Our team recently completed a multimedia authoring tool comparison project to identify which authoring tool would be best for our team’s needs and goals going forward.
For context, authoring tools are eLearning content creation tools that enable designers to combine media and navigation links to create engaging and interactive projects. If you’ve ever run through a click-through training project where you were asked to read text, consume videos/graphics, answer questions, interact with material in some way, click a series of “next,” “submit” or similar buttons and were able to see your progress along the way, you likely engaged with a project built with an authoring tool.
We decided to compare and contrast Articulate Storyline, Lectora Inspire and Adobe Captivate. These three tools were specifically chosen as the leaders among eLearning authoring software and the “blank canvas” tools most capable of producing rich, interactive content. When we started this project, our team had been using Storyline for our authoring tool needs.
To begin testing, I took a close, hands-on look at the features, capabilities and limitations of all three tools. This included creating identical test projects in each tool that covered the areas I saw as being the biggest advantages for eLearning authoring software: Quizzing, simulations and variables. The projects were then evaluated for accessibility and end-user experience.
To complete a full and honest review, I collaborated with several teams to make sure we were properly evaluating each area of interest. To test end-user experience, I brought in eight of my team members to conduct informal usability tests on each test project. I had them evaluate things like the flow of each tool (smooth transitions and media loading correctly, for example), access issues, gradebook reporting, quiz behaviors and other general usability considerations.
Knowing that I wasn’t well-versed in the complexities of digital accessibility, I also collaborated with several accessibility analysts around the university. They conducted formal accessibility evaluations of the test projects and worked to help me understand the range and importance of what digital accessibility means and looks like.
We ended up choosing Lectora after finding it to be the most complete tool. With its focus on accessibility and combined upside of back-end and end-user experience, we believe Lectora has the highest potential to produce quality content that aligns with ODEE’s standards and values of excellence.
However, there were larger takeaways that came from this project. The reality is that authoring tools are far from perfect. With any large, robust authoring tool, accessibility is going to be a major issue. Digital accessibility goes much deeper than simply adding captions and alternative text to media, and authoring tools struggle to provide screen-reader and keyboard-reliant users with the same learning experiences as users who don’t rely on these devices.
With this realization comes the understanding that authoring tools need to be used carefully. They should only be used for projects that require complex or unique interactive elements that can’t be built out in a smaller, more specialized tool. When an authoring tool is used, it needs to be used correctly. This means avoiding certain interaction types that are inherently inaccessible (drag-and-drop, hot spots, etc.), being mindful of media and other included elements and thinking critically about what you are asking an end user to do.
In the end, our project became about evaluating which tool had the least amount of flaws and had the highest ceiling for producing quality content that aligned with our needs and goals. Lectora was that tool, and we are now moving forward with understanding how to better use the tool to its fullest while staying within the boundaries of a quality and equal student experience.
For a comprehensive look at this project and full notes, final thoughts and recommendations, you can view my full authoring tool comparison report.
If you have any questions about this project or anything related to multimedia elements of course design, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.