Tools for Freelance Instructional Designers

 Six months ago I posted “Tools for Freelance Instructional Designers”, with a compilation of various tools recommended by freelance instructional designers in LinkedIn. With this update, the suggestions are categorized as “open” (free to use) and “commercial” (pay for use).

Some limitations of making this kind of list - many applications have a free version, in addition to a paid, premium version, with additional features, capabilities, etc. For the purposes of this post, if a free version is available (more than just a free trial), the application is listed in the “open” column. All of this is of course subject to change as these products evolve and change hands. 

The Tools - Open and Commercial

  Open Commercial
Software Suites and Packages Open Office, Google Apps Adobe Creative Suite, Adobe eLearning Suite, Articulate Studio, Microsoft Office
Rapid Development Screenr Captivate, Lectora, Cam Studio, Camtasia, ArticulateSnap
Screencapture/Screencast Jing, Screenhunter, Screenr Snagit
Image/Photo Editing GIMP PaintNetPaintShop Pro
Video Celtx Script Writing Sony Vegas Pro, Sorenson Squeeze, After Effects
Audio Audacity, Levelator Adobe Audition CC
Delivery WordPress, Moodle, Drupal Blackboard
Synchronous Communication Skype, Oovoo, Google Talk/Voice WebEx, Lync
Project Management OpenWorkbench, Evernote Tom's Planner, MSProject
Business Operations Dropbox, PrimoPDF, FreshBooks, MyHours.com, BullZip, Zoho Harvest, Adobe Acrobat, QuickBooks, FastTrack, PDFPen
And more... Notepad++, iSpringFree, PreziXtranormal, ReadtheWords.com, Tokbox, Adobe Color CC, Wampserver, Color Schemer, Fireshot Firestarter, SwishMax, MindManager, Balsamiq, QuestionmarkMadcap Flare

Programming Skills PHP, HTML5, CSS3, SCORM
Professional Development Advice Entrepreneurship.org, Forbes.com, Twitter, #lrnchat
Networking and Mentorship professional associations recommendedAssociation for Talent Development, International Society for Performance Improvement
A few absolutes to close: Internet access, a powerful computer with multiple monitors and a good microphone and webcam, coffee, aspirin, a sense of humor, and a support system!

Benefits and Challenges of Open and Commercial Tools

  • Budget – What can you afford? This one question may be the deciding factor for you or your organization.
  • Context – Does the choice change based on where the eLearning is to take place? (higher education, K-12, corporate, industry)
  • Input / Output – What raw materials will you be working with in terms of file types, images, etc.? What do you need to end up with, again, in terms of file types?
  • Utility – What functionality do you need? There are different considerations and implications for choosing something like an LMS (Moodle vs. Blackboard) versus a photo editor (Gimp vs. Photoshop).
  • Support & Training – Where can you turn if you need help with a product? Is there an additional cost associated? There is also an investment in time required to learn how to use something new. What is available in terms of tutorials and user communities?

Add Your Tools to the List

Do you have comments, corrections or suggestions for this list? This post is available in Google Docs for anyone to consult, edit or update. We appreciate your suggestions! 


Melissa Venable is an instructional designer and project manager with experience in industry and higher education (public, private, and for-profit). Her background includes working in student services as a career counselor, academic advisor, and instructor for first-year students. She holds a doctorate in instructional technology, focusing on the online delivery of career services. Read Melissa's blogs at DesignDoc and Inside Online Learning or follow her on Twitter: @Melissa_Venable.

    1 Review
  • hollyjustice
    hollyjustice August 08, 2011

    Tools article

    Thank you for compiling this list. At some corporations we are restricted to the tools chosen by others. Your list allows one to think "outside the box". I believe open software is becoming the path of our future, and your list demonstrates that trend.