified learning. For businesses, having an employee being able to learn about a product via their watch whist in the field, will boost customer service.

VR Headsets

VR Headsets haven’t had as much impact as predicted in gaming, but they could have a very important role to play in education. For instance, instead of sending a member of a bomb disposal unit to practice with live munition, virtual reality can place them in the situation so they can become accustomed to the scenario before risking their health and safety. There is enormous potential as these could also be used in the medical field amongst others.

Using VR technology to improve skills

Fitness Trackers

Fitness Trackers are used to find out how our bodies perform in certain circumstances. The data it collects for us individually can potentially provide new information about what exercise regimes we should be incorporating into our lives. This is eLearning for our physical selves.

Are eLearning platforms different from learning management systems?

A Learning Management System is a software system used by employers and education providers to develop, manage, deliver and track training activities. These LMSs may include course delivery, student registration, discussion forums and the ability for marketing activities, or messaging all learners in regards to their course. These may also be customisable for individual learners, depending on their industry etc. 

Analytics can show the provider how the learner interacts with the course content. An LMS is a management system with the courses and modules all in one place. Employers or educators will often deliver the training through a website or mobile app. Technically, a LMS is an eLearning platform as it is a technology that allows for the delivery of online education but not every online platform is a LMS.

Is Google Classroom a learning platform?

As the availability and our dependability on technology grows, it’s essential that all learners are introduced to different types of learning from an early age. Google Classroom is a free platform where teachers can post assignments, conduct assessments, share announcements, and ask questions. However, Google Classroom is not considered to be a Learning Management System as is does not feature the ability to design new lessons and it does not feature student discussion boards.

Benefits of using online eLearning platforms for business

Many businesses and organisations want to have a highly skilled workforce and to ensure the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) of their employees. Here are some of the benefits of online learning platforms for business.

  • Research has shown that workplace training leads to staff retention and satisfaction in their job as well as boosting morale.
  • Using eLearning authoring tools, there is no need to hire a separate in-house developer or coder. Anyone within the business with the knowledge and expertise can create courses for in-house training.
  • Organisations can identify knowledge gaps and develop training around these areas.
  • Employers can develop courses specific to their business. This is particularly useful if operating in a specific niche or when onboarding new employees.
  • When an employee has received training, they become more knowledgeable and efficient, leading to a more highly skilled workforce. This gives your organisation the competitive edge.
  • Organisations can create their own courses for compliance training that is suited to their industry.
  • You can create video tutorials for your customers and host these on your own website, raising your level of Customer Service.

Become a CPD accredited training provider

We hope this article on eLearning authoring tools and how they work was helpful. The CPD Certification Service is the world’s leading and largest CPD accreditation organisation working across all industry sectors. If you provide courses, workshops, eLearning, virtual events and are considering becoming a CPD training provider, please contact our team to discuss in more detail. If you want to record your Continuing Professional Development, please go to the myCPD Portal where you can manage, track and log your learning in one simple place.

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