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Best online learning platforms of 2020: LMS and VLE for education

Best online learning platforms
(Image credit: Pixabay)

The Learning Management System (LMS) and Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) have become increasingly common in education. 

While there is a time and place for face-to-face learning, increasingly learning and courses are being conducted through digital channels. Not only can this be cheaper and easier to manage for businesses, but for educators it also means being able to reach people from a distance. 

This is where online learning platforms really come to the fore, as reading made platforms for education that make the most of modern technology. That’s not to say traditional means of education are dying, but academic institutions and businesses have identified that we can achieve a lot more by utilizing our tech.

The fact is, most of us have smartphones and other internet-connected devices, and there are already a whole host of apps that aim to make learning easier and quicker. If you’re revising for an exam, you can access materials wherever you happen to be. 

Online learning platforms have even diversified, so if you want to learn a language, you can use language learning apps and online flashcards. And for younger ones, there are the best e-learning online classroom services, too. There are also coding platforms for schools, too.

Through digital means, learning is on tap. It doesn’t take long to find out a fact, or to develop a specific skill. With this in mind, the way training organisations and educators create courses is also dramatically changing. In this article, we’re looking at the best e-learning authoring tools available right now.

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For schools and students we've also featured:

Best online learning platforms - at a glance

  1. Google Classroom
  2. Docebo
  3. WizIQ
  4. Adobe Captivate 
  5. Elucidat
  6. Articulate 360
  7. Shift
  8. Lectora Inspire
  9. Blackboard Learn

Google Classroom

(Image credit: Google)

1. Google Classroom

The free education LMS

Fully featured free tier
Lots of tools
Discounted pricing on pro tier

Google Classroom is part of G Suite for Education, and is becoming increasingly common in schools, offering a great way for teachers to connect with students online. 

On the one hand, it offers a way to directly teach, but the provisions of teaching materials also means that students who are unable to attend classes can still be provided with catch-up works and notes, and the same additional homework.

With the recent pandemic forcing a lot of students into distance learning, this means that G Suite for Education can really make a difference to teachers and students who might not have already used an online learning platform.

Google Classroom uses the standard G Suite office software tools such as Google Docs as well as spreadsheet and presentation applications, audio and video conferencing, not to mention Google Drive for online storage. Additionally, there are administrative tools to make it easier for teachers to manage their classes.

However, G Suite for Education comes into two forms - a free platform with all of the above features, and G Suite Enterprise for Education which comes with a nominal cost for extending the features to accommodate larger meetings and streaming capacity, as well as provide additional administrative functions. 

While pricing for G Suite Enterprise for Education is advertised as $48 a year for both students and staff, a current promote reduces that to $24 a year only for each staff member using it. And if you don't want or need the additional features, then G Suite for Education and Google Classroom themselves continue to be free to use for everybody.

Docebo

(Image credit: Docebo)

2. Docebo

The collaborative learning platform

Students able to interact
Fully customizable
Easy to use

Docebo is a Learning Management System (LMS) that helps you organize, track and distribute online courses for formal learning, be it for employees, clients or customers. 

Instead of simply offering a one-way broadcast in its teaching solutions, Docebo encourages collaboration by allowing employees to ask questions and get answers from the relevant subject matter experts in their organization. Learners also able to share their own knowledge which can be validated through peer-review and shared across teams.

To help platform administrators effectively manage their organization’s skill and competency gaps, the Docebo Perform tool lets you assign formal and informal training sessions to those who may need upskilling in certain areas. The system is customizable too, so you can give it the appropriate look and feel according to your organization’s brand. 

Docebo sports a slick, easy-to-use UI and comes with a wide range of third party integrations, so implementing the platform in your organization’s training schemes should be a smooth process. You can get a quote for a Docebo price plan via the link below.

WizIQ

(Image credit: WizIQ)

3. WizIQ

Bring your lessons to the world

Helps you reach a mass audience
Mobile version available
Good customization features

WizIQ is aimed more squarely at the teachers rather than students, offering virtual classroom and LMS software to those looking to teach and train others. 

With WizIQ you can create and sell interactive courses that can be delivered as live classes or as materials to be studied at the pace students wish. These can be easily converted to MOOCs (massive open online courses) to maximise student enrolment around the world and grow revenue streams. 

In terms of using WizIQ within an organization, users can create branded learning portals to train employees, clients, partners and customers via online tutorials or live classes. The design features are pretty extensive and easy to use for those keen to give their training courses a polished, professional feel. Conveniently, all classes can be enjoyed on the go via the WizIQ app for both iOS and Android devices. 

WizIQ used to display pricing for its different tiers, but has now made them opaque so that you have to contact their sales team for a quote.

Adobe Captivate

(Image credit: Adobe)

4. Adobe Captivate

A typically comprehensive platform from Adobe

Handy automation tools
24/7 support
Gamification elements

Not many corners of the software world are left untouched by Adobe, and sure enough the computing behemoth has its own solution for the learning management market. Adobe Captivate Prime is an LMS platform for the enterprise that aims to make training easy-to-run and enjoyable to complete.

According to Adobe, courses can be rolled out in less than 90 minutes thanks to its suite of tools to get you set up. An online help center, in-product videos and 24/7 support also serve to help administrators on their way. Further smoothening the process are automation features than enable you to auto-assign learning plans, schedule reports and synchronize users.

Once the learning programs are set up, tracking tools allow you to monitor the progress and certifications obtained by users, with added insights showing how individuals, departments and partners are doing with their learning objectives. Other features include a flat UI for easy control and navigation without opening multiple pages, a recurring certifications feature that ensures your organization stays up-to-date on compliance, the ability to customize the learning experience for individual users, and gamification tools like leaderboard races and achievement badges. 

Prices start at $4 per user per month. 

Elucidat

(Image credit: Elucidat)

5. Elucidat

An easy way to create e-learning tools

Loads of themes to choose from
Caters for all screen sizes
Lacking integrations

Elucidat is a web-based system that’s been designed to make creating learning resources easy. It boasts a built-in page template editor, which lets you choose a theme and tweak it to your requirements. 

In most cases, you can make it your own by simply dragging and dropping to insert text, graphics and other media. However, if you’re feeling more technologically adventurous, you have the option to create your very own themes via HTML, CSS and Javascript.

The visual styling can all be controlled within the authoring platform through an editable interface, making it really easy to apply your brand and customize the look of your elearning environment without any complex coding

If you’re looking to publish courses in multiple languages and versions, you’ll be happy to learn that you can manage hundreds of courses at the same time. And because there’s built-in responsive output, your creations will look good on all screen sizes. It’s worth noting that before committing to a premium plan, you can try the software for free - but only for 14 days.

No flat-rate pricing is advertised for Elucidat, so you will need to contact their sales department for a quote.

Articulate

(Image credit: Articulate)

6. Articulate 360

Responsive to the max

Every course is mobile-friendly
Theme editor
Expensive

While most e-learning authoring tools have responsive capabilities in terms of catering for different screen sizes, Articulate 360 has been created especially for people who want to put mobile first. The platform lets you create highly interactive and visual courses for every device, without having to tweak anything. You simply click publish, and Articulate - through its Storyline and Rise features - automatically ensures your course is mobile-ready.

As well as this, all courses support touchscreen gestures, and the built-in player hides sidebar menus and the like so that all the focus is on the multimedia content. That’s not all, though. When it comes to creating a course, it’s not necessary to have any prior technical experience. Instead, you can access a library of themes, which have been tailored for different use cases.

There’s also a text and image editor, meaning you can get everything right before you make a course public. And when you make changes, all your work is saved on the cloud – just in case something goes wrong. You can even get educational experts to check over your work through a review system, which supports different languages such as Chinese, German, French and Spanish.

Pricing appears initially steep with the personal plan priced at $999 per year, while the team plan is priced at $1,299 per year. However, unlike some other tools, pricing is not charged according to the number of learners using the software. Also, there's a free trial available for you to try out the software.

Shift

(Image credit: Shift)

7. Shift

A quick and easy e-learning option

Platforms: Web | HTML functionality: Yes | Draft functionality: Yes | Integrations: None | Free trial: 3 months, demo available

Easy to use
One-push publishing
30-day free trial
Enterprise packages are expensive

As you may have realised by now, many e-learning authoring tools are web-based, and that’s also the case for Shift eLearning. It’s designed to help you create powerful e-learning resources efficiently and quickly.

Like its competitors, you don’t need any programming experience to be able to create a feature-packed e-learning resource. There are more than 400 responsive screen templates to choose from, utilising both HTML5 and Adobe Flash. These are off-the-shelf themes, so you don’t actually have to do a lot, apart from entering text and graphics.

When you’ve finished putting a course together, you don’t have to worry about tailoring it for different users. The system has a one-push feature, so hitting the publish button once will send it to a variety of devices – regardless of their screen size, resolution or aspect ratio. There’s a generous free trial you can check out, too. 

A 30-day free trial is available, after which pricing starts from $99 per user per month, or $999 if paid annually. However, like about, the pricing is charged for use of the software rather than per learner using it.

Lectora Inspire

(Image credit: Lectora)

8. Lectora Inspire

A veteran option

Review feature
How-to resources
It may be complicated for some
Lacks variety

Lectora Inspire is one of the oldest e-learning authoring tools, now in its seventeenth version. It’s another web-based system that functions across devices, but it requires a bit more scripting experience than some of the other software listed in this feature.

With it, you can create courses for different contexts, such as employee training or selling courses to customers. There’s unlimited scripting, access to advanced graphics libraries, an online reviewer and a screen template library. Another handy element provided is a range of how-to resources.

Pricing is at the more expensive end of the spectrum, though, beginning at $2,595 a year, and that includes a course limit of up to 10 courses. However, training is included as are stock assets and templates. Additional tools such as BranchTrack, Camtasia, and Snagit - for customer situations, video editing, and screen recording respectively - are also bundled with the software.

Blackboard Learn

(Image credit: Blackboard)

9. Blackboard Learn

LMS for education

Easy for students and teachers to use
Mobile friendly
For education, training, and governments
May not be GDPR compliant.

Blackboard Learn is aimed at higher education training and learning, with a cloud-based system that's designed to be responsive to the needs of different devices, and can work with content from third-party providers. 

As well as being used in colleges and universities to educate students, it's also used for staff training and collaboration between departments. It can also be used to provide learning and training online for businesses and governments. 

No clear pricing is provided, so you will need to contact Blackbird for a quote. Also note that concerns have been raised whether it's GDPR compliant for use with students in Europe.