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Should you be using the built-in authoring tools in an LMS?

build-in tutoring tools in an LMS

In our How to choose an LMS eBook we discussed the authoring tools that are built into LMSs. In this blog post I want to talk more about the problems with using your LMS as an authoring tool.

Why do LMSs have built-in authoring tools to begin with?

It is common for LMSs such as Moodle or Canvas, that were designed for educational users, to have a built-in authoring tool. This is great for when the teacher or lecturer is also the elearning designer and developer; having the authoring tool and delivery mechanism in the one place reduces complexity. A teacher can simply add documents and links to courses. With Moodle you can just drag the files into the courses. This works extremely well for blended learning experiences where the core experience is face to face and the online experience is an additional component. If the core experience is online only then a course that is merely a collection of links and PDFs often fails to be engaging or successful.

Canvas LMS has some powerful easy-to-use authoring features, and because of this, lecturers have found it easy to use, and universities that are using Canvas LMS have seen increased uptake in the use of online and blended learning.

Workplaces that have subject matter experts authoring courses can realise similar gains by using built-in authoring tools. Once again, the risk is the quality of the learning experience. Often when subject matter experts are authoring content, what they actually do is simply share knowledge. It’s just a knowledge dump.

In schools and universities, most teachers and lecturers need to be able to add content to courses. Everyone having a copy of Articulate Storyline would be prohibitively expensive, so with built-in authoring tools within the LMS costing no extra, it’s no surprise they’re widely used.

The issues with using built-in LMS authoring tools

It makes it harder for the organisation to move to another LMS
Most built-in authoring tools don't have good export features. Some of our clients have had to copy and paste literally thousands of pages of content from their old LMS into the new LMS or authoring tool. The portability of learning resources is something that should be thought about with any elearning authoring tool.

Built-in authoring tools lack a rich set of interactive activities
Tools like the lesson tool in Moodle/Totara do have some useful interactions, but they're still pretty limited compared to the interactive possibilities offered by Captivate, Storyline or Glasshouse (Sprout Labs’ cloud-based authoring tool). The lack of flexibility in built-in authoring tools can often restrict your instructional design possibilities.

General courses that are authored using built-in tools are unattractive
I haven't seen a course yet that was developed with a built-in LMS authoring tool that is attractive or has an easy-to-use interface.

Why use an authoring tool that’s not built in to your LMS?

Using an authoring tool outside of an LMS gives everyone a lot more flexibility. They normally have a rich set of interactions and powerful controls over the look-and-feel. Rapid development tools export in portable formats like SCORM that are portable between LMSs. The drawback is the SCORM workflow, where you need to make the change, export the files and then upload them to the LMS. This is messy and complex compared to simply making a quick change within the LMS.

With Glasshouse we have added a system called Learning Technologies Integration (LTI), which means the learning experience built in Glasshouse can be launched by a learner just by clicking on a link. They are automatically logged in and then their results are sent back to the LMS. Because Glasshouse is a cloud-based authoring system, users can rapidly make changes and not have to deal with the SCORM workflow. 

Most authoring systems are still not perfect. They normally have a project file format that is then exported for uploading to the LMS. The exported version is normally a view-only format that can't be edited. We have seen a few clients lose the source files (or not ask for them to begin with). SCORM is often thought about as a portable format but it’s only a delivery format – e.g. it tell the LMS which file in the ‘exported files’ to load. Just because it’s a SCORM file does not mean it can be exported. The only really portable format is pure HTML files, which can be opened and edited in any text editor. A growing number of tools, including Glasshouse, export HTML.

My advice is that in most cases you are better off not using the authoring tool that is built into the LMS, and instead adopt an elearning authoring tool that exports HTML files or cloud-based authoring – such as Glasshouse – that gives you easy of authoring in LMSs and the flexibility and portability of an elearning authoring tool.


Find out more about Glasshouse