Advice for Getting Hired as an Instructional Designer or eLearning Programmer #3: Learn an Authoring Tool

August 15, 2022

We get a lot of requests from visitors on the best way to break into the field of instructional design or eLearning design and programming. As a result, we have a six-part series on getting hired as an instructional designer or programmer. This is our third part: Learn an Authoring Tool. 

There are a lot of eLearning authoring tools available on the market, and more seem to show up every year, but quite frankly, the top three dominate the work we do: Articulate Storyline, Articulate Rise and Adobe Captivate.

Articulate Storyline is a desktop application that mirrors the look and feel of Microsoft PowerPoint. This makes it easily approachable, and most new designers and developers have a “I can learn this” attitude when it comes to Storyline. However, don’t let the easy interface convince you that this isn’t the most powerful authoring tool on the market. Storyline has a deep level of interactivity creation tools, plus layers and “triggers” which allow you to create a simple or complex learning experiences. It is our opinion that Storyline is the best tool for developing eLearning and getting proficient with this software will open the most doors for you. 85% of the work we do at Five Square Learning is Storyline based. 

Articulate has an online development tool called Rise, which is a simplified web programmers tool that allows you to create text based eLearning programs that work natively in HTML. Yes, there are a series of simple interactions like flip cards, image carousels and text accordions out of the box, but your ability to customize and optimize is limited. You can make some simple changes, but if you want to get deep in the weeds, Rise won’t reward your extra level of creativity. We use Rise for clients who ask for it, as there is only so much you can do with the tool. However, if you are looking to deploy mobile friendly learning and have everything “just work”, and are willing to accept the limitations of Rise, it's a good one to learn. 10% of the work we do at Five Square Learning is Rise based.

Lastly, big businesses and companies who have gone all in on Adobe Products often use Adobe Captivate as their authoring tool. Captivate was once the big name in development, and while has been continually updated with asset libraries and interactions, it still struggles to be easy to use. Hidden menus, advanced interaction features and other functionality are often hidden beneath tiny icons or tabs, and the workflow can sometimes be a struggle. Also, Adobe hasn't updated Captivate since 2019, which means, as of this writing, the tech is three years old. 

UPDATE: The new version of Captivate is supposed to come out sometime in 2022 or early 2023, but we shall see.

Captivate is still a viable option, and a software that larger companies still seem to be using, but we do about 5% of our development work in Captivate

However, in addition to learning a tool, we also recommend that you get some HTML, CSS and JavaScript under your belt. Yes, that means learning to program using an editor, some markup code, and script. People often tell us that “Your Storyline projects don’t look like my Storyline projects.” That’s because we’ve been programming on the web since 1995, with every iteration of HTML and CSS. We are comfortable with JavaScript and JSPDF and other technologies so that we can create something unique.

While we are at it, you should also learn a graphic design tool and an animation tool as well. The authoring tools all do a great job of creating simple graphic elements, but to go to the next level, you need to pick up a little graphic and motion design. Photoshop, GIMP, Illustrator, Corel, Adobe Animate, Vyond, Cartoon Animator and others can really bring a fun element, as well as a professional polish, to your program. So we can summarize as follows:
  • Pick an authoring tool (or 2 or 3 or more) and learn the heck out of it
  • Learn to web program – simple understanding is usually enough to get the gist of how it all works
  • Learn a graphic and/or animation tool – these skills take your eLearning programs to the next level
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