Authoring tools: what are they and what do they do?

September 20, 2022

Authoring tool. Multimedia authoring tool. eLearning software. 

You’ve probably heard of these terms before. But what exactly is an authoring tool?  Let’s find out.

Prologue: What is an authoring tool?

An authoring tool is an eLearning software program that lets you create learning content. 

It gives you the option to create courses, lessons, and assessments using a variety of media, including:

  • text, 
  • video,
  • images, 
  • PDFs, and
  • interactions (think mix and match activities, for example).

Chapter 1: Why use an authoring tool?

In a world where training is increasingly becoming essential to employees, using an authoring tool can help you create value for them.

An authoring tool allows you to build engaging online courses that you can easily share with your team or network. More importantly, you can make your training specific to your company and employees—directly meeting their needs.

Not to mention, you don’t need to be a tech wizard to use them. They’re pretty straightforward and user-friendly and great for creating engaging training.

The point of authoring tools is to make the course-building process more manageable.

Suppose you’re new to instructional design (course creation/development). In that case, most authoring tools have plenty of tutorials to help you learn how to use them.


It works by setting up a lesson/topic/assessment and choosing the type of media you want to include, e.g. a text box. Then, you add the relevant content and continue to build the course.


Most authoring tools usually consolidate all your training in one place, so storing and organising courses is easier.

Chapter 2: How does etrainu use an authoring tool?

We use authoring tools to create our range of courses across different sectors, including Care and Support, Hospitality, Cultural Awareness, and Business. 

We use two authoring tools: Rise360 (including Storyline) and Chameleon Creator.

Here’s how we use them:

Wireframing

A wireframe is an outline of all the content in the course, such as text, images, videos, quizzes, and other interactive functions.

Our authoring tools allow us to seamlessly weave in content and build the course as we go.

We use topics and assessments to break down the course content into easy-to-digest pieces. Along with this, we include a menu to make navigation between topics/assessments easier.

Interactive

They help us make our learning more engaging because the learners have to be involved in the process actively, i.e. it’s not a matter of just reading. 

Learners have to click on buttons/interactions, watch videos, respond to quizzes or complete activities, and actively read to learn something. 

That way, we build retention.

Collaboration

We use authoring tools to make the process more collaborative with our clients and content partners. 

We work back and forth and send them drafts of the courses, which they can review and send back to us. If anything needs to be updated or added in, our authoring tools allow us to do that without a hitch.

We also work with any material they give us and use that to build the course.

Assessment

Quiz-based interactions and branching scenarios are a great way to test the learners’ understanding of content.

Branching scenarios put the learners into different situations that require them to think and apply the learning to practical situations. A branching scenario usually starts with two or three options for the learner to choose from and then provides different outcomes for each option. These outcomes can be negative or positive, and branching scenarios usually allow the learner to try again and choose differently.

Quizzes, such as multichoice, true or false, or final quizzes, are great for testing technical knowledge, policies, and procedures.

Accessibility

We work mainly in the Care and Support sector to support people with disability and older people. So, we need to make sure our courses are as accessible as possible.

This means we have to ensure our courses meet the Website Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2). Our training needs to be:

  • Perceivable: in other words, users must be able to view the content in some way, e.g. via text or screen reader
  • Operable: users must be able to easily navigate through the course; e.g., we use buttons and menus to help make it more navigable for users
  • Understandable: our content must be easy to digest
  • Robust: users must be able to access our content through a variety of assistive technologies, such as screen readers

To meet these guidelines, we ensure our courses have:

  • Image descriptions for screen readers
  • Easy-to-read fonts, particularly sans-serif fonts, normally point 16 in size
  • Keyboard accessibility, i.e. users must be able to navigate using their keyboard
  • Appropriate colour contrast 

File

A good authoring tool needs to be able to export the content into a file that can be easily read by a Learning Management System (LMS). 

An LMS is a platform where you host all your courses and manage your users. It also helps you track completion and progress rates while determining what training needs to be done by whom.

The most common file we use—and most training providers use—is a SCORM file.

SCORM means:

  • Shareable
  • Content
  • Object
  • Reference 
  • Model

A SCORM file essentially downloads your course into a ZIP file, which you can then upload to your LMS easily.

SCORM files are preferred because of their:

  • Compatibility: you can use them with almost any LMS
  • Ability to save progress: users can easily take their time to complete a course, as the SCORM file enables them to save their progress and pick up where they left off.
  • Completion status: SCORM files also help you assess a learner’s progress and provide a completion certificate or note at the end.

Once we have created and designed a course, we download it as a SCORM file and then upload it to the LMS. Our users are then able to find and complete courses on the LMS.

Chapter 3: How do I know which authoring tool is right for me?

When choosing an authoring tool, it’s important to consider key features, such as:

  • Usability/user experience
  • How easy is it to use the authoring tool software? 
  • Does it require me to have specialised training/learn/have specific skills to use it?
  • Audience
  • Does the authoring tool meet my audience’s needs?
  • Is it easy to use (link back to user experience)?
  • Ease/easy to understand
  • Does it allow me to design my courses in a way that is easy to understand? 
  • Templates
  • Are there any templates that I can use to help me build my courses?
  • Am I able to create my templates?
  • Gallery of images/videos/icons for you to use
  • Are there any multimedia assets for me to use?
  • Are these assets free to use?
  • Level of experience/understanding
  • Are you an expert or a beginner? 
  • Do you understand what is involved in course building?

Epilogue: The bottom line

Authoring tools are a hot topic in the eLearning industry because they make learning engaging and memorable. They also help you meet your team’s needs and make your training specific and relevant.

Whichever one you choose, always remember to keep your audience at the forefront of your learning—they are the ones completing the learning, after all.

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