The Best 11 Software Tools To Create Online Training Manuals In Record Time


woman reading a training manual

Why create a training manual when we have video now? What is the difference between a traditional training manual and an online training manual?  In this article I will answer these questions and more for you.

The best 11 software tools to create online training manuals in record time are:

  • StepShot
  • Clickhelp
  • Help+Manual
  • HelpNDoc
  • Dokit
  • Apache Forest
  • Adobe RoboHelp
  • Adobe FrameMaker
  • Oxygen XML Editor
  • Madcap Flare
  • Author-IT Cloud

Now that you know what the tools are you can use let’s discuss why you would create an online training manual and the advantages and disadvantages of doing so.

Why an Online Training Manual

In the days of video tutorials why would you create an online training manual?  Firstly, cost is the biggest reason.  To create the same training in a video training will cost you more in creation and editing.  The hourly rate for an Instructional Designer is not the same for one that will provide training manuals compared to one that will provide video training material as the skill set is more advanced.

But let’s assume the same hourly rate of $37 hour as per payscale then we can see from the Association for Talent Development (ATD) the leading body for training in the USA that the hours required for each type of content is drastically different.

ARTICLE: ATD Time To Develop 1 Hour Of Training

The second major reason you may want to create an online training manual is the style of delivery you are using for your training.  If you are delivering Live Virtual Classrooms then it is advantageous for longer training sessions to have a training manual for the students to refer too and do exercises from.

I know from teaching many week long training classes online that a training manual allows students to do some exercises at their own pace while you help students that need it.  This allows you to keep students on track and to complete the work together.

The final reason is personal preference of the student.  Sometimes you want a quick and easy answer to a problem and don’t want to watch a full movie about it and the training manual is a much quicker way to get the answer.  Obviously this is purely dependent on how you design your video training but from personal experience we trainers love the sound of our own voices and may not get to the point straight away.

So What Do We Mean By An Online Training Manual?

Everyone is used to a physical training manual and at school at least when I went we lugged around multiple textbooks to class.  So how do we take these training manuals online?

Types of Online Training Manuals:

  • eBook / ePub
  • HTML Help Document Style
  • Protected PDF 

These are the 3 main types of output that you can do so let’s discuss each one in further detail.

eBook / ePub

Essentially here we are creating the content the same way we would create the content for a printable training manual but the export format will be to an eBook or ePub which are essentially the same thing.  The ability to create a protected version of your training manual students can download from one of the eBook stores like Amazon.  

The process of updating these styles of online training manuals can be cumbersome as you are working with third parties and you generally have to re-release every time.  This obviously depends on where you publish your eBook / ePub.

HTML Help Document Style

This style of training manual is hosted online on a website that you can provide your students with unique logins for.  Once students have access they can log in anytime to complete the training and also refer to it when you are running online classes.

This is by far the easiest to update as you have control of the platform and can simply update the content and when the student logs in again they will see the updates.

Protected PDF

There are two main methods of providing the students with a protected PDF version of your training manual.  They are to host an online drive tool like Google Drive or Box and provide students with View Only access or to use something more advanced like the Adobe Policy server where each feature of the PDF can be turned on and off.

The cost and features are the main two differences between the two tools and if you want something quick, easy and free go with the online drive option.  If you want more control and don’t mind paying a little money go for the Adobe Document Security Server.

What Tools Can I Use?

Traditionally you may have created your training manuals in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Powerpoint or Publisher but these don’t allow for content reuse or provide controllable export formats.

When we are looking at creating our training manuals it is not only important to create the content in an online way that is easy for students to consume but also in a way to make it easy to maintain and reuse.  

To do this we generally use a single sourcing tool that allows us to quickly and easily create content in a neutral format that can be exported to many other formats.  It also allows us to mix content together quickly and easily to create new training manuals.

So let’s look at some of the tools that will allow us to do just that.

Single Sourcing Training Manual Creation Tools

StepShot

https://stepshot.net/

This tool is great for embedding into your daily work for recording processes and procedures and quickly and easily creating either “How To” guides or small training manuals for your staff.

It has an easy to use interface and will allow staff to record what they are doing in their jobs to train new staff or to update current staff on new processes.

The output formats are:

  • Word
  • PDF
  • Video
  • WordPress
  • Images
  • HTML
  • PowerPoint

Obviously the formats we are interested in are the PDF and HTML formats as well as uploading to WordPress.  WordPress is a Content Management System (CMS) that basically is a simple way to create a website.

Clickhelp

https://clickhelp.com/

Clickhelp is also a modern browser-based documentation tool to create online user manuals, as well as printed documents in various formats. Clickhelp is available as a cloud service, there is no need to install or download it. 

It can import content from Microsoft Word, HTML, RTF, CHM, ODT, etc, and export to CHM, HTML 5 Web Help, PDF, DOCX, etc. Clickhelp has all types of modern features which you require to support a small or big project. 

You can cause Click help with just signup and get access to your own online documentation portal. It is popular software which is used by companies all over the world. It can be used to create online user manuals, knowledge bases, help files, FAQs, tutorials, and publish them instantly in their portal.  Or it also allows you to export the content as PDF or HTML and other formats.

This is a great option if you don’t want to install any software and you want to have someone else host your content.

Help+Manual

https://www.helpandmanual.com/

This is another popular help documentation tool that you can use to create more help based type content. It is used for writing and publishing technical documentation in various formats. It  has a user-friendly interface that works like Microsoft Word. It also has all the features of a WYSIWYG XML editor. 

It can be used as a full productive tool with its powerful features for editing documentation files, including full support for multimedia and complex modular projects.

HelpNDoc

https://www.helpndoc.com/

This competitor to Help+Manual is the better of the two products and has all the same features as well as a free personal version you can use to review the product.  It outputs into more formats including all the formats we mentioned above of HTML, eBook / ePub and PDF as well as other formats.

While it has a WYSIWYG style interface it is not as advanced as the industry leader Madcap Flare but wants you to pay the same or more for the software.

Dokit

https://dokit.io/

Another tool like StepShot that you can use for documenting processes and creating small instruction manuals is worth a mention but you probably would not use it for a full training manual or eBook. It has editing features and pre-defined templates which allows it to make simple instructions in a few clicks.  Due to its wiki collaborative features, you will be able to create an active and engaging community. 

Features of Dokit include: 

  • Structure content (metadata, templates, etc.)
  • Annotate images
  • Translate and have a multi-language option
  • Set-up an approval process
  • Chat and collaborate with other users
  • Make instructions and manuals available anywhere (mobile, tablets, offline, PDF, etc.).

Apache Forest

https://forrest.apache.org/

While I would not suggest this for non technical people it is worth mentioning as an open source alternative. You will see from the front page that you have to download it from version control which tells you a lot about where the product is at and that means more technical and early stages. Go and have a look at a video on it on Youtube but then move on.

Adobe RoboHelp

https://www.adobe.com/au/products/robohelp.html

Once independent this product was bought by Adobe and was a market leader back in the day for technical help documentation. They had kind of lost their way before being bought by Adobe and had lost heaps of market share.

Adobe FrameMaker

https://www.adobe.com/au/products/framemaker.html

While this was originally a product for print only media they are starting to move into the single sourcing documentation as well. There is a lot of overlap between Robocopy and Framemaker now and I can foresee one of them disappearing in the near future.

Frame maker while it has a rich feature set seems to take longer to develop content and publish as a traditional tool that the others. It does have a high price as well and it also is playing catch up after missing the ball on single sourcing early on.

Generally preferred by older content developers that started in print only media.

Oxygen XML Editor

https://www.oxygenxml.com/

A tool that is not as feature rich as the main players but trying to charge the same as them. You don’t get all output formats, just one output format for the same price as multiple output formats with the rest of the tools.

After trailing their products and comparing them to the others on the market I think they have to review their pricing and feature set to be even considered.

Madcap Flare

https://www.madcapsoftware.com/products/flare/

The undisputed market leader in the field at the writing of this article due to its features and ease of use. But with being the market leader they come with the price tag to match. They have in the last couple of years made it even more expensive by forcing you to not only but the one off license or monthly license but including support as well.

When I asked them if I could have the software without the support the answer was a resounding NO. This seems like a money making scheme to me but if you are using the product for the first time then you may well need the support.

The support did also mean that you got free upgrades to the product if the version was released while you were in support. Personally I don’t always buy every upgrade and have been known to skip a version as I am too busy creating content to upgrade all the time. And also it saves money and means for the same upgrade price I get twice the features by skipping a version. Especially if there is nothing in that version I am dying to use.

Author-IT Cloud

https://www.author-it.com/author-it-cloud

I found Author_IT cloud to be way over priced even compared to Madcap Flare. On top of that you could not work on your content offline as I would often do when in an airport or on the move. 

The user interface was a bit clunky and it seemed that most of the simple tasks like even page numbering and right page for each new chapter needed to be scripted.  Having done training on both Madcap and Author-IT cloud I would much prefer and did use Mad Flare instead.

Wrapping It Up

So what in my opinion is the best tool for you to use? Well that is easy hands down it goes to Madcap Flare but they also have one of the most expensive pricing plans as well.

If you are a for profit business then it is easy to justify the cost and they also have a training manual and online training as well as web conference style training as well.

If you are doing it for a non-profit then have a look at one of the free options like the personal version of HelpNDoc that you can use for personal and non for profit use. Be sure to check the licensing as it may have changed since the writing of this article. If you email them and tell them who you are most of them will do a deal of give you a free license if you are not charging for the training.

Glen Brown

I am a Technical Trainer and Manager with over 20 years experience in IT, Education and Business. I have multiple qualifications on each topic including post graduate qualifications. I have a passion for sharing knowledge and using technology to do this. If you would like to know more about me please see the about page of the website.

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