The options for creating online courses rapidly and easily have absolutely exploded over the past several years – to the point that is getting harder to sift through all of the options. On this page, I suggest several of the options I think are best when the time comes to create an online course – by which I mean a true self-contained, course, not just a screencast, video, recorded webinar, etc. (As the links suggest, I deal with those on other pages.)
Keep in mind that most of the platforms designed for selling online courses also provide you with online course creation tools. In many cases, that may be all you need. To the extent that you want your courses to be as portable as possible, though – meaning you can move it from one online course platform to another relatively easily – it can make sense to develop your course independent of whatever platform you use to deliver the course. Most dedicated course development tools are going to conform to major e-learning standards like SCORM. That will make it much easier to change platforms, and can also make it easier to sell on multiple platforms at once.
Also, keep in mind that creating a really professional e-learning course – particularly one that is self-paced and interactive – is often not an easy task, even with user friendly tools and great knowledge of your subject. You may really want to get some help with the design, the development, or both. For that, I recommend looking for instructional designers/developers on Upwork or another freelance service. There are plenty of good ones out there, and working with one can save you a lot of time and headaches.
Online Course Creation Tools – Desktop
So, getting to the list. Here are the top downloadable/desktop choices. Keep in mind that all of these are Windows-based (though they can run on Macs that can boot Windows.)
Lesser known than some of the options covered below, iSpring represents one of the highest all around values right now for PPT-based authoring tools. Because it basically installs as an add-on to PPT, the learning curve will be much lower for most edupreneur than for other types of authoring tools. A license for iSpring Suite – which is what you need to get a range of features similar to the Adobe and Acrobat products below – is $770. You can also download iSpring for free to give it a spin. Use the code 5H9W-LSJF-9SQ2 during checkout to get 10% off or just use this link to apply the 10% discount automatically.
I’ll add, in parting, that if you want to find the number one source for tips and resources to help you create an online course, look no further than the Rapid E-learning Blog, where Tom Kuhlman has recently taken his readership past the 100K mark.
Articulate was among the earliest companies to come up with a solid tool for converting PowerPoint into online courses. The original product, Presenter, was a winner and quickly grew to dominate the “rapid e-learning” market segment. Studio is the legacy of that original product – now a bundle of multiple products – and it is full featured and very powerful. My general experience with Studio is that even beginners can get up to speed on the Presenter component pretty quickly, but mastering all of the tools in basically a career decision – it takes quite a bit of time. That said, if you are in it for the long haul and really want to do professional, rapid authoring of high quality e-learning content, either Studio, or the next Articulate product, Storyline, are hard to beat. They would be my first choice in desktop authoring except that both are Windows-only, and I am a Mac user. Studio Standard runs $999 per license, while the Pro version – which include Engage, a tool for creating interactions – runs $1,398.
You are probably best of taking a look at Articulate’s own comparison of Studio and Storyline, but the short version is that Studio is much more geared toward using PowerPoint as your core authoring tool, while Storyline – while it does support PowerPoint content – is a fully self-contained authoring tool. The main advantage, in my mind, is that this breaks you free of some of the constraints that authoring in PPT brings and makes it possible to do much more in terms of providing interactivity in your courses. Storyline coats $1,398 per license. As noted above, this is Windows only software (You can, of course, run it on Parallels or another virtual OS environment on your Mac, but I don’t see why anyone would do that when there are other good Web-based and/or Mac-compatible options.)
I also cover Adobe Captivate on the screen casting page because it has very strong screen capture and screen casting capabilities. You can do everything in it that you can in Camtasia or Screenflow, but you can also do things like “round trip” editing between PowerPoint and Captivate (i.e., do your authoring and updates in PPT and sync them with Captivate), quiz creation, output to SCORM, and publishing your course as an app. All in all, it is very powerful and definitely a tool to be considered if you are getting into serious e-learning territory. Captivate works on both Mac and PC. You can subscribe for $29.99 per month or purchase a full license for $1099 (with significant academic discounts available)
Adobe Presenter has always been the main competitor to the Articulate Presenter product. It is also PPT-driven, and provides a range of tools for converting slides into a much richer and more interactive learning experience. A traditional license for Presenter is $499 while a Creative Cloud subscription for it runs $14.99 a month – making it hard to turn down if Articulate Presenter is the main other option you are considering, and a no-brainer if you are a Windows user who is already using other Adobe Creative Cloud products. (Note: Adobe says there is no difference in functionality between the standard license and the subscription.)
Online Course Creation Tools – Web-Based
Here are some Web-based tools that are well worth checking out. With these, you don’t have to install any software. You just access them and use them through your Web browser:
Easy generator is a cloud-based course authoring tool that lives up to its name. I’ve tried it out, and it really is quite easy to use. Beginners can get up to speed quickly, but even advanced uses will like the range of features it offers. Easy generator provides a range of course templates and it takes advantage of being Web-based to make collaboration by multiple authors easy. Its output conforms to both SCORM and TinCan, and can be launched and tracked by pretty much any standards-compliant LMS. Alternatively, you can track learner progress in Easygenerator itself. There is a free version of the software, but most users will likely want to opt for the $19 per month starter plan, which allows for unlimited learners and up to 50 course.
Udutu was one of the first Web-based course authoring tools to come along, and it has the great merit of being free. Just sign up for an account and you can get started with producing full-featured courses that, like Easygenerator courses, can be installed and launched in pretty much any standards-compliant LMS. Like Easygenerator, Udutu supports multi-author collaboration, provides templates you can use for creating courses, and supports upload of PPT slides for creating courses. Edit also has its own LMS, starting at $19 a month with 50 enrollments (“credits” in Udutu-speak) included. Unlike Easygenerator, though, additional learner enrollments will cost you $5 a pop.
Other Options to Create an Online Course
As I mentioned at the beginning, this page is dedicated to special software options designed specifically to create an online course. But, you don’t have to have a specialized course authoring tool: there are numerous other options that I cover on other pages. These include:
- Screencasting (i.e., capturing audio and video from your computer screen)
- Shooting Video – this page cover the essential equipment and software you will need
- Webinars and Webcasts – Live or recorded, these can be a great option for creating courses quickly
In reality, you will likely end up using a combination of the above approaches over time, or even in the same course. Keep in mind, too, that all of these approaches can be used in combination with the popular platforms for hosting and selling online courses.
If you have questions, or want to share your own experiences with any of these tools or other tools you use to create online courses, please comment below.