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.
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.