This is What We Use: A Brief Primer on Instructional Design Tools Part 1

EKU Online > This is What We Use: A Brief Primer on Instructional Design Tools Part 1

Within our eclectic discipline, instructional designers (IDs) use a rather amazing variety of tools to make learning better across many fields and industries. This brief rundown discusses the technologies prospective students can expect to utilize in their careers as instructional designers, especially in organizations that are heavily focused in online or digital learning.

The Learning Management System (LMS)

When it comes to online/digital learning, the LMS is where much of the work occurs. It is a software system that supports the instructional goals and contains most of the unit activities and experiences. The primary purpose of the LMS is indeed to manage and track these elements in an organized manner, making design, instruction, and learning more efficient for all concerned.

There are dozens of major learning management systems used by thousands of public and private organizations. As an IDLT student, you will gain exposure to some of the leading LMS vendors serving K-12 and higher education. We will also encourage you to seek out real-world exposure to corporate learning management systems either in your cooperative experience or on your own as part of your own customized project work that fulfills course requirements.

The following is a conciselist of major learning management systems. Your goal as a future ID is to learn the essential skills working inside a LMS to ensure your ability to learn others quickly.

Academic Use

  • Blackboard
  • Canvas
  • Desire2Learn (D2L)
  • Moodle (Open source LMS with optional paid support)

Corporate Use

  • Adobe Captivate Prime LMS
  • Articulate Rise 360
  • SAP-Litmos
  • Docebo

Slide Based Authoring Tools

Although instructional designers tend to leverage extensive knowledge and skills to deliver successful learning initiatives, the single most sought skill in the online learning world is high proficiency with slide-based eLearning authoring tools. The two leading players in this space are Adobe with the Captivate authoring tool, and Articulate, a company that boasts a robust learning authoring suite of programs.

Adobe Captivate

Adobe’s eLearning authoring tool was originally an acquired product dating back to 2002. It has seen broad adoption in the last decade, especially in organizations where they highly utilize other Adobe Creative Suite applications. Some higher education institutions even offer this tool at no additional cost to their students, faculty, and staff.


Articulate 360 is a comprehensive authoring solution that limits the need to purchase applications across multiple vendors. It consists of the following major applications:

  • Peek, a screencasting solution with enhanced audio and video capabilities
  • Replay, a more advanced screencasting application with webcam functionality
  • Storyline, the flagship slide-based eLearning authoring application
  • Studio, a mini-suite of applications created to facilitate eLearning authoring
  • Presenter, a robust PowerPoint plugin
  • Engage, an interactive learning object creator
  • Quizmaker, a question and question pool generation application for use with the 360 suite of programs

While the cost for both of these authoring tools, even at academic prices, is significant, mastery is a marketable asset employers favor.


In recent releases of Microsoft Office, the development team has introduced and re-emphasized many features instructional designers find useful when creating learning materials. PowerPoint now contains a host of features that can make learning better for instructors, instructional designers, trainers, and learners. Microsoft has revitalized PowerPoint as a viable eLearning authoring tool, especially when used thoughtfully and appropriately.

Other Tools

Lack of access to high-end comprehensive solutions such as Articulate or Captivate does not preclude you from learning the essential concepts of eLearning authoring and applying them using less costly alternatives. While we will absolutely encourage and support you in building proficiency in these applications (which only really happens with your own deliberate practice and self-directed work), many of the techniques and methods used in these programs are immediately transferable to other platforms and applications. The following list of techniques can be used in office productivity suites, basic HTML authoring tools, chart-building applications, or even regular print media:

  • Scenario Branching
  • Case Study
  • Robust learner feedback
  • Embedded audio/video
  • Message Design
  • Pre-Training effect

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