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Toolkit: Articulate Storyline, a Brand New eLearning Development Tool

by Joe Ganci

May 22, 2012

Review

by Joe Ganci

May 22, 2012

“Many of us have waited a long time for the release of Storyline. I can say in all honesty it was worth the wait.”

Articulate is well known in the eLearning industry for its Articulate Studio ’09 suite, which includes Articulate Presenter, Articulate Engage, and Articulate Quizmaker. With the Articulate Studio suite, eLearning teams author courses in PowerPoint. Many find Articulate’s products easier to use than other tools, but as is true of all products that are easy to use, the Articulate Studio suite lacks some advanced features necessary for more robust learner experiences.

To address the need for more power and more advanced features, Articulate started from scratch and created a new product called Storyline to offer along with its other tools. In the process, over its long product development period, Storyline has generated a great deal of anticipation and excitement among potential eLearning developers. From its launch this month, it has had a built-in fandom, both because many have used the product in beta form and because Articulate has always done a wonderful job of providing support to its customer community.

Here I will try to separate hype from reality by focusing on Storyline’s main features. I can say from the start that in no small way I find this new tool exciting.

The interface and features

Storyline’s main interface is reminiscent of those of other tools, including the Articulate Studio products, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Adobe Captivate. See Figure 1.

Figure 1 – Storyline’s main interface

Along the left you’ll find your scenes in a strip, where you can reorder them and select a scene to edit. At the top are choices in the form of ribbons, like those in Microsoft PowerPoint or Word. You can open and close other tabs along the bottom and on the right.

The main part of the interface is slide view, where you assemble your eLearning scenes. Slide view can have as many slide layers as you wish. This means that you can choose to swap between slide layers, showing one layer at a time or even combining layers when you wish. Slide layers allow you to build interactions on a single slide, so you don’t have to duplicate slides to create interactivity.

The menu at the top includes:  Home  Insert   Design  Animations  View   Help

Depending on what you’ve selected in slide view, other menus will appear further to the right of those options above. For instance, if you insert or select an image, a Picture Tools Format menu appears. Inserting a video makes a Movie Tools Options menu appear.  

Each menu option opens a ribbon at the top. The Home ribbon contains the options you need most commonly. See Figure 2.

Figure 2 – The Home Ribbon

In Figure 3, you can see all of the elements that you can insert onto a slide.

Figure 3 – The Insert Ribbon

You will come here every time you’re ready to add something to your course, including all that you see in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Insertion Options

Slide

New Slide

Leads to several choices, including a slide from:

  • A template (see Table 2)
  • A basic layout
  • A quiz question (see Table 3)
  • A screen recording
  • An import from PowerPoint, Quizmaker, Engage,or another Storyline file.

Slide Layer

Adds another layer to the current slide.

Convert to Freeform

Changes the current slide to a freeform question, which includes all the ones in the Freeform category you see in Table 3 plus an additional option for setting a shortcut key.

Zoom Region

Selects an area of the screen that you would like to enlarge for the learner, for the period of time you determine on the timeline.

Record Screen

Selects an area of the screen and creates a recording over time. You can insert the video as a single video, or create software simulations by inserting step-by-step slides in a number of modes: view mode, try mode, and test mode. 

Illustrations

Picture

Inserts an image from a file. Supported formats include EMF, WMF, JPG, JPEG, JFIF, JPE, PNG, BMP, GIF, GFA, TIF, and TIFF.

Screenshot

Creates an image by snipping part of the screen.

Shape

Inserts many different shapes, including lines, rectangles, basic shapes, block arrows, equation shapes, stars, banners, and callouts.

Caption

Inserts a text caption of different types.

Character

Inserts a character, illustrated or photographic. (See table 4.)

Media

Video

Inserts a video, including Flash SWF, Flash FLV, AVI, Windows Media, QuickTime, MPEG, Digital Video DV, and 3G files.

Flash

Inserts a Flash SWF file.

Sound

Inserts a sound file. Supported audio files include MP3, WMA, WAV, M4A, AAC, AIFF, and OGG.

Web Object

Inserts a Web object, either in the slide itself or in a new browser window.

Text

Text Box

Inserts a simple text box.

Symbol

Inserts a symbol character in a text box.

Reference

Inserts a reference to a variable. A variable holds information that you can collect, such as the learner’s name. You can then embed a reference to that variable on the screen.

Hyperlink

Inserts a link to a Website or to a file. You can specify how to activate the hyperlink a number of different ways, such as the user clicking it or when a variable changes. See Figure 4 – Click Events.

Interactive Objects

Trigger

Lets you run an action when a trigger occurs. You can have a trigger activate when one of the events in Figure 4 occurs. See Figure 5 for one of the many actions you can take when the trigger activates.

Button

Inserts a standard button, a check box, or a radio button.

Hotspot

Inserts a hotspot, which you can shape as an oval, a rectangle, or any polygon form you wish.

Marker

Inserts one of many markers, categorized as Navigation, Help, Office, Numbers, Media, Tools, Feedback, Social, Industry, and Charts. The learner can click the marker and a pop up that you create will appear. It can contain text, images, sound, and video.

Data Entry

Lets the learner type either freeform text or a number.

Scrolling Panel

Shows a scrolling text box.

Mouse

Sets up an animated mouse path of your choosing.


Figure 4 – Click Events Menu

Figure 5 – Actions Menu

Templates

Storyline contains many types of template slides, as shown in Table 2. You can download more templates free from a link inside Storyline.

Table 2: Template Options Menu

Character Display Panels

Anchor Desk

Paper

Clipboard

White board

Flipchart 1 and 2

Chalkboard

Projection Screen

Help Desk

Folder

Clipboard

Laptop Screen

Top interactions

Two-Person Scenario

Drag and Drop Labels

Inbox Drag and Drop

Sorting Drag and Drop

Sequence Drag and Drop

FAQ Interaction

Tabs Interaction

Markers

Sticky Notes

Process Diagram

Objects States Example

Folder Tabs

Quiz questions

Articulate has taken care to include many types of quiz questions as well. Table 3 shows the categories and types. You can place questions in banks from which you can subsequently draw randomly or sequentially.

Table 3: Quiz Question Options Menu

Graded

True/False

Multiple Choice

Multiple Response

Fill in the Blank

Word Bank

Matching Drag and Drop

Matching Dropdown

Sequence Drag and Drop

Sequence Dropdown

Numeric

Hotspot

Survey

Likert Scale

Pick One

Pick Many

Which Word

Short Answer

Essay

Ranking Drag and Drop

Ranking Dropdown

How Many

Freeform

Drag and Drop

Pick One

Pick Many

Text Entry

Hotspot

Draw from Bank

Choose a question from a bank of questions. You can have the questions chosen randomly.

Result Slides

Show one of a few different quiz results slides.


Other important features to note

The above figures and tables give you a good idea of the power inherent in Storyline. See also the section below called More Ribbons. Its many features, used wisely, let you create excellent eLearning. However, other important features not evident above must be mentioned as well.

The timeline

The timeline in Storyline will be familiar to anyone who uses Adobe Captivate or Flash. It is a powerful feature that lets you time when elements will occur, such as when a picture appears or a sound plays. In Figure 6, we can see that a sound will begin to play 2.8 seconds after the start of the current scene. Moving elements, such as images, up and down on the timeline is also a quick way of layering them on the screen.

Figure 6 – The Timeline

Slide layers

It’s worth mentioning slide layers again, as it’s one of the most important features in Storyline. Slide layers are a new way of building multiple interactions on a single slide. Slide layers let you quickly and easily overlay objects, and trigger layers to appear when learners take certain actions. You don’t have to duplicate and manage multiple slides.

Triggers

Much of the power of Storyline comes in the form of triggers. You can assign a trigger to occur based on any of a number of factors, as Figure 7, an expanded list of the Click Events you saw in Figure 4, shows. For those triggers that pertain to an object, such as the user clicking or dragging the object, it’s important to realize that the power of Storyline extends itself to any object on the screen. In other words, you can have a trigger occur when the user interacts with a button, sure, but also with an image, a video, a text box, or anything else.

Figure 7 – Triggers Menu

States

You can also assign states to most of the objects in Storyline, letting you quickly change the state when needed. For instance, you can have an image start out in a hidden state, and reveal it on a condition. Note that the first option in the Actions menu (see Figure 5) is to Change State of. For instance, when the user clicks an image, you can have another image reveal itself or have a character’s facial expression change.

Software simulations

The software simulation feature in Storyline lets you record your screen once and then insert step-by-step slides into your course at any time. Instead of taking screen shots while you record, Storyline takes high-quality video of all your actions. After you record, you decide what type of slides you want. After you insert slides, you can use the action fine-tuning editor to change the frames you want to show (without re-recording). You can even change your mind about whether you want to show learners how to do a task, let learners try a task, or test learners on their mastery of the task – again, without needing to re-record your screen session.

Convert to freeform

While mentioned in Table 1, it’s important to note that you can take any slide and convert it to an activity or to an interactive question, including drag and drop, pick one, or pick many. This is a real timesaver and a cool feature.

Animations and transitions

Figure 8, the Animations ribbon, shows the many types of animations and transitions that are possible in Storyline, which you can apply to any object on the stage or to a slide itself.

Figure 8 – The Animations Ribbon

Master slides

In Figure 9, the View ribbon, you can see two types of master slides you can create and use in Storyline – standard slide masters and feedback masters. A cool fact about master slides is that you can inset almost any kind of object in master slides, including interactive objects such as buttons and hotspots.

Figure 9 – The View Ribbon

Characters

Built right into Storyline are a number of characters, both illustrated and photographic. Table 4 below gives you an overview of the characters possible. You can use characters to add a human element to your eLearning, drawing learners in and keeping them engaged. Several characters are included with Storyline. Others may be purchased from the Articulate store.

Table 4: Character Options

Illustrated

  • Twenty female characters
  • Twenty male characters
  • Various ethnicities and forms of dress
  • Can position to look left, front or right
  • Can change expression of character to one of 12 states, for instance happy or alarmed
  • Can pose the character in one of 35 ways, including holding a poster, sitting with a phone, or sitting in a wheelchair

Photographic

  • One female character (Atsumi) ships with Storyline
  • Eight additional characters are available (four female and four male) for purchase
  • Can show each as a headshot, torso, or full body
  • More than 145 separate poses for each character

Publishing

When your course is done, you can publish it to multiple formats so learners can view them on a variety of devices, including iPads, desktop, laptops, and Android devices. Storyline publishes to three different formats: Flash, HTML5, and iOS for iPad.

Storyline publishes in a smart way: you only have to publish once to get all three formats. The course will use Flash if you have it, HTML5 if you don’t. If you’re using an iPad, the course will launch in the free Articulate Mobile Player app, which learners can install from the App Store.

More ribbons

A number of other ribbons give access to many other functions, some of which I have already mentioned. Figures 10 through 14 are snapshots of the principal ribbons.

Figure 10 – The Design Ribbon

Figure 11 – The Help Ribbon

Figure 12 – The Drawing Tools Ribbon

Figure 13 – The Picture Tools Ribbon

Figure 14 – The Movie Tools Ribbon

Limitations

Like any tool, Storyline has limitations. These are the ones I’ve noted.

  1. Those who are used to Articulate’s other tools, such as Articulate Presenter, will find that Storyline will take longer to learn. Such is always the price of more power.
  2. While the characters are great, you can’t add your own characters to the built-in library, which may be a problem for some organizations that have custom character sets.
  3. You can’t easily translate your course into multiple languages. For global companies, this is a big issue. However, Articulate has said they’re working on a solution and will release it soon in a free update to the software.
  4. Unlike PowerPoint, Storyline doesn’t currently support motion paths, which may be disappointing to some users.
  5. Like Articulate Studio, there is no Macintosh-native version of Storyline. However, Articulate does officially support Storyline on a Mac running under Parallels Desktop 7 for Mac or VMware Fusion 4 for Mac.

Conclusion

Many of us have waited a long time for Storyline to be released. I can say in all honesty it was worth the wait. The interface and tools in Storyline, while powerful, are relatively easy and fun to use. Storyline is a very welcome addition to the eLearning tools world, and you should strongly consider it for a place in your toolset. 


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Nice job, Joe! You've hit all of the main points (and there are many) of the tool. One suggestion would be to do another Storyline article in the future of how to really leverage the power of this tool using states, triggers, and layers.
Would love to see an article comparing Storyline and the new Captivate 6.
Wow, great article! Especially for someone like me who is reviewing various authoring tools with a view to making recommendations to purchase.
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