Best e-learning authoring tools and websites of 2019: find the best in LMS and VLE software

eLearning
(Image credit: Pixabay)
Best elearning tool

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

While there is a time and place for face-to-face learning, increasingly training and learning 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 e-learning authoring tools come in, allowing the process of learning by making 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. And if you want to learn a language, you can use language learning apps and online flashcards.

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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Adobe Captivate

(Image credit: Adobe)

1. Adobe Captivate

A reliable tool from a big name

Platforms: Windows, Mac | HTML functionality: Yes | Draft functionality: Yes | Integrations: PowerPoint, Typekit, Google Maps | Free trial: 30 days

Frequently updated with new services and features
Available for Mac and Windows
Supports a variety of mobile forms
May overwhelm some users

When it comes to business solutions and software, Adobe always comes near the top, and this is also the case in the area of e-learning. Adobe Captivate is the company’s high quality e-learning authoring tool.

The system is available for both Windows and Mac computers, and it offers an ever-expanding variety of features. Making use of HTML functionality and responsive design, the software lets you create courses that run on PCs, smartphones and tablets.

There’s support for scalable HTML, play bar and mobile themes, and you also have the ability to pause and resume work whenever you want. What’s more, you can import storyboards from Captivate Draft (which is free on iOS devices), and also use the software with PowerPoint-based projects. All text, audio and other functionalities are retained.

Elucidat

(Image credit: Elucidat)

2. Elucidat

An easy way to create e-learning tools

Platforms: Web | HTML functionality: Yes | Draft functionality: Yes | Integrations: None | Free trial: 14 days

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.

Articulate

(Image credit: Articulate)

3. Articulate 360

Responsive to the max

Platforms: Web, mobile | HTML functionality: Yes | Draft functionality: Yes | Integrations: None | Free trial: 30 days

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.

Shift

(Image credit: Shift)

4. 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. 

Lectora Inspire

(Image credit: Lectora)

5. Lectora Inspire

A veteran option

Platforms: Web | HTML functionality: Yes | Draft functionality: Yes | Integrations: None | Free trial: 30 days

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.

Brightspace

(Image credit: Brightspace)

6. Brightspace

Increasingly the choice for education

Platforms: Web | HTML functionality: Yes | Draft functionality: Yes | Integrations: None | Free trial: 30 days

Simple and easy to use
Student focus
High take-up rate

Brightspace by D2L (Desire2Learn) is a VLE platform that is especially easy and simple to use, with a focus on student accessibility as well as making it easy for tutors to manage their classes, resources, and student progress.

Although advertised for use in higher education, healthcare, government, and enterprise training, it is fast becoming the VLE of choice in colleges and universities. 

The system is built to make teaching easier, not least by providing easy ways to directly mark digitally submitted assignments, as well as providing drag and drop functionality to make setting up, releasing, and announcing new courses easier to manage.

Individual learning paths can be set up, which is especially valuable for company training, plus a more personalized experience can be provided to help motivate students and reduce anxiety about unknowns. Feedback and nudges can be set up by tutors and trainers, and group-based permissions can be set up for learner activities within a course.

Accessibility is also a key concern, and not simply in terms of making courses mobile-friendly - Brightspace is part of the National Federation of the Blind’s Strategic Nonvisual Access Partnership (SNAP) program.

Gamification and social channels also make it easier for students to enjoy learning, as well as better connect and communicate with each other.

Overall, while Brightspace has been going since 1999, there seems to have been an accelerated take-up over recent years with existing VLE's especially being replaced by universities in favor of Brightspace.

Also consider these LMS and eLearning systems

As the opportunities for online learnings grows, so does the number of providers. While we've featured five of the best, there are other online e-learning authoring tools, some of which are focused more for higher education tutoring, and others which are aimed more for business training provision. Here we'll list five more contenders worth considering for learning management systems (LMS).

Docebo is a cloud-based LMS primarily aimed at enterprise training. It includes an AI for automating simple tasks, as well as content tagging and grouping employees with similar interests. As well as being used for e-learning, it can also be used to create a shared knowledgebase generated by users, for companies who reward top contributors. There are a number of features for workflows and analytics dashboards, as well as potential integrations such as with Salesforce, G Suite, Adobe Connect, Slack, and Zendesk.

TalentLMS is another cloud-based LMS aimed at business training providers, with an emphasis on providing customization, easy course building, and reporting. Courses are built to be responsive, but can also be made available through native apps for Android and iOS. There's also support for single sign on (SSO), as well as support for SCORM & Tin Can (xAPI). Unlike a number of other providers, pricing is clear and up front, and even better is that for up to five users TalentLMS is free to use. Charges then begin at $29 per month for up to 25 users, when paid annually, and rises through different pricing tiers to a full-feature Premium edition at $349 per month for up to 1,000 users.

SAP Litmos LMS is also a cloud-based LMS targeted at enterprise companies, and comes packed with features. It's also especially scaleable, boasting the ability to scale to one million users. As well as including and online course builder and instructor-led training, learning paths can be customized to make them personalized according to user needs. There are a number of integration options, not least for working with ecommerce, with packaged features specific for working with Shopify. Pricing depends on the number of users and whether you require bundled courses, but starts at a reasonable $6 per user per month for 15-500 users without courses, and $9 per user per month with.

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.

iSpring offers two main products: iSpring Suite, which is a course authoring toolkit; and iSpring Learn, which is a LMS. The iSpring Suite is specifically designed to work with Powerpoint, converting presentations into lessons. Word documents can also be used, and turned into SCORM courses which allows users to flip through them like an ebook. Video lectures can be synchronized with either, and interactive assessments can be built in for better user engagement. The service is expensive, though, starting from $1,970 for three users.