by Rodney Beach

“What’s the best authoring tool we should implement in our department?” is one of those questions I dread coming up against in my conversations with L&D managers, especially when I know that the budget is tight.


Because the answer depends on so many factors that there is no single answer that is right for everyone. What I do know, however, is that there are a few considerations that any team should put into the tech decision-making mix. But, in fact, many hide further downstream in the production phase, so they might not be an obvious influencing factor for many and may only rear their head in a couple of years.

In essence, your decision-making on which technology to choose to stay on a tight budget includes:

  1. The investment in the authoring tool itself, and
  2. The effort (“person-hours”) to implement, set up and maintain it to get the output at the quality level you need.

The choices you make will determine what you can get out of the authoring tool, and some lower-cost options, especially the ones relying on templated solutions, can come at the expense of quality and flexibility, which in turn can make your eLearning content feel generic and repetitive for your learners.

The authoring choice

On the top shelf, the highly involved end of the spectrum, there are custom Html builds. They may sound attractive due to their high level of flexibility, and ‘free’ in terms of not having to pay authoring tool licensing fees. However, their maintenance costs are much higher, and skilled Html developers are becoming harder to find, as there are many authoring tools around.

The art of boosting return on investment lies in asking the right questions and thinking beyond the licensing fee.

Rod Beach

When it comes to the affordability of an authoring tool, it is worth thinking beyond the licence fee alone.

Here are some questions to ask:

  • Are we transitioning into mobile-first learning?
  • Are we planning to move from an LMS to LRS, or relying on both SCORM and xAPI reporting?
  • How many users do we want on the tool? This might include more than your in-house learning designers, for example, if you are running user-generated content strategies.
  • How often do we think we need to adjust the content?
  • If we are considering introducing VR/AR – there are now non-tethered options that do not require goggles to be experienced.
  • Are we relying on social learning campaigns?
  • What lead-time do we typically have for our learning pieces?
  • What technical skills and experience do we have in our team?

The content choice

  • How contextualised does our learning need to be, can we rely on stock imagery?
  • Can we use low-cost stock imagery, do we have graphic skills, and do we need to regularly shoot real footage?
  • Can we re-purpose assets and use them more than once without it looking like we’re scrimping?
  • When storyboarding – consider how many interactions are needed to engage the learner. Each movement on the screen and each click needs someone to make it happen, both in design and development and on the learner’s end.
  • Do we have an interest or time to make adjustments for mobile breakpoints, if needed?
  • Are we willing to outsource the main development work and only do maintenance updates in-house?
  • Could we get away with using a digital voice-over? (I am not a big fan, personally).

As you can see, there are many angles through which the right authoring tool choices can save you and your team some L&D budget; the art lies in asking the right questions and thinking outside of just the licensing fee. For me, the biggest question out of them all is are you supporting a mobile-first strategy, or do staff undertake their eLearning from a tablet or desktop?

“This article originally appeared in Training & Development magazine, December 2023 Vol. 49 No. 4, published by the Australian Institute of Training and Development.”