An ultimate guide in selecting the right instructional design software for your business
So, you want to deliver incredible eLearning materials? To realize your goals in the best way, it’s crucial to use quality instructional design software.
With so many options around, you might be puzzled, so we made this guide to help you pick the best tools for creating training modules. It covers pro recommendations and a step-by-step algorithm for selecting the most convenient and efficient instructional design software.
What software do instructional designers use?
To develop a course, you may need a certain set of tools, from software for creating graphics to communication tools and platforms for storing content. Consider every piece of software in advance when planning your budget.
Here are the most commonly used tools for instructional designers.
Course authoring tool
Course creation is much more complex than making a PDF or a PowerPoint presentation. An online course typically includes various formats of content, such as videos, quizzes, and simulations. To create them all, you need an authoring tool.
There are some sophisticated eLearning solutions like iSpring Suite, Articulate 360, and Adobe Activate that enable you to create various types of content with a single software. But there are also many tools with pretty limited functionality that allow you to only create basic courses with text and media, quizzes, or role-play simulations.
We’ll go into detail about how to choose an authoring tool a little further on in the article.
Video recording and editing software
If your authoring tool doesn’t allow for creating full-fledged video content but you’d like to create video tutorials for your course, you might need separate software for this purpose.
With the right video recording and editing tools at your fingertips, you can create professional-looking tutorials with no video production skills. So, when selecting an app, consider the tools that will let you make videos without any prior experience. Plus, you should see if they allow you to create the type of content you need: talking-head videos, screencasts, animated clips, etc.
Learning management system (LMS)
Sometimes course creators have to take on the role of training manager, and this is where a learning management system (LMS) comes into play. An LMS enables them to manage courses, assign them to learners, and track their progress.
An LMS is an expensive solution, so you should be double attentive when picking one. Consider its technical capabilities and features needed to make the training process effective and engaging. The most widely used LMSs in the corporate training industry are iSpring Learn, Adobe Captivate, and Docebo – they include exhaustive sets of features.
On top of that, think of the learning curve for your employees – an LMS should be comprehensive but still intuitive and easy to use. Make sure that the platform can be accessed when on the go. Ideally, it should have a mobile app that will let learners take courses when offline.
Finally, if you want to communicate company branding through your educational materials, consider an LMS with white-label options.
Virtual training software
If your training is projected to include streams and real-time collaboration, you need to have access to a platform that will let you connect with learners and host virtual training sessions. This can be done with the help of webinar software and web conferencing tools like Zoom and Adobe Connect. They cater to such features as
● Screen sharing
● Document attachments
● Video and audio files
● Built-in messengers or commenting
It will be extremely helpful if your tool allows for organizing breakout rooms, muting learners, and giving them an opportunity to raise their hands, as well as displaying a virtual whiteboard. All this will help you make your training courses even more engaging.
Document storage and sharing platforms
Unless you’ve got an LMS at your fingertips, you’ll need a solution for storing your courses. There are specific file-sharing platforms that will fit perfectly for the safe storage, organization, and distribution of learning content.
The majority of such solutions are simple: they offer a cloud-based plan that includes several gigabytes of storage and access settings. If you’re okay with such functionality, Dropbox will be enough with its uploading and file-sharing options.
But if you’re looking for more advanced collaboration tools – for example, you want several content creators to be able to work on a single document/table/presentation simultaneously – consider platforms like Google Drive. It allows users to assign different access levels and add storage space when necessary.
Lastly, you’ll need to establish communication between yourself or trainers and learners for the training process to go flawlessly. The easiest way to keep in touch is via messengers but this means your audience will be restricted to a single channel.
With the help of tools like Slack, you can connect thousands of services in a single dashboard so users receive messages and notifications instantly.
All in all, you should consider your budget and the number of learners to be connected. The majority of tools offer basic free plans, but it’s better to opt for the ones that allow scaling up smoothly for an extra fee.
How to choose the right authoring tool
Now it’s time to search for suitable solutions for creating an eLearning course. Finding the right authoring tool is the most challenging task, so let’s break this down into pivotal steps, so you choose the right solution for your needs.
Step 1 – Define your learning objectives
To start with, you should understand the purpose of your course. For example, you might need to create a course to train the staff on sales skills, onboard newly hired employees, or conduct compliance training. Knowing what goals you want to achieve with a specific course will make it easy for you to identify suitable types of content.
Step 2 – Decide on the types of content
With training objectives in mind, think over the format of content that will work best. For instance, if you want staff to master new software, the easiest way to train them is via screencasts featuring step-by-step explanations.
And if your task is to teach sales professionals how to communicate with customers, the most relevant solution will be online courses that include role-play simulations for practicing conversational skills.
When creating eLearning content, instructional designers commonly rely on the following content types:
● Online courses
● Video lectures
● eBooks and PDF manuals
● Surveys and quizzes
● Role-play simulations
As mentioned above, there are highly specific tools that focus on a single type of content, such as quizzes or role-plays. If you plan to create a more complex course that combines various sorts of content and interactive tools, consider a comprehensive course authoring toolkit. This will eliminate format restrictions, enabling you to design different sorts of content with a single software.
Step 3 – Define software requirements
Here we approach the most difficult and important step – defining software requirements. We have already mentioned that content types play a big role, but you should also take a multitude of other crucial factors into account.
Ease of use
Do your instructional designers have coding skills? If not, consider solutions that don’t require programming knowledge. Keep in mind that chances are you’re not the only person who will create eLearning content, so others should be as comfortable as you are with the software. Evaluate designers’ digital literacy and use tools that won’t be overly complicated for your colleagues.
Collaboration on courses
If you plan to create a course together with other authors, opt for a solution that allows for collaborating on content in real time. With this tool, several authors can work on content simultaneously. For example, while one person is editing the text, another is working on the graphics.
Enabling mobile learning is crucial unless you want to lose a large chunk of your learners. Many of us spend days on the go – this is when we can take our smartphones and dedicate some time to eLearning content. So, all learning materials should be accessible from any portable device, including tablets and cell phones. Consider software that will let you create adaptive courses that will look and play well on devices with any screen size.
Localization and translation
This aspect should be considered if your company works with instructional designers in different countries, or if you need to localize courses for multinational employees. Some tools are powered with translation capabilities that allow designers to replicate content across various languages in a quick and efficient manner.
Is there anything, in particular, you’d like to have? For instance, some course developers need machine voice-overs to save time otherwise spent doing the narrating themselves. Others need a library of ready-made assets, such as course templates, icons, backgrounds, and fonts. Write down your requirements and see if the authoring tools of your potential choice have these features.
Of course, budget is important and you should take this into consideration, but remember that pricing should not be a decisive factor. Sometimes, very cheap ID software is a red flag indicating hidden costs or a lack of essential functions.
The quality and accessibility of tech support may depend on your plan, but it should be present anyway. Prior to buying software, figure out how you can reach the vendor in case issues and questions arise. Should you send an email, use a live chat, or call in case of urgent need? The more options they offer, the better.
Step 4 – Research the market
When you are ready to choose software according to your requirements, go to the eLearning market. The most commonly used and trustworthy solutions can be found on platforms like Capterra or G2.
Or you can just type ‘eLearning authoring tool’ in the search tab and explore a huge list of options. Select the alternatives that meet your needs best, and don’t forget to read user reviews – they might have a lot of useful insights.
Step 5 – Run test drives
Prior to making a final decision, take your best options for a short test drive. Ask vendors to provide a free trial or demo of their software. Run it for a few hours or days to see how a tool works.
Once you’ve tried all of the candidates, pick the one you liked most. That’s it! You’ve found the instructional design software that works best for you.
Tips on choosing instructional design software
Now that we’ve gone through the process of choosing an authoring tool, it’s time to dwell on general recommendations for instructional designers looking for software:
● Consider your technical capacities: some software is cloud-based, while other solutions are installed on the user’s server. In the latter case, you’ll have to spend extra on buying or leasing hardware.
● Need web-based software? Make sure it’s sufficiently secure. Cyber attacks and malware are common problems on the Web, so make sure the instructional design solutions you choose are protected with modern data security measures (control over data access, end-to-end encryption, and so on).
● Make things easy when possible. Course creation requires many, many hours. Why not choose an authoring tool that uses the principles of rapid eLearning? For example, opt for a solution that allows you to use ready-made course templates as a starting point and includes a whole set of backgrounds and characters you can utilize in your courses.
● Don’t forget about rewards. Consider leveraging a reward system or certificates upon completion of the course. Ideally, you’ll need software that allows you to generate and emit certificates (LMSs often have this functionality). A certificate should not be the reason for people to take your course, but it’s always a good idea to acknowledge students’ dedication and hard work.
● Think of how you’ll manage remote teams. If your courses are going to be created by several instructional designers working in different places, you need to think of how they will collaborate and communicate with each other. This is when an authoring tool with collaboration options may be the best solution.
There is a myriad of instructional design solutions that allow for the creation of different sorts of content learning when used together. A properly assorted suite of tools will empower you to create engaging and joyful courses, and even organize a smooth training process, so choose wisely! Hopefully, this guide was able to help you through the selection process.
About the Author
Helen is an editor and content strategist at iSpring. She enjoys combining in-depth research with expert knowledge of the eLearning industry.