Budget (but not free) eLearning Content Creation Tools

Can we all agree that paying recurring costs for licensing software, particularly when you are a small (or even one-person) team, sucks? It ends up being a large, recurring cost that can be difficult to justify or subsidize, particularly in lean times. Oftentimes you don’t even need all the new and shiny features that a regular subscription provides.

But purchasing software outright (when it’s still an option, as many companies no longer offer it) can have a prohibitively expensive up-front cost—high-end software often costs upwards of $1000 dollars, even for just a single license.

But, free tools aren’t always the answer either. Sure, some great free options exist, but often, zero-cost options have significantly limited functionality, poor support, or confusing interfaces that make the tools more complicated to use than paid versions.

So, how do you get around this? The best bet for small teams is to find a reasonably priced product packed with functionality without recurring costs.

Easy enough right?

Today I’ll share a couple of products that I like with a reasonable budget point ($50 or less) and pack a ton of functionality. Even better, these tools often offer volume or academic discounts, or you can find them on regular sales.

Techsmith: Snagit

I was introduced to Snagit in my days working an IT Helpdesk, and I have to give a shoutout to the Michigan-based company. The incredibly powerful, fast tool lets you take and mark up screenshots as well as capture short instructional videos from your computer screen. While most modern operating systems have built-in functionality to capture screenshots, Snagit truly shines with its markup and editing features.

With Snagit, you can quickly convert text from images to editable text, select and move around screen elements, and number the steps in a process, all from within the program. You can even easily magnify or highlight different areas of your screenshot for emphasis. Snagit 2018 even allows you to create animated gifs—and the internet always needs more gifs. Finally, it makes it easy to export and share your files with others, and of course, save them to a variety of formats for more in-depth editing if you need.

For $50 (Techsmith offers both educational and volume discounts), it’s one heckuva piece of software. The company also offers Camtasia for video editing, and other products to develop and host eLearning, but I haven’t had the chance to give them a whirl yet.

Serif: Affinity

For most of my career, I’ve been a slave to the Adobe Creative Suite (and later Creative Cloud) software packages. Adobe includes incredibly powerful pieces of software that accomplish a variety of tasks, but it’s certainly not for the budget conscious. Sure, free alternatives exist for some aspects, but these tools are often slow with wide array of technical glitches (here’s looking at you, GIMP).

Enter Affinity Photo and Designer, stage left.

For $50 a pop, I replaced what I need Photoshop and Illustrator to do with these software packages. And they are FAST. Most of the UI is designed for people coming from an Adobe world, so the adjustment period isn’t too bad. Though, it took me some time to adjust to the color picker working in a decidedly odd and unintuitive way.

I’m looking forward to the day when Affinity offers a legitimate InDesign replacement, and I’ll finally be able to kick my CC subscription to the curb.

If you’re lucky, you can catch both programs on sale for around $35.

Hemmingway Editor

It’s essential to include crisp, clear language in your eLearning copy. Enter Hemmingway Editor, an easy-to-use text editor.

“Wait, why do I need yet another text editor?” you ask, warily?

While you can write in your Word processor of choice, dropping the text into Hemmingway afterwards helps you really tighten up the language. The tool checks for instances of passive voice (which you should avoid), highlights complex sentences that may be difficult to read, and even tells you when you’re using too many adverbs. The program gives you a word count and a readability score as well.

The web-based version is free, but the desktop app (only 20 bucks), allows you to import and export to different formats, including markdown and HTML—which can be useful for importing the new, improved copy with formatting into your LMS of choice.

Do you have any other budget tools that you like? We’re always on the lookout for new, useful options to make our workflow more efficient and quality centered. Have you used any of these tools and love or hate them? Want to argue about the pronunciation of “gif”? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter!

Author: Dave Zokvic, Assistant Instructional Designer

Dave helps Model eLearning forge narrative and gamified eLearning and side-hustles as a writer and designer for Northward Compass. Off the clock, he’s likely eating sushi, wandering around a bookstore, playing tabletop games, or picking up his next ‘digital native’ skill.

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