The True Cost of Free eLearning Authoring Tools



Baffled? Well, don’t be. That’s short for the popular adage, “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. If you asked who coined this, the answer is unclear but there are two famous personalities who used this term- economist Milton Friedman and science fiction author Robert Heinlein. What the statement really points at, is the fact that though there are many products and services that are available for free, but usually come with hidden charges that are revealed later.

Off late eLearning authoring tools have been high on demand. But when it comes to choosing an authoring tool buyers are often attracted by the term ‘free’.Free authoring tools come without any initial-upfront cost, beginners at eLearning authoring or organizations that wish to do a test run may find this alluring, but often there is a maintenance cost that follows. Here are a few ways in which a free eLearning authoring tool could actually cost you much more than a purchased one.

1. Add-ons & Maintenance

Free authoring tools usually offer only limited features, which is why you then have to purchase additional features as add-ons. The added cost for selected add-ons can go even higher than that of authoring tools with license charges. Another aspect is maintenance. Updates, upgrades, off-the shelf courses or eLearning content and hosting facility if required, all come at a cost. The maintenance could be free for a fixed time period, but later on the charges can be even higher than that of others.

2. Staying up-to-date

Content, software, additional integrated tools, all have a shelf-life after which all need to be updated or upgraded. When we pick a free authoring tool, the process of updates and upgrades fall outside the description of freeware. The cost for such tasks varies from provider to provider. In many cases, it is advisable to look for low cost eLearning authoring tools instead of opting for a free version.

3. Scalability

The best way to explain this without generalizing is that, at times free authoring tools offer a platform that is free for say 10 users and then start charging for each user added thereafter, this added charge for individual users could go beyond what is charged by eLearning authoring tools that come at fixed price for larger number of users.

4. Asset Library

We know that most authoring tools come with in-built asset libraries, with characters, animations, high resolution images etc. But do free tools offer these? And if they do, then at what cost?

5. Integrations

eLearning authoring involves collaboration, and collaborative tools are usually third party apps. While common authoring tools are integrated conferencing, discussion tools at place, free tools often don’t. Such integrations can either be incompatible, too complex or overpriced.

 6. Data Migration & Branding

What happens if you have existing content that has to be modified. Not all free authoring tools allow migration of content and even if it does, there are chances that it needs complete modification due to compatibility issues. Not only that, if you are keen on customizations and branding, the free authoring tool may not have all the elements that you are looking for.

‘Free’ eLearning authoring tool may sound good and be lucrative, but it often has its own set of challenges too. While eLearning authoring tools are designed to facilitate eLearning development with ease, free authoring tools may require more expertise and knowledge to begin with. While it may not be entirely a bad choice, it still falls short in many aspects when compared with a platform that charges fees for subscription or license.

So, what would you opt for?

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