Common Elearning Development Tools

This article discusses four common elearning development tools; Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate, Adobe Flash (which is nearing extinction), and HTML5.  If you would like to download our more comprehensive eLearning Authoring Tool Guide, click here.

Storyline and Captivate are elearning authoring tools.  This means that they include built-in logic to assist in the development of elearning courseware.  For example, both of these tools include several navigation and quiz-making options, enabling you to focus on the content rather than the logic that enables the course to function.

Flash and HTML5 are raw programming languages that can be used for a wide variety of purposes.  As such, they do not offer any elearning-specific logic, so all course functionality needs to be created from scratch.  Some developers like these tools because they provide more flexibility, but their lack of built-in elearning logic requires more development time.

Articulate Storyline 2

Storyline 2 by Articulate has quickly become a favorite elearning authoring tool. This easy-to-use program provides many features to help create engaging and effective training courses, and deliver them in a variety of formats.

Storyline offers an intuitive and customizable interface. Toggle between different views to streamline course production: “Story View” shows the big-picture layout, and manages slide organization and navigation; “Slide View” builds individual slides. The interface is customizable with dockable panels, which allow you to arrange your workspace, even across two monitors.

The timeline-based environment in Slide View is one of our favorite features. The timeline quickly synchronizes text and graphics to audio narration. Being able to visualize screen elements in a timeline—and how they interact on screen—benefits developer creativity. Built-in transitions and animations present content fluidly.

Storyline’s motion path feature lets you move an object along a predetermined path at any point on the timeline, adding a new level of interest to any object on screen. Enhanced text editing gives more control over how text appears on screen, allowing developers to fine tune lines, character spacing, and text alignment for better readability.

The ability to quickly create stunning interactions in Storyline is key for designers. Designers can select one of many designed interaction templates, or the new slider interaction.

Alternatively, it’s also possible to create an interaction from scratch by using features such as slide layers, object states, and triggers:

  • Slide layers. Design and organize all interaction content on one screen.
  • Object states. Change the appearance of an object.
  • Direct on-screen actions when specific events occur, at certain times, or when specified conditions are met.

For example, reveal content in a slide layer when a learner clicks a button, then change the color of the button after it’s clicked. Setting up triggers and object states to create these interactions is simple—they’re menu-driven with standard dropdown selections. Complex and time-consuming coding are unnecessary.

Storyline can publish courses to a variety of formats, including HTML5, Flash, Learning Management Systems, and the Articulate Mobile Player app for iPad and Android. Courses can also be downloaded for offline viewing and read by screen readers, such as JAWS, for visually impaired learners.

As more and more of clients take advantage of mobile learning solutions, Storyline offers comprehensive, media-rich elearning that adapts easily to different platforms. While not all features work similarly on different platforms and browsers, Storyline provides the necessary tools to address these design challenges.


Adobe Captivate

Adobe Captivate has proven to be a powerful and effective tool for creating engaging training courses. When clients need to train employees, salespeople, or customers on their proprietary software application, we often turn to Captivate for the powerful software training features it provides.

When designing application-specific software training, there are two types of interactions:

  • Teach a new concept, show step-by-step scenarios within the application, highlight key features, and provide tips for best practices.
  • Guide the learner through a relative situation or scenario to practice new skills and reinforce mastery of content. Assess knowledge and verify that learners know how to use an application by requiring them to perform specific tasks.

Whether creating demonstrations or simulations, the key to a successful training experience is effectively engaging the learner and capturing their attention throughout the training. At LeanForward, we do that by adding a variety of interactive and multimedia elements, all of which are available in Captivate.

To create effective application-specific training, it’s important to develop a simulated training environment that mimics the functionality and usability of the real application. We achieve this with the automatic screen capture feature in Captivate. This functionality captures all screen actions and backgrounds, and records all mouse movements.

Captured sequences can be edited further by changing the order and timing of screens. When updates are necessary, Captivate provides the ability to modify backgrounds or record and insert additional sequences quickly. Recorded mouse movements and clicks can be changed to fine-tune the interaction.

Once screen captures are complete, we enhance training with a variety of media elements and effects available in Captivate:

  • Display text captions and synchronized audio to coincide with on-screen actions.
  • Reveal additional content when learners roll their mouse over a hot spot.
  • Use highlights and zoom-in features to focus learners’ attention on particular areas of the screen.
  • Use animated text and subtle transitions to add visual interest.
  • Add click-boxes so learners can practice step-by-step procedures in a simulated environment.

These elements, when used appropriately and consistently, attract learners’ attention and keep them focused, ultimately providing a positive and memorable learning experience.


As noted earlier, Flash is nearing extinction.  So why did we decide to include it in this article?  Flash played an important role in elearning development for many years, so we think it’s important to understand how it helped get elearning where it is today, and why most developers who want flexibility in elearning development have moved to HTML5.

A little background: In June 2007, Apple released the iPhone, revolutionizing the smartphone. The iPhone offered a much larger screen than older smartphones and introduced touchscreen navigation. This enabled iPhone users to navigate the web just as they would with a mouse.

The larger screen and touchscreen navigation suggested that the iPhone could be used for elearning, but it came with a shock: failure to support Flash. As the dominate animation development tool, Flash had been a proven standard for multiplatform development in elearning for a decade. It provided an excellent method to gain users’ attention and keep them interested through animation, interactivity, video, and simulations.

Developers assumed the iPhone would eventually support Flash, but they soon realized Apple would never support Flash. In April 2010, Steve Jobs put speculation to rest by releasing a paper titled “Thoughts on Flash,” which made it clear that Apple had no intention of ever supporting Flash. As far as Jobs was concerned, Flash was created for PCs and not appropriate for low-power mobile devices with touchscreen interfaces.

Apple’s refusal to support Flash, combined with the popularity of the iPhone and iPad, put elearning developers in a difficult position, as they still needed to develop elearning programs that:

  • Provided end users with an engaging and interactive multimedia experience
  • Were compatible with most end users’ devices
  • Could be developed efficiently

Until the success of Apple’s mobile devices, Flash satisfied all three requirements. It enabled developers to bring elearning programs to life, was a top browser plugin and even came preinstalled on some browsers, and was supported by all non-Apple devices, including Google’s open-source Android operation system.

As a mature, well-developed application, Flash provided an efficient means for creating visually appealing elearning courseware. Another major advantage of Flash was the ability for multi-platform development, so that elearning programs looked virtually identical on different browsers, or even from PC to Mac.

Apple’s refusal to support Flash left elearning developers with difficult choices:

  • Should they sacrifice some—or all—interactivity to develop cost-effective animations compatible with Apple and traditional mobile devices?
  • Should they dedicate time and effort to develop two versions of animations—highly interactive Flash-based animations and less interactive versions for Apple devices?
  • Should they create animations in HTML5, which was compatible with Apple’s mobile devices and traditional devices but offered limited functionality?
  • Should they continue to use Flash, knowing that end users could not access programs on Apple mobile devices?


The answer to the Flash conundrum soon appeared in HTML5. When Apple threw its weight behind the early stages of HTML5, progress in development and adoption of HTML5 quickly accelerated and made it a viable alternative to Flash. Additionally, Adobe disclosed several critical Flash vulnerabilities, accelerating the migration.

Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome placed Flash on a default “blocklist,” meaning all versions of Adobe’s Flash Player plugin were deactivated by default. This was a clear victory for information security but a major inconvenience, especially for content providers that had to remove Flash from their programs.

Content providers have reevaluated how much content used Flash, and whether they needed to update their content to alternative technologies. At LeanForward, we’ve migrated from Flash to HTML for courseware development and reached out to clients with older courseware to help them evaluate their options.

The migration from Adobe Flash to HTML has been aided significantly by the upgrade to HTML5. HTML5 enables developers to create more exciting and interactive content, which was a struggle in HTML4 and earlier versions. Content developed in HMTL5 is universally accessible across mobile and non-mobile platforms.

eLearning developers that want more flexibility than they can find in an elearning authoring tool and have the skills and time to develop in HTML5 can now produce highly engaging and interactive courseware.  However, even in 2017, millions of machines use older browser versions that do not fully support HTML5. Many large corporations and government agencies still run Internet Explorer 8 and 9, with no immediate plans to upgrade.

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