4 questions to ask when selecting e-learning authoring tools.

April 2017 has been a big month for e-learning authoring tools with the release of Articulate Storyline 3 and Adobe Captivate 2017. Both Storyline and Captivate have the option of subscribing to the software or buying a perpetual license. But, which is the better approach?

What are the two approaches?
With a subscription, you pay a certain amount of money per month or per year, and you get access to the software and typically any updates the company releases during your subscription period. When the subscription period is up, you either renew or cancel. If you cancel, then you can no longer use the authoring tool. You can still use any courses you published from the tool, but you can’t go in and make any edits or create any new courses.

With a perpetual license, you pay a one-time fee, and you are can use the software as long as you want (or at least as long as technology allows you). If the software has any upgrades (typically every one to two years), you can then decide if you want to pay for the upgrade or not.

For example, if you buy a license to Articulate Storyline 3, you pay your money now, and you still use the same version of the software three or four years later without paying another dime. When Storyline 4 is released, you can choose what to do: You can keep using version 3 or you can pay the money (typically half of the original purchase price) to get version 4. You can then use version 4 as long as you want.

What are the advantages of a subscription?
With a subscription, your upfront costs are lower. For example, if you buy a perpetual license of Adobe Captivate 2017, the list price is $1,099. The subscription price is $360 per year, paid monthly at $29.99. So, if you’d rather pay a lower amount over time than a higher amount right away, a subscription may be a better choice. You can pay a subscription for three years for the same amount it costs to buy a perpetual license. (In comparison, a subscription to Articulate 360 is $999 per year, while a perpetual license to Articulate Storyline 3 is $1,395.)

With a subscription, you always get the latest updates. If you’re interested in always having the latest technology and advancements, then a subscription is likely less expensive over time than an outright purchase, plus all the upgrade fees. (Be sure to do the math for yourself. Fees vary significantly from one software tool to another.)

With a subscription, you may get extra features. With Articulate 360, the subscription model includes more than just the Storyline authoring tool. It also includes access to a robust content library, a tool to help you manage review cycles, as well as other development tools. These extra options are only available through the subscription. (This is part of why Articulate’s subscription price is higher than Adobe Captivate’s subscription price.)

What are the advantages of a perpetual license?
With a perpetual license, you don’t have to worry if the money is going to still be available year after year. You pay your money once and then you use the tool as long as you want. This is nice for grant-funded projects or in environments with high budget uncertainty. You don’t have to wonder how you’ll make or edit a course next year if the budget runs out and you can’t renew your subscription.

With a perpetual license, you don’t have to worry as much about the long-term viability of the authoring tool. When you buy and install the software, the vendor can go out of business and you can still use the tool. If it’s a subscription model, then you may not be able to continue to use the tool once the subscription period expires.

How do you choose?
Consider these four questions as you make the choice:

  • How important are the latest and greatest features? If they are important, then a subscription model is best.
  • How important are any extra features? If the subscription has valuable extras, then it might be worth the money. If extra features feel like having to pay for cable channels you’ll never watch, then maybe it isn’t the right choice.
  • When will the money be available? If you know you have money now, but aren’t certain about the future, then a perpetual license might be better. If you don’t have as much now and feel confident you’ll renew year after year, then a subscription might be better.
  • Do your purchasing or IT departments have any restrictions? Some organizations only allow perpetual licenses. Others prefer subscriptions.

When you are making your decisions, look at all costs, including support fees. And, be sure to negotiate! Many tools offer discounts to nonprofits or offer special promotions.

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