Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Developer's Perspective of Adobe Captivate 6

by Jonathan Shoaf

Some people get excited about the new fall TV shows in September. Baseball fans get excited for the MLB playoffs in October. Developers, like me, get excited for new releases of software. All the new features and improved exciting!

Now that I've taken a look at the new release of Adobe Captivate I find myself only somewhat excited about making the upgrade from the previous version. Overall, Captivate 6 is still the same Captivate you know (and hopefully love). The user experience has not changed dramatically and most of the features are in the same old locations making it an easy upgrade to get up to speed on. Let's get into the meat of it.

PowerPoint Capabilities

Captivate 6 is continuing to improve its PowerPoint capabilities. The integration is better than ever supporting PowerPoint 2007 and 2010. Slides imported from captivate can be edited using an integrated PowerPoint editor making it easy for designers and developers that are more comfortable using PowerPoint.

Quizzing Improvements

I work with several instructional designers and one of their constant frustrations with Captivate in the past has been that you can't have a graded and non-graded quiz. Captivate 6 allows for non-graded quizzes as well as branching and partial scoring.

Introducing Themes

A welcome change for Captivate authors is the ability to apply themes. Adobe provides several themes out of the box. From my perspective as a developer, I like the fact that I can customize my own theme and share with my team of instructional designers.

Screen Capture Improvements

Captivate has always been my favorite tool for software simulations. It has nice screen capturing capabilities and lends itself to creating and modifying simulations. Adobe has improved on this by adding the ability to capture high definition full motion videos. Developers who have been frustrated in the past by missing animations during video capture will appreciate this new feature.

HTML 5 (eh, mobile) Improvements

Captivate 6 now has HTML 5 as an export option. Primarily this is added support for the iPad. I would have liked to see a more responsive design approach that adapts to the various screen sizes of mobile. Still, this is going in the right direction. Further, a single SCORM package can be exported that will adapt to Flash or HTML 5 depending on the learner's system. That's a nice touch.

And More

There are more improvements to Captivate 6 worth mentioning. Captivate 6 comes with character packs making it super easy to add characters to a slide. Also, Captivate 6 comes with a variety of interactions using the previously existing widget framework. These can provide for a more interactive knowledge transfer to learners.


Performance wise, Captivate 6 demands more computing power. I've got a three year old Windows 7 laptop and Captivate 6 runs very slowly. It doesn't look like Adobe put a lot of time into improving performance.

As an experienced developer, I would have liked to see improvements to the workflow surrounding interactivity. For example, the user interface surrounding advanced actions and variables looks virtually unchanged. I've often wished for improvements that would allow me to develop advanced conditional actions more quickly. Also, there appear to be no new action triggers which have led to the popularity of products such as Articulate Storyline and ZebraZapps.

Finally, I would have liked to see the ability to put buttons on the master slide. Pasting a button on each slide is not the ideal workflow. Along those lines, there do not seem to be a lot of improvements to make the usability of Captivate 6 more intuitive. I think Adobe would be well-served by doing a usability study to inform changes to a future release.

To sum up, there's nothing uber-exciting from my perspective with the new release. It's a solid release but it feels like patch work more than a creative rethinking of the product. Have you made the upgrade to Captivate 6? What's your experience?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Turn These Slides into eLearning

By Shelley A. Gable

Ever been handed a PowerPoint slideshow by a client, with the request to convert it into some kind of eLearning thingy?

Oh…and then also told that you only have a week to get it done? (And of course, this is in addition to whatever you already planned to accomplish this week.)

Even if you can’t influence “the powers that be” to allow more time for a proper analysis or to use a different approach, consider taking the actions below to produce a reasonably effective eLearning lesson relatively quickly.

Ask the client what learners must be able to DO after completing the training. Even if the situation doesn’t allow you to conduct a gap and cause analysis to validate the training need, asking this question helps ensure that the training has the potential to influence behavior.

Additionally, creating a quick list of what learners must be able to do can help you:
  • Write objectives
  • Create relevant scenarios
  • Chunk and organize the content around desired behaviors/tasks
  • Distinguish between critical and nice to know information

Write scenarios immediately. I’ve heard some people say that when deadlines are tight, there just isn’t time to write scenarios. I understand how writing scenarios can feel like an extra task, considering that scenarios are probably not included in the original pile of content. However, scenarios benefit learning in so many ways, it’s hard to justify spending time picking out Clip Art to decorate slides rather than writing even a few simple scenarios.

After all, consider these benefits:
  • Introducing a task with a scenario (i.e., a problem for learners to solve) offers an immediate reason for learners to pay attention to the content
  • Presenting scenarios “shows” learners the relevance of the content
  • Providing scenarios for learners to successfully solve helps learners confirm they understand the content, builds confidence, and creates a sense of satisfaction/accomplishment (i.e., scenarios help create “ah ha!” moments)
  • Describing a scenario can help learners recognize when to apply new knowledge on the job (i.e., they can potentially recognize “triggers” from a scenario when those same “triggers” occur on the job, prompting them to apply desired behaviors)

Even under the tightest of timelines, really simple scenarios likely offer some benefit compared to presenting information with no scenarios at all. If you attempt to draft scenarios immediately, you can send them to your client and allow a day or two for review, while you charge ahead with reorganizing and revising content.

Or, ask the client if a subject matter expert can write scenarios for you. If a lack of time or familiarity with the content makes you question your ability to draft decent scenarios, perhaps the client knows someone who can do that part for you. Depending on the complexity of the training, a subject matter expert might be able to draft a few scenarios relatively quickly and easily.

Cut the nice to know information whenever possible. Many of the client-produced PowerPoint decks I’ve seen include a lot of extra information that won’t necessarily help learners do a task. In some cases, it is because the deck was originally compiled for a different type of audience and/or purpose. Perhaps the extra information was relevant for that audience, and now it is my responsibility to determine whether it is relevant for my intended audience. In other cases, it may be because the client doesn’t know how to distinguish between critical versus nice to know information. After all, as instructional designers, this distinction tends to be on our minds more than it is for others.

The point I’m trying to make is this: Don’t assume that all the information in the deck you receive must also appear in training. Focus on what learners must do after training, and attempt to narrow content down to the information that directly instructs those behaviors.

How do you handle these requests?

If you have your own set of strategies for turning a stack of PowerPoint slides into an eLearning lesson, please share!