If you’re hoping to move into a career in instructional design, chances are you need to learn some of the common tools and technology. Most instructional designers need at least some basic technology skills to get their first job. But, there are so many tools available that it can be overwhelming to know where to start. In this post, I’ll help you prioritize what to learn and share resources for learning those important skills in authoring tools and other technology.
This is part 4 in a series about how to become an instructional designer. You can find links to the rest of the series at the end of this post.
You don’t need to know both programs, but I recommend at least a basic understanding of at least one of these tools. Storyline is easier to learn because it’s more similar to PowerPoint, and it’s the more common tool used in most workplaces.
One tip for job seekers: Check the job listings in your local area. What tools are most requested? Let that guide your decision on which tool to learn first.
Free trials and discounts
Both of these tools offer free trials. Try to storyboard or plan a sample to develop before downloading the trial so you can get the most out of your free trial time. If you need additional time, Articulate may extend a free trial if you request it. Adobe also offers ways to earn points in their community in order to get a free Captivate license.
Both Articulate and Adobe offer educational discounts as well. If you are a teacher or enrolled as a student at a university, it’s worth looking at those discounts.
- The User Guide for Articulate Storyline 360 provides comprehensive documentation on the tool. To get started, review numbers 1-15 (the basics of setting up a new project, the Storyline interface, and working with slides and layers). The rest of the features you can review as you need them for projects.
- Articulate’s online community and forums are very active and helpful.
- Tim Slade’s Beginner’s Guide to Articulate Storyline is a good introduction to the tool, plus Tim has additional videos on his YouTube channel.
- Artisan Elearning hosted a webinar on The Least You Need to Know about Articulate Storyline 360. This was recorded early in the pandemic with a goal of providing a way to get up to speed quickly. Use this as a starting point to prepare you for other training.
- Ashley Chiasson has a growing collection of Storyline tutorials on her website.
- The eLearning Uncovered Storyline 360 book is another solid reference. (That’s an Amazon affiliate link. If you buy a book from a link on my blog, it doesn’t cost you anything extra, but I get a small portion of the profits to help pay for hosting this site.)
You can find free tutorials on YouTube and other sites.
- Paul Wilson’s YouTube channel has numerous tutorials.
- The IconLogic blog has tips on Captivate, Storyline, Camtasia, RoboHelp, and more. This blog has helped me troubleshoot problems in a tool on multiple occasions.
- Lieve Weymeis’s blog is more useful after you have the basics down, but she has great explanations of what’s possible with advanced actions and complex interactions.
- You can ask questions in the Adobe Captivate forum.
- I own several editions of the eLearning Uncovered Captivate books. These have been my reference manuals while learning new versions of Captivate.
Other authoring tools
Other authoring tools are available, such as H5P, 7taps, Easygenerator, and Lectora. I don’t think these tools are as high a priority when you’re just starting in the field. The exception would be if something is in-demand in your local area. For example, some tools have gained popularity in Europe without being used often in the US or Canada. Check your job market to see what employers want.
Learning Management Systems
If you’re looking for an instructional design job in higher education, experience with a Learning Management System (LMS) is very helpful. You can try Moodle for free (or even install it on your own server if you’re ambitious). Canvas also allows a free trial.
If you’re seeking jobs in workplace training, expertise in an LMS is likely not as critical. You can usually learn on the job anything you need to know about LMSs for most corporate instructional design jobs.
When job listings ask for “SCORM” knowledge, they usually just mean knowing how to publish from Storyline or Captivate in SCORM format. You might need to do some testing and troubleshooting with different settings, but it’s rare to need more than that.
Basic experience with image, audio, and video editing is beneficial. Of the three, image editing skills are the most important. Realistically, you can probably learn these skills on the job if you don’t already have them. These are all “nice to have” rather than required if you’re just getting started.
Photos and images
You don’t need to be a pro at Photoshop, but you need to know how to crop images and do some basic editing like removing backgrounds and recoloring images.
If you’re on a budget, the Affinity suite is much more affordable than the Adobe Creative Cloud. Affinity requires a one-time payment rather than a subscription model. I use both Affinity Design and Affinity Photo for my own work (Design for illustrations, Photo for photographs).
SnagIt is great for screen captures, especially if you’re doing software documentation.
I use the open source tool Audacity for audio editing.
- I primarily use Camtasia for screen recording and video editing. Camtasia also has animation tools for text and objects, as well as the ability to create interactive videos with hotspots and questions.
- OpenShot is a free, open source video editor.
- Canva has free video editing (and a Pro version with more options).
- Vyond creates animated videos with characters. I use Vyond for creating short videos and for scenarios with animated characters.
- Powtoon is another tool for creating animated videos.
Note: The above list assumes that you are already familiar with Microsoft Office programs, including PowerPoint. If not, start with those skills. Instructional design for face-to-face training often means developing PowerPoint presentations and Word handouts. Creating elearning often involves storyboarding, usually in Word or PowerPoint. Spreadsheets are used for analyzing data, tracking time, and other business tasks.
Do you really need technology skills?
Some instructional design jobs don’t require any technology skills at all. Companies with larger teams often split into specialized roles for instructional designers (who focus on analysis, design, and storyboarding) and elearning or multimedia developers (who build courses in authoring tools or as custom development). This is more likely at elearning agencies and vendors who create training for other companies.
However, it’s harder to find a job (especially a first job in the field) if you don’t have any of these technical skills. Having more skills opens up more options and opportunities. This is especially true now in 2023 when there are so many people transitioning to the field of instructional design and the competition for entry-level jobs is stiff.
When I originally posted this in 2007, it generated a lot of discussion about whether or not technology skills are necessary. (Because this was an older post, the references to specific software are pretty dated.) Learning the tools isn’t sufficient for becoming an instructional designer, but I do think you need some of these technology skills to be successful.
In another post, I described two big technology skills that I think are critical:
- Learning technology quickly and independently: You don’t stop learning once you get your first job. You keep learning all the time. Technology changes quickly, so you have to continuously improve. The recent proliferation of AI tools means the pace of change is increasing. Nobody knows for certain what the tools in the field will look like 5 or 10 years from now, so you need to prepare to keep learning and growing your skills to adapt.
- Understanding how different tools can be used effectively: Even if you don’t do development yourself, you need to understand the capabilities of the tools and be able to describe what you want to others. This is also about choosing the right tool for the situation.
If you hate learning new technology or really struggle to learn it on your own, instructional design may not be a career that really makes you happy. Later in this series, I talk more about figuring out if instructional design is a good career choice or not.
Other Posts in this Series
- What Does an Instructional Designer Do?
- Getting Into Instructional Design
- Resources for Learning Instructional Design Skills
- Technology Skills for Instructional Designers (current post)
- Professional Organizations for Instructional Designers
- Is Instructional Design the Right Career?
Read all my posts about Instructional Design Careers here.
Originally published June 7, 2007. Republished with significant updates March 7, 2019. Updated 6/10/20, 5/15/2023. My list of technology skills recommended here has changed quite a bit in that time. When I first published this, Flash was a common requested tool for instructional designers. When I revised this in 2019, we were planning for Flash’s demise. I’m now focusing this post on just a few basic skills to get started, although my original post listed 10+ skills. The comments on this post reflect the changes in the field over the last 15+ years.