Authoring Tools: Comparing Platforms and When to Use Them
When you have an important job to do, you need to use the right tools. And when that job is designing corporate training, one of the best tools you can use is a comprehensive authoring tool. As a best practice, you might partner with an experienced training consultant who can offer a customized corporate training program—but, if that isn’t in the cards, there are several good off-the-shelf authoring tools to choose from. Three of the most capable are Adobe Captivate, Articulate Storyline, and Trivantis Lectora. Let’s look at these three in detail.
Comparing Authoring Tools
When you start designing your course, all three of these authoring tools shape your workflow in about the same way. In each one, the course builds as a series of pages displayed in a slideshow view. So, it’s organized in a linear fashion by default (with the option of branching or skipping directly from one page to another). This simple PowerPoint-like structure makes it easy to get started, even for inexperienced instructional designers. All three also have a similar interface, offer screen capture, and include readymade quiz pages.
So, all three tools do about the same thing. But some are more appropriate for particular tasks than others. As a case in point, let’s say you want to train learners to use a business application like NetSuite, and you’d like to do it by walking through the steps in a process—like submitting a timesheet.
With each tool, recording a process works in about the same way. Set the size of your recording window, start recording, click through the screens you need to show, and you’ll capture a screenshot every time you do something like click a button or type in a text field. Each screenshot and mouse movement creates a new page in your course.
The differences between platforms become apparent when you start to add learning functionality. In Captivate, you can use each page’s timeline to place images, captions, mouse pointers, and interactive objects anywhere and make them appear and disappear whenever you want. This is great for guiding the learner through a simple process and then prompting them to replicate the steps.
But, when you want to add something more complex than a caption or text input box, things get a little tricky. Each page in Captivate only has one layer for all your objects and, therefore, only one timeline. This is fine with a linear structure but causes headaches when you want the learner to explore all the functions on one page. You can do it using conditional advanced actions; or duplicating the same page, several times, to simulate a layered structure—but it’s certainly not a best practice.
In Storyline and Lectora, you can add layers that sit on top of the main page and its screenshot. Each layer can be accessed without advancing the main timeline, and each layer has room for as many objects and actions as necessary. That means it’s easy to keep the learner in one place while they explore, and it’s straightforward to create dropdown lists and popups that are key to the function of the software you’re training on.
However, the downside of this sophisticated functionality is that it can be easy to lose track of which triggers do what, and when; and which variables might be doing things that weren’t intended. If a client makes (perfectly reasonable) requests for extended functionality in the course, you might need to seek out programming help.
Best Cases for Use
These examples just scratch the surface of the capabilities of these three powerful tools. Here’s a quick outline of the tasks that each tool is best suited for:
Software simulations that guide the learner through tasks that must be completed in a certain way: When you need your employees to navigate circuitous paths through folders and dropdown lists, entering specific codes along the way and in precise syntax, Captivate is a perfect choice. It’s also generally the least expensive of the three–and can run in a Macintosh OS, unlike Storyline.
Complete (but simple) learning modules with custom looks: The layer structure and abundance of useful triggers make it easy to create a custom course from the ground up. Storyline can do software simulations, but not quite as intuitively as Captivate. If you want the best of both worlds (and you are using a PC) you can embed Captivate simulations inside Storyline pages.
Sophisticated and complete learning modules with many features: Lectora is known for having a steeper learning curve than the other two but offers a wider variety of design options too. This comes at a cost, literally: depending on the options you choose, Lectora can easily be twice as expensive as Captivate to get up and running, not including the extra training time your designers might need.
Whatever your ultimate goal is with training—compliance training, leadership development, or anything else— make sure you’re using the right tool to achieve it. Read user reviews, try a free trial, spend a weekend watching tutorials. There’s plenty of depth to all the design applications available today and it’s worth your while to explore.