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Toolkit: Adobe Captivate 8—a Huge Leap Forward

by Joe Ganci

May 27, 2014


by Joe Ganci

May 27, 2014

“Captivate 8 is a huge release. It lets us finally create mobile learning in ways that we could only dream about until now. That alone sets it apart from every other tool. In addition, the new interface and the other added features make for a new and elegant Captivate edition. In a way that I would not have guessed possible, Adobe has managed to make Captivate both easier to use for new users while more powerful in its new feature set. Start creating responsive eLearning courses now!”

You will often hear me say that every eLearning-authoring tool has something about it that appeals to instructional designers or developers. If not, it would not last long in the market.

However, it is also true that most designers and developers use just a handful of tools, including Adobe Captivate, Articulate Storyline, and Trivantis Lectora. These tools tend to have similar power and features, as do an equivalent number of PowerPoint-based tools, including Adobe Presenter, Articulate Studio, and iSpring Pro. Of course, while their features may overlap, each tool will have some elements that edge out the others.

Among all eLearning development tools, Adobe Captivate has been the market leader for many years, though others have been nipping at its heels. Despite the fact that similar tools offer many of the same features, there’s no question that Captivate has more features than any of the others, leading to more freedom to implement your instructional design needs. That said, any tool can be made more feature-rich. The trouble is, when those features are poorly implemented, the tool becomes difficult to use.

Captivate has seen a major release each year at about this time and Captivate 8 brings with it new features that separate it from the rest of the tools in a huge way. Surprisingly, it offers more power while making entry to the tool easier for novices.

First, though, let’s look at some of the visual changes.

User interface changes

When you start Captivate 8, you’ll see a new dialog (Figure 1). Notice the little TV icon at the top right. Clicking it leads to a number of sample courses and tutorial videos that are now included with Captivate.

Figure 1:
Captivate 8’s New Opening Dialog

Once you open a project, you’ll see that the user interface also has changed quite a bit. It is meant to allow easier adoption and access by new users while still providing all the features that experts like and expect. The interface, seen in Figure 2, looks clean and shows only the stage, filmstrip, and a new options bar.

Figure 2:
The new Captivate interface

Notice the clickable options in Figure 2, TIMELINE at the bottom, Library and Properties at the top right. Clicking each will open those areas instantly, bringing them a little closer to what we’re used to in recent versions, as seen in Figure 3. Properties are now organized into tabs, so we don’t have to scroll up and down as much as before.

Figure 3:
Interface with Timeline and Properties showing

Inserting screen objects and elements is now easier. Clicking each category in the Object bar gives you options. For instance, clicking the Text object gives you a choice between Text Caption, Text Entry Box, or Text Animation. I love this. It’s so much more and better organized now. They made improvements all around, leading to an easier experience for most, though some of us more experienced users may miss having everything open at once.

Responsive Project

Simply put, this is the feature that I believe makes Adobe Captivate the go-to tool if in any way you need to deliver not only to desktops and laptops but also to mobile devices, and there are few nowadays who aren’t at least strongly considering it. (Editor’s Note: See James Rasmussen’s article “Learner Engagement: Tips for Responsive Design” in the Related Articles list at the end of this article.)

Look back at Figure 1 and notice that a responsive project is the first option you’re offered. No doubt Adobe thinks we’ll use this one most often. I suspect they’re right. Every project I’ve had lately for different clients has required that the eLearning also be usable on mobile devices. This has usually meant a lot of rework, and in most cases compromises in the instructional design. Now finally a true mobile solution is at hand, one that means I can focus on delivering the best instructional design possible.

You may have noticed the green bar at the top of the stage in Figures 2 and 3. Figures 4 and 5 show it more closely. Notice how in Figure 5 we have moved the tab from the left to change the dimensions of the stage so we can immediately see how it will look in that dimension. We’re not resizing the project; we’re testing it in different dimensions so that we can see how the project will look on different mobile devices. You can adjust both width and height to default settings or to the exact pixel settings you wish.

Figure 4:
The Responsive Project bar

Figure 5:
The Responsive Project bar with tab moved

It now supports almost every feature and object at the different device settings. In addition, and this is important, you can choose to include or exclude objects for each view and you can change object and screen styles for each view as well. This lets you finally design your eLearning so that it will automatically look and work correctly on different devices.

I consider this huge.

However, it isn’t just while creating lessons that you can test and change views. When you publish, you now have the option to use Edge Inspect, if you have it installed on your computer and on your mobile devices. (Editor’s Note: See Mayra Villar’s article “Multi-device Development: Adobe Edge Animate” in the Related Articles at the end of this review.) If your computer and your devices are on the same wireless network, when you publish, you can see your published lesson on all the devices at the same time, allowing you to truly determine whether all is copasetic or whether you need to make any changes to any of the views. That is very cool.

You may be wondering how software simulations will look on different devices. Adobe has addressed that as well. Simulations will now look relevant to the device you watch them on. On smaller screens, Captivate now automatically detects areas of interest and pans to those areas, so users won’t have to deal with looking a lot of information at once.

You can also now build responsive themes and share them with others on your team, so that each developer and designer can focus on the content and let the theme take care of the necessary formatting for each device.

If you can tell I love this feature, it’s simply because Captivate is the first tool to address this huge issue of responsive delivery to different devices with no programming, letting you really focus on your instructional design. Personally, I love programming (give me a script to write and I’m in heaven) but I truly have come to appreciate how much you can now do without a lick of programming knowledge. Captivate’s responsive design is simply impressive in its ability to let you do so much without a coding background.

Mobile features … finally supported

You know you can take advantage of mobile features in most apps that you run on your tablet or phone, including:

  1. Pinch and zoom, where you use two fingers, bringing them together to zoom out and pulling them apart to zoom in.
  2. Geolocation, so that apps know your whereabouts to recommend local restaurants and such.
  3. Swiping, where you can navigate left and right (or up and down) by dragging your finger across the screen (as you often do with a library of photos).

Guess what? You can now set up your learning to take advantage of the above features on mobile devices too. That means that learners can use familiar gestures to navigate and zoom, and you can even customize the learning to a person’s location. The possibilities are endless.

Other improvements

While responsive design is a really big deal, it isn’t the only new feature brought to Captivate 8. Here are others you may find important to you.

  1. An Expert Mode lets you undock the panels (something we could do before but that often led to messy Captivate workspaces, so now it locks panels by default).
  2. When you apply an effect to a stage object, you’ll now see an FX icon next to the object when you click it.
  3. Speaking of effects, their timing is now absolutely synced with objects, so they no longer will change their timing whenever you change the slide timing.
  4. While you’re creating software simulations, pop-ups from other software often appear. For instance, a Skype contact will message you or Outlook notifies you of a new email. How frustrating, right? A new pop-up cleaner now lessens your headaches.
  5. You can now insert HTML5 animations, Edge animations, and PDF files.
  6. You also can now save and reuse smart shapes, which support rollover and down states too.
  7. There is new support for variables parameterization. You can now choose all unused variables and delete them in one fell swoop.
  8. Actions have improved. You can insert a new condition anywhere in a series of conditions, rather than only at the end. You can now drag and drop shared actions from the library.
  9. JavaScript and Captivate can now work even better together. JavaScript and Captivate can work with each other’s variables, functions, and event listeners from both SWF- and HTML5-published files.
  10. Adobe has added theme colors, allowing developers to choose from different color schemes for the same theme, and can apply theme colors to an interaction.
  11. There are new out-of-the-box assets, including 20 new characters, two new voices (Korean and English), stock assets, show-case projects, audio stock samples, and scenario projects.
  12. Fluid Text—text captions can dynamically adjust in font size depending on device resolution, applicable to a wide range of tablets and phones.

A huge release

In summary, Captivate 8 is a huge release. The Adobe marketing team calls it “reimagining eLearning in a multi-device world” and I dare say they are spot on. It finally lets us create mobile learning in ways that we could only dream about until now. That alone sets it apart from every other tool, at least until other tools follow suit, and it’s anyone’s guess when they will. In addition, though, the new interface and the other added features make for a new and elegant Captivate edition. In a way that I would not have guessed possible, Adobe has managed to make Captivate both easier to use for new users while more powerful in its new feature set. Captivate 8 brings with it new features that separate it from the rest of the tools in a huge way. Surprisingly, it offers more power while making entry to the tool easier for novices. Go ahead and start creating responsive eLearning courses now.

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I have to disagree with you about the new interface. (And no my issue is not that "He's just not used to it yet.") Once again Adobe has tried to simplify the interface but made the usability of the product much more complex. Having to switch between multiple tabs in the Properties panel is a PITA. As well as having to expand the Timeline. Yea I know it's just a simple little click to show the Timeline, but why hide it by default. Who actually uses Captivate without needing the Timeline?!! This interface redesign is not user friendly; it is software developer friendly.
It's OK to disagree on this. I do agree with the fact that you and I and others who have been using Captivate for a while find it bothersome to have to click more. However, I teach a lot of newbie classes and many of them feel overwhelmed by what they consider the complex interface of CP7 and earlier. I'm pretty sure it's for them that Adobe made the interface change.

I'm not sure you know this, but it is possible to get pretty close an interface to that of CP7 and keep it that way.

1. Preferences > General Settings and click the checkbox "Enable custom workspaces/panel undocking (you will need to restart Captivate)

2. Close and restart Captivate.

3. Set up your workspace the way you like - Timeline and Properties open, for instance, then save it your own custom workspace.

That's it. Each time you open Captivate, you should see your workspace. I know it doesn't address everything you'd like, but it's a big part of the solution.
My comment appears to have been deleted. Why?
Anonymous on 6/6/2014 at 5:50 am: I have responded to the questions you emailed me about this in my reply to that message.

Bill Brandon, Editor
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