E-Learning Authoring Tool Comparison

We get lots of questions about our opinion on the major e-learning authoring tools.  A while back, I did a comparison grid to help outline the key differences.  There have been a lot of changes to the authoring tool landscape in the last 12 months, so I thought I’d update it. 

The following table summarizes my personal opinion on the matter.  I’m sure many (perhaps even some on my own team) might not agree.  But this is my blog post, so I get to say what I want!!  On this table, 1 indicates my first choice for that characteristic, 2 is my second choice, etc.

Authoring 

Notes:

Price:  Captivate is the most affordable at $899, with a subscription model that is even more affordable if you only use Captivate occasionally or if you upgrade every year.  Studio and Storyline are usually on sale for about $1400 each.  Lectora is $1600 for the core e-learning software, while their Inspire suite with extra multi-media tools is $2500.

Ease of Use: If you are going for easy, Articulate Studio wins hands-down.  Much of what you are doing is PowerPoint, which you most likely already know.  The rest is primarily form- and template- based.  Storyline is extremely usable and isn’t far behind Studio.  Lectora is easy to learn and use, but not quite as intuitive as some of the others.  (Their version 11 release out later this year will make it even more usable.)  Captivate, in my opinion, suffers from feature creep.  So many features have been added over the years that it feels a little disjointed to me.  I feel like there are some things that cause me to go three different places, and there are many things you’d never figure out on your own.  (I don’t want to scare you off—it isn’t awful, but you would benefit most from training or a book on Captivate versus some of the other tools.)

Graphics and Animations:  Again, Studio wins because it has the full capability of PowerPoint’s graphics and animation capabilities (which are more extensive than most people know).  Storyline and Captivate have some good features like the ability to create gradients, rotate and crop, apply drop-shadows, etc.  Studio has a few more graphics tools, but Captivate has more animation options.  Lectora lags behind in both areas because you need to perform most of these tasks externally, which is slower and requires you to have your own tools or buy the more expensive Inspire suite.

Interactivity: Even though Storyline is first, Lectora and Captivate are pretty close behind as all three have very strong interactivity capabilities.  Storyline makes your job easier than the other two, which is why it just barely wins out.  Studio has a very limited set of interaction options and comes in as a distant 4th.

Quizzing/Power/Flexibility:  As with interactivity, Lectora, Storyline, and Captivate are very well matched.  Lectora takes the lead because it has more options for actions and variables than Storyline and is easier to use in this regard than Captivate.  For quizzing, Lectora gives you the most access to question and quiz variables for custom logic.

ADA compliance: Lectora gives you the most control about how you set up skip navigation, tab order, etc.  Captivate is close behind.  Storyline still has a few issues it needs to work out.  Studio is a non-starter here as it is not capable of creating Section 508-compliant courses.  (Look for that to change in version 2013.)  Regardless of which tool you use, it is important to know which features are and are not 508-compliant.

Mobile: Storyline, Lectora, and Captivate are all capable of playing on mobile devices (read iPad and iPhone).  Storyline wins because it provides three options with one publish:  Flash, Storyline mobile player for the iPad, or HTML5.  They have very clear documentation on their site about what does and doesn’t work in each version.  Lectora has always been mobile friendly because it never relied on Flash.  Captivate added mobile features in version 6, but it takes third place because there is a pretty big list of things that don’t work in HTML5.  Once again, Studio is a non-starter here as it is only outputs to Flash (but will output to HTML5 in v2013).

Software simulations: I tried to stay away from ties, but here I just can’t pick one over the other.  Storyline and Captivate are both excellent choices for software simulations (either sit-back-and-watch demonstrations or try-it-yourself practices).  Each one has a feature or two that I like more than the other, but they even each other out.  Lectora is a distant third.  If you buy the more expensive Inspire package, you get Camtasia.  But between the additional price and the fact that Camtasia is for demonstrations only, it is not nearly as strong a solution.  Studio does not offer any options for software simulations.

So which tool is best?  It depends!  They are all very good tools that can help you create strong e-learning courses.  It all boils down to what matters most to you.


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27 Responses to “E-Learning Authoring Tool Comparison”

  1. B-Lynk January 25, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    Great write-up – very helpful. We are pretty much 100% an Articulate shop -but it’s great to see a perspective comparing the top eLearning tools.

    • Nick Elkins January 29, 2013 at 8:01 am #

      Hi Katie! Thanks for the feedback!

      • Nick M April 1, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

        Hi Diane, For the authoring tools that publish to mobile, do you know which operating systems and browsers on each that are compatible? I wonder if issues could evolve there.

        • Diane Elkins
          Diane Elkins April 4, 2013 at 10:02 am #

          There can definitely be issues! The challenge with HTML5 publishing is that each browser and operating system can interpret the files differently. The big lesson we’ve learned is to test early and test often! In our experience, Storyline seems to have the fewest issues. They also have pretty good documentation about what features do and don’t work with HTML5–but again, performance on each device/operating system/browser can vary. http://www.articulate.com/support/kb_article.php?product=st1&id=1568gg1ayot2

  2. Brian Dusablon January 25, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    Thanks for the update, Diane. I look forward to your thoughts on Studio ’13 when it drops.

    • Diane Elkins
      Diane Elkins January 25, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

      I’m excited to see Studio ’13. Plan to see if there are any new details uncovered at TechKnowledge next week.

      • OpenSesame February 5, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

        I’d also love to hear what you think about the different screen cap tools – Screenflow, Camtasia, etc.

        Thanks for such a useful post – people ask us for our recommendations so often, but obviously it depends on what you’re trying to do with the tool.

        • Diane Elkins
          DIane Elkins February 11, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

          Sounds like a good idea for a new blog post! We’ll work it into the schedule.

      • Jeff Sale March 21, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

        Hello Diane, how do you like Studio ’13? Thank you so much for this breakdown from these different products, it was very helpful for me!

  3. Carl January 25, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    What about ZebraZapps? Do you know anything about the tool?

    • Diane Elkins
      Diane Elkins January 25, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

      I reviewed ZebraZapps while it was still in beta. At the time, I felt it wasn’t ready for widespread use because it wouldn’t work with an LMS. They have put out many new versions and I think it is more of a contender now. I’m going to ASTD TechKnowledge this week and hope to get reaquainted with the tool. I’ll report back.

      • Carl January 25, 2013 at 4:17 pm #

        Great. I’ll look forward to it. At the pricing they’re offering, I’m really interested to see what it’s about.

        • Carl February 6, 2013 at 10:47 am #

          Any news?

    • Diane Elkins
      Diane Elkins February 11, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

      I spoke with the ZebraZapps folks at the conference. I’m still a big fan of how easy the tool is to use and how interactive you can make your courses. They now have an LMS-friendly option which is critical.

      They still have two downsides, IMO. One is that the output is still not mobile friendly (they are working on it). The other is that the output must always live on their site. You can embed it into courses and websites and launch it from your LMS, but it still resides on their servers. There are three big issues there: 1) You can’t view the courses offline. 2) Your firewall/security/internet policies must allow for such communication to their servers. 3) If they ever go out of business or stop supporting the tool, you have nothing in your hands that you can still use after they are gone. Whereas with traditional authoring tools, I can still use the tool and the published output long after that company goes away.

      So while I like what the tool is capable of, I have trouble giving it a 100% endorsement because of these issues.

      • Carl February 11, 2013 at 6:10 pm #

        Thanks Diane. Looks like they’ve got some work to do, but could be promising.

  4. Beck January 25, 2013 at 12:51 pm #

    Good comparison of the main tools. Storyline wins overall, and deservedly so – you could add a total score to reflect this. I use all these tools, but agree it is user preference. I think Storyline actually has better capability than Lectora on the questionning as you can create unlimited custom variables. Thanks for the post.

  5. Bob Dinkins January 25, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

    Thanks Diane. Great comparison. I appreciate the time you took with this.

  6. Krista Allen February 22, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    Great comparison! However, I disagree that Captivate should be ranked 4th for “ease of use”. Its Powerpoint-like layout is quite intuitive and Version 6’s streamlined icons make adding objects very easy. Yes, the companion books are helpful and allow you to bring your skills to the next level, but the same argument could be made for PowerPoint, too.

    • Diane Elkins
      Diane Elkins March 19, 2013 at 10:18 am #

      Thanks for your perspective, Krista. I’ve spoken with a number of folks who share that opinion, and Captivate has definitely made improvements in this area over the last few releases. I would say that for 75% of the development process, it is equally easy to use as the other tools. But there are still a number if features that just aren’t intuitive (such as triggering an animation with an action) or that you have to go to three places to do what you need (like many of the test settings). Overall, I’m still a big fan of the software.

    • Bad Scooter October 19, 2013 at 8:40 am #

      I agree. I picked up Captivate rather easily, but Lectora is wearing me out! I consider myself not completely stupid, but I’ve found a lot more difficult to learn than Captivate.

      Good chart, though.

  7. S Whitford March 2, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

    You need to add zebras app to your table. It looks like it will give the others a run for their money.

    • Diane Elkins
      Diane Elkins March 19, 2013 at 10:12 am #

      ZebraZapps is an extremely powerful tool. I’ve been impressed with it since I first saw it demo’d three years ago. The challenge for me is that, until very recently, it was not LMS compatible. That made it a non-starter for most of our clients. Upcoming releases will address mobile and accessibility. Once that happens, I think the software will be mature enough to be a contender.

  8. Margaretha March 14, 2013 at 6:11 am #

    How does SAP Productivity Pack which includes the Ancile UPerform Rapid e-learning tool fits into all these mentioned above?

    • Diane Elkins
      Diane Elkins March 19, 2013 at 10:19 am #

      Hello, Margaretha,
      I’m not familiar with that tool—I’ll have to take a look at it.

  9. sharath May 16, 2013 at 1:31 am #

    Nice comparison, really lets the developer to choose the right tools for right requirement

  10. Michael Parkinson June 20, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    Hi Diane,

    A very good analysis of the tools, thank you.
    I have been given another one to consider Savv-e. Also I am about to recommend
    to a large organisation with alot of users ie. developers who have limited
    elearning development experience. Which system would best suit a large
    organisation both from a usability and supportability perspective?

    Thanks Diane

  11. Pat Brogan January 9, 2014 at 10:58 am #

    You don’t mentions platforms. We want to use Captivate but it doesn’t run on a Mac except with Windows emulation which makes it very challenging. Also, what about runtimes and launching from an LMS? We’ve struggled with compatibility issues for Captivate.

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