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Toolkit: Adobe Captivate 6 Strong Out of the Gate

by Joe Ganci

June 26, 2012

Review

by Joe Ganci

June 26, 2012

“If you use Captivate, and most of you do, there’s no question that you should upgrade to version 6: I will be doing that immediately. If you’ve never used Captivate, starting with version 6 will give you all the great features immediately that many of us have lacked in the past versions of Captivate.”

Almost a year ago, The eLearning Guild published a research paper of mine entitled Rapid eLearning Authoring: Top Tools. It is available in the Research Library for purchase, or free for Member-Plus and Premium members. Based on ongoing research that the Guild performs, Adobe Captivate at that time was in use by about 70 percent of eLearning developers, making it the top seller among eLearning tools.

It would be easy to think that Adobe might rest on its laurels. Rather, in the year since version 5.5 was released, its engineers have been hard at work on a new release. They’ve managed to include many new features while keeping Captivate’s inherent strengths intact.

A few features are not yet available as I write this, but I’ve confirmed with Adobe that each feature included here is in the final version. I would like to hear from those of you who use Captivate 6 as to your experience with these new features. Let’s take a look at the new features now.

Output to HTML5 and to mobile devices

Figure 1: Publish Output Format Options

Captivate has joined the ever-increasing but still small number of tools that are able to publish to HTML5. What does this mean? The online world is following the lead of mobile devices. Most browsers are now, or sometime soon will be, HTML5-compliant, eliminating the need for the Flash player. As you can see in Figure 1, Captivate can publish to either Flash SWF or HTML5 or both at the same time. Flash-enabled browsers and HTML5-enabled devices, such as iPads, can all access the resulting folder. In fact, Captivate now includes presets for iPads and iPhones.

When connected, from HTML5 you’ll be able to send scoring data and track learner progress on learning management systems (LMSs) that are compliant with SCORM or AICC.

It’s important to note that HTML5 output is available for every feature in Captivate except for those few features that normally would be unsupported, such as rollover states on mobile devices (ever try rolling over a screen object with your finger?). Captivate includes a very helpful feature called HTML5 Tracker that you can check anytime to determine if any features you’re using in your file may cause problems in HTML5. This is not a limitation of Captivate, simply an acknowledgement that mobile devices are different and do not allow for a few things that we’re accustomed to seeing on desktops and laptops.

Easier publishing to leading LMSs

Captivate 6 makes it easier to integrate smoothly with your LMS, including Moodle, Blackboard, Plateau, Saba, and SumTotal. Anyone who has had to deal with LMS integration in the past with any authoring tool knows that sometimes everything works smoothly and at other times problems run rampant. Apparently the Adobe engineers have been working with the leading LMS vendors to ensure those kinds of problems are a thing of the past.

Pause and resume courses across devices

Now your learners will be able to pause a course you publish in Captivate and then resume it on a different device. For instance, they can start the lesson on their office computer, and then continue it on their iPads while on the bus going home.

Actors

Figure 2: Characters/actors

Adobe has added Characters that you can use in your eLearning. Developers can place each Character, or actor, on the stage in one of a variety of poses. There are different categories of actors, such as business, casual, and medical, and there are both photographic and illustrated characters from which to choose. There’s a pretty good variety out of the box, and you can purchase many more actors online.

Use the Characters to add a human and personal touch to your eLearning. Characters can be used as mentors or to introduce and summarize lessons, and in many other ways. For instance, you can use two actors to “talk a problem out” and then direct the learner to find a solution.

Smart shapes

Smart shapes include a number of different shapes (see Figure 3) that are very versatile.

  • Reshape and resize them in many different ways.
  • Add color to them, using a linear or gradient palette.
  • Add a texture as a fill pattern.
  • Insert text directly in the shape.

You can even use a smart shape you’ve inserted as a button, making it interactive. That is pretty cool.

Figure 3: Smart shapes

 

For instance, in Figure 4 you can see a banner shape with white and yellow handles. The white handles resize the shape while the yellow handles skew the shape.

Figure 4: Banner shape

 

Now with a bubble shape, such as that used to show a person talking, you can set the pointer in many different ways. This has been a request I’ve heard often in the classes I teach regarding the basic caption types in Captivate. See Figure 5.

Figure 5: Speech bubble

 

Smart learning interactions

Another brand-new feature in Captivate is that of professionally-designed interactions that requite very little effort to implement.

Adobe made sure that these interactions are not just Flash-based: they work the same way when you publish to HTML5. The following 10 interactions are available out of the box (Figure 6). You can purchase others online.

Table 1: Captivate Interactions
Accordion Tabs
Process Cycle Pyramid Stack
Timeline Circle Matrix
Pyramid Matrix Glossary
Certificate Word Search

Figure 6: Smart learning interactions

In addition, you can apply any of several themes to each interaction, so the interactions closely match your main learning theme. See Figure 7, which gives an example of the Accordion interaction.

Figure 7: The Accordion interaction

Themes

Themes blend backgrounds, styles, fonts, and layouts. You can use them to add consistency across lessons, and you can also customize them to meet your needs. Captivate includes 10 themes (if you include the blank theme). They look very professional and can help you create eLearning lessons that look great without having to spend a lot on artwork. See Figures 8 and 9.

In Figure 8, we can see the themes called Black and White, Black, Blackboard, Blank, and Clean Blue.

Figure 8: First set of themes

 

In Figure 9, you can see the themes called Clouds, Green, Timeworn, White, and Woody.

Figure 9: Second set of themes

High-definition screencast

There is a new workflow in Captivate 6: capture-as-a-video. This cool feature lets you create videos of almost any length, such as a high quality product demonstration. You can edit the video, and you can add transitions, smart shapes, audio, text captions, and more. You can insert a talking head and even put a picture-in-picture video into your main video. You can also insert actors/characters and animations.

For instance, you can create a product demo in which the main video shows the product while a picture-in-picture talking head explains its features, thereby adding a human element.

Once it’s ready, one click will publish your video to YouTube.

I see this as a huge benefit, because you’ll be able to use Captivate to create very professional videos; they need not be short or boring. In many cases, you’ll find you won’t need a separate video editor anymore. Captivate can take care of many video needs.

Pre-tests and branch-aware quizzing

Another long-desired feature has made its way into Captivate: the ability to set up a pre-test and let the results direct the learner to the proper sections that you stipulate. You can help to customize the learner experience by assessing the learner’s knowledge or skill level and then use the results to indicate where the learner has gaps in that knowledge or in those skills and deliver the appropriate learning to help fill those gaps.

If a learner shows expertise in five out of six sections, for instance, that learner will need to review only the one section in which he or she did not perform well in the pre-test. Of course, you can still provide all sections of learning to a learner and simply recommend or suggest that they focus especially on those areas in which they did not perform well.

You can insert a pre-test question directly from the Quiz dropdown menu or simply choose from the dropdowns in the Insert Questions dialog box. See Figure 10.

Figure 10: The new pre-test option in the Insert Questions dialog

Partial and negative scoring

New features in tracking quiz results include the ability to penalize learners for bad choices by applying a negative number as a point value on the answer to a question. Letting the learner know that this is possible will help avoid guesswork on the learner’s part.

When a question has more than one correct answer, you can also now apply a partial score for each correct answer. These extra options are great, allowing you to make better quizzes.

Remediation

Yet another requested feature has been added to Captivate 6, making quizzing much more flexible. When a learner answers a question incorrectly, you can let the learner visit or revisit the section of the learning that covered the question’s topic, and then allow the learner to return to the question to try again. This is a new workflow, and a welcome one.

Round-tripping with PowerPoint 2010

Using PowerPoint in Captivate has become much more powerful. This is a major enhancement. You’ll now be able to bring in almost anything from PowerPoint 2010, such as discrete objects, animations, and multimedia; update the content; and keep your PowerPoint and Captivate projections synchronized. As a lot of eLearning shops design and storyboard in PowerPoint, this will allow for easier imports, after which you’ll be able to enhance and add to the imported materials. I’m 99 percent sure that Captivate now has the best PowerPoint converter in the industry.

Optimized user interface and object grouping

The new interface is more attractive and less likely to strain your eyes. The timeline is nicely color-coded now, with much better contrast. Interface text is bigger too, allowing those of us with tired eyes to avoid having them fall out of our heads.

Object grouping, long a standard feature in other tools, is finally in Captivate. This simple feature is very welcome, a real time saver. Finally, we can group together objects on the stage and perform the same action on all of them, such as resizing or rotating them. It’ll be faster now to move, format, and time objects with the ability to group them. Keep the objects grouped or ungroup them: the choice is yours.

Audio responses

Now a simple menu choice will let you play a sound when the learner makes a choice in your learning or in a quiz question. The sound can be a recorded voice or sound effect, a text-to-speech sound, or any external sound. Believe it or not, something that was difficult to do before is now easy.

Reflections

This is a new and pleasing effect. See Figure 11.

Figure 11: The Reflection feature

Text improvements

There have been three improvements to text formatting.

Hyperlinks

Insert hyperlinks directly in text captions now. You can use them to jump to other parts of your lesson or to an external location. In fact, you can use the link to perform any number of actions, as seen in Figure 12.

Figure 12: Hyperlink options

 

Text margins

You now have more control over text captions, with the ability to apply margins. You can see the margins option at the top of Figure 12.

Custom bullets

A bunch of new bullet types are now available. You can see all 13 bullet types in Figure 13. 

Figure 13: The 13 different bullet types

My thoughts

No tool is ever perfect, and a few desired features haven’t made it into Captivate 6. Personally, I would love to see more advanced features, including more system variables and more options for creating advanced actions, including an easier interface. While most Captivate developers may not use variables and actions, I’m convinced more would if Adobe made it easier.

There are always more feature requests than can be included in any version but I’m very pleased with this new version. It clearly is a huge step forward from the prior version of Captivate with all the new additions and features, all of which are designed to make it easier to create engaging eLearning and let you do it even faster. Not only can you create more visually appealing lessons with Captivate 6, you can truly customize the experience for each learner more easily.

It’s going to take a little bit of time and effort for developers to learn and implement all the new features in Captivate 6, but it’s time well spent.

If you use Captivate, and most of you do, there’s no question that you should upgrade to version 6: I will be doing that immediately. If you’ve never used Captivate, starting with version 6 will give you all the great features immediately that many of us have lacked in the past versions of Captivate. Good for you!


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I'm amazed that Adobe, maker of best-in-class graphics programs like Illustrator and Photoshop, has waited until version 6 to add such basic functionality as described here. "Resting on their laurels" indeed!
Nice post. I don't understand why they try to avoid integration with powerpoint from one side and copy all objects and effects from it (and even allow import)..or maybe I do:)
Here's how I see it. Adobe already has the leading graphics programs, as you've stated. You know full well that you can't simply merge applications as they have different codebases, so time is needed to do that sort of thing. So...should they have spent their time doing that or including other features that we've all been requesting for a long time, despite the fact that it would be difficult to find those features in other Adobe products? The eLearning Suite that Adobe sells is about the same price, or only slightly more, than other single tools, so I would think that what they do makes more sense to me than it does to you perhaps. In fact, the cost of the Suite not only gives me a great authoring tool but a HUGE amount of functionality in best-of-breed tools such as Photoshop. For the full Suite license price of $1,799, you get not only Captivate, but also Photoshop, a full Flash authoring license, Dreamweaver (another best-in-breed), Acrobat Pro (ahem, another very popular tool), Audition (full-featured sound editor) and Presenter. Now, try purchasing those separately and you'll see that it makes a lot more sense to get the Suite than use the same price tag to get a lot less. I am NOT saying that the Adobe eLearning Suite is the only solution one should consider, but man oh man, what a great value it is and what a huge amount of power it gives you!

By the way, in case you didn't know, when you use the Suite, and you want to edit an image, you can have Captivate automatically open Photoshop (or other tool), edit in that tool, and then immediately see the edited version in Captivate and the same thing occurs with audio and other files. It is a huge time-saver AND it gives you all the power of those tools.

I don't think anyone would want to see one huge bloatware package that includes every tool in the Suite in one tool. Rather, if you've got the best editors for images, HTML files, etc., work on making those work closely with Captivate rather than trying to cannibalize those tools and give us less than what we would have now.

My two cents. My opinion. You are welcome to disagree but please let us know the facts you are using to disagree.
Joe, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts regarding this latest Captivate release. I agree with you that ease-of-use is still a barrier to using some of the advanced features but Adobe seems to be headed in the right direction and I'm looking forward to upgrading.
I think you have a point when you mention cannibalization. But this is the same company that added video editing to Photoshop! I don't think adding hyperlinks to text captions or create more than 3 different shapes is anywhere near the level of "bloat" that you are talking about. These are basic features, IMHO.
Another nice review Joe! If everything does indeed work in HTML5/various devices - that is indeed a big step for Captivate, and also explains some of the limitations in things like shapes etc. wonder how they handle that on devices like BBerry... or maybe they don't as mobile devices vary so much at the moment.
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