What tools should instructional designers use?

With 33% of employees describing corporate training content as “uninspiring,” the pressure is always on instructional designers to create compelling courses that really pop.

Organizations with poor onboarding and corporate training content experience up to twice the levels of staff turnover as those that manage to get it right. In fact, firms that encourage a strong learning culture have seen their employee retention rise by 30-50%. At Nickelled, we believe the best way to deliver effective training content and encourage learning and development is by using interactive training software. That’s why we’ve built a walkthrough tool that educates your users using interactive guides.

In this blog post, we’re taking a look at what authoring tools top instructional design teams turn to, and which are most appropriate and each stage of the course development lifecycle.

What tools do instructional designers use?

Instructional design software refers to any tool that helps designers create engaging e-learning content. They make it easier for L&D teams to craft corporate learning courses and tutorials that resonate with their employees

Choosing the right tools for the job helps training teams build more interactive, high-quality courses. 

Below we take a look at some of the software an instructional designer uses to create content.

Course development software

Also known as course authoring, course development software is the backbone of your training course. It allows you to build the interactive lessons and tutorials that constitute the core of your e-learning tutorial.

Course development tools allow you to: 

  • Build course content from scratch. You can create lessons, quizzes, product walkthroughs and more to suit your needs.
  • Import existing lesson material from files on your computer and other e-learning platforms.
  • Host your lesson content and provide access to employees.

Instructional design storyboard software

Storyboard software is the place where you gather your thoughts before you start with the course development. Storyboarding serves to organize images and graphics in order to visualize the interactive tutorial before you set out on the production of your course materials.

Storyboard software is used in pre-production and provides a blueprint of sorts, so everyone on the team has a good idea of how the information in the course will be presented to users.

The storyboarding stage of course development ensures you understand and have properly developed the overall narrative of your training before you start laying it out. This planning and preparation stage helps you to avoid mission creep, ensuring your lessons stay concise and on point.

Mind mapping software

With a mind mapping workspace, you can collect and brainstorm your thoughts with other members of your team. Corporate learning courses need to cover a wide range of material and the initial brainstorming process allows you to collect and assess the quality of these materials. Representing your thoughts visually is an effective way to take notes and cloud-based mind mapping tools allow team members to visualise their thoughts and share them with key stakeholders.

Presentation Tools 

Corporate training is often delivered using presentations and slideshows. A slideshow is almost always necessary for in-person and remote live tutorials.

You can create engaging and beautiful learning materials with a strong understanding of instructional design and some skill with presentation software. Presentation tools can be used alongside course development software and are often integrated into it. Tools like Microsoft PowerPoint and Google Slides are great standalone alternatives for training presentations.

Learning Management Systems

The built-in course authoring software in some Learning Management Systems replaces the need for stand-alone software. But if you don’t have a way of collating your courses together, investing in an LMS can significantly improve your learning experience.

Video Editing Software

Educators creating video tutorials need an editing suite to tweak and polish their training clips. Unedited videos with long pauses, drawn-out segments and no visual aids will leave your audience unengaged.   

Editing software allows you to: 

  • Edit out any gaps in your recording.
  • Import media, such as photos, video clips, and music into your training project.
  • Overlay graphics and images and even animate elements to improve the production value of your video.
  • Export your training video into the format required for your course authoring tool or distribution platform.

Professional video editing suites can be expensive, but platforms like iMovie, DaVinci Resolve and Hitfilm offer trial and freemium versions to get you started. 

You’ll also need a screen capture tool if you’re planning on making video walkthroughs. Read our guide on how to choose the right screen recorder here.

Choosing The Right Instructional Design Software Tool

Now you know what types of software you may end up using, you can start to build a shortlist.

Consider the following questions when you’re building out your instructional design software suite.

  • What can your organization afford? Explore free, open source options as well as commercial software. 
  • What files will you be using?
  • Will you be able to easily send your output to your LMS?
  • What kind of functions do you need?
  • Are you making online courses that include videos, audios, or games? Will your software support this?
  • Does the authoring program come with training or online support?
  • Do you think the product is easy to learn?
  • Do you know if others are using the tool in your organization?

Top eLearning Authoring Tools To Consider in 2021


If you’re training employees on how to use internal software or common cloud-based software packages, you should consider Nickelled

Our guided tour tools and Help Assistant provide easy, on-screen guidance for your employees while they use your enterprise apps. 

By integrating learning moments within the programs your employees use on a regular basis, you can quickly and effectively teach them new processes and provide them with the help and support they need. 

Using Nickelled, your training content can be delivered directly from the cloud and integrated into your employee’s workflows, rather than requiring dedicated learning time.

Nickelled can save your L&D teams and developers tons of time, as tutorials are quick and easy to create and your employees don’t have to take time away from their tasks to undergo training –it’s delivered directly to the apps they use.

Our user onboarding package starts at $249 per month, which gives you up to 2,500 monthly active users and an unlimited number of guides. If you want to try before you buy, Nickelled also offers a 14-day fully-featured free trial!

Adobe Captivate

Adobe Captivate allows you to seamlessly go from storyboarding to responsive eLearning courses. We reviewed Captivate more fully here, but it’s a popular tool for a reason, with a broad range of capabilities and full functionality across mobile and desktop.

Articulate 360

​Articulate 360 includes both Storyline 360 and Rise 360, plus a number of other authoring tools. Use Storyline 360 to create interactive, device-agnostic courses.

TechSmith Camtasia

Camtasia is a great screen recording and editing tool for capturing and producing video walkthroughs and training clips. With the platform, you can design beautiful and engaging videos for your course – ready to publish to your e-learning authoring platform. 

Camtasia lets you easily insert text, audio, video, and other multimedia elements to spruce up your training videos. This video editor has a number of impressive built-in special effects, filters, animations and transitions to choose from. You can also use a pre-built video template to speed up the process. Unlike many SaaS applications today, Camtasia is sold as a standalone application – not a subscription. The Camtasia suite starts at $300 per user for a lifetime licence, with one year of maintenance and updates included in the price.

iSpring Suite

iSpring Suite is a powerful e-learning plugin for Microsoft PowerPoint that lets you build mobile-compatible courses through PowerPoint and convert your materials into HTML5 and SCORM courses.

With iSpring Suite you can create presentations, quizzes, and videos without any special training. iSpring allows you to create interactive e-books from existing Word, PDF, and PPT manuals and textbooks with the click of a button.

iSpring Suite starts at $770 per author per year.


Lectora is another online course authoring tool that allows L&D teams to create responsive, interactive online courses. 

It can be used to create screencast lessons with images and text or to mix and record sounds and add them to your content.

This suite offers many features and provides powerful options for instructional designers. You can easily create quizzes, games, and other educational content. Lectora bills itself as the ‘accessibility leader’ in the e-learning space because all of its courses are WCAG-compliant.

The online version of Lectora starts at $999 per user per year. This gives you access to Lectora’s vast asset library and ReviewLink – their collaborative authoring tool for sharing your courses with stakeholders. You can try Lectora for free with their 30-day trial.  


Elucidat is a great instructional design tool because it lets designers create responsive content that’s compatible with HTML5. The content you create on Elucidat loads quickly and is compatible with most browsers. Elucidat also uses cloud technology, which is great for collaboration.

Why do we need eLearning authoring tools at all?

The main goal of eLearning authoring tools is to save instructional designers’ time and energy. The idea of these tools is to provide instructional designers with a set of ready-made functions and templates that can be used to create courses quickly and easily, using a set of drag and drop functions. These tools are used to create interactive e-learning courses that can be delivered over the Internet. These interactive courses can include simulations, games, video content, quizzes, and so on, which can be difficult to implement without an eLearning tool to hand!

When should I use an eLearning authoring package vs a digital adoption platform?

Authoring tools and digital adoptions platforms are both used to create online courses. However, these two types of software are designed for different purposes.

Digital adoption platforms are used to help learners adopt new digital technologies, such as a new software package being implemented in the workplace. Digital adoption platforms are also used to create online courses that can be sent out to learners via that software, so the learning process is less obtrusive for learners.

Authoring tools can be used for a broader set of learning use cases. For instance, you can create an eLearning package which helps employees pick up a new legal compliance process which has nothing to do with software. A digital adoption platform may not be the right tool to pick in this scenario.