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Back in june 2013, Adobe has released the newest version of Captivate. Now that I’ve been using Captivate 7 for the last few weeks, I’d like to share some of my thoughts and findings with you. My main objective is to create a discussion around Captivate, eLearning and the future of this great authoring tools from Adobe.

Introduction

First of all, I want to congratulate the eLearning team in India for this new release. I know they have been working very hard on this one and, whatever our thoughts on Captivate are, their work deserves our full respect.

In this post, I will share things I like and things I dislike about this new version of Captivate.  Don’t expect a comprehensive review of all the new features, or a simple copy-paste of the marketing material from Adobe. If you want such a list of new things, the Adobe website is probably the one you are looking for!

The good....

1) The stability of the product.

Nothing fancy here! What I really appreciate in Captivate 7 is its stability and rapidity. The team has certainly spend a great deal of time on optimization and bug fixing. I actually can work a full day with Captivate 7 without ever experiencing a crash! This was barely the case in previous versions. It really makes a huge difference to me as a professional.

As a matter of fact, I even think that this alone is worth the upgrade! Well done Adobe!

2) The Drag and drop interaction : a killer feature!

Although not a real new feature (Drag and drop interaction was already present in Captivate 6.1 for subscription and ASA customers) the Drag and Drop interaction easily makes it to the Killer Feature category! 

In an earlier blog post, I explained that, to me, a good feature is a feature that combines the following

  • A good feature works! (no bugs allowed!)
  • A good feature addresses many use cases.
  • A good features has little to no side effects on the other features

The Drag and drop interaction has it all! When I started playing with it, I was amazed by the amount of options available. It allows me to use this new capability of Captivate 7 in a wide variety of situations. Obviously, there has been a lot of thinking behind the Drag and Drop interaction!

The new drag and drop panel of Captivate 7
The new Drag and Drop panel of Captivate 7 contains a myriad of useful options

Best of all, the Drag and Drop interaction wizard makes it very easy to get started, so no need to be a Captivate Expert to produce rich, meaningful and interactive eLearning content with the Drag and Drop interaction. 

Drag and drop extravaganza is an extraordinary e-seminar by eLearning evangelist Dr Allen Patridge. Don't hesitate to watch it for a full walkthrough of this new feature!  

Again, Well done Adobe! 

3) The enhanced interaction library

When the interaction widgets were launched in Captivate 6, I was not a huge fan of it. And I think that there is still a lot of room for improvement in this particular area of Captivate (linking the interactions to the applied theme for example is not yet a reality!). That being said, Adobe Captivate 7 ships with a whole bunch of new and enhanced interactions that provide a fair amount of new pedagogical opportunities to us, eLearning developers and instructional designers. Of special interest are

  • The YouTube interaction that allows for the insertion of a youTube video right into the course.
  • The Notes interaction that allows the student to include his own notes in the course either at slide level or at course level. This interaction needs a lot of improvement (especially in the way notes are stored and retrieved for the next session of the student) but the very fact that such an interaction exists is encouraging.
  • The Webpage interaction that allows the insertion of a mini web-browser onto a Captivate slide. Very powerful indeed!
The new Youtube interaction from Captivate 7
The new YouTube interaction is a very welcome addition to Captivate 7

I did not have a chance to play with all the interactions just yet, and I’m sure there’s a lot more to discover. The above list is just a very short one of those new interactions I had a chance to play with so far. Any comments on these and other interactions are very welcome!

4) Shared advanced action 

In Captivate 7, the Advance Actions system finally has some (long overdue) attention. Thanks to the shared advanced actions, you’ll be able to create an action once and re-use it many times throughout the project and even across projects.

This is a huge time saver for those who use Advanced Actions on a regular basis.

I would like to see some more improvements of this type in future releases of Captivate.

See this e-Seminar by Advanced Action specialist Lieve Weymeis for more on shared advanced actions

5) Enhanced HTML 5 support

HTML 5 publishing was a new feature of Captivate 6 when it launched in June 2012. At that time, there were so many Captivate objects, effects and features that were not supported in the HTML 5 output that I did criticize it a lot!

With this release, the HTML 5 support has dramatically improved. Not only does Captivate 7 supports more effect than before (and these are identified in the editing environment!), but, more important, the full set of question slides is now supported in HTML 5! Quiz makers can now offer the very same Quizzing experience in both the Flash and the HTLM 5 version of their courses.

Unsupported effects are now clearly identified in Captivate 7
Unsupported effects are now clearly identified in Captivate 7

These enhancement finally make the HTML 5 publishing of Captivate a credible publishing solution even tough there still are many tools that cannot be used in HTML 5.

6) Recording System audio

Even though this particular feature has a lot of impact on the way the capture engine works (no more camera sound during the recording, actions are recorded in real time) it is a very nice and welcome enhancement. The ability to record system audio will make your software simulations and demonstrations much more realistic.

The new system audio capability adds a nice touch of realism to your software simulations
The new system audio capability adds a nice touch of realism to your software simulations 

Be aware though that, on the Mac, this feature requires the installation of the soundflower system extension. I think this adds an unnecessary layer of complexity between the Captivate user (especially the beginner) and the feature. I would have prefer a self sustained feature that just works as advertised right out of the box! (hopefully, Windows users just have to tick the box!)

Mac users, see this knowledge base article on how to install and configure SoundFlower to work with Adobe Captivate 7

7) Tin Can support

Tin Can is a brand new standard for interfacing eLearning content with LMSs (well actually Tin Can introduces the notion of LRS (Learning Record Store) which is not exactly the same as an LMS). Tin Can can be seen as the successor of SCORM 2004.

This new feature of Captivate 7 will probably not (yet) change your life, but I find it very promising that Captivate 7 supports this cutting edge technology that has been tailored for Mobile Learning. This is a big factor of hope for me as a Captivate specialist.

More on Tin Can on the official TinCan website.

And the..... less good!

1) still no real mLearning

Even though the HTML 5 support has been dramatically enhanced in this version, Captivate 7 still supports the idea of converting a desktop experience to mobile by simply re-publishing it in HTML 5.

Adobe calls that mLearning, but I do not agree with them! 

To me, real mLearning will be a reality when we will be able to leverage the full power of those new mobile devices in our courses. To be able to do that, we need access to the devices sensors (Camera, accelerometer, GPS chip, offline storage, microphone, etc). This is an area Captivate 7 does not at all covers!

Adobe says that, from now on, every new feature of Captivate should be supported in both Flash and HTML 5. Again, I do not agree! With such a policy, the specifics of the mobile devices will never be addressed! I think mobile only features (supported on mobile devices, but not in Flash) are perfectly acceptable!

mLearning is much, much more than eLearning on mobile! I think this particular area is critical for the future of eLearning and for the future of an authoring tool such as Captivate. The first vendor that will successfully integrate mobile specific capabilities and give access to the device’s sensors in its authoring tool will definitely take a huge step forward and leave the competitors far behind! If I was the Captivate product manager, this would definitely be a priority for me!

2) Many old features are still in version one

This is something that really annoys me with Captivate. The team comes up with a great idea, implements it in a version of Captivate, and then, it’s like they forget about it! No follow up whatsoever!

Take the Video Demo feature that was introduce in Captivate 6 for instance. It is a very nice feature.  I actually like it and use it a lot. But it needs so much improvements! 

  • We need more editing capabilities.
  • We need to be able to closed caption these project (especially when they are integrated in the middle of a standard Captivate file).
  • We need to be able to capture both the video stream of the screen AND the video stream of the webcam, effectively porting the capabilities of Presenter Video Creator into the Video Demo projects of Captivate.

Etc...

But... Nothing has changed on the Video Demo side (with the exception of a very nice Insert-> CPVC slide menu item) 

Inserting a CPVC slide is a very welcome addition!
Inserting a CPVC slide is a very welcome addition! 

Same thing for the Smart Shapes. This was an extraordinary new feature of Captivate 6 (see my post on the Real gems of Captivate 6). But, again, improvements are possible (more smart Shapes, ability to combine shapes together to create new ones, Round tripping with Illustrator, etc...) and again, despite numerous feature requests from the community, nothing has changed since Captivate 6.

Pretest is the perfect example of a great idea poorly implemented. There is a mountain of improvements possible for Pretests (A Pretest UI for branching vs an advanced action, a Pretest summary slide that is different than the summary slide of a regular test, etc). Again, the Pretest feature has been, for the most part, copied pasted as-is from Captivate 6!

All in all, I think Captivate should benefit a whole lot from small improvement brought to older features. Granted, such improvement is not what will make the marketing team happy (no “wow effect”, no "killer" new features, etc) but, hey! we are professionals and we can differentiate the good from the bad even without the help of a Marketing team. So come on Adobe! Listen to us and our smaller requests!

3) (not) Addressing the multiscreen challenge.

Today’s students use their smartphones and tablets to access their online courses. Sometimes in addition to a traditional laptop or desktop computer. We must therefore design our courses so they fit in an array of different screens. Many Adobe teams have understand this challenge and are already proposing very nice and innovative solutions to address the problem. 

  • Dreamweaver has implemented the Fluid Grid and Bootstrap extensions are available. 
  • InDesign proposes the Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) and Alternate layout
  • Adobe Edge reflow is a new application entirely dedicated to addressing the multi screen challenge through the use of CSS Media queries.
  • Etc...

This shows us that Adobe, as a company, understands that this challenge is of strategic importance and has decided to actively push great solutions. 

But in Captivate 7, the first question asked when creating a new project is... its size, in plain old-fashioned static pixels. No Percentage based sizes, no fluid grid and no media queries!

the project size is still expressed in old fully static pixels!
the project size is still expressed in old fully static pixels! 

The “Scalable HMLT content checkbox” in the “Publish” dialog does offer some kind of a response to the multi screen challenge, but, we need much, much more!

The needed technology IS available. As a matter of facts, many Adobe teams are busy on a daily basis creating and refining this technology. Now, it has to make its way into Captivate. And the fastest, the best! 

4) The Adobe Captivate App Packager!

The Adobe Captivate App Packager gives us 2 features. 

  • The ability to import Edge Animate animations into Captivate
  • The ability to use the PhoneGap build service to compile our HTML 5 courses into native applications.

I do like the fact that these 2 features are the first “mobile only” features of Captivate. They have not been derived from a Flash counterpart and that is a very good sign for the future.

That being said, What a poor implementation! 

  • Workflows are horrible - We need to publish an HTML 5 course in Captivate before importing it into the App Packager. No round tripping available which makes iterations a real pain!
  • Application is buggy (at best): On my Mac, The “filmstrip” in the App Packager does not work. Finding the right slide and the right spot on the chosen slide is a guess work. Not very efficient!
  • Publishing with PhoneGap Build service is not straightforward at all! A lot of configuration is needed on the PhoneGap Build website to get your certificates right (especially if you plan to publish for iOS)! 

I Admit it: I hate the App Packager! But Hate and Love are the 2 sides of the same feeling! The features proposed by the App Packager could be very useful and are very promising indeed! These features can easily make it to the “The Good” section of this post! 

So, Back to work Adobe! There is a lot to do here!

Conclusions

Captivate 7 still carries a lot of dust from the previous versions and there is no real groundbreaking innovation in this version.

This is something I do not understand. There is a mobile revolution going on out there, a revolution that is changing the way we consume content, that is even changing what students expect from a training. But Captivate is strangely silent on these challenges and peacefully continues on its somewhat old way!

That being said, there are some very good things in Captivate 7, and, probably even some good signs that these old days might be over pretty soon! 

Features such as the Drag and drop interaction, the ability to record system audio and the enhanced interaction library definitely make a huge difference! The overall speed and stability of the application also makes the upgrade worthwhile. The fact that Captivate supports the brand new TinCan standard and the features of the App Packager may be a sign that huge changes are coming! But it is still a bit difficult to clearly see the direction Captivate is taking and to decide if it is really going the right way or not.

That brings me back to the title of this review: Captivate 7, a good transition to...? 

All in all, Adobe Captivate certainly stays one of the best eLearning authoring tool available. Adobe Captivate 7 is a very nice iteration of Captivate, certainly one that is worth the upgrade, if there wasn’t this evident lack of pure innovation...


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